Rocker and equality advocate Belinda Carlisle opens PrideFest Milwaukee’s 25th anniversary weekend with an 8 p.m. performance on Friday, June 8. Other event headliners include Taylor Dane, Berlin and GOD-DES & She.
in advance of Carlisle’s Milwaukee appearance, she spoke with WiG’s Gregg Shapiro about her reunion tour with the Go-Go’s and becoming a gay rights supporter following the coming-out of her son James duke Mason.
Gregg Shapiro: Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Go-Go’s major-label debut disc “Beauty and the Beat.” Where did the time go?
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 in the course of three years, beyond that, it’s been a whirlwind, for sure.
The Go-Go’s reunited for a tour to commemorate the anniversary, and the group is back on tour. What’s the best part of the experience?
Since 1990, we’ve toured consistently pretty much every year. We did break up 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 ever 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.
As the first of the Go-Go’s to launch a solo career, you had a number of hit singles. How did you know it was the right time to embark on your own?
I just got right into it as soon as the band broke up. The band didn’t break up 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. (Carlisle detailed her epic battle with cocaine addiction in her memoir “Lips Unsealed.”) It was the right time. I knew I had this big support system behind me.
You are coming to Milwaukee in June to perform at PrideFest. Were you conscious of having an LGBT following?
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.
What can your fans look forward to during your PrideFest set?
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.
You became something of an LGBT activist after your son James Duke Mason came out, and you made a ‘No on One’ video that ran on youTube.
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.
What did you think of President Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage?
It’s about time. I’m glad he said it. It was a really brave thing to do. I think of my parents, for instance, who love Obama but can’t come to terms with 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.
If there was a film version of your 2010 memoir Lips Unsealed,” who would you want to play you in the movie?
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.
Finally, is heaven really a place on earth?
(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 is the opening night headliner on June 8 at PrideFest Milwaukee 2012. For more information about the nation’s largest LGBT music festival, go to www.pridefest.com.