“I waited so long, so long to play this part
And just remembered/That I’d forgotten about my heart”
I’m not sure if Go-Gos bassist Kathy Valentine wrote those lines in the song “Head Over Heels,” the band’s fourth and final Top 20 single. She co-wrote it with guitarist/pianist Charlotte Caffey but it has Valentine’s stamp all over it. The Austin, Texas native had brought over a few songs from her previous band the Textones when she became the final link in what would be become a history-making band: the hit “Vacation” and the closing number of their debut album “Can’t Stop the World.” Both those songs, and the later “Head Over Heels,” brim with deep notions of yearning, self-examination and personal determination against great odds. It is the refrain of “Vacation” that gives Valentine’s incisive and consistently compelling memoir its title. It totally suited the last-minute bassist (she was a guitarist while co-fronting the Textones) to be a supporting player in the ascendant Go-Gos. The Los Angeles band’s rise to be the first (and so far only) all-female band who wrote and played all their own material to have a #1 album is quite a story and Kathy neither sugarcoats the success nor sensationalizes the circumstances of their untimely initial split after just three LPs. Truth be told, the Go-Gos have long been a misconstrued group and though this is one member’s take, the tale of both her life and career are refreshingly parsed in these 270-odd pages.
Kathy Valentine today. On a life of artistic pursuit, she says: “A creative person gets used to subsisting on unequal parts of passion, delusion and relentless hope. No matter what happens, as long as I keep doing it, I’m still in the game, there’s still a shot.”
Like so many who make it big in show-biz and later write autobiographies, Valentine had early life complications. Born in 1959, her father was out of the picture by age three, and he would be a long time in making it back into her life. Her mother was a mini-skirted “babe” who enjoyed a good party—often with her teenage daughter along for the ride—while she wasn’t earning a degree at the Univ. of Texas. Valentine’s light-bulb musical moment came from seeing the pint-sized dynamo Suzi Quatro do her #1 UK hit (the raucous “Can the Can”) on TV while visiting her English grandparents. It wouldn’t be long until the she was chasing her own rock dreams in a high-school band, although after singing “Wild Thing” at an early show decided she wasn’t suited to be the main focal point.
Unsurprisingly, the tough times are there too. Date rape, an unwanted pregnancy and building substance abuse issues by her mid-teens are part of this story. These autobiographical details steeled Valentine against the world, and the self-medication that was part of the rock ‘n’ roll high life would not be recognized as needing an intervention until much later. This is a twice-told tale in the music business, so it’s in other areas that the reader gets the fresh insights that make this book valuable.
The Textones recording of a song that would get a makeover for the Go-Gos second album. Kathy left the band in late 1980, feeling they were stuck in neutral. She later heard thru the grapevine they were relieved she left, due to her heavy drinking. She took offense at the time only to understand better in her later sobriety.
One thread throughout these pages is that male musicians were uniformly supportive of her and fellow female bandmates, and “wanted us to do well.” That extends from from her early Austin days to rock stars she dated post-stardom: notably Blondie’s nice-guy drummer Clem Burke. Any sexism or patronizing seems to come from creeps in clubs (early on) to “industry suits” (later). The sisterhood squad she found in the Go-Gos provided her with surrogate siblings she never had and the musical success she worked for and craved.
The Go-Gos with new member Kathy Valentine (far right) in early 1981.
When it did arrive, it was all very sudden: from gritty L.A. clubs to arenas and international stardom within a year. She met Caffey at an X concert on Christmas night 1980 and (with the original bass player sick) found herself on stage a week later with a band on the verge of big things. Valentine’s prose hits the right tone here: forthcoming but not lurid, forthright but not self-serving. Sustaining the runaway success of the history-making Beauty and the Beat album was a challenge, with the constant touring, publicity ops, tricky business dealings and all the attendant rock-star bacchanalia that temporarily disguised internal problems within the band. Plus, they were up against the feeling that they were never being taken totally seriously. Here is Valentine’s rumination of when the group presented at the American Music Awards in 1982. “It seemed like most of the old guard didn’t get us… I sensed they thought of us as temporaries more than contemporaries, bits of fluff blowing by eternal monuments.”
The band would be on the outs not too long after their third (and in my opinion, best album, 1984’s Talk Show. “One hand’s just reaching out/And one’s just hangin’ on/It seems my weaknesses/Just keep going strong,” sings Belinda Carlisle on the opening track, the aforementioned “Head Over Heels.” Seeking strength thru the recognition of vulnerabilities, Valentine was sure her song would be a hit and show the band’s evolution. She was correct in the first case, but it is unclear how many saw the deeper qualities of this savvy group. They were looked upon as “America’s sweethearts” and “bouncy” and “frothy.” The bassist secretly fumed at the refusal of other band members to loosen up the band’s “static” formulation and to let others sing more, or spread the songwriting royalties around (esp. to their ace drummer Gina Shock, a big reason for their initial success).
The Go-Gos on the Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers in 1984. After a performance of current hit “Head Over Heels,” they pile onto the couch for a not-bad interview, but one that still placed extra emphasis on their being “adorable.” Back on stage they perform “Yes or No” a great song that tanked as the new single. There seems to be an effort to mix things up, with Belinda Carlisle sharing the lead vocal with Jane Wieldlin from behind the keyboard and Kathy playing on the drum-riser stairs. For me, lot more charming than the showcase gigs they did at the Greek Theater shortly after (also on YouTube).
The group’s initial split in 1985 was esp. hard on Valentine, who characteristically refrains from bitterness in the retelling. Belinda Carlisle and guitarist Jane Weidlin had solo success, while she became estranged from Charlotte Caffey who had spent the interim in part by kicking her heroin addiction. Kathy had less success with her own musical projects and broke up with longtime boyfriend Clem Burke. It was Caffey who was there for her when the reckoning with her alcoholism (and eventual sobriety) comes at the end of the Eighties. By the early Nineties ordered was restored as the Go-Gos reformed for the first of many successful tours while also releasing a pretty good comeback album, God Bless the Go-Gos, in 2001.
Like a lot of these memoirs, “All I Ever Wanted” pulls up a bit short, ending around the first band reunion, with a short epilogue tacked on. That concludes with an emphatic “Not the end” and indeed Valentine and the Go-Gos continue on, with a possible onelast tour (post-Covid) tour, a Broadway musical to their name and a documentary going into wide release in August. That film will hopefully be a worthy reexamination of this singular but oft-misunderstood band. But Valentine’s engaging book has a leg up on that tale, as well as being a vital retelling of her own wild ride on the rock and roller coaster.