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10 Pressing Questions

She's on the go-go again

Belinda Carlisle, former lead singer of the Go-Go's, retired as punk rock's bad girl a decade ago. Now she's back, in a solo tour that includes her former drummer.

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003

[Times photo 2001]
Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle first made waves as lead singer for the Go-Go's, the pioneering all-girl rock band that was the toast of the 1980s. After the band split in 1986 because of tension and out-of-control drug abuse, Carlisle went on to have her own successful solo career with hits Mad About You, Heaven On Earth and Circle In The Sand.

Things quieted down for Carlisle after the singer moved to the south of France a decade ago. Then, in 2001, when American fans thought the Go-Go's were gone gone for good, the band reunited to release God Bless the Go-Go's. Months later, Carlisle took it all off for a 1950s pinup-inspired Playboy layout. Now Carlisle's ready to tour the United States again as a solo artist, but fans can count on a Go-Go's tune or two because drummer Gina Schock will be behind the kit.

From her home in France, Carlisle, 45, answers 10 Pressing Questions about her days in the L.A. punk scene, how she despises reality TV, the night back in the 1980s when the party girl accidentally bought that race horse.

(1) You got your start hanging around the Los Angeles punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Is it true you were one of the original members of the Germs? It's totally true. I was the first drummer, but I never got to play out. I got mononucleosis and I had to go home to my parents. So I never got to play with them, but I hung out with them and did things for them.

Were your parents supportive of you hanging with all these punks? Not in the very beginning, no. But, they came to the first Go-Go's show at the Whiskey a Go-Go and they saw how the audience reacted to us and they got really into it. My mom was always supportive, more than my father, but after that night they were both great.

Were they shocked when it turned into a career for you, and a very successful one at that? Totally shocked. We all were. They were very, very proud. They still are.

Which do you like best, the solo career or your work with the Go-Go's? I don't prefer one to the other, honestly. I have two equally great jobs. That's how I see it.

Of course, with the solo stuff, I don't have to answer to anyone but myself. But I miss the camaraderie of the Go-Go's. We really have such a great time together. We have such a blast, you can't imagine. We laugh all the time. It's bizarre how much fun we have. I mean, we've been doing this now, what? 25 years? And we are still so amused by each other? We are very lucky.

Are you closest to any one Go-Go? I'm so close to all of them. I'm so thrilled Gina is coming on this tour with me.

Is it scarier going onstage without those four behind you? A lot scarier, yes. That's why I have to do this in the States. I do solo shows in Europe all the time, but I don't in the U.S. I have to challenge myself. It's really, really scary.

(2) We've seen Belinda the New Wave girl with the black miniskirts and headbands, and later we see Belinda the chanteuse, you know, the sophisticated pop singer with the capri pants and the good hair cut. Is the real Belinda behind door No. 1 or No. 2? (Laughs) I'm a combination, for sure. I love punk rock. Still. I do. I love it. I love garage music and all of that stuff. But I also love the dramatically overproduced pop music, the cheeseball stuff, the really, really polished stuff.

I love doing all of it. If I could sing opera, I'd do that, too. As far as my music, I've done a few albums that I don't think are as good as others, but I have never done anything I'm ashamed of. I feel like I've tried all kinds of things with music and I've never really compromised myself.

Speaking of, uh, compromising positions, tell me about posing for Playboy. You made a lot of former New Wave guys -- and girls -- very happy when you did that. I had such a blast. I have no hang-ups about nudity at all. But I did that -- you know I had more of a reason than just "Take the money and run." The reason I finally gave in ...

They had been hounding you? Well, not hounding me ...

"For the sake of the planet, Belinda, take off your clothes!" (Laughs) Yeah, it wasn't like that, but they had asked a few times, and when I realized we could have a lot of fun with it, I said yes. We made it really interesting and kitschy, like those old 1950s pinups. It was hysterical, totally hilarious. It was a great experience. I don't regret it for a minute.

More importantly, the main reason I wanted to do it was because I, myself, like to see older women -- women like Bo Derek and Joan Collins and Farrah Fawcett -- who are comfortable with their bodies. I like to see women feeling sexy and proud and showing that you don't have to be a size zero with bleach blonde hair and big, fake boobs.

(3) Is it true in the 1980s you were once so gone on drugs you woke up and found you had bought a race horse? Yes, I did. I bought a race horse. I had it for eight months. It was a trotter. It wasn't a thoroughbred.

A trotter? Yeah, a trotter. Believe me, I don't know anything about race horses, either. Trust me.

Did you at least get to name him? (Sighs) No, I didn't even get to name him. His name was Erlanik. He always just placed, too. He never got first or second. I never even got my money back on him. Eventually I just sold him. I didn't know what to do with a race horse.

(4) What's your take on reality TV? Do you watch any of the shows? No! I avoid it like the plague. I hate it. Hate it! Survivor and Big Brother and all that? Agh! I think it's all hideous. It's like, how low can you go? And, England's the worst with all of that.

Have you seen American Idol? Agh! It's hideous, hideous, hideous. It's one of the reasons music is so terrible these days. It shows everything that's ugly about music.

What music do you enjoy at home? I always buy everything by people like Richard Ashcroft and Coldplay and Craig David. I love opera. And there's a lot of amazing French pop music here.

(5) Your son James (whose father is actor/producer Morgan Mason) is 11 now. How does he rebel against a mother who -- Is one of the world's biggest rebels herself? (Laughs) Well, I remember seeing Grace Slick on The Mike Douglas Show talking about her daughter and the only way her daughter could rebel was to go all mainstream and preppy. James is like that. My son is so straight-laced. He won't cuss -- because, you know, I still curse all the time. He's so polite and buttoned-up. He's the adult. I call him "Dad" to tease him because really, he's the voice of reason.

But of course, we never know how kids turn out. I was a nightmare growing up, but I'm okay now. See? (Laughs) You get it out early, that's the way to do it.

(6) Okay, you've just learned the world will end in 24 hours. How do you spend your time? Hmm. I would drink the best red wine I could possibly drink. With my family. I wouldn't go anywhere else because I live in the most amazing place in the world. I'd drink red wine on the beach with everyone I love.

With any pets? My dogs. I have two, Bingo and Pierre. One's a pug with one eye and the other is a golden lab.

(7) The Go-Go's made some really fun videos. Which is your favorite? The one for Turn to You. Oh God, it's a sick video. It makes me laugh to this day. We were so completely high (on cocaine) while we were filming it. My jaws are going a mile a minute. Just trembling. And they got me to wear that big, white hideous wig. We had such a blast, though.

(8) Are you one of those people who cleaned up and got into all those nutty L.A. eating habits? Yeah, I did all that dressing on the side and stuff. But that all went out the window when I moved here. Now I use lots of olive oil and my food tastes really good. I celebrate what I eat now instead of being totally afraid of it. The Europeans do it right.

(9) Do you have a favorite Peanuts character? I love Pig Pen. Because of that big cloud of dirt that follows him all around. (Laughs).

(10) I hear you like art. I love art. We have such beautiful art here. My favorite stuff is -- well, I love all that Spanish folk art, but my favorite artists are (Alexander) Calder and (Gustave) Moreau. I actually have a Calder hanging in my living room.

Did you ever think when you were playing in punk bands that you'd some day live in the south of France with a Calder in your living room? No way. I'm still amazed that I could ever buy this for myself. I walk by it and it makes me smile every day, which is what art should do. It makes me so happy. And it's really the only thing I've ever indulged in for myself and spoiled myself with.

Well, that and the race horse. Okay, the race horse, too. (Laughs.)

At a glance

Belinda Carlisle, 8 p.m. Monday, Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. Tickets $29.75. Call (727) 791-7400.

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