Singer Belinda Carlisle reveals a double-edged life in a new memoir from her burgeoning glory days in the all-girl band the Go-Go's to decades of cocaine use that masked her personal insecurities.
"I was like the good girl, bad girl, there were no gray areas for me," Carlisle said in a recent interview recalling how her days growing up in poor suburban Los Angeles where the contrast between being both a shoplifter and popular high school cheerleader formed patterns for her life.
Her recently released book, "Lips Unsealed" — a play on the hit Go-Go's' 1981 smash hit song "Our Lips Are Sealed" — details much of Carlisle's early days forming the band in L.A.'s punk scene and becoming "the first female band (formed by women) to write our own songs and play our own instruments. It was pretty revolutionary," said Carlisle.
After obsessions with bands like Queen and the Sex Pistols, Carlisle and guitarist/songwriter Jane Wiedlin helped start the new wave band but were clueless about how to perform.
"The punk scene was great in that anybody could be in a band and be terrible, including us," said Carlisle, now 50. "We started from zero, we didn't have a Svengali. We had no idea how to play our instruments."
Outrageous outfits, endless partying
But soon they played in L.A. clubs such as the Whisky a Go Go and gained a following with their high energy and punk image that saw Carlisle sporting a crew cut, changed hair colors and experimenting with outrageous outfits.
"It was never a contrived image. We just looked that way. It was a combination of punk, rockabilly and tiaras, torn stockings and stilettos," Carlisle said. "And we just had these angelic faces that hid a multitude of sins."
Endless partying began from the early days as the band toured with British ska band Madness and played rough clubs in U.K. cities like Newcastle and Leeds. In those venues, the Go-Go's sang their demo version of the early single "We Got The Beat" and were spat on — a practice known as "gobbing."
"It was horrible. I remember coming off crying and covered in snot," she said. "It was lonely and it was dangerous, five little white girls from southern California being thrown in with all these hard-core skinheads."
Carlisle recalls in the memoir struggling to get signed to any record label, with executives believing all-female bands wouldn't sell. "At that point we said, screw it, screw everyone, we'll show the entire industry," Carlisle writes.
Eventually they were signed to IRS records who steered them to a more pop-orientated sound for their debut album "Beauty and the Beat" that launched the band to global success.
Acid at the cemetery
Carlisle's cocaine habit then careened out of control. She struggled with the drug for decades through her later solo career, which began after the Go-Go's broke up in 1985. Her solo hits included "Mad About You," "Heaven is Place on Earth," "Leave a Light On" and "Summer Rain."
"I loved it from the first time I did it. And I thought one day when I can afford this I will buy lots of it, and I did," Carlisle said of her cocaine addiction. But she gave up after a pivotal moment hallucinating in a hotel room. "There was no question in my mind I was going to die."
Her drug use, she said, was fed by her low self esteem, her struggle with weight and the lack of a proper father figure growing up.
These days she meditates, practices a drug recovery program and is about to embark on a farewell tour with the Go-Go's. And she's thankful the band did not emerge from the Los Angeles club scene and find stardom in today's tabloid world.
"There is no way I could have gotten away with what I did," she said. "Graveyards at 2 o'clock in the morning on acid, I don't think so."