In the ’80s, Belinda’s Carlisle’s career demonstrated that, for some, heaven really is a place on earth. As the lead singer of the supremely successful girl group The Go-Go’s – they had the beat, and the looks and talent – the now-54-year-old eventually embarked on a solo venture. Four albums and numerous hit singles later, Carlisle’s new “ICON” collection is a celebration of the singer’s best that also includes her first U.S. pop single in over 15 years, “Sun.”
Carlisle chatted recently about not wanting to do another pop album, 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.
Oh yeah? You agree?
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.
It’s been six years since your last studio album, “Voila,” which was in French. Is the new single, “Sun,” the beginning of a new pop album?
I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing, actually. (Laughs) Honestly, I have some amazing opportunities that have come my way for some amazing projects, and I might do something in English, I might do something in French, I might do a yoga album – I don’t know.
I’m at a really good point in my career where I can kind of do what comes from the heart, and that’s the only way I can work now, so it’s whatever really feels right. I can’t make a pop album just because I can. I don’t like to work that way anymore, so we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll do something. I just don’t know what that will be.
Are you not interested in doing a pop album?
Not really, no. Uh-uh. (Laughs) But maybe. I mean, in the past three months, people have approached me to do a pop album in English, and I have to think about it; it’s a big commitment, not just in the studio but a big commitment in the prep work and also after it’s released. There’s promoting and touring for it. You can’t just put it out and not tour. It’s a good two years at least, so I don’t know. I’m just gonna wing it and see what happens. If it’s something that I really wanna do, then I’ll do it.
Kathy Valentine recently left The Go-Go’s. I can’t not ask what happened there.
Well, it’s kind of sensitive, but I will say that for a band and a band member to go separate ways after 30-odd years, there has to be some pretty significant reasons – and it’s not all for nothing. That’s as far as I can say, because it’s very sensitive at this time.
Will you miss her being a part of the group?
Of course I will. She was a really important part of the beginning. She wasn’t a founding member, but she was there for (our debut) “Beauty and the Beat,” and it’s definitely going to be strange without her.
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.
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.