The Revolution Will Be Harmonized


By Barry Walters

Were the record companies aware that you were lesbians and in a relationship together?
Wendy: They'd never talk to us about it. I think everybody knew, but nobody said to us, 'But you're a lesbian couple. We could work the Lilith Fair angle. We could work the Olivia Records angle.' No one used that kind of language with us.
Lisa: We were so hung up on the fact that these people wanted us to be Prince. It didn't matter what our sexuality was. After we would leave the record company offices, I remember one of our managers mentioning that the art department people would comment on the way Wendy and I would talk to each other. LIke I would say, 'Yes, dear,' and they would be all like whisper-whisper after we would leave the room. 'They're gay, aren't they? They're like an old married couple.' At that point, we had already been a couple for 10 years. It was very normal for us and very precious.
Wendy: I saw a lot of other women coming out at the time and I didn't want that on my plate. I wanted my life with Lisa to be so much more private and so much more conventional than that.
Lisa: You know, Wendy, I don't know if you'll mind me saying this, but we did slightly differ on our consciousness about it. We would do interviews together and people would ask us questions like, 'What is it like living in LA?' And I'd start talking about living in a house together and literally get a kick from Wendy under the table like, 'You're going too far.'
Wendy: Lisa, at the time we were talking to bullshit magazines. I just didn't want the judgment from people who didn't know about us or the struggle it takes for gays to fucking live a normal life.
Lisa: I know, but I felt that you had to teach by example instead of making some statement.
Wendy: I disagreed at the time. You can hear it still. Lisa and I are so much on the same page as older women, but at the time it was like, 'Fuck that!' I'm not gonna go there. I want more control of this. I just simply do. I lead the way for Lisa and I to be closeted.

You were dealing with this during the Reagan years when the AIDS crisis was exploding and the progressive attitude regarding gays started reversing. It must've been hard to contend with that while the music industry pushed you to be the next Mary Jane Girls.
Wendy and Lisa, nearly in unison: That's exactly what they wanted.
Wendy: We couldn't have been more opposite of that. We were just geeky musicians. We still are. We did a record 10, 11 years ago with Trevor Horn that was never released. We were hoping that we would have the next fucking Grace Jones 'Slave to the Rhythm' extravaganza. We thought, 'This is going to be genius! We're going to be musician freaks and experiment.' And he, honest to god, wanted us to be the Spice Girls. My heart was broken.
Lisa: Not only that, but he was so homophobic. I hate to say it, but he wouldn't even let us eat off of his silverware on Friday because he was Jewish. It turned into this nightmare. He and his wife, oh God, I don't want to talk disparagingly about anybody, but it made us very uncomfortable.
Wendy: Our homosexuality became quite an issue for them.

That's especially disturbing coming from the guy who produced Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys.
Wendy: And Marc Almond and ABC and t.A.T.u. You name it.
Lisa: He would come in and start talking, 'Well, I asked my rabbi about homosexuality and my rabbi said it's comparable to being born a mass murderer. You can be born a mass murderer, but if you practice mass murder it's sinful.' I was like, 'Okay, you can be born gay, but if you practice being gay, you might as well be a mass murderer?' Oh, thanks Trev. Let's record this song now.

That must've been a shock after what you'd experienced in the Revolution. How conscious was Prince of assembling for the Revolution that racial and sexuality rainbow you described?
Wendy: He was incredibly conscious of it. Look at the way he looked during Dirty Mind and Controversy and 1999. He was so androgynous. He didn't care if you were [paraphrasing Prince's 'Uptown' lyric] 'black, white, straight, gay, Puerto Rican, just a freakin'.' That guy wanted fans. So anyway he could get them -- and a more interesting way he could do it -- appealed to him. The Sly and the Family Stone mentality, that whole black/white/freaky thing on stage appealed to him.
Lisa: I'll give you an example. We had a photo shoot for the Purple Rain poster. We were all in our different positions and he at one point walked over to me and Wendy and lifted my arm up and put my hand around Wendy's waist and said, 'There.' And that is the poster. That's how precise he was about how he wanted the image of the band to be. He wanted it to be way more obvious. We weren't just the two girls in the band.
Wendy: We were the couple.
Lisa: We were the gay girls in the band. It was very calculated.
Wendy: And how did it make us feel? I felt slightly protected by it, which is really ironic. There was so much mystery around him and he never had to answer to anybody or anything and I was so young and dumb that I thought I could adopt that philosophy.
Lisa: It was validating. It was just, 'Here you go. This is the name of the story and this is what it looks like.' And it was all the more reason why we didn't feel as though we had to talk about it. People just saw it. They bought the records and we were successful, so it wasn't that big a deal. It's like hip-hop today. It's dangerous, but every little kid in the Midwest is rapping.

So Prince knew the full extent of your relationship?
Wendy: He wouldn't spend the night at our house. He was very much aware of it. [During the mid-'80s, Prince dated Wendy's twin sister, Susannah Melvoin, who sang the Family's 1985 version of "Nothing Compares 2 U."]

How far back had you known each other before the Revolution?
Wendy: Lisa and I had known each other since we were two years old. Our families grew up together. We had bands together. We went to the same schools together, the whole thing. And then during those pivotal teenage years, we spent a few years apart. I turned 16 and fell in love with her, and we were a couple for 22 years starting when I was 17. We fell in love in 1980, and we were a full-blown couple from 1981 to 2002.

Did you first think Prince was gay?
Lisa: He was little and kinda prissy and everything. But he's so not gay.
Wendy: He's a girl, for sure, but he's not gay. He looked at me like a gay woman would look at another woman.
Lisa: Totally. He's like a fancy lesbian.
Wendy: I remember being at that 'Sexuality' video shoot and him on stage with that little black jacket and that tie thing around his neck and his black pants with white buttons on the side. And we looked at each other for the first time and I thought, 'Oh, I could so fall in love with that girl easy.' It doesn't matter what sexuality, gender you are. You're in the room with him and he gives you that look and you're like, 'Okay, I'm done. It's over.' He's Casanova. He's Valentino.