Go-Go’s’ Kathy Valentine Looks Back on Rock ‘N’ Roll ‘Vacation’
All I Ever Wanted, the new book from Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s collects her stories from the incredible journey that the bassist has taken as a member of the group.
Clocking in at just under 300 pages, It’s also unflinchingly honest, taking stock of the low points and the things that could have been, while also illustrating the path that Valentine took and the struggles she faced as she was growing up. All I Ever Wanted details how those challenges ultimately helped to prepare her to soldier through the unbelievable series of events that would follow once she left Austin, Texas, and went to Hollywood to make her dreams real.
Along the way, there would be plenty of learning experiences and, in addition to the war stories that are inside the book, there’s also valuable perspective that Valentine feels can still be beneficial knowledge for people who are making their own music today.
“I think it [will be] fun for people to read why we just rushed into a second record [1982’s Vacation] and how that was the band was doing that -- how dumb it was,” she tells UCR. “Hopefully, musicians will get something out of that. Even though it’s a very different music business now, some things never change and I hope that young bands or young people -- musicians that read my book, will learn from those mistakes. Maybe you have a team behind you for a reason. Maybe you listen to other people. It was just so funny, we were like, 'We’re calling the shots. We know what’s best for us.' And it was just the dumbest thing that we ever did.”
Late nights with John Belushi found the comedy legend making a call to the local Guitar Center and getting them to open the door so that he and Valentine and friends could jam. Another adventure included Belushi concocting a plan to shoplift a six-pack of beer. “Drinking and cocaine were vices, for sure,” Valentine writes in her book. “But they played a secondary role to wanting to hang out like a couple of teenagers digging music and having a couple of beers.”
The band would open for their heroes -- hand-picked by the Rolling Stones for a date in Rockford, Ill., during the Tattoo You tour. Playing a well-received set to kick off the night, the rest of the evening would take on new meaning as Valentine watched the Stones run through their setlist, still glowing from her own performance and wondering what was up ahead for the Go-Go’s.
They had already been working hard, touring for nearly half a year. Their success was a combination of things, including the belief of their label, I.R.S. Records, the early airplay support of college stations and "rogue DJs” and tireless interviews and promotion that would eventually see “Our Lips Are Sealed” rise to the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. “We Got the Beat” would climb even higher, peaking at No. 2.
Beauty and the Beat, their debut album, ultimately spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. As Valentine worked on the book, she finally had the chance to revisit those early moments and remember what they were like.
“I wrote about making Beauty and the Beat and what it felt like to be in New York and to be young," she says. "Even though it was a dream come true to be in a band making an album, sometimes, that was almost overshadowed by how much fun I was having. I likened it to being on a honeymoon and newlyweds on this pink cloud. At the end of writing about it, I was like, I didn’t know that it would never be that easy again to be in a band.”
“Realizing as I wrote it, that had to get in the album. It had to adhere to the tape. Reliving that joy and remembering what it felt like and to fall in love for the first time and feel like I had met a guy that cared about me and to be 22 years old. It was just an amazing time for me,” she continues. “I really got to sit in it, the whole time that I wrote that chapter and revel in it and exalt in what I got to experience and how amazing it was. And what came out of it. All of that would have been just enough by itself. But on top of that, we made a No. 1 record.”
To this day, they own a powerful statistic. The Go-Go’s were the first multi-platinum selling, all-female band to play instruments themselves, write their own songs and have a No. 1 album. The impact of what they accomplished is something that they unknowingly passed forward to the next generation that would follow.
“I remember in the ‘90s when those radio stations started doing the Christmas shows where a bunch of bands would go play, we did one and Hole was playing right after us. I was scared,” Valentine recalls. “I was scared what Courtney [Love] would say. I felt like, ‘Oh, we’re the old dinosaurs’ or something. But Courtney went out on stage and the first thing she started saying was, 'If it wasn’t for the fucking Go-Go’s, I wouldn’t be here!'”
Beyond the singles, the Go-Go’s albums as a whole showed that there was a lot of depth to their songwriting. They were hardly churning out pop fluff.
“I was super-proud of the first album, because I really liked the subject matter. It wasn’t all a bunch of love songs. Even if it was about romance, it was about empowered women. It wasn’t sappy stuff at all,” Valentine says. “ I was so proud of that and it gave us something to strive for. Vacation was a rushed album, but those songs on the first album, lyrically, gave us something to strive for and not trying to come from a place that it’s okay to write about relationship stuff and love stuff. That’s a big part of life and that’s what everyone is always going to write songs about that stuff. But as women, there’s a way that you can do it.”
As fans take the ride through Valentine’s back pages, they can enjoy the accompanying soundtrack, available on Bandcamp and also included as part of the audio version of the book, which adds a unique twist to the stories that they correspond with.
“It ended up just being the most fun. After I finished the book, I just felt like I wasn’t done. I felt like I wanted to just keep going,” she says. “The not-so-sexy answer is that I thought, ‘Who’s going to care about my book? Who is going to give a shit?’ I thought, what can I do that other writers can’t do? And I thought, ‘Well, I can write songs.’ Then I started thinking, ‘Oh, soundtrack!’ Then I started thinking, ‘Why the hell has no other musician done this?’”
Valentine would spend eight months working on the musical companion to All I Ever Wanted and enjoyed the lack of boundaries and restrictions.
“I didn’t have to follow any convention of songwriting. Because I thought of it very much as a score or a soundtrack like a movie would have. But at the same time, I could employ everything that I knew about writing songs,” she says. “I could put guitar hooks and vocal hooks and build up choruses. I could do one verse. In a song, it’s like, oh, you’ve got to write a second verse. You have to. You know, that’s the rule, the song rule. But in a soundtrack, I could do whatever I wanted! I could write a verse and then I could do this and then I could have no music. I could just do whatever I wanted.”
Ultimately, the experience of working on the soundtrack was “almost as meaningful” as writing the book, according to the songwriter. In one particular case, it allowed her to fully come to terms with a painful part of her early life.
“The song ‘Just Do It’ was inspired by the chapter where I relate being raped. When I wrote that chapter, I processed it to a degree. It was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow, this was basically being raped.’ I’d always kind of thought, ‘Oh, you said, just do it.’ and you put yourself in a stupid situation. So I never really equated it with that,” she says now. “But when I wrote it, I was like, ‘Okay, I was 14 and I was saying, ‘No, I don’t want to do this.’ So one and one equals two. I had processed it to one degree, but I’ve got to tell you, when I did the music and I wrote that chorus, all of the sudden, it just opened this thing into this buried grieving and mourning and for three days, I cried and cried and cried. It was the music that opened that door. It was the music that did it. So I was really happy with that one and I can still start crying when I play it. It’s just the key and it opens the box every time.”
With a planned book tour so far scuttled by the current pandemic situation, Valentine has taken the trek virtual, setting up a series of Zoom conversations with authors and fellow musicians to discuss the book. New events, tied in with local independent booksellers, are revealed weekly via her social media.
The Go-Go’s, a new documentary on the history of the group, premiered earlier this year at Sundance and will get a wider release via Showtime in the coming months.
“I think it’s really good for the band. It’s been a part of our healing and I don’t know, when it premiered at Sundance, the whole band was there and we got up out of our seats and we just all hugged each other. It was a very different kind of feeling than we’ve ever had. There was something about the way [director Alison Ellwood] captured the band that just has kind of made us very proud and feel really good about who we are.”