Belinda Carlisle – Loosens Her Lips
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on July 17, 2010.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, actually,” Belinda Carlisle admits, chuckling.
That’s a pretty impressive statement coming from a woman who has regularly defied the odds to make her dreams come true. When she was in her twenties, she was the lead singer of The Go-Go’s, the biggest girl group of the post-punk era – in fact pretty much any era – selling millions of albums and having era-defining hit singles like “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation” and “We Got the Beat.”
When The Go-Go’s imploded a few years after the smash success of their debut album Beauty and the Beat, Carlisle decided to try the solo route and against all odds became even bigger. In the mid-late 80s she dominated the musical charts with hits like “Mad About You,” “Heaven Is a Place On Earth,” “Leave a Light On,” “Circle in the Sand” and “I Get Weak.”
However, her professional life is only one of the places where Carlisle has taken chances. Her life has been a series of calculated risks – from moving in with her future husband right after their first date to abandoning their American lifestyle in order to move to the south of France and India. Carlisle has also finally beaten long-time addictions to drugs and alcohol and found spiritual growth from Eastern philosophies and yoga.
So what was the task that was so difficult for Carlisle?
It was writing a book about her life. It was a particularly daunting job because she decided to come clean about the depths of her drug and alcohol abuse and the embarrassing, dangerous positions she had found herself in because of addiction and lack of self-esteem.
“I always knew that I wanted to write a book, because I always knew that I’d had an extraordinary life,” Carlisle says. “At age fifty – I had that number in my mind that that would be a good time. I’d finally have something to say.” She laughs. “I didn’t know twenty years ago what that would be, but…. I wanted to write a rock and roll book, but also have some sort of message. With my life and my story, I thought it could be an inspirational story.”
This inspirational story is told in her new memoir Lips Unsealed (Crown Publishers). The book takes a sometimes harsh and always entertaining look at her life and career, her happiness and her personal demons.
“It took about three years to do,” Carlisle recalls. “It was very therapeutic. I made a lot of realizations that I even didn’t make in therapy or in doing my twelve-step program. I had to dig really deep. Everything that’s in that book I feel comfortable with revealing. The things I didn’t feel comfortable about, of course I left out. I’m proud of the results.”
The origin of Carlisle’s saga goes back to the punk rock scene of Los Angeles in the 1970s. Carlisle grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a pretty but insecure and poor student whose mother and father broke up when she was young. As so often happens with a child, she only knew so much about the problems between her parents and later her step-father. In her book, however, she allows those mysteries to remain.
“My mother, for her own reasons – and they must be good reasons – doesn’t like to reveal a whole lot about that part of her life,” Carlisle reasons. “I didn’t want to badger my mother too much about what had happened, because I have to respect her privacy.”
Carlisle may not know what was going on behind closed doors in her childhood home, but Lips Unsealed paints a wonderful portrait of punk-era LA – with a young Carlisle juggling menial jobs and all-nighters on the Sunset Boulevard scene. It was a giddy world of fame and possibilities. Carlisle was an early part of local faves the Germs. Then she met a couple of local wannabe musicians – Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey. Despite the fact that none of them really could play instruments, they decided to start a band. The final lineup was firmed up when drummer Gina Schock and bassist Kathy Valentine – actually Valentine was a guitarist who lied when she told the others she could play bass – joined on.
Early on the band started getting noticed in the Sunset Strip scene. Then, during an European tour with Madness, their single “We Got the Beat” was released by the hip British label Stiff, making the band a sudden success far from home. Import copies of the single made their way back to the States and soon the band was part of a bidding war. They decided to go with a new label called IRS run by Miles Copeland – the manager of the Police. IRS also released albums by REM, The English Beat, Oingo Boingo, Squeeze and the Buzzcocks over the years.
With the surprise popularity of Beauty and the Beat, Carlisle and her bandmates quickly became media darlings, getting saturation rotation on the brand new video channel MTV and appearing on magazine covers worldwide.
“We didn’t really have time to stop and think about what was going on, because we were worked to the bone,” Carlisle recalls. “We had no time for ourselves. Life was constant work, constant being on the road, constant interviews. We didn’t know how to say no to anything. It was kind of a blur. Of course, going from a band that didn’t know how to play instruments or write songs two and a half years prior, and then becoming the number one band in America – it was pretty daunting. And unexpected. We thought that if we could sell 100,000 copies of the album – that would be a big success. We had no idea it would explode like it did.”