A GoPride Interview

Belinda Carlisle

Belinda Carlisle: I believe in equal rights for everyone and that means everyone. Even if I didn't have a gay son I probably would be involved.

Thu. May 31, 2012  by Gregg Shapiro

I believe in equal rights for everyone and that means everyone. Even if I didn't have a gay son I probably would be involved.
Belinda Carlisle

Heavenly: an interview with Belinda Carlisle by Gregg Shapiro

As the lead singer of the Go-Go's, the band at the forefront of the all-girl groups of the early 1980s, Belinda Carlisle belted and danced her way through hits such "Our Lips Are Sealed," "We've Got The Beat," "Vacation" and "Head Over Heels." Her successful solo career, launched in 1986, also yielded chart-toppers including "Mad About You" and "Heaven is a Place on Earth." A longtime friend of the community, she continues to make sure her voice is also heard on LGBT issues, even more so since her son James Duke Mason came out a couple of years ago. Taking a break from a Spring 2012 tour with the Go-Go's, Carlisle answered a few questions prior to her June 8 headlining appearance at Milwaukee's Pridefest.

GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Last year, 2011, saw the 30th anniversary expanded CD reissue of the Go-Go's major-label debut disc "Beauty and the Beat," along with a version on vinyl. Where did the time go, Miss Belinda?

BC: (Belinda Carlisle) [Laughs] I have no idea. It feels like yesterday. It's so scary. First of all when I look back, we formed the band in 1978. So, to go from zero to 100 in three years, without really knowing how to do anything, other than plugging guitars in amplifiers, is a pretty incredible feat. To think of that being the course of three years, beyond that, it's been a whirlwind, for sure.

GS: The Go-Go's reunited for a tour to commemorate the anniversary. As we speak (in May 2012), the Go-Go's are back on tour. What's the best part of that experience?

BC: Since 1990, we've toured consistently pretty much every year. We did breakup in 1985 and then at the end of 1989 we got together for a benefit. We are like one big happy dysfunctional family. We know each other really well; it's family. It's not even like work colleagues, it's beyond that. There's a camaraderie that you don't get, that I can't even get working solo, because I work solo all the time. The Go-Go's are a special band and we have special relationships with each other.

GS: That's wonderful. As the first of the Go-Go's to launch a solo career, you had a number of hit singles including "Mad About You" and "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." How did you know that it was the right time to embark on your own?

BC: I just got right into it as soon as the band broke up. The band did breakup because I left, it broke up for other reasons. I always knew that I had the opportunity to have a solo career, so I got into it right away. I had met my husband. I was newly sober, sort of. I should put sort of in parentheses. It was the right time. I knew I had this big support system behind me.

GS: You are coming to Milwaukee in June 2012 to perform at Pridefest. Were you conscious of an LGBT following as both a member of the Go-Go's and as a solo artist? And if so, in what ways?

BC: The Go-Go's have always had a gay audience from its inception. It has always been like that. I don't know really how you can say why or define that. Maybe there's a little bit of the "Valley of the Dolls" element [laughs] thrown in there. Also, gay people have better taste than straight people, generally. They do. We've all been aware that we've always had a gay audience.

GS: What can your fans look forward to during your Pridefest set?

BC: I'm doing all of my solo hits and throwing in a few Go-Go's hits. That's quite a few songs. Generally the music is anthemic and upbeat and I think people will have a good time.

GS: You became something of an LGBT activist after your son James Duke Mason came out and you made a No On 1 video that ran on YouTube. Would you say that it is a natural role for you, aside from being the mother of a gay son?

BC: Yes. I believe in equal rights for everyone and that means everyone. Even if I didn't have a gay son I probably would be involved. But since my son is gay, of course, that makes it even more important to me. Because he's my baby.

GS: What did you think of President Obama's recent statement of support for same-sex marriage?

BC: It's about time. I'm glad he said it. It was a really brave thing to do. Brave in a way that, when I think of my parents, for instance, who love Obama but can't come to terms of gay marriage. That's just the way it is, even though they have a gay grandson. There's a lot of people out there who are like that, so it was a brave thing to do.

GS: If there were a film version of your 2010 memoir "Lips Unsealed," whom would you want to play you in the movie?

BC: (without hesitation) Elizabeth Olsen. I think she has an edge. I think she's a great little actress. There's a similarity. When I saw "Martha Marcy May Marlene," I thought she was amazing. And I thought, "She could probably do me." I know it's in the works. But having a book in the works as a film, you never know if it's going to come to pass. But if it was going to happen, I would love for her to play me.

GS: Finally, Belinda, is heaven really a place on earth?

BC: [Laughs] There are certain places on this planet that absolutely are. I would say Hawaii, I would say Kashmir in India, I would say Rome is heaven on earth, too. And I would say San Francisco is pretty close to it.

Belinda Carlisle will headline the opening night of PrideFest Milwaukee 2012 with an 8 p.m. performance on the Miller Lite Mainstage on Friday, June 8. PrideFest Milwaukee, the nation's largest LGBT music festival, is scheduled for June 8 – 10 at the Summerfest Grounds. Visit PrideFest.com for more information.

Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.