“We’ll make heaven a place on earth” Belinda Carlisle sang on her 1987 Hot 100 topper, and it seems the universe has conspired to help her this year with the Go-Go’s earning a long-deserved spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “It was surreal in the best possible way,” Carlisle, lead singer of the trailblazing new wave group, tells Billboard. “For a couple weeks I was flying really high. I was so happy I was able to attend because I had a U.K. tour (that conflicted), but it ended up getting canceled because of COVID. I’m really proud of our band. What a great way to cement the legacy.”
Pandemic aside, the past few years have been good to Carlisle. An episode of Black Mirror gave her solo hit “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” a 21st century boost, and despite a report in 2019 that her masters were lost in the 2008 Universal fire, she’s happily since learned that hers are safely intact at a different warehouse.
As Carlisle prepares for a Dec. 16 charity event with Drag Race All Stars winner Trixie Mattel at the iconic Los Angeles gay club The Abbey – a benefit “Christmas Party” for Animal People Alliance, the charity she co-founded to help neglected street animals in India and Thailand — the newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer spoke with Billboard about her longtime love of drag, the Go-Go’s’ trend-setting thrift store fashion and what her former Germs bandmate Darby Crash might think about her Rock Hall induction if he were still around.
Congratulations on the Rock Hall induction. Drew Barrymore, who’s been a fan of your band since she was a child, inducted the band. Do you have memories of meeting her back in the day?
Oh yeah! We were sitting together talking and it was wonderful how it came full circle. I hadn’t seen her actually for probably 30 years. She was definitely the right person to do it. Her induction speech was really touching and I think it made a couple of us teary-eyed, to be honest.
The last time I saw her was at some fundraising event in like 1987. Time is just weird. In some ways it felt like yesterday. She’s so iconic and you feel like you know her — you feel like you know that person because they’ve been in your life so long and she’s such an American institution.
Speaking of longtime friends, Pat Smear was also inducted this year as part of the Foo Fighters, and of course you both go way back to your punk days in the ’70s. Did you get a chance to connect at the ceremony?
We were in the Germs together. I met Pat when I was like 17, he might be a little younger than me, we met at the Beverly Hilton trying to get Freddie Mercury’s autograph when they were on tour with A Night at the Opera — “Bohemian Rhapsody” came off that album. I met him with my best friend from high school Lorna [Doom], we met Darby and Pat in the lobby. We went to Freddie Mercury’s room, we knocked on the door, he didn’t answer, but we started hanging out then. I was the drummer that never played in the Germs. We were in our first band together when we were 17, 18 years old. When the Foo Fighters and Go-Go’s got inducted, he texted me – we’ve been in touch off and on throughout the years – and we thought it was so funny. Who would have guessed, from the Germs to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? After the awards the Foo Fighters had a party and we did a Germs song, I sang “Forming,” which is the Germs’ first single. Darby was the singer of the Germs, he died of a heroin overdose on the same day John Lennon died, so it was years ago. We were laughing at what Darby must think of us performing onstage with Dave Grohl on drums and Charlotte [Caffey] of the Go-Go’s on bass. It was great.
What do you think Darby would have made of your Rock Hall induction if he were around?
Oh, he probably would have loved it but had to have been sarcastic about it. In the end he would have loved it, honestly.
Was there anyone at the ceremony you were starstruck to see?
Well, I’ve met Carole [King] before, and she’s amazing, of course. Tapestry, I wore that album out. I had never met Paul McCartney before so that was a big one. He was amazing. There was so much going on, it was a whirlwind. But he stands out. John came to a Go-Go’s show with Yoko (back in the day) and I had met Ringo and George, so Paul was my last Beatle [laughs].
You have a fundraiser coming up for Animal People Alliance with Trixie Mattel. How did that pairing come about?
Animal People Alliance I co-founded in 2014, we provide employment to vulnerable people and train them to treat street animals in Indie and Thailand. So that’s been going on for a while and we’d never done a U.S. fundraiser. I follow Trixie on Instagram — Trixie is incredibly talented and funny and a friend of my son’s — so I thought, “oh god, wouldn’t it be amazing if Trixie could do this?” Because I knew she’s a vegetarian. My friend asked her and she said yes. I’m thrilled. It’s gonna be a really fun night. I’ll be singing of course at the end of the evening. Even the admission to the event is tax deductible.
You, Trixie Mattel, the Abbey – an amazing trio. The band’s Broadway musical, Head Over Heels, also starred another Drag Race girl, Peppermint. Are you a big Drag Race fan or do you go to drag shows?
I’ve always loved drag and I know Ru. I’ve seen the show a few times – living overseas it’s hard to get – but I’ve always loved drag. Peppermint is totally talented and actually I met her before she did Head Over Heels when I did a charity event and I wanted drag queens as my backup dancers. I’ve always been a big time drag fan.
I thought Head Over Heels was so clever and delightful, I was sad to see it close on Broadway. Are there any plans for it moving forward?
It’s playing at the Pasadena Playhouse with Alaska and has gotten great reviews. Broadway is such a tough thing – even getting it together, and then into theaters. Unfortunately, it was probably released at the wrong time – in summertime – when all the New Yorkers go out of town and the Midwest people come in. And they don’t want to see that, they want to see Frozen or Little Mermaid. So I think we were up against that. Also the storyline was so unexpected and out there, I think a lot of people probably couldn’t handle it. But after it closed it’s been performed in high schools around the country and in Australia, and I love that because it has such a great message. And I love the idea of kids doing it. It’s still kind of bubbling along and doing its thing.
The Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” gave “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” a huge spotlight. Did you happen to watch it?
Yes, I did and I loved it. That TV show exposed that song to a whole new audience. When I was on Twitter – I got off Twitter about a year ago – all of a sudden these kids were messaging me and telling me how much they love the song. That show did a lot for that song. And I love that during the Emmys, when it won for [outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special] they played “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” in the orchestra. For the song to be celebrated that way and in such a great episode is really cool. I heard that the director wanted that song and had in his mind it had to be that song. I was completely flattered.
And you were lucky – you got the one happy episode of Black Mirror.
Actually, it’s the only episode I saw but I loved it, it was great.
In 2019 there was a report about all these artists who lost their masters in the Universal fire, and you were among them. Have you since learned anything about that?
Oh yeah, they found them! We thought they were lost. The whole story of not letting the artists know that all these masters had been lost in the fire, I was very unhappy when I heard the news because it didn’t seem above board in the way they handled it. And so many amazing things were lost, but they did find my masters in some warehouse on the east coast, so mine were okay after all. It’s very lucky.
I loved the anniversary edition of the Go-Go’s’ debut Beauty and the Beat that came out a few years back. The bonus material included some live recordings from 1981 that were so kickass. Do you have any plans for other archival releases?
If something comes up that makes sense. A lot of those early performances are really great because it shows that we were a punk band and DIY as we went along. The Go-Go’s live is still a runaway train. To this day it has that element to it which makes the live show really exciting. I think the audience responds to that. I love all the old recordings, they’re very funny and totally charming. If something comes up and makes sense, there’s plenty of material, songs that didn’t make it on the albums – “Vicious Circle” and “Fashion Seekers” – and all these punk songs. Actually, I’ve been going over the lyrics because we might be doing, for encores, some of the early stuff. Some of the lyrics are hysterical. I have to say, the lyrics were really good. They were naïve and angry but really funny and really good.
A lot of the best rock is from young people who are angry and naïve, like you say, but have a sharp sense of humor and perspective.
It’s exactly that. We were fashionably angry.
Speaking of fashion, you were obviously a trend-setter in that realm. How much did you think about fashion at the time?
I always loved fashion. In the early days we had no money but I was always hitting the thrift stores. And thrift stores were great then. Everybody did their own thing. My look was I loved those old raggedy prom dresses and striped-sock stockings and tiaras and stilettos. My whole thing had a rockabilly element. You could go to thrift stores back then and buy Schiaparelli sweaters for twenty-five cents or Miriam Haskell jewelry for nothing, and now it’s so expensive. It was always a big part of my life, and I think the other girls would say the same. But we had no money, which goes to show that having style has nothing to do with brands or having money. Looking back at some of the footage in The Go-Go’s  documentary, we looked pretty amazing. We were influencers at that time as far as fashion goes, and we had no money at all.
You mention leaving Twitter earlier – did it just become too much?
Yeah. I got on Facebook — I have a professional page — but I’m not on it. With Twitter, it’s such a cesspool and so toxic. I’m on Instagram, I’m travelswithmrsmason, and I love that for the moment, but I can see down the line disappearing from social media. I know you need it now but one day if I ever slow down, I’ll get off social media. I love Instagram because it’s a photo album — I’m on it for the animals, to be honest, the dogs. Instagram was better before Facebook bought it. Eventually I’ll get off it all and disappear into the mountains with dogs and donkeys. That’s my dream.