"All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir" By The Go-Go's Kathy Valentine | WAMC

"All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir" By The Go-Go's Kathy Valentine

Jul 16, 2020

Joe Donahue: Kathy Valentine is a musician and songwriter known for being part of the all-female band The Go-Go's. She wrote or co-wrote many of the band's most renowned songs including "Vacation" and "Head Over Heels". In addition to playing music and writing songs, she has worked as an actor, public speaker and spokesperson and producer. She is now an author, the name of the new book is "All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir". 

And it's a great pleasure to welcome Kathy Valentine to The Roundtable this morning. Thank you very much for being with us, a great pleasure to have you on the program.

Kathy Valentine: Thank you. It's a great pleasure to be here.

Give me an idea of why you felt now was a good time to tell your story, to tell this story and to, to write a memoir that certainly has a lot of music in it, but is a very personal story as well.

I had been interested in writing as part of an expansion of my career. It's something I've always done not only in songs and poetry, but as a college student with essays and creative writing classes and I had dabbled around in writing scenes from my life. I read a lot of memoirs, and just in reading memoirs, I started thinking, "Well, I have a story too." I just took the, the desire to want to write and thought, "Maybe the first thing I would put out is a story that only I could write." I just felt like that would open the door, it would kind of establish that I have a voice that I can get onto the page and hopefully resonate with readers. And it just seemed like a good place to start, you know, to write the story that only you can write. Seems like a good place to start, and then see, see what happens after that. I do want to write more books.

You grew up in Texas. What was the original plan? What was the original goal as to what you wanted to do with your life?

Well, I've always been very ambitious and driven, and I think that stems from childhood stuff. My parents were divorced when I was three, and my dad was not in my life a lot. And I think at my core, I felt like I didn't really matter. You know, "If I, if I mattered more, he would be more in my life." And the flip side of something that sounds kind of negative on the surface, the flip side is that it kind of made me very, want to strive to feel like I did matter. And the way that manifested in my character and nature was to be ambitious. So I always wanted to kind of excel and succeed whether it was as a student or whatever career path I picked. So my original plan, pretty much from the time I saw that a woman could be in a rock n roll band, there was a very crystalline moment where that kind of light bulb went off and that was the plan. That was the plan.

So you go from Texas to Los Angeles. Give us a sense of that journey and how ultimately you became a part of The Go-Go's.

I wish that was something that stayed with me my whole life. But there's something about being 19 years old, where I didn't have a doubt in my mind, I didn't have fear. I didn't have doubts. I just took off thinking, "This is where I'm going to go to make it. I'm gonna, I'm gonna find my place in the world by being in a band," and you got to be in a city like LA or New York to, to succeed. That was what I had thought, that was my mindset. When I got there, it was a very different situation. I was poor, I was broke, I was lonely. It took a while to get a band together. And after a couple of years of that, not really taking off the way I envisioned. I was a little, kind of lost. I still had that, that feeling that, "It was going to happen. It was going to happen. It's just around the corner." That was when I happened to walk down to the Whisky a Go Go to see the band Ex, was playing. And I met Charlotte, who was the guitar player in The Go-Go's, a band that I had seen twice- It just, it was kismet. She said, "We, we need a bass player for some shows coming up." And I think it was in five days. So I basically said, "I'll do it." I ran out, I got a bass. I was a guitarist up to that point and I learned their set. Next thing I know I was on stage to a full house for two shows a night, for four nights in a row. I wanted to be there, I wanted to stay in that band.

And then how long from that moment to "Beauty and the Beat", the, the amazing album, comes out?

Well, after I joined we, we continued playing clubs for about four or five months-

Yeah.

And the manager had been trying to get the band a record deal and was continually told that, by all the labels that they didn't want to sign The Go-Go's, because there had never been successful, all female band. And then their terms success meant having hits and large amounts of product sold. By April 1, was when we signed our record deal with the small indie label that Miles Copeland ran called IRS Records. After I'd been in the band from January to April, we got the record deal. We went to New York City. So I'm 22 years old, recording an album in New York City. And in my mind, this was the peak. This was like- It could have all stopped there and I would have been, "I've made it, I've made it." But obviously it didn't stop there. By the time the record came out in June, we hit the road, we went on, on tour and it took- I researched really carefully in my book and I was kind of surprised at some of the things that I found, but it took 90 shows and months and months and months of touring, to get our first single, which was "Our Lips Are Sealed", to get it into the Top 30 on the charts. I mean, there was so much resistance.

So much resistance. Even though we were selling out clubs, if it wasn't for MTV, if it wasn't for college stations and kind of Rogue DJs across the country, I don't know that we would have had a hit record.

And that is fascinating but once it hits, it hits, right? I mean then you have the number one record.

Yes. Then we- When, when I record went number one, I believe it was in March of '82.

Yeah.

This stuff is all correct in my book. But I just, so the recall might be a little off here and there. But yeah, it went number one, it stayed number one for six weeks. And it was nothing that I had envisioned. I mean, just nothing like that. It just- Like to me that was just enough to be making a record, to have a record deal. That was enough. It wasn't like, "Oh, we're making a number one record." The journey was just a kind of a series of unbelievable good things happening in terms of our career. But balancing it out, there was the downside, you know, the 80s is pretty much renowned for being an era of excess and debauchery and you know, you take a bunch of 23 year olds that are riding high in a career and a job that doesn't require much responsibility or emotional maturity. And it was kind of, on the other side of the coin of the great successful things, there was also, it was getting worn down because of lifestyle and immaturity and whatnot.

You know, it's a, it's a story, a well-known story of, you have a group that just goes up like a meteor and then eventually goes back down to earth. And then you're left with what's left. I'm interested in, in how much do you think gender played a role in, in your particular case, in, in what happened with the band?

Just from observational point of view, I'd seen it happen in bands whether they're male or female. I've seen falling outs in everyone from Aerosmith to Bon Jovi to Guns N' Roses and I don't think group falling outs, I don't think imploding I mean, up and coming great bands from Elastica to Jet have imploded, just imploded, after having all this promise. So I don't think it's, I don't think it would, you could say it is gender, I think it's kind of a heady place to be. And when you're young, you know, a lot of these bands are young when they, when they start out, and, or when they, when success hits. Because that's what part of what makes them exciting is they're young and fresh. And, again, you don't, it's not like you are the intern at a big corporation, you're, you're in a band, you know? You're in a band and you get off stage and you're high from just the excitement of doing it, and you just kind of want it- I mean, it's not like that now-

Right.

It hasn't been like that for a long time. Now, now I can go play a show and have the time of my life, and go back to the hotel room and go to bed. But it was different then.

You, you write in the book, "A deep disconnect between the way we saw ourselves and the way we were presented to the public began to develop. As the band grew, the media began to characterize us in a way that didn't feel right." How so?

I think what happens is that there are just archetypes of women, and you know, not to just go on a big patriarchy rant- But the thing is, it was like, we were not the girl next door, you know, but there was a good time element to us. You know, it's like we looked like we were having fun because we were having fun, none of it was an act, you know, and our music was uplifting at a time where the country was not particularly uplifting. I feel like the jump- And it was also a very, I can't fault any journalist for honing in or zeroing in on the, the hook, which is this is a band that came out of nowhere and made it to the top. They didn't like woodshed and practice their instruments for seven years, you know, and they aren't the best players or anything like that, so there was this, I call it like the, the 'Cinderella myth'. We were like the Cinderellas, kind of a rags to riches thing, but, but the thing is we didn't really fit any of the boxes and yet we were still put in the girl next door box. It just felt like we were kind of packaged that way, and maybe part of it was our fault. I mean a lot of times we, we'd pull into a photo session, like we'd roll in and there would be a stylist and the photographer and they would have clothes and props that I'm sure they didn't have ready for Duran Duran or another, a male band. And sometimes we would argue and say, "No, we're not going to do that. We're not going to wear that. We're not going to hold that balloon. We're not going to do that." And other times we would just be tired and just go like, "Yeah, yeah, okay, whatever." So then you'd see photos of the band and these ridiculous get ups and like, almost like dressing us up like little dolls, and some of it's our responsibility. I would think that we didn't stand firm each time. I mean the Rolling Stone cover, the very first one we did, is a good example where we, we're all dressed in our clothes. And then Annie Leibowitz comes in, has her staff bring in like a bunch of Hanes underwear. And we were like, "I don't- We don't want to do it. We don't want to wear this. No, no, we don't want to do this." And then next thing, you know, there we are. Click, click, click, we're wearing it. And it's on the cover of Rolling Stone. And the message that puts out is that the band is okay with that. And the truth is we weren't, but you kind of like, it's hard to say- You feel like, you need to do what, what your- I don't know, you feel like it's your job, kind of like, "Okay, we should be grateful. We're going to be on Rolling Stone. This is one of- This is a huge deal." And you kind of have this ingrained thing to kind of be a good girl and do it.

You say in the book that, "It seemed like most of the old guard didn't really get us. Maybe it was my imagination. But I sense they thought of us as temporaries, more than contemporaries. Bits of fluff blowing by eternal monuments." This is, you're speaking about the music industry.

I think specifically that scene was like, we were appearing at the American Music Awards, or one of these, like shows, and every other act was someone I had been familiar with my whole life. And yet, we had just been around a couple of years. And it felt like we were different. And I wasn't sure whether that's how we were looked at, but that's what, it kind of felt like that to me sometimes. And that- In those instances, when you're just around people that you've known about since you were a child-

At what point did, did you consciously know that things were starting to fall apart? That the lifestyle that you had, that the career that you had, that the relationship that you had with the other members of the group was starting to erode?

I was in a lot of denial and a lot of fear- The band for me, it had become my entire identity. I had forgotten kind of, that I was a musician before this band, it represented not only everything I dreamed about, but it represented the ability to take care of myself. It gave me the ability to take care of myself, I knew that no one was ever going to take care of me, other than me, and all of a sudden I had a job doing something I love doing, that gave me security and made me feel like I was a part of a family. So I was operating- From the minute we had success, I went from like having one dream, which is to make it, replaced by to keep it. I just refused to acknowledge anything that indicated that things were falling apart. I just couldn't let that happen, I admit to the detriment of blinding me, blinding me to what, what other people's needs were and what other people's agendas were or what other people's emotional states were, it just- All I cared about was keeping the band. And plus there was also a very sensible part in that too, and that I was highly aware that one in a million got to that place. And in my mind, I couldn't understand why anybody would ever screw it up, like, "Why would you? Why would anyone screw this up, nobody gets to have this happen. Millions of bands come together and fall apart. And so few-" And I just, I just didn't understand why that would happen. Of course, hindsight, it all kind of falls into place, but you, you know, a lot of it just accepting that everybody's there for a different reason and abandon- You, you're not you're not there for the same reason, somebody want to be a star. I had so much driving me. I wanted to feel I was in a family, I wanted, these were my sisters, this was my security. This was my dream come true. This was- I had this longing to see an all-female band in the pantheon of bands, you see all these bands that have just been around forever and ever and they just have this cultural weight, and I just didn't see any all-female bands and I wanted to see that. And The Go-Go's, ended up being historically significant and accomplishing a lot. But we were never going to be that band that's there forever, you know? And I had to accept that we weren't going to be the Stones, you know, or The Beatles, or Led Zeppelin, or The Who, or U2, or just all these bands that are, that are comprised of all men. I just had this longing and I still do, I still kind of want to see that.

You there's a line in the book that really struck me because it, just, because you read the story and you kind of forget this fact, but you write, "Celebrating my 27th birthday, without the usual big band blowout dinner, drove home the loss of The Go-Go's." And I just read that line. I thought, My God, you know, to have all of that before you're 27, good lord. So even when you come down, and as, as the band starts going away, and you try to find other paths, I mean, you've already lived a life and a half really. And yet, you're so young.

Yeah, and it's, it's an odd feeling. I mean, it's, it's, it's a very sad, empty feeling for any human being to feel like they are a failure. You know, it's, and to feel that in your 20s, it's, it's, it's deep and, and it's also difficult to accept. So I think, by that time, I was I was coping with it the only way I knew how those feelings of, "I'm a failure, I was just lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. I don't have the talent-" I mean, all that stuff to be grappling with. In a way, I'm glad it happened then, because then I had the rest of my life to feel, like differently, you know, to learn how, to learn how to not need external validation. I mean, we've all got to take care of business, we all have to find a job basically and pay the bills. Everybody needs to do that. That's just, again, that's being a grown up. That's growing up. So in a way I never had to feel- Once I got sober, I never had to feel that again, even though I've failed and tried to succeed many times in my life, many, many times, but never did I feel that empty and lost as when, in the aftermath of the go Go's breaking up

From the time the band broke up, to the time you found sobriety roughly how long was that?

Five years.

Five years.

It was at three weeks after my 30th birthday.

Your 30th birthday? As it unfolds in the book, toward the end of the book. And then you, you realize, you start to gain control again, right? You start to realize what you can do, and what the possibilities are. And also, and it seems, at least in my reading of the book, a fondness and a pride in what you did achieve prior.

Absolutely, um, sobriety, sobriety is, uh, I think one of the key stones to being sober is gratitude and feeling grateful for everything I had, and such a cliché that you have to lose something to really appreciate it, and on one level, I would say that's absolutely was the case for me, but on another level, I never took the success that we had for granted. I, I recognized and appreciated and, and was in awe and wonder of what was happening to me throughout The Go-Go's career and that heyday time. But what sobriety did was, it just gave me a way to change because by that point, I was, I was worn down, you know, the, the thing that worked for me to help me cope with my feelings was drinking. That's what served me for many, many years was and it started when I was young. I started at 12 years old when I felt abandoned and betrayed and lost and confused and just messing up all over the place. And that just became my default way of dealing with feelings, and that just wore me down. And by the time I got sober, and could just really learn what was going on inside, and who I was, and not running from these things that I had just couldn't bear the thought of feeling or didn't know how to feel when- I'd like to think that we do something, as long as it works. And when it stops working, we have to, we have to kind of put it aside and either find somebody else that works, or hopefully get down to the, the real essence.

I just want to talk about the music for a second. I mean, the songs that you wrote or co-wrote, "Vacation" and "Head Over Heels" and some of the biggest hits that the group had. And I'm interested of how you look back on those songs now, and also how it influenced what you, what you wrote after that and what you write now.

I recognized, as I was writing the book, and so many things I recognized as writing, I, I think that it was probably the best and cheapest, but maybe most painful therapy I've ever had. But I realized as I was writing that, the first song I wrote when I first moved to Los Angeles and was very lonely, and again dealing with a betrayal because I'd moved out with my best friend to make it in a band, and she just kind of left me in this terrible place, that was frightening, where we lived. And it was just me there. And that's when I started really writing songs. And I had written some, but that's when I started using songwriting as a way to process what was going on in my life or how- What I was dealing with, and I've never been somebody that, that went to write songs for other people, unless it was just the singer in the band and I'm working in, because all my songs has been a way to express myself. I've just wanted to relate musically, what I went through. So even something like "Vacation", what I was trying to capture and I did capture, and I know I captured it because that song has resonated for decades now and it is still used in commercials and TV shows and soundtracks and on the radio, it just, people don't get tired of it and I think it's because it's, it's sincere and it's authentic and I wanted to capture an experience of going away and thinking you're just kind of going on a little trip and instead you find yourself being opened, you know, you find yourself vulnerable and connecting with somebody. And that kind of enhanced the whole little trip.

"Head Over Heels", that was written at a time where it really felt out of control. It felt like, we just worked all the time, all the time. We never said no, whether it was, "Okay girls, on the schedule at 6am you're going to do this radio show, and it's the drive to work crowd and it's essential," and you just drag yourself up. And every minute of every day was booked, and yet we were falling apart.

Yeah.

You know, so "Head Over Heels." Really, it's true. It's authentic. And I think that's what I just strive for. And in writing, songwriting is to be authentic.

You know, I have to say, I was, I was in the, the Hudson Theatre, about two years ago and seeing "Head Over Heels", the musical, and one of the things that struck me about that, people of my generation who grew up listening to your music and were in high school when, when you were at your height, you know, when those songs, even performed on stage, you find a group of like people who, who just, we were weepy. I mean, it just it brought back such a beautiful moment. And one of the things that I just thought was so fun about that show- I'm curious of what you made of it, and what you, what you thought about it, and the, the fact that, what, 35 years later, more than that, in some cases, that, that it still is, is so resonant and was, was able to, to attract the attention that it did.

I was so proud of that, of that show, of "Head Over Heels". Not because it had gotten to Broadway. I mean, if it had been off-Broadway in a small theater, I think the story that it told and the way our music was utilized in this new kind of platform, if you will. It just made me really, really proud. And I mean, I, what makes me really excited about the show is that it had a message, the same as the way that The Go-Go's had a message, and we were told that we would not succeed. And our message was just kind of just by being who we were, that you know- And I've had men, it's not just being women, I've had men tell me that seeing us, you know, succeed, opened the world up to them and made them realize that maybe other things were available. And we didn't set out to get that across. We were just being ourselves and doing what we did. But the, the parallel with "Head Over Heels" the musical was that it really put forth a very positive message about love and finding yourself. And even if it's not what is expected or what people want you to be that if you get there, that, that you can find some personal fulfillment and be a fully realized human. And the musical didn't stay on Broadway as a long running thing, but it is in production throughout the country, doing not only our music but doing, in the context of a story that celebrates love between all genders and, and just- Between as being a human thing, not a gender thing, I guess that's what I'm trying to say.

Yeah.

That love is human.

Did it, change or alter the relationship you had with your fellow bandmates in, in the process of that project?

It was profoundly changing because we had had a falling out in the band and I had stopped touring with the band, not of my own choice, and it's not something I like to dwell on, because it was easily the most devastating and ugliest part of our career over decades. But the musical brought us back together again, and it brought me back into the band again. And everybody was able to let go of whatever dark force had overtaken them. And I was able to forgive and let go. So it was huge for me and to go to the producers in tears after the debut premiere performance, and in tears and just say, "Doing this has, has given me my band back." So it was huge for me. I hadn't been with the band in four years, or maybe five years, and an extension of that now is our documentary, which has taken us even closer. We were at the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and after it screened, we all just found each other and just held each other, and it kind of makes me choked up because it just really makes us heal, you know? And the healing is just so important.

Well, the book is, is so special and really an awful lot of fun to, to read. It is, "All I Ever Wanted". It is published by the University of Texas Press. Kathy Valentine, a great pleasure to have you on the program. I thank you very much for sharing with us and for all the music you've provided us as well.

Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.

A great pleasure. Thank you very much again, the name of the book, "All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir" by Kathy Valentine, published by University of Texas Press.