Just for starters, this memory was triggered by “We Got the Beat” playing on the radio between here and the grocery store last night. It made me smile, of course, but it also made me realize something I had not quite gleaned from the other thousand times I’ve heard it, which was that it was the last great hit surf instrumentalt, not recognized as such because it was disguised by the presence of a few strung-together words and the fact that the band was the wrong gender. Then as now, everybody recognized how affirmative the Go-Go’s were. Then as now, very few understood how disrupting they were. Or how unlikely.
The word back then was “well, there will surely be a lot of big girl bands now.”
My word was: “Not if they have to play like that, there won’t be.”
More on how that all worked out later.
And now for 1982…and a little bit of 1984.
1982 was the year I literally didn’t walk across the street to see the Go-Go’s.
They played the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center in September. I still lived in the tiny, roach-infested apartment that had been home to my FSU years. I would move to a bigger, less crummy, apartment a few weeks later. But in the meantime I was literally a stone’s throw from the TLCCC. The only space separating its front door from mine was the back yard of the FSU Law School.
And the only post-70s band that ever had or would matter to me the way so many sixties and seventies bands had or would was playing in support of the first album by a self-contained all-female band to hit #1 in Billboard.
I already loved them so I kind of wanted to go. Three things held me back.
I was broke.
I would have had to go alone.
I thought there’d be more time.
It was probably the third reason that kept me from going. I was (and am) used to being broke. I was (and am) used to doing things alone.
And, back then, I was used to thinking there would be more time.
I wasn’t used to thinking this last part all the time. Part of the time I was used to thinking my time would end very shortly. This made doing certain things difficult. Among those certain things was arranging to attend a concert you didn’t strictly have the money for and would have to attend alone, even if it was right across the street and even if the band playing was the Go-Go’s.
It would have been doable. But I would have needed to achieve and sustain a certain mood.
I didn’t achieve or sustain the mood, so I didn’t go. At the back of it all, “There will be more time” was double-edged for me.
I was sure there would be more time for them, that they would last many years, make many albums. I wasn’t so sure about me.
On the night that they played Tallahassee I ventured from my apartment to the grocery store. Kind of like last night.
Only that night, unlike last night, the concert was just letting out and there was a little more traffic than usual. Not killer traffic, not like a football game, but enough to have me waiting at a light in front of a long line of cars when the door of the car behind me opened and what I soon discerned was a Top Five girl got out and started running towards my car.
(In case you’re wondering, a Top Five girl is one of the handful you never forget. Sometimes there are more than five, sometimes less, but five’s a good average. Nobody has many more than that. And nobody who manages to survive–as, improbably, I did–has many less.)
Anyway, Top Five girl was drop dead gorgeous and she ran up to my window–it was a ’71 Maverick, no AC, so, it being September in Florida, I didn’t need to roll the window down–and started talking a mile-a-minute about the concert and how great it was and whether I had gone?
“No,” I said. “No money.”
“It’s too bad,” she said. “They were so-o-o-o great.”
After that, we chatted amiably for a bit. Then the light changed and she said “Well, bye!” and sprinted back to the car full of kids which she had no doubt left on one of those dares that get offered to certain personality types just because they are those types and get answered by them for the same reason.
I’m sure she didn’t mean to depress me. It didn’t come across as an “I’m gorgeous and having fun and riding in a cool car and you’re so-o-o-o-o not” kind of moment. She seemed to be mostly interested in making a memorable night a little more memorable. And, to tell the truth, if she hadn’t done just that, I probably wouldn’t remember the circumstances of the night I didn’t walk across the street to see the Go-Go’s very vividly at all.
Instead, it became seared in the memory, an indelible part of my “Go-Go’s Experience,” which I’m still considering writing about at length one of these days.
What happened last night, though, after “We Got the Beat” on the radio opened this particular seam, was I went searching for videos on YouTube and the comments’ sections of several of those videos led me to a search that led, in turn, to this bit of news.
The Go-Go’s are saying farewell.
Well, the Go-Go’s, like many bands, have said “farewell” before. They said farewell for the first time in 1984, barely two years after I didn’t walk across the street to see them the only time they would ever play my neck of the woods, and barely two months after they delivered the bit of rock and roll (about which, maybe more some day) that allowed me to survive myself (I wasn’t threatened by anything or anyone else, unless you count the Devil, which, honestly, I didn’t).
So maybe this isn’t really farewell. Heck, the Who are doing a farewell tour this year, too, and I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve said farewell.
In any case, I won’t be going to see them. I won’t, even though their opener, in Clearwater, is within reach. I won’t even consider it because they said farewell to Kathy Valentine a couple of years ago and, with the Go-Go’s as with so few others, if it’s not all of them, it’s not them.
I knew that back in 1982. I certainly knew it in 1984.
I haven’t forgot, because I haven’t forgot who they were, even if maybe, sadly, they have. They were the first all-writing, all-singing, all-playing all-female band to put an album at the top of the Billboard chart. Yes, they were that. And thirty-four years later, they are still the last.
Like I said then: “Not if they have to play like that.”
And like I’ve said before: When there is only one of something, there is usually a reason.
The Go-Go’s were first and last for a very simple reason, a reason that came to mind yet again when they came on the radio last night.
They were perfect. Right down to the last track on what, if they really are saying farewell, will be their last album….