Belinda Carlisle

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - WORDS john marrs

Cast your minds back to Jan­uary 1988. While Kylie was plan­ning

her trans­for­ma­tion from soap star to pop star and Madonna be­gan an 18-month hi­ber­na­tion, 5,000 miles away, a for­mer punk rocker was plan­ning world dom­i­na­tion. Hav­ing al­ready en­joyed suc­cess state­side four months ear­lier with her num­ber one song Heaven is a Place on Earth, Belinda Carlisle was about to be­come

a house­hold name over here too. Now with its par­ent al­bum Heaven on Earth cel­e­brat­ing its 30th an­niver­sary, she re­calls the

highs and lows of the fol­low­ing three decades.

“I can’t imag­ine hav­ing a straight son. I’ve al­ways been able to re­late more to gay peo­ple than straight peo­ple, so it made per­fect sense to have a gay son.”

“Some­times I can’t be­lieve it’s been 30 years since Heaven Is a Place on Earth came out and some­times it feels like it’s a life­time ago”, Belinda Carlisle be­gins from the bar of a Lon­don ho­tel where we meet.

“I re­mem­ber when I first heard it, it was played to me on a piano and straight away, ev­ery­body was think­ing, ‘This could be a hit song.’ You never re­ally know for sure though, it de­pends on what go­ing on in the charts at the time.”

It was Ste­vie Nicks who matched Belinda with song­writ­ers Rick Now­els and Ellen Ship­ley and changed her life. “Heaven on Earth was writ­ten by peo­ple who knew me”, she con­tin­ues. “They’d write songs and melodies with my voice in mind. Lyri­cally

I’ve al­ways been fussy. Now it would be hard for me to make an al­bum like that be­cause I couldn’t sing the same sort of songs. They’d need to be age ap­pro­pri­ate. For me to sing a pop song it has to be like a wise old woman singing – I can’t be sound­ing like a naïve 20-year-old.”

As hits like I Get Weak and Cir­cle in the Sand fol­lowed, the re­lent­less ham­ster wheel of record­ing, tour­ing, pro­mo­tion and in­ter­views be­gan to take its toll on Belinda. “It was a blur”, she re­calls. “I was al­ways work­ing, which was ex­cit­ing, and I was try­ing to be present, but it was tough at that kind of pace. I was al­ways think­ing ahead to what­ever I needed to do next and not en­joy­ing what I was do­ing in the mo­ment. That’s just the way it is when you’re young and caught up in ev­ery­thing. I wasn’t hav­ing time to breathe.”

Belinda is one of pop’s sur­vivors. As she sits be­fore Gay Times look­ing at least a decade younger than her 58 years, it’s hard to be­lieve that for 20 of them, she bat­tled co­caine ad­dic­tion. She has been clean since 2004. “If I could go back in time and give my younger self any ad­vice, it would be don’t do drugs”, she says. “The theme of my au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Lips Unsealed, was that you can teach an old dog new tricks – in my case it was get­ting sober later in life which I didn’t think was pos­si­ble. In fact, no­body though it was pos­si­ble as far as I was con­cerned.”

She was at the height of her fame at the same time as fel­low chart-top­pers Prince, Michael Jackson and Whit­ney Hous­ton. Both il­le­gal and pre­scrip­tion drugs lead to their deaths, so does Belinda ever won­der why they died and she sur­vived? “I do, a lot”, she an­swers frankly. “I thought about it the other day, about how many of my con­tem­po­raries are gone and I’m still here... it’s weird. Who knows why? In some ways I shouldn’t be here at all, or at least I should be in jail – one or the other! I re­alise now what I put my body through – I was not kind to my­self, that’s for sure. So now I’m ex­tra kind. I was talk­ing to one of The Go-Go’s re­cently about how a lot of those celebrity deaths are prob­a­bly re­lated to their drug abuse from years ago. And I worry that I’ll get Parkin­son’s dis­ease, be­cause that’s re­lated to co­caine abuse.”

It has been 21 years since A Woman and a Man, Belinda’s last English lan­guage al­bum. It wasn’t a great ex­pe­ri­ence. “I could’ve phoned that in”, she laughs. “There are a cou­ple of songs I liked but most of them are stinkers.” She’s meet­ing fans half way with the re­lease of her eighth LP, Wilder Shores, which merges repet­i­tive mantras over struc­tured melodic

pop. “I think some of my fans are go­ing to hate it and that’s OK”, she smiles. “I don’t ex­pect peo­ple to like it if they want a proper, clas­sic pop al­bum from me. It’s not about un­der­stand­ing the words, that’s miss­ing the point.

“Chant­ing and mantras have the ca­pac­ity to help peo­ple. I started chant­ing be­fore I got sober. Then, when I was clean, I felt I needed all the help that I could get. When I first got sober I was in a lot of trou­ble in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways, so I chanted for two to three hours a day. And when I should have been afraid of where my life was head­ing, I felt on top of the world in­stead. I know its power.”

As for record­ing an­other tra­di­tional pop al­bum one day, she hasn’t ruled it out. She’s recorded a hand­ful of new songs over the last few years that have popped up on great­est hits and re-is­sues. And she’s recorded three new tunes for the 30th an­niver­sary reis­sue of Heaven on Earth. “I might do a pop record one day. The cri­te­ria has to be ‘do I love it?’ The only way I can work on some­thing is from the heart.”

Belinda lives in Thai­land with hus­band of 31 years, film pro­ducer Mor­gan Ma­son. Their son, James Duke Ma­son, is a writer and gay rights ac­tivist in the US. He came out to his par­ents when he was 14-years-old. “We were liv­ing in a very provin­cial area in the moun­tains in the south of France and he hadn’t come out at school and there was no sup­port sys­tem for him”, Belinda re­calls. “So he was call­ing PFLAG [an or­gan­i­sa­tion help­ing par­ents, friends and fam­i­lies of les­bians and gays] in LA and they were coach­ing him on how to come out.

“They al­ways say ‘tell your mother first in case your fa­ther has a bad re­ac­tion’. When he told me, I was like, ‘How am I go­ing to tell my hus­band?’ He’s also gay friendly but hav­ing an only son and a gay one is al­most like a re­flec­tion of your mas­culin­ity. So I sat on it for two or three months. I was a wreck for that time pe­riod be­cause it was like I had a se­cret and I didn’t know how to tell him.

“My hus­band said, ‘Oh it’s just a phase’, and I was like, ‘I don’t think it is.’ Then my son would get mad and I was in the cen­tre be­tween them. I told them they had to work it out and it took them a good year to do that.”

And hav­ing spent the ma­jor­ity of her life around gay peo­ple – hell, she even recorded the gay an­them Live Your Life Be Free – Belinda ad­mits that it made sense her only child would be gay.

“I can’t imag­ine hav­ing a straight son”, she laughs. “Since high school, 99 per cent of my friends have been gay or les­bian. I’ve al­ways been able to re­late more to gay peo­ple than straight peo­ple, so it made per­fect sense to have a gay son. I can’t imag­ine how it would be hav­ing a straight son bring­ing home girls I can’t stand.”

And see­ing how James has be­come an ac­tivist has spurred her on to do more her­self. “His ac­tivism has changed me”, Belinda adds. “Now, when I look at friends of mine on In­sta­gram and they’re on pri­vate jets or go­ing from yachts to pri­vate jets, I can only be friends with them if they have some sort of so­cial con­science now. James has pushed me in that di­rec­tion and has made me be­come more of an ac­tivist. I was on the Women’s March in LA in Jan­uary, I take part in Pride and LGBT+ marches. He’s hard­core and has made me a lot more so­cially aware of things.”

Heaven on Earth 30th An­niver­sary Edi­tion and new al­bum Wilder Shores are out now. Belinda’s Heaven on Earth tour runs 1-13 Oc­to­ber, @be­lin­daof­fi­cial

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