WHEN THE GO-GO’S RULED…AND WHY (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #107)

I just came across this clip from a Go-Go’s’ concert on Germany’s Rockpalast. It’s from smack dab in the middle of their three-year run on the charts. There is much better live footage of them across the years. They look exhausted here, ripe subjects for burnout and Exhibit A of “paying the price for too much too soon” even if it probably felt like a hundred years to them.

But….

I’ve never seen any other clip which demonstrates so clearly why they were the last great rock ‘n’ roll band, even if it turns out the members of the last great “rock” band are waiting to be born.

Except for the Who, no band ever had so many folks fighting for so little space…and the Who thrashed at each other as often as they meshed.

The Go-Go’s had at least three people playing what amounted to lead instruments and two of those were the rhythm section. They traded their licks at a speed that made everybody else who bothered trading licks (not all that many) sound like they were playing underwater. It really shouldn’t have worked and it wasn’t exactly to their advantage that they made it look–and sound–so easy.

And, brief as it is, this is the best look at Kathy Valentine’s hands I’ve ever seen. She’s playing a top ten hit (which she wrote) at Ramones’ speed, while carrying a melody line the Ramones would have killed for….all on a bass guitar.**

And she doesn’t dominate….Because even her hands aren’t faster or more fluid than Charlotte Caffey’s or Gina Schock’s or even Jane Wiedlin’s, all of whom knew a thing or two about carrying the melody and the beat themselves, even if they only had three seconds to do it before they threw it back to whoever threw it at them.

I’ve said it before, I say it again. They were the first and last “all female” band to have a #1 album in Billboard. When folks predicted there would surely be many more such bands, I said: “Not if they have to play like that.”

When there’s only one, there’s usually a reason….it’s worth remembering that now, when we are further removed from them than they were from Fats Domino and still waiting for someone to beat their time.

**To be fair, even the Go-Go’s didn’t write many melodies as compelling as “Vacation.”

DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE…THE LOST YEARS OF THE GO-GO’S EDITION

“Cool Jerk”
The Go-Go’s (1990)
#60 UK
Recommended source: Greatest

“The Whole World Lost Its Head”
The Go-Go’s (1994)
#108 Billboard
Recommended source: Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s

“Good Girl”
The Go-Go’s (1994)
Did not make the charts
Recommended source: Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s

“Beautiful”
The Go-Go’s (1994)
Album Track
Recommended source: Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s

Weird.

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Every once in a while when I’m noodling around, doing nothing in particular, I think of something from days gone by and then, being now properly programmed by modernity, I naturally think again. What I tend to think the second time is “I wonder if it’s on YouTube?”

One of the things I still can’t believe is not on YouTube, no matter how often I’ve thought “surely it must be there by now,” is the Go-Go’s’ MTV video for “Turn to You,” the last great single of their original incarnation, which ended in 1984. One reason I keep hoping it will be there is so I can do a “Not Quite Random Favorites” edition titled “My Favorite Video” because nothing else comes within a thousand miles. (That’s the one where they played a band at a sock-hop…and their own dates. Maybe they really did need a break.)

Anyway, last night I went looking for it yet again and found it still wasn’t there. There’s a mini-doc on the making of “Turn to You”–of course there is–but not the actual video.

Story of my life and all that.

But, this time, clicking around, I started thinking of other things that should be there, none of which I ever thought to look for before.

By which I mean videos from “the lost years”….those years between 1984’s Talk Show and 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s, when they popped in and out a couple of times and did what they always did, which was be perfect.

Sometimes, what other people did with and to them wasn’t perfect. Whoever put the extra disco-fied ‘effects’ on this wasn’t perfect. But I’m sure it wasn’t their idea. They were barely paying attention to themselves or each other when this came out in 1990. But having the video finally makes sense of it (in a way its inclusion on their first greatest hits package didn’t). What’s clear hearing–and seeing–it now, at least to me, is that Belinda Carlisle had turned from a singer who was right for her band to a singer who could carry any band. I missed that at the time so a mea culpa is in order.

They were paying a little more attention when they got together and recorded three new songs of their own for 1994’s full-blown retrospective Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s. Almost inconceivably, I had never even wondered if they made any videos attending that little project, so I went searching deeper and found this, for the lead single from the project….which isn’t much of a video (not nearly as good as “Cool Jerk,” let alone what they had done in their heyday) but is a fabulous record. Even if the faint tang of my disappointment in finally realizing that “Boston girls are getting down in bikinis” (a touch of poetry) was really “Muslim girls” (meh) remains, it’s failure to break out still serves as one of the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse…

…And it wasn’t even the best of the three sides they cut for Return.

This, for which they released a single but didn’t make a real video, was better, and has the new-and-improved Carlisle’s finest vocal…

..and I’m not even sure it was the best…depends on the mood I guess. It’s worth reading the quotes at the beginning of each song, but they won’t break any ties.

All in all, that should have been enough to re-start their career.

But it wasn’t.

God Bless the Go-Go’s came out a full seven years later and, instead of really promising more, its final track sealed the whole deal. Years of summer reunion gigs, Kathy Valentine’s departure, and one of those “farewell tours” (at least I think there was only one) formalized it.

But the end was right there in that final track, now commemorated in my favorite “homemade” video.

For some perspective, here’s a nice piece from Goldmine, circa 2011, before Valentine left the band, where, among other things, they debunk any notion that being an all-female band was actually some kind of advantage, post-punk. Turns out that, through no fault of their own, Fanny and the Runaways (both signed by big labels and given major publicity pushes in the decade prior) hadn’t so much blazed a trail as crapped the table.

I’m reading between the lines, of course.

Just more fuel for the argument I made at the time and have made ever since: they didn’t blaze all those trails because it was, as so many argued, “time” for an all-female band. They blazed all those trails because they were the Go-Go’s. It’s only in critical theory that the theories count. In the real world, it’s always the people who matter.

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(Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, Jane Wiedlin, Kathy Valentine)

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT…MAYBE (Memory Lane: 1982, 1984 and Yesterday)

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.

So-o-o-o-o….

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….

GINA’S TRIPTYCH (Memory Lane: 1988)

HOUSEOFSHOCK2

My then twenty-seven-year old self wandered around in the wasteland that was 1988 filled with a kind of wary optimism. I wasn’t exactly inundated with it. Gee, the presidential choice that year (should one put the air quotes around presidential?…or choice?…or both?….sorry, the mind stiffens and refuses to commit) was between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.

But if it had been Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln it wouldn’t have been all that much different. Let’s just say that unwary optimism wouldn’t exactly be me.

Well, the intervening years have dispensed with those particular fine distinctions. I’m unburdened by any sort of purely political optimism these days. Goodbye us and all that.

One reason I was still, improbably, optimistic in 1988 was that I was still hearing quasi-subliminal messages in popular music.

Well, really I was only hearing quasi-subliminal messages (that is messages that spoke to the moment and could be read purely and solely between the lines of songs that, for folks living on the standard, government approved wavelength, were certainly about some very ordinary other thing) in music made by ex-Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock that was only trying to be popular.

One reason it wasn’t too terribly successful at being what it was trying to be might have been its too-numerous mundane aspects: airless, cookie-cutter production (from original Go-Go’s producer Richard Gottehrer, who had been good at this stuff since the Angel’s “My Boyfriend’s Back” and really should have known better), anonymous riffing (where the Go-Go’s–especially Gina Schock–had always substituted personality) and lyrics that were mostly straight from songwriting class, mid-semester, freshman year.

Another reason might have been luck. Because all that other stuff, minus what was good about House of Schock, was all over the airwaves in 1988, not to mention every year since and every year now stretching before us down the long dark road into the deep black night.

See. I told you got rid of all that optimism!

And, what may you ask, was good about House of Shock (which was the name of the band as well as their one and only album)?

Three really good songs (all written, like the bulk of the album, by Schock and band-mate Vance DeGeneres*) and Gina Schock’s voice, that was what.

In those three songs and her nothing-special-except-it-got-under-my-skin voice, I heard enough to write the only fan letter of my life. I don’t remember much about the letter (though I remember enough to really, really hope she never read it!…fan letters are bound to be like that, I suspect, if you are older than twelve at the time of composition and subsequently live long enough to look back from a safely objective twenty-twenty distance). And one thing I very specifically don’t remember is whether I mentioned my curious but heartfelt reading of those particular songs–all that between-the-lines stuff.

I suspect not. My twenty-seven-year old self was cautious about sharing unlikely, far-fetched theories. Not like my fifty-four-year old self at all.

Which leaves us (well, me anyway) with what exactly it was I that I did hear.

Simple enough.

Wary optimism. Fellow traveler (spiritual sense, not dread phony political sense).

That’s what.

An assurance the singer would not only survive but would do so precisely because she possessed an abundance of the old “can-do” spirit that was waiting to be reborn in the national soul.

Coming from just about anyone else in 1988 (let alone now) that would have sounded like a very big pile of what the bull leaves in the pasture.

But it wasn’t coming from just anyone.

It was coming from the woman who had thrown her possessions in the car and driven from Baltimore to L.A. and then walked into a punk club where one of the anonymous thousands of that (or any) era’s wannabe bands was playing out a contract before they broke up and went their separate ways and talked them into staying together, into taking her on as the drummer, into rehearsing (and rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing), into literally battling their way to the cover of Rolling Stone twenty-something months later….some time after said Richard Gottehrer had told bassist Kathy Valentine to watch what the drummer did and the “accidental” result had been the first (and, a mere thirty-four years down the line, so far only) album by a self-contained all-female band to reach #1 in Billboard.

So, for me at least, the can-do spirit coming from that woman was bound to mean….something.

Something more than songs to dedicate to every fourth year’s crop of major party candidates (though boy do they work on that level, then and now).

And under the cover of darkness, where the rebirth of the old “can-do” will now have to occur, if it occurs at all, it still does.

So here’s to the old optimism…

The spirit of the open road…

the spit in the eye…(and one of my favorite vocals of the decade)

and the all purpose dedication to the deceivers among us and those who survive them….

 

HOUSEOFSHOCK1

*Yes, he’s Ellen’s brother. And no, she wasn’t yet famous. I’m sure I was one of at least four people on the planet who, when I first heard of her, thought “Gee, I wonder if she’s related to Vance!”

 

 

HISTORY IN THE MAKING…LOS ANGELES, 1979 (Great Quotations)

Starting to contemplate a long post on my history with the Go-Go’s, so here’s a teaser:

GOGOS3

“They were rehearsing a couple of times a month. I said ‘Guys, you gotta rehearse like four or five times a week if you want to make this happen.'”

(Gina Schock, drummer to the gods, recalling her first meeting with the Go-Go’s. Source: VH1 Behind the Music–The Go-Go’s)

Thirty-two months later (with Kathy Valentine having replaced Margot Olavarria [far right]), the Go-Go’s were the first self-contained, all-female band in the history of popular music to have the #1 album in Billboard.

As of this date, they are also the last.

Like I always say, when there’s only one of something, there’s usually a reason….like maybe the unusual ability to communicate angst as joy:

 

SOME DREAMS DIE HARD…(Found In The Connection: Rattling Loose End #17)

…And I’ll keep hangin’ on to this one, but just at present the prospects don’t look good.

In 1982, when they were riding high, the Go-Go’s played across the street from the apartment where I was living.

So, literally, in 1982 I could say that I didn’t walk across the street to see the only post 1979 band I ever cared about the way I’ve cared about a dozen or more pre-1979 bands. I had good excuses for not going back then and they would have been good excuses even if I had known for certain that the revolution was winding down and I would never feel that way again.

I was broke. I didn’t go to concerts. I would have had to go alone, which I’m generally fine with even now (and was even more generally fine with then), but I thought it would seem pretty weird and isolationist to be alone at a rock concert even for someone as anti-social as me.

Most importantly, though, there was always the future.

I was sure I would catch them next time around.

Now it’s thirty-one years on and I still haven’t seen them. Let’s just say, they haven’t played across the street from me since then. Heck, they haven’t even come within reasonable driving distance.

So I was all set to fly out to the west coast, last year. Had it all planned that I would catch them at their 30th anniversary show at the Hollywood Bowl in September.

Seemed perfect.

I was within days of lining up my tickets–airline and concert–on the web.

Then a home inspection occurred and my insurance company told me I would have to replace my roof and my hardwood floors before the end of the year if I wanted to keep the house insurable.

There went that little plan.

Later on, I was actually kind of relieved that I didn’t go, because it turned out that bass player Kathy Valentine had a wrist injury that kept her from playing the show. I can’t even describe how bummed I would have been if I flew all the way to the west coast, pilgrimage style, to see the Go-Go’s, only to discover one of them was missing.

Laugh if you want, but they are one of those bands where it really isn’t the same with one person missing, and, no, it doesn’t matter which one it is.

Fast forward to the present:

A couple of days ago, when I was hunting around for a video link for my previous post I came across the news that Valentine has now parted ways with the band. Happened earlier this year. Some time the spring near as I could gather. I read up on the reasons and they don’t really matter to me personally because I don’t know any of the people involved and have no idea who is right or wrong.

What is pretty obvious is that there are now lawsuits flying around and lot’s of money involved so there’s a good possibility the chances I’ve missed to see all of them–which is all I would ever be interested in–have gone for good.

I know, I know–bands do this all the time and they usually do get back together eventually.

But I have a feeling about this one.

And if it turns out I’m right then it will mean I was also right about the feeling I had the first time I heard the last track on what I’m now sadly confident will be their final album (2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s):

“If it ends here, then they really were perfect.”

The Go-Go’s “Daisy Chain” (Studio Recording with Fan Video)

 

YOU CAN MAYBE UNDERSTAND WHY WOMEN GO A LITTLE CRAZY SOMETIMES…

Semi-random connection:

I was looking for Kathy Valentine’s web-page to see how the Go-Go’s Sept. 29 Hollywood Bowl show went off without me. Went to Wikipedia and didn’t find it but did come across this (italics mine):

Kathryn “Kathy” Valentine (born January 7, 1959, Austin, Texas) is the American bass guitarist for the all-girl rock band, The Go-Go’s.

And right next to it: Born: January 7, 1959 (Age 53)

Which put me in mind of this snippet from the Norton Records interview with the leader of the Shangri-Las (2007):

Mary Weiss: At least you didn’t say Girl Groups.

Interviewer: …No, I know better than to mention Girl Groups.

Mary Weiss: Oh, kill me now.

Bear in mind that Weiss was actually fifteen when she made her first records…So, much as she has/had a right to hate it, the term might at least be excused on grounds of expedience.

On the other hand, when the Go-Go’s recorded Beauty and the Beat, they were roughly the same average age as the Beatles when they landed in America.

I’m betting if I go over to Paul McCartney’s Wikipedia page it won’t have him listed as “the British bass guitarist for the all-boy rock band, The Beatles.”

Just a wild guess mind you….