Belinda Carlisle talks self-love, marital love and 'Big Big Love' at age 64: 'With sobriety came the confidence that this is really what I'm meant to be doing in life'
The Go-Go's star, who battled media criticism of her appearance, an eating disorder, and drug addiction for years, explains why she had "the confidence this time around," while recording her "Kismet" comeback EP with Diane Warren, that she didn't have when the two first worked together on 1987's "Heaven on Earth."
“I feel like at this point in my life, at age 64, this is what I'm meant to be doing. I'm good at what I do, and I'm enjoying it.”
Belinda Carlisle, who made a name for herself as the frontwoman of pioneering new wavers/Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Go-Go’s before reinventing herself as a glossy pop star with top 10 hits like “Mad About You,” “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” and “I Get Weak,” is speaking with Yahoo Entertainment ahead of the release of her Kismet EP, her first collection of English-language studio recordings in 27 years. The record finds her reuniting with superstar songwriter Diane Warren, who penned “I Get Weak” for Carlisle 35 years ago, and the magic between them is clearly still there: The lead single, “Big Big Love,” just went to No. 1 on Britain’s BBC Radio 2, ahead of songs by Ed Sheeran, Miley Cyrus, and the 1975.
The ladies’ hitmaking reunion happened by chance — it was kismet, so to speak — after Carlisle’s son Duke randomly ran into Warren at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Los Angeles. “She said, ‘What’s your mom doing? Let's call her!’ So, they FaceTimed me, and she says, ‘I have hits for you. Get down to the studio!’”
Carlisle admits that she hesitated to “open that door,” because she “just really didn't feel the calling” to record new music. “You know, most great pop songs go to people who are charting — younger people who are charting. I just figured, no one's going to give me a song. Oh, they might give a song, but it's not going to be a great pop song on par with what I've recorded.” But because “you don't say no to Diane,” Carlisle agreed to visit Warren’s Realsongs headquarters in Hollywood, and she was “completely blown away what she played me. So I said, ‘OK, let's go!’ … Obviously, I wasn't meant to semi-retire.”
Interestingly, Carlisle confesses that while working on Kismet, she “did have the confidence this time around that I didn't have with the Heaven on Earth album” — the 1987 breakthrough solo sophomore LP that featured “I Get Weak” and another Warren composition, “World Without You.” It was around that time in the mid-‘80s — when Carlisle was starting over without the “security blanket” of her famous band and it took “a good couple of years to find my way as a solo artist” — that Carlisle made herself over as a glamorous, classic Hollywood ingenue. (She was even offered an old-Hollywood-type acting contract with a major movie studio, until a screen test with director Randa Haines proved disastrous.) But after years of harsh press focus her appearance, especially on her body, Carlisle’s self-esteem had taken a hit.
“It was always mentioned in early Go-Go's articles about how much I weighed, really,” Carlisle recalls. “It was like, ‘She's pretty and plump. She's cute and chubby. She’s been hitting the deli trays backstage.’ I never thought about my appearance at all, but the media certainly did at the time. … People had sort of accepted that that was OK, and it really isn't OK when you're in your early twenties. It was very damaging to me — I mean, very damaging. … And then, when I left the band and I cleaned up my act a little bit, I was becoming a young woman, so all of a sudden that became the focus. It does mess with your head. And then of course, MTV in those early days put a lot more emphasis on appearance than the actual music. It wasn't good, but I kind of got used to it. It's just something that I had to live with until, I don't know, maybe 15 or 20 years ago. My name and my appearance is always synonymous.”
Carlisle, who battled not only an eating disorder but also alcohol and cocaine addiction for much of her adult life, admits that her body issues were “part of the reason why I before I every show, I'd always drink to be able to get that confidence or conjure whoever that person was onstage.” When she finally got sober 18 years ago (“It took a while; I had a good run!”), she was worried about “whether I would be able to handle all that stuff that I've had to go through, like the focus on appearance, the focus on my voice, whether I'd be able to go onstage again without that sort of a crutch. But I found it was way easier. I think with sobriety came the confidence that this is really what I'm meant to be doing in life.”
Carlisle remembers the 2005 “spiritual rock-bottom” moment when, at age 47, she decided to quit booze and drugs for good. “I was just really sick and tired of it,” she shrugs. “I was getting ready to go out one night; it was the beginning of like a three- or four-day bender. And I just looked at myself and I just thought, ‘Ew.’ It was like, there's nobody home. I knew that was kind of a wakeup call, because I'd already had a few friends in my life that lose that light to drugs, and I had I lost that inner light. I was just so filled with shame and guilt. So, I just said, ‘I'm done. I'm just done. I've done this for too long, and now I'm done.’ And really, once I decided to really do it — the way that you're supposed to do it, the 12-step program — it was fairly easy for me. I'm lucky, very lucky.”
Carlisle is lucky that her marriage to political operative and film producer Morgan Mason, now heading into its 38th year, survived, because she reveals that at one point before she got clean, “I was on the verge of losing my family.” Instead, she and Mason (the son of actors James and Pamela Mason) have had one of the longest-running marriages in show business. “He was on the verge of being done, because was really out-there and I was a handful. But he stuck around, because he always saw the person underneath all that,” Carlisle says. “He still was hoping that that person would sort of emerge again. He is an evolved person, and he went through a lot with me. I'm glad we stuck it out, because if I had carried on, I'm not so sure he would be around like he is now. But I was committed to sobriety.”
Carlisle’s real-life “big big love” story with Mason began when they met at a Beverly Hills party at the urging of local radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who told Carlisle, “‘There's this guy that wants to meet you. He works in the White House and James Mason's son and he's gone out with Joan Collins.’ And I went, ‘I can't go out with anybody who's gone out with Joan Collins! I probably wouldn't get along with him! That's just too much glamour for me!’” When Carlisle reluctantly showed up, she says Morgan “was not very nice to me. … I asked him for a cigarette and he goes, ‘Oh, here.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, I guess he doesn't like me.’ So, I left and I didn't expect to ever see him again.” As it turns out, Mason was just nervous. But before Carlisle exited the soiree, Mason “threw his card on the table,” so she had a friend — pretending to be her — ring him up and invite him to a Hall & Oates concert at L.A.’s Forum. “We went to Trader Vic's afterwards, and that was it. We were together ever since.”
Carlisle admits “everybody thought it was crazy” when she and Mason “moved in together after the first date — no one thought it was going to last because of our backgrounds.” (Mason had worked for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980, which Carlisle caught flak for at the time.) “He's from Beverly Hills, and I grew up in the Valley, lower middle class. But it works. … And it’s better than ever, by the way, which is really weird.” So, what is the secret to their lasting, against-all-odds union? “We like each other!” Carlisle answers. “He makes me laugh. I don't just love him; I like him. He is really funny. And I think vice versa. We're just constantly amused by each other. But we always talk about how if we had stayed in L.A. or Hollywood, maybe we wouldn't be together. We left in 1994, when we moved to France. … Most of the people I know — in fact, all of them — that that did stay in L.A., because most people have to stay, their marriages didn't survive. So, I think that's part of it.”
Relocating to the French countryside ended up being a life-changing and ultimately life-saving decision for the troubled singer. “I threw myself into my French album [2007's Voila], which really kept me sober,” she says, and this was “when I pretty much got over my food issues and my weight issues. It’s not about deprivation [in France]; it's about celebration. And I really responded to that, because I was depriving myself in so many ways, actually, when I was working on the hamster wheel, as I call it. So, when I went there, it was like, ‘Wow, food isn't a bad thing, and everything in moderation is OK.’ It ended up being a really healthy lifestyle where I didn't feel I had to deprive myself and then I would binge afterwards. There was nothing that was taboo. We were there for 24 years, and the French can be difficult, as we all know, but the way they live and the way they celebrate life is something to aspire to, for sure.”
Carlisle, who has since lived with Mason in Thailand and Mexico when she’s not touring with the reunited Go-Go’s, certainly has a life to aspire to, and much to celebrate. Along with her Kismet comeback, there’s the Go-Go’s’ long-overdue, “full-circle” induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Carlisle’s all-star collaboration with fellow legends Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Estefan, and Debbie Harry on the Warren-penned 80 for Brady soundtrack single “Gonna Be You”; and now a miniseries that’s being developed based on Carlisle’s 2010 autobiography, Lips Unsealed. (“My first choice [to play me] would probably be Florence Pugh, who I think is amazing. She kind of has that same look that I did in the punk days,” says Carlisle.) And now that Carlisle is having hits again after a nearly three-decade pop hiatus, a Kismet follow-up may soon be forthcoming.
“I’m not going to shut the door on that,” Carlisle says of future solo music. “I had such a great time [making Kismet], and it's so nice to be able to do these projects and not be attached and just have fun with it. And I mean, it's a hit in the U.K., and that's gravy. But even if nothing happened, it'd still be great.”
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
The Go-Go's talk partying past, Hall of Fame snub, and 'emotional' documentary: 'You can't deny what we've done'
35 years ago, Diane Warren earned her first Oscar nom for a song 'about a guy f***ing a mannequin'
The Go-Go's' Gina Schock talks photo book, Rock Hall, and open-heart surgery at age 26: 'We took that trip to Palm Springs in case I didn't make it. We were gonna have one last party.'
The Go-Go's' Kathy Valentine talks infamous Rolling Stone cover, 'Beauty' secrets, and why they're not in the Rock Hall
'Susan Lucci of the Oscars,' Diane Warren, on whether this is her year
Margaret Cho opens up about how the Go-Go’s changed her life