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HRL Interviews: Carole Pope

Carole Pope, provocative solo artist and pioneering singer for Canadian new wave rock act Rough Trade with Kevin Staples, will always be best known for her 1981 same-sex crush song “High School Confidential,” but has been putting out solo material since the band ended in 1988. The Juno Award winner, 72, who has performed reunion shows with Staples, sat down for a Hugh’s Room Live interview.

Pope reveals they wrote the song for the film Cruising, starring Al Pacino, and while many straight people missed the lesbian reference, she says, “Quite a few people said, ‘This song helped me come out because it made me see that there were other people like me out there.’” Pope also talks about what she thought when people tried to censor Rough Trade, opening for David Bowie, working with Divine, and the exciting next phase of her career:  Rough Trade: The Musical.

Full Transcript

Green Room Sessions: Episode 2 Carole Pope

Video starts with Hugh’s Room Live logo fade in. Logo is white text with red accent on Live. Behind the logo an audio engineer fade audio on mixer while trumpet music is focused in the background. Piano players hands fade out while Priya Sams face fades in and a trumpet player and double bass player perform. Interview cut of Carole Pope speaking in a black sweatshirt. Guitar finalizes the montage with another cut of Carole Pope singing in a red blazer before Priya begins her interview.
Priya is wearing a green sweater, and her brown hair is tied back, Priya wears gold hoop earrings. Priya Sam joins Carole Pope in an artists lounge of Revival Concert Venue in front of a beige wall. Carole is sitting on a black leather couch while Priya sits in front of Carole in a metal chair.
Priya 00:34 Hello everyone and welcome to Hugh’s Room Live Green Room Sessions.
I’m Priya Sam and on behalf of the team at Hugh’s Room Live we are so thrilled to present this series of interviews with musicians. We are also very grateful to the Canada Council for funding this series.
Today I have the pleasure of speaking with legendary Canadian musician Carol Pope. Carol, thank you so much for being here.
Carole: Oh, you’re welcome.
Priya: 00:57 So, Carol, you’ve been performing around the world for decades. How does it feel
to be back here performing in Canada?
Carole: You know, Toronto audiences are great and they’re very sophisticated, I think. You know, it’s like playing, I would imagine it would be like playing in Europe.
Priya:01:21 Activism has always been part of your work through music, through other projects that you’ve been involved with. One of the early examples of that is one of rough trades breakthrough tracks. I think everyone knows that I’m talking about High School Confidential. It was released in 1980 and really one of the first songs to explicitly talk about seeing sex atraction. So can you take me back to the release of that song and the impact that it had?
Carole: We were working on a film called Cruising. That was very scandalous that William Friedkin directed, and Al Pacino played an undercover cop trying to bust a gay serial killer. And we got to work with Jack Nietzsche who was an amazing composer and arranger. And that’s what we wrote the song for and I’m, Mink Deville was one of the people working on the soundtrack. And I’m like, “Oh, Mink Deville can sing this.” And then they were like, “No, this is too literal. We don’t want to do it.” And then I’m like, “I’m gonna do it.” So that’s really how it happened.
Priya: So, it really sounds like there’s a litle bit of a factor of chance in here. I mean, did you have any idea how much this song would resonate?

Carole: No. I was just like, “This is a fun song and audiences seem to like it because we were performing it live.” And I’m like, “Let’s do it. Let’s record it.” And I had no idea. You know, and people really didn’t get it. Some people didn’t get it at all. And the career community totally got it.
But straight people were like, “Oh, it’s about high school. Yeah.”
Priya: 02:52 What did you hear from fans about high school confidential and how it changed their lives? Carole: Quite a few people have said, “Oh, this song helped me come out because it made me see that there were other people like me out there. And then I’m a role model and all these very sweet things.
But so I was happy to be of service.
Priya: In your autobiography, you talk about people trying to censor you in some of those early days. So, what did that look like and what happened at some of your shows?
Carole: I think we just thought it was funny because especially during the 70s when there were all these punk bands like cutting themselves on stage and bleeding and smashing up the venue and then we’re like, “Oh, but the police are here watching us because I’m going to say something sexually explicit. It just did not make any sense to me at all.” And we always had a sense of humor about the music and I’m like, “Are people really taking this seriously because it’s not that serious?” But definitely there was always a dark sense of humor. So somebody said, “Oh, my music makes people think and dance at the same time, which I love.”
Priya: 03:54 So I’m glad you said that because my next question was actually about how people describe your music because I was reading all of these different articles. I’ve seen so many different adjectives, you know, pop, rock, you know, dark, makes you think, makes you dance. So how do you like to hear your music described?
Carole: I like to think and dance at the same time. I think that’s great. You know, I mean, music is, it’s art and people are going to interpret it the way they interpret it, but, you know, I just want the audience to go have a good time and, you know, I don’t want it to be a heavy experience for people.
Priya: 04:33 So what are you enjoying the most about this phase of your career?
Carole: What I’m enjoying the most is that I co -wrote a musical called “Rough Trade the Musical” and that’s what my friend Kate Reganoy are working on and we just did a workshop, a four week workshop in New York. It was great to have a mostly queer bunch of actors who really didn’t know the music except for the lead who’s Canadian, Chilina Kenney, and they were like so moved by everything that they cried every day, people weren’t crying and they were like, I can’t believe, you know, you’re doing this, it’s not like anything else on Broadway or off Broadway.
So that’s what I’m most excited about and I’m excited about, you know, workshopping in here and geting it out in theaters here.

Priya:05:19 When you reflect back on your career, what are you most proud of?
Carole: I’m just amazed that it’s lasted this long and that people are still into my music and I’ve goten to work with some great people. I mean, one of the highlights of our career was opening for David Bowie, working with Devine doing this crazy theater piece to end the interview.
Priya: Carol, thank you so much for being here. Oh, you’re welcome.
Scene change, a female emcee introduces Carole from the stage. The emcee is wearing a stripped blazer with her hair down.
I am really honored to be introducing to you someone I have admired for years. Please help me welcome to the Hugh’s Room Stage Carole Pope
Audience cheers
Mmm, how long?
How long have you been away?
Oh, how long?
I can’t find the words to say, yeah
I’ve kept your picture on my shelf Only there to remind myself, oh
I have always cared for you
Do you still love me?
Oh, my flame
Some things will never change
I still hold your vision in my mind
Say you still love me
Mmm, my love
Will I ever make you see
Ooh, that somehow
You are still a part of me? Oh, yeah Maybe we can compromise
‘Cause our love just can’t be disguised, oh I have always cared for you
Do you still love me?
Oh, my flame
Some things will never change
I still hold your vision in my mind
Say you still love me
Mmm, my flame
Some things will never change
I still hold your vision in my mind
Say you still love me
Mmm, my flame
Some things will never change

I still hold your vision in my mind Say you still love me
Oh, my flame
Some things will never change
Video returns to Priya from the stage- Thank you all so much for tuning in to this Hugh’s Room Live Green Room session. We will have a total of 10 interviews in our series, so please stay tuned for the next one.