THE TRI­UMPH OF THE GO-GO’S

No group of women could be more de­serv­ing of a fresh and fair shake

Ottawa Citizen - - You - HANK STUEVER

The Go-Go’s Stream­ing, Crave

Doc­u­men­taries are do­ing a ban­gup job lately of help­ing women re­claim their sto­ries. Ear­lier this year, Nanette Burstein’s ab­sorb­ing four-part Hulu do­cuseries Hil­lary turned a trove of un­seen 2016 cam­paign footage into a sur­pris­ingly frank ru­mi­na­tion on the life and ca­reer of Hil­lary Clin­ton, this time viewed through the prism of the sex­ist double stan­dards that dogged her the en­tire way.

Nina Si­mone, Jane Fonda, Joan Rivers, Ruth Bader Gins­burg, Lorena Bob­bitt — thought­ful doc­u­men­taries about each have helped push the bi­o­graph­i­cal for­mat well past its stan­dard of rev­er­ent clip jobs, per­ceiv­ing their sub­jects in a more truth­ful and en­com­pass­ing light.

In the pop-mu­sic world, no group of women could be more de­serv­ing of a fresh and fair shake than The Go-Go’s, whose success/im­plo­sion story in the MTV era still res­onates with any­one who loved them in the 1980s, as well as the fans who’ve come along since.

Emerg­ing from a Los An­ge­les punk scene that was more giddy than gritty, these five mu­si­cians — Charlotte Caf­fey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valen­tine and Jane Wiedlin — re­main the only all-fe­male rock act to write and play their own songs on a de­but al­bum (1981’s Beauty and the Beat) that reached No. 1 on the sales charts.

The Go-Go’s spent their hey­day rolling their eyes at any sug­ges­tion of fem­i­nist strides; clip after clip of media in­ter­views at the time show them em­pha­siz­ing their friv­o­lous, party-girl im­age, claim­ing they just wanted to play their mu­sic and make lots of money.

To­day, as women in their 60s, there has been a reck­on­ing with the man-made bar­ri­ers they stared down 40 years ago.

There are two sto­ries to tell here: One is the usual rise and fall (and re­birth) of a rock band, re­plete with sub­stance abuse, bruised egos and money squab­bles. The other story, ex­ist­ing just be­neath the sur­face, is about five women who were un­der ex­treme pres­sure to make more hits and pre­tend that the dis­crim­i­na­tory ob­sta­cles in front of them were all just fun and games.

The story it­self is quite a rocket ride (fu­elled by a lot of booze and blow), be­gin­ning in glad rags and garbage bags in clubs along Sun­set Strip, circa 1978. Wiedlin, the band’s lyri­cist, opens up about her sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies as a teen (and, much later, her di­ag­no­sis of bipo­lar dis­or­der). Wiedlin and her friend Mar­got Olavar­ria de­cided to start an all-girl band. They in­vited Carlisle to join as singer. Joined by Elissa Bello on drums, The GoGo’s de­buted at a club called the Masque with a reper­toire of two songs, which they played badly.

Ran­dom luck and deter­mi­na­tion fol­lowed. A clas­si­cally trained pi­anist and song­writer, Caf­fey left her own punk band to join The GoGo’s. By 1979, the band found a de­voted man­ager, Gin­ger Can­zoneri.

“I love com­mu­ni­ties of women,” Can­zoneri says in the film. “This band caught my in­ter­est for that rea­son.”

The Go-Go’s dumped Bello in favour of Schock, a fierce drum­mer from Bal­ti­more who drove to L.A. “with $2,000 and two grams of coke” and sup­plied the beat that tight­ened the band’s sound.

A Bri­tish ska band called the Specials caught The Go-Go’s act and in­vited the band to open for them on a 1980 tour in Eng­land. Pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions of The Go- Go’s story have cast this as an ad­ven­tur­ous launch­ing point.

At the shows, how­ever, the band faced crowds of white-na­tion­al­ist skin­heads who spit at them, threw bot­tles and de­manded to see their breasts.

They re­turned to L.A. with all kinds of buzz, but no record la­bels would sign them. Miles Copeland, who man­aged his brother’s hit band, the Po­lice, signed The GoGo’s to his bou­tique la­bel, I.R.S. Records. Olavar­ria, punk to the bone, started to chafe at the perkier, jan­glier sound that emerged with songs like Our Lips Are Sealed and We Got the Beat, both of which be­came Top 40 and MTV break­out hits.

“It was the sense of be­ing pack­aged into a prod­uct — less about art and more about money,” Olavar­ria says, so she left. She was re­placed by Valen­tine, a gui­tarist from an Austin band called the Tex­tones, who taught her­self to play bass over a manic week­end and “ba­si­cally learned all their songs on a coke binge.”

After the second al­bum and a gru­elling world tour, the bloom be­gan to fade. Can­zoneri was thrown over­board for a new ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment team — “All men, not that mat­tered,” she re­calls, with clear sad­ness.

As soon as they be­came fa­mous, The Go-Go’s seemed fated to fold. In their fouled atmosphere and deep­est ad­dic­tions, the women man­aged to make what many be­lieve to be their best al­bum — 1984’s Talk Show.

PAUL NATKIN/SHOWTIME

The Go-Go’s Kathy Valen­tine, left, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Charlotte Caf­fey and Belinda Carlisle are fea­tured in a new doc­u­men­tary about the rise and fall of the band.

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