Belinda Carlisle has found heaven in several places on earth, living in Los Angeles, the south of France and soon in Thailand, as well as living on the road and in her spirituality.
The former Go-Go’s lead singer who went solo in 1985 is bringing her hits — and a few surprises — Saturday (2/18) to the Riverside Casino Event Center. She’ll be backed by a five-piece “full-on rock band,” she said by phone from her home in L.A.
Now 58, she gravitated toward the punk rock scene in her turbulent teens. That was a great place to find herself.
“I was a big part of the L.A. punk scene,” she said. “If it wasn’t for that, I know the Go-Go’s would never have happened, because that whole scene gave one an opportunity to play live. There are lots of clubs around, and you could be terrible — in fact, it was cooler to be terrible — and that’s how we started. ... That was just the most amazing time to be around music.
During high school, she bought up all the music magazines that hit her favorite record store twice a month, and became fascinated with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and other punk bands coming out of England in the mid-70s.“I was a teenager. I was rebellious,” she said. “I gravitated toward that because I loved it so much. I still love it, and I like to say I may not look like a punk rocker, but I’m one at heart. I have always been a little bit of a rebel and have always been a little bit contrary, and that whole scene was about that, really, so that’s why it appealed to me. I still love the music.
Her musical journey began in 1977 with a brief stint as drummer Dottie Danger for L.A. punk rockers, The Germs. According to the band’s bio, she was sidelined by some real germs in a bout of mononucleosis, and never got to perform with them. Shortly after that, came her rocket to fame as co-founder of the Go-Go’s.
“We were sitting on a curb one night and decided to form a band, and that’s how the Go-Go’s started,” she said. “We didn’t know how to play our own instruments. We asked Charlotte (Caffey) to play guitar because she knew how to plug a guitar into an amplifier. We wrote songs with masking tape, numbered for us on guitars and on basses. We went from 0 to 100 in three years, so it was one of those things that was meant to be.”
The band debuted in 1978 and released its first album in 1981. “Beauty and the Beat” went triple platinum, selling more than 3 million copies. The new sound added a bright, beachy pop vibe to punk, climbing the charts with “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips are Sealed.” Other hits followed, including “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.”
They all had a hand in writing the songs, with Caffey and Jane Wiedlin emerging as the main songwriters.
“In the beginning, I even wrote a bunch of angry political songs about taking over the world,” Carlisle said. “It was fashionable to be angry. It was all DYI, but we all did it ourselves, and some of the lyrics are really hysterical when I look back on them. To be a middle-class kid growing up in southern California in the ’70s, there’s not a whole lot to be angry about, but, of course, we managed.”
The ride lasted until 1985, when the group disbanded and Carlisle struck out on her own. It wasn’t long before she was again surfing the top of the charts with “Mad About You” in 1986, followed the next year by her signature hit, “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”
“That song put me on the map internationally,” she said.
But it wasn’t all roses and unicorns. The price of fame was high in those early years.
“When you’re that young and that famous, it’s very hard to handle that thing in a positive way,” she said. “As we see with a lot of young stars, they’re troubled. Thank God back then there weren’t cameras and there wasn’t social media, so we got away with a lot of things.
"(Fame) is great and it’s amazing. ... It also was a blur — my memory is in broad strokes not in fine detail. We worked really hard and were on the road for two years straight. We paid our dues, for sure. And being that young and working that hard, you fall into the traps of drugs and ego. It’s kind of hard to avoid.”
She’s clean and sober now, and has found a new path toward inner peace through Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation, and may take a side trip to Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield for a TM “tuneup.”
She’s been married since 1986 to film producer Morgan Mason, a White House aide during the Reagan administration and son of the late British actor James Mason. The couple passed their passion for politics and activism onto their son, who has been politically active since age 14 and now is a West Hollywood city official and LGBT advocate.
Carlisle is happy to be at a point in her life where she can make the music that speaks to her heart. Her latest album, due out at the end of the year, focuses on mantras.
“I’ve gone from trying to please my public and my record company to pleasing myself. It might not have a big audience but it’s really not about that for me anymore at all. In fact, this latest project is pretty esoteric,” she said.
“I’m blessed with being able to have such an amazing back catalog of some of the best pop tunes that were written by some of the great pop writers. Now I just do what I love — live and in recording. And I’m lucky that I can be at that point. Not a lot of people get there.”
WHO: Belinda Carlisle
WHERE: Riverside Casino Event Center, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (2/18)
TICKETS: $40 to $70, casino gift shop or Riversidecasinoandresort.com/events/event-center.html
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Belindacarlisle.tv