The Go-Go’s are heading out on their nationwide Farewell Tour, but they are not coming to Salt Lake City. In fact, the closest they will get is Phoenix. For $80+ a ticket (with fees).
But lead singer Belinda Carlisle, the vivacious lead singer of the most successful all-female band in American history, is. She will be performing at the Utah Pride Festival.
The Go-Gos were the first all-female band in America that wrote and performed their own music, formed in 1978.
Carlisle has been performing lately as a solo act, but don’t expect her to leave her bouncy Go-Go persona too far behind.
“They’re both equal part of me,’’ Carlisle said of the band and her seven and soon-to-be-eight-solo album career.
“The Go-Go’s is a different working situation,’’ Carlisle said. “I have the camaraderie of the band, which is great. For me, it’s my roots, but it’s a totally different thing than doing my own thing.’’
The Go-Go’s made a living with that quintessential MTV pop sound in such songs as “Vacation’’ and “We Got the Beat.’’ Her solo work includes hints of that, but really is a lot deeper, boasting lush production and even hints of Edith Piaf angst, sung in French, since that is where she spends her down time.
“I grew up with lushly produced pop songs, and then in my late teens, I got into the New York scene, with Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground and the Sex Pistols,’’ she said.
“When the Go-Go’s formed, we had a certain pop sensibility, but we always aspired to be more punk-pop, like the Buzzcocks,’’ she said. “But part of me is very, very pop.’’
Pop, however can seem like the shallow end of the musical gene pool, so to speak.
“Pop is not a dirty word to me,’’ chided Carlisle, who said she does “get’’ that some people have a less than high regard for the genre. “But there’s nothing like a good pop song that carried you away. My favorite songs in the world are all pop songs. It’s definitely an art form.’’
So, the question is, why is the group breaking up? Are the Go-Go’s really gone gone?
“It really IS a farewell tour,’’ she said. “We feel we’re ending on a good note. There’s no acrimonious dynamic in the band. We just don’t want to go on too long. That would just be sad, and it’s easy to go on too long.”
Carlisle sat with our Chris Azzopardi and chatted about telling her gay son about her own “sexually adventurous” experiences and the reason she cares about gay rights now more than ever.
Which song of yours has the most significance to you? Oh gosh. The first one that comes to mind is “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” only because it was so huge and it really established my career not just in this country but all over the world.
The song you wish you didn’t have to sing ever again? Um, yes. There are a few of them. But they’re songs that people insist on hearing. (Laughs) I don’t like doing “Heaven” in rehearsal. I don’t like doing “We Got the Beat” in rehearsal. There are certain songs I get lazy about in rehearsal, but when I do them live, just the reaction from the audience makes it OK. But yeah, there are some songs you’re like, “Uh, next!” (Laughs)
Hardcore fans seem to agree that “Runaway Horses” is your greatest solo album. I think so, too. I love some of the songs on there. “Summer Rain” makes the whole album for me. That and “Mad About You” are my two favorite songs of my career. “Voila” is my other favorite, but for different reasons. The production of “Runaway Horses” just kind of captured a moment.
If you could relive any part of the ‘80s, what would it be? Oh god, I don’t know if I’d want to relive any of the ‘80s. I think I did the ‘80s really well, so I think it’s time for me to move on from that. There’s not really one thing I’d like to repeat, to be perfectly honest.
Especially not the clothes, right? (Laughs) Definitely not the fashion, that’s for sure.
Do you still have any of the clothes from that era? There’s one dress that I have. I used to wear it out up until about 15 years ago. It’s like a square dance dress, but now I would just look like some scary bag lady if I put it on, like someone trying to be young and fresh. (Laughs) It’s in my closet, and it’s still really cute, but I don’t think I could wear it again.
How does being the mother of a gay son change the way you see your gay fans? Is it like an extended family now? Actually, it kind of is. You know, I’ve always kind of gotten it, because from the beginning, my friends have been 90 percent gay and lesbian. That’s just the way it’s been for me. So I’d rather have a gay son than a straight son, let me just say that. But now, I look at it differently, because I know that when my son told me, it was like, “What’s life gonna be like for him?” “Is he going to be treated equally wherever he goes?” I think about that for any gay person now, and I never really thought about that before. Now I think about how the world is toward gay people, and although it’s better, we’re still not 100 percent accepting.
If you’ve been around gay people your whole life, what about James coming out shocked you? Well, it shocked me and it didn’t shock me; I had little clues along the way. So I was driving the car and he goes, “I like boys,” and I had to pull the car over. It was like someone socked me in the stomach, although it was totally fine. The first thing I thought about was, “How am I gonna tell your father?” I was fine with it. [James] said something really smart: “My sexuality does not define me.” For a 14-year-old to say that, that’s pretty unbelievable. For me, the hardest part was thinking, “What is the world going to be like for him as a gay person?” I had to go to my therapist because I went through all those stupid things: Was it something I did? Something I said? Things I’m sure any parent kind of goes through, and I knew it wasn’t. This is just the way it is. He was born gay.
I don’t think it’s uncommon for parents to be like, “Was it my fault?” “Did we watch too much ‘Golden Girls’?” It’s normal. And it’s funny — he loved “I Love Lucy,” he went to “Phantom of the Opera” and loved Andrew Lloyd Webber. We laugh about it now. When I look back on it, there are funny little clues, but there are other things that were more telling and very peripheral that I really can’t go into, but still, I thought, “What have I done? Did I indulge him when I went to get his costume at The Disney Store for Sleeping Beauty and Snow White?”
My therapist said that I should have my son tell my husband, but I thought, “No.” Instinctively, it’s something that I need to do, because what if he had a bad reaction, even though I knew he wouldn’t, but you never know. When I told him, he was like, “It’s just a phase,” and for a year afterwards they went at it back and forth, but now my husband and I can’t imagine having it any other way.
You’ve hinted at being sexually adventurous back in the day, while performing with The Go-Go’s. Everyone was in the ‘80s. Exactly.
I recall reading interviews where you didn’t want to get into details about that time because James reads your interviews. You’ve been so open about most aspects of your life, though, including your drug addiction, so why do you want to shield him from this? I think most gay kids would think it’s cool, and might feel more accepted, if their parent had a same-sex experience. I know. It’s just funny, I guess, him and I being from different generations and me being more modest with that. He does know that I was adventurous in that way and we kind of joke about it. I don’t necessarily want to go into details, because I want to keep my more conventional secrets secret, too.
My son and I butt heads about anybody’s sexuality, and he thinks that everybody who’s gay and in the closet should come out; it’s their responsibility. And I say no. I think if a person doesn’t want to come out, it’s their business. They have their reasons. That’s kind of the way I feel about myself, too. But he knows. We laughed about it the other day. I think everybody does (have those experiences) and nobody likes to talk about it, that’s all. Q
Carlisle will perform at the Utah Pride Festival on Sunday, June 5. Tickets are available at UtahPrideFestival.org