Susanna Hoffs, former lead singer of The Bangles, is 64 years old but looks about 40. She never fancied Botox or surgery so her youthful appearance must be down to good genes, a teetotal lifestyle and a continued creative passion which has seen recently write her first novel.
This Bird Has Flown is a romantic comedy about a one-hit wonder trying to navigate her post-fame career and love life. It’s a funny and compelling read that you can imagine winding up on the big screen sometime soon (her husband is the Hollywood director Jay Roach, who made the Austin Powers movies among others – she met him in the early ’90s on a blind date).
Hoffs, of course, was a severalhits wonder, enjoying chart success throughout the ’80s with songs including Walk Like an Egyptian, Eternal Flame and, of course, Manic Monday – which was written for The Bangles by Prince. We caught her on a flying visit to London and found her to be buzzing with excitement about the book and more than happy to reflect on the glory and gossip of her ’80s heyday.
The Big Issue: The new book is about a pop star struggling to adapt after the hits dry up. Is this something you experienced yourself?
Susanna Hoffs: There was a huge gap between The Bangles first splitting up and what came next for me. At the time I felt like I coped with that moment at the start of the ’90s pretty well but now, aged 64, I’ve had to look back at it all more closely while writing this novel. And think back about the somewhat deafening silence that came after The Bangles. It was very hard to attempt the solo career. In any case, I got married and started a family quite soon after The Bangles and so touring became much less appealing.
Was it hard to have a love life when you were on the road in the ’80s?
Yes, maintaining relationships was hard. Male bands boasted about how much they loved being away from their girlfriends while they were on the road, but we all wanted to take our boyfriends with us. Touring can be so lonely. But dating was impossible back then.
You were linked with so many famous men at the time…
Michael J Fox?
Oh, well I just remember meeting him at Saturday Night Live one time and having our photo taken together. But that rumour about us seems to have persisted ever since. He says he can’t remember anything happening and nor can I. But then again, the ’80s are a little bit sort of misty and blurred! I mean, I’ve hung on to many memories, but not all of them.
What about Prince?
Well, The Bangles were very lucky to meet Prince. He’d been watching our video on MTV for our early single Hero Takes A Fall and he loved the song. We all played different roles in the video and I happened to be dressed as a French maid, which he apparently liked too. So he started turning up at our gigs and getting on stage with us to perform these supernatural guitar solos.
When did you first hear Manic Monday?
I was in the studio working on our second album when I got a message saying that Prince was recording in a sister studio nearby and he wanted to play me a song. So I went over there and he was busy recording. But he left behind a cassette with this song Manic Monday on it. I still have that original cassette. He’d recorded it with his own band but told me he thought it was perfect for The Bangles. When I first sang it, I thought to myself ‘How did he know?’ Some songs just fit like a glove.
People say he was in love with you, that’s why he gave you the song. How do you feel about that?
You know, there were a lot of rumours swirling around. I liked to hang out with Prince back then, he was a mischievous person. He liked to sort of talk in riddles. You couldn’t be in a room or sitting across from him and not sense that there was a lot going on in his head and it could be intimidating. And it was really intriguing and fun too. I always liked the feeling of being blasted with someone’s charm and that’s what he did to me. He was very enigmatic. Whatever his feelings were about me I have no complaints because we were very lucky to have made that connection.
I read that you don’t drink now. Is that right?
Yeah, I’m 11 years sober. And I love it. I didn’t have a problem, I never went to meetings. I just wanted to know what it would feel like to be sober all the time. I applied the same discipline to giving up wine that I’d given to learning ballet when I was a kid. But then it got easier because I discovered there’s other ways to have a diverting experience that’s more fulfilling. Every night, for instance, I give myself permission to watch a movie or binge a TV show. I stay up as late as I want and I eat popcorn. I don’t care who else is in the house or who has gone to sleep. This is my self-care.
I don’t think I would have written a book if I hadn’t stopped drinking, to be honest. Had I not made room for absorbing stories or just taking the evening to just read for an hour. My brain was so happy it was dancing around going, ‘Woohoo, look at all this wonderful stuff!’ I taught myself storytelling because I had the space to do it.
Do you ever think you were treated unfairly as a woman in the music business?
I’ve heard stories of solo artists back then being harassed, but being in a band made us feel a lot safer. We all protected each other. There was always a debate about whether we were made to sexualise our image. But to me rock’n’roll is naturally sexy. We saw ourselves as scrappy and a bit punky – we always styled ourselves. The music business definitely felt like a man’s world, but thankfully I managed to skate through it pretty well.
Was fame hard to deal with?
When we were first signed to Colombia Records in 1981 my anxiety skyrocketed. There was all the attention, the feelings that I wasn’t good enough, the dynamics with my bandmates and the loneliness of touring. It was a lot to cope with at a young age. But I was lucky because my dad was a psychotherapist, and through his connections I found a Freudian therapist who I started seeing regularly. It was old-school, pretty hardcore therapy where I lay on a couch and he sat behind me. I was lucky that my dad had made me so open-minded to that stuff. I’ve never talked about this before, but it really helped me get through the ’80s.
Did you take him on the road?
No, I mostly saw him between touring. But it would have been a great idea to have taken a therapist with us. I think there’s many bands that would still be together now if they had the good sense to employ a therapist on tour. I truly believe every band should have therapy.
Buy a Big Issue Winter Support Kit for £34.99, you’ll receive four copies of the magazine and vendors could receive immediate tools for survival plus access to vital training and employment pathways to escape poverty for good.