For fans who grew up knowing Carlisle in the '80s as the lead vocalist of the Go-Go's and then as a successful solo artist, the thought of her having a 30-year substance abuse problem might seem shocking -- a contrast to her girl-next-door image. But as she details in her book, Carlisle has had a long journey with drugs and alcohol from the time she did acid in her early youth to when she did cocaine in the restroom of her young son Duke's school. Today, Carlisle, in her fifth year of sobriety, has retired from the Go-Go's to take it easy for a while. In this Interview, she talks about her battles with drugs, the support her husband and bandmates provided, and her reaction to her teenage son coming out as gay.
What made you decide to write 'Lips Unsealed'?
I always wanted to write a book, because I knew I had an extraordinary life anyway, and that it would make good reading. I didn't have the lucidity to be able write anything for years. Finally, with three years' sobriety, I thought that I was kind of ready to do it. And to actually to be able to write a book that's not just a book about music and rock 'n' roll but about overcoming obstacles and being able to make changes later in life.
In writing the book, was it difficult recalling some of the uncomfortable aspects of your life, such as the drug abuse?
Writing about the addiction was painful and creepy at times. I've been to therapy and I'm in the 12-step program, so you do a lot of work on yourself, a lot of introspection. I wasn't really prepared for a lot of the conclusions that [I] came to about myself in writing the book -- a lot of things I didn't realize. And remembering that my son thought I had lived at the airport was in my memory. But at the end, I thought it was very cleansing.
It was surprising to learn that you were doing drugs as recently as five years ago.
That was the biggest shock for most people that didn't realize that it went on for so long. They just assumed that I got cleaned after the Go-Go's and [the No. 3 US/No. 1 Canada single from 1986] 'Mad About You.' Back then, I considered myself sober. I had obviously made some positive changes in my life. So I just felt that the media ran with the ball and people just assumed I was sober. And I didn't correct them. Finally, after years of that, I got to a point where I would correct them and say, 'No, I'm not sober.' I was in denial and a big fat liar. It was kind of a shameful thing to have to live with for so long.
The experience that you described of being on that three-day cocaine binge in London from March 2005 is pretty harrowing.
It's horrible. I can look back to that moment. March 14th was the end. I can go back ... looking in the mirror and seeing what I saw, and keep remembering just how painful it really was.
In retrospect, why did you take up drugs early on in your life?
I was always [a] contrarian. Watching anti-drugs [messages] in school made me want to do them -- anything to be different, anything to be contrary, anything what I thought to be cool. Of course, I just thought for years and years I did drugs because I liked to get high and have some fun. When I got sober, I realized that it was a lot of pain about my father issues -- things that I thought, "Oh, yeah, my father left. People have their reasons. No big deal. I don't care." When I got sober, I really did care and it really did affect me. The father-daughter relationship forms who you are and later in life.
It is remarkable that your husband, Morgan Mason, stood by you while all of this was going on for so long, whereas other people might have given up on you.
He saw the person underneath all the crap. But also, we had a son that was kind of the glue, and we both came from broken homes. He worked the best as he could to hold it together. I did have moments of lucidity when I was home where I kind of held it together, too. I think if we didn't have a son that it would probably be a different story.
How did your lifestyle affect your relationship with the other members of the Go-Go's? Did you keep your addiction from them or was it tolerated?
Oh, my God. A couple of them said they were really scared that they were going to get a phone call that I was dead. Towards the end, I didn't bother hiding it from them and I was very, very open about what I was doing. And they were very concerned because it was interfering with my work at that point. A couple of them would come into my room and talked to me and offered to help. They just kind of waited and let go like a lot of my friends and husband did.
One of the moving passages in the book is when your son, Duke, who was a teenager at the time, told you that he was gay. You came across as being a very understanding parent.
I was shocked. I wasn't disappointed because I just wasn't. I'd say 90 percent of my friends are gay and lesbian. It took a couple of months for me to digest it and it took at least three months for me to have the nerve to tell my husband. I didn't know how it would hit him. It's perfect the way it is [now]. My husband is totally 100 percent accepting. I can't imagine it any other way.
So where are you right now in your life since your sobriety?
I'm living between France and India. My world is so vast and interesting. I'm happier than I've ever been. I think I'm doing exactly what I want to do and when I want to do it, taking care of my happiness and being the best possible mother and wife that I can be. I record sometimes and I'm working on my website in India, which is why I'm there a lot. So I'm all over the place. Now I'm at the point in my life where I kind of want to sit back a little bit and enjoy the fruits of my labor and just do things that I really love and not for the sake of doing them. So whatever I do or whatever I put out, it's a labor of love.
Do you have any regrets from those 30 years of drug and alcohol abuse?
Maybe that I wasn't as present as a mother than I should have been. I don't regret the drugs or the drinking. I don't regret any of it. Because of that, I wouldn't be where I am. I think that the 12-step program is an amazing guide to living. I think everybody should do it whether they have a problem or not because the world would be a different place. I'd like to think I'm a wise person from all of this and that I have a little bit of wisdom to give back
Why did you decided to retire from the Go-Go's?
I had age 50 in my head. I think it's really important to go out with a little bit of dignity. But also I have a life here in Europe and I can't really make the commitment to the band anymore. My life is different now that I can't make this commitment. I thought it was better that I resigned, and that's what happened. The other girls had different ideas about it and there was a lot of anger about it from some people. It's weird how things worked out because the whole cancellation of the [Happy Farewell] tour has kind of opened up communication with each other again. It was such stress the last couple of years of me not committing as much. There is an open dialogue now [and] everybody seems to be communicating and talking. Whether we do a makeup tour on this, I don't know. Who knows? We'll probably do something around the star on Hollywood. [Editor's Note: The Go-Go's were recently selected to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for 2011.]
Is there anything you're going to miss about being part of the band?
Ninety-nine percent of my memories are great memories. I remember walking down the hallway last year in Las Vegas [before doing a show] at this posh hotel to go to work thinking, "This is an amazing life," and realizing really how special being a Go-Go is and being part of this amazing, amazing band. It's been quite an experience and one I know everyone in the band feels the same way about.
Do you think about how the Go-Go's paved the way for future female rock groups?
I'd like to think that, but there haven't been that many female rock bands. There are a few, but not as many that I have would like to see. But we definitely changed the face of music, we definitely changed the face of radio at that time. And there were people before us who paved the way.
We did it our way. We weren't put together by a Svengali and told [to play] the same songs and dress a certain way. We did it ourselves. We started from nothing -- we had no idea about how to play instruments and write songs, plug guitars into amplifiers -- to being the number one band in America two and a half years later is an unbelievable feat. I think that's something that should be recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- I'm sorry. I think it's something we're all very, very proud of. That's a story against all odds.