If ever there was a group whose music makes me want to crank up the speakers, drive down the highway with the windows wide open, and sing along with a such a happy feeling in my gut that even a Snickers Bar would be fruitless, it’s The Go-Go’s, that all-girl ’80s band who forever seems plucked out of a Southern California mall’s candy confection of delights.
Broadway’s got the beat now as Head Over Heels, the new musical featuring the catalog of The Go-Go’s, hits the 2018-19 theater season. With songs including “Our Lips Are Sealed and “Vacation,” as well as Belinda Carlisle’s solo hits “Mad About You” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” and a production team that includes director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and a book by Tony winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q) and adapted by James Magruder, this could be the greatest gay thing to hit the Great White Way since Xanadu roller-skated into our Times Square-shaped hearts.
In between a work schedule that’s had her “living all over the world for the past 30 years,” I had a chance to chat with lead singer Carlisle about the show, the soundtrack, and being a woman in a man’s musical world. As always, her lips were unsealed.
What was your reaction when you first heard someone wanted to do a Go-Go’s musical?
In the beginning, it was going to be more autobiographical [the book for Head Over Heels is based on Sir Philip Sidney’s Elizabethan romance Arcadia]. We had nothing to lose so we let the people who knew what they were doing do it. When we read the book two years later we were all jumping up and down because it was so out there. It could have been another Dreamgirls but that wouldn’t have been very original. And voila! Eight years later and there you have it.
If the show was about The Go-Go’s what would the plot be like?
Oh god. It would make me the big bad wolf. It would be…people want drama, especially with The Go-Go’s. It would be a little Valley of the Dolls, a little drugs, I would think. The arrogant lead singer leaving the band, leaving everyone else to dry. Then they love each other at the very end. But lots of drama.
Does having other people sing a catalog of your songs give them new meaning?
A lot of the lyrics are really dark and people don’t realize that because it’s bubbly and pop. “Vacation” is sad. “Head Over Heels” is really dark. “Our Lips Are Sealed” is about people gossiping. Most of the songs are meaty. They’re not just “hey baby, wanna go out with me, blah, blah.”
Abba’s music became a sensation for Mamma Mia. Do your songs inspire a similar reaction?
I’d like to think so. Abba is like…I bow down to them. They craft perfect pop songs. Perfect arrangements. Perfect in every way. Abba songs are joyous. Go-Go’s songs, if you’re not listening to the lyrics [laughs], are joyous.
The Go-Go’s are the most successful all-female group to write and perform their own songs, yet they’ve never been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Does it bother you and do you have a theory as to why?
It bothers me a little bit because it’s so obvious. Come on. We were self-made. We had no idea what we were doing. We hired Charlotte [Caffey] because she knew how to plug in an amplifier and a guitar. We wrote our lyrics on masking tape. People freak out when it comes to the music. Do I have a theory? Yes. Somebody—it could have been me—offended somebody in some way. I’ve heard “over my dead body will The Go-Go’s ever be in the hall of fame.” So it might be post-mortem or it might never happen. It’s sexist or it’s political.
How have things changed for women in music since you started?
It’s all so sexualized now. With the exception of maybe Adele or Lady Gaga, whom I love and who uses it in a smart way. It absolutely lacks authenticity. I probably sound like my mom now… We couldn’t exist now. I think you have to look a certain way and based on how we look we wouldn’t have made it now.
Are you nervous about opening night?
No. I’m trying to, like, if it happens, that’s amazing. But I’m trying not to be attached to it. I’m just trying to let it go.
[And with that, Belinda Carlisle had to get up and go-go.]