The Go-Go’s bassist (and February 2009 cover woman) discusses family in all its forms.
By Brianna Caleri
The Go-Go’s have been eligible to be canonized in Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame since 2006 when their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, turned 25. This October, after 15 years, some personnel changes in the organization’s nominating committee and a Go-Go’s documentary by director Allison Ellwood prodded the museum to finally recognize the iconic girl group in its 2021 class of inductees.
The five Go-Go’s join the Hall of Fame’s inductee list alongside the iconic Tina Turner and Carole King. (Both included as duos with less famous ex-partners, Ike Turner and Gerry Goffin, respectively.) A long-overdue win for women in rock. The Go-Go’s will hit the road this fall and celebrate with a twice-postponed tour. Despite having shrugged at the past 14 snubs, they’ve expressed effusive excitement at the induction.
All I Ever Wanted
Last year, Go-Go’s bassist (and despite a significant 27-year stint in Los Angeles, born and returned Austinite) Kathy Valentine took her legacy into her own hands and released All I Ever Wanted, a fast-paced but thorough memoir with all the best and worst sides of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s sensational without sensationalizing.
“A lot of women’s history and music is dismissed as not being relevant,” says Valentine, reflecting on the necessity of telling women’s stories. “Because of that dismissal, it kind of discourages future women. In the ’70s…I was 15 years old and learning to play guitar. Thinking I was the only girl doing that besides Suzi Quatro in England. If all the other 15-year-olds had known that there were women starting bands, maybe…there would have been a lot more women in the music business.”
At first, All I Ever Wanted is an unabashed genre book, more about the living spirit of genre and local scenes than, say, the specific origins of a punk/new-wave girl group. Genre is a touchy subject for artists. A rigid expectation for trailblazers who feel pigeonholed by marketing that limits a more natural musical evolution. Valentine’s memoir proudly name checks blues staples, glam rockers (the lesser-known precursors to punk) and new-wave pioneers, tracing the social overlaps that come to define each movement.
The origin portion of the memoir offers an Austin-centric study of music history, with lists of organizations and defining events anchoring each chapter in the world at large: the nightclub Raul’s, the birth of Saturday Night Live, plane crashes and murders. Personal notes saved over decades provide the content, and playlists the author compiled by year to jog her memory thrust her back into the feelings of listening to those songs when they were new.
Valentine’s personal experience explains the logistics of becoming a punk musician. And the frustration of being peddled as one in tabloids. Her reflective self-validation demystifies the oft-romanticized narratives in which musicians become famous simply because of charisma and talent.
“I don’t even know when you’re in a scene, if you know you’re in a scene,” says Valentine, taking stock of experiences and trying in vain to compare them to emerging spheres now. “Bands go out and support each other—they’re all at each other’s gigs. And then the people that aren’t in bands like to be there because they want to see their favorite bands mingling. It just all comes together.”
Kathy Valentine: Writer
Always the planner, Valentine already has an arc for her writing career. She started with a memoir to position herself as a writer in a way she knew people would want to see. The rockstar story was a given. Her sobriety made her confident enough to try. Although she isn’t an avid social media user, she writes herself a sobriety birthday post every year that inspires a wave of warm responses and expressions of motivation.
Spending most of its pages covering 20 years, the debut book leaves plenty of room for a second memoir, this time based on her life from her 30s to mid-60s. While she doesn’t know exactly what the next book will be about, Valentine possesses a refreshing neutrality about aging. In addition to having lived several lifetimes just in her first 30 or so years, she inherited an ambivalence for physical vanity from her mother that she thinks has made aging smoother.
Before she writes the sequel, to prove memoirs aren’t her only forte, the newly published writer wants to try her hand at fiction. Two more books might seem daunting, but old habits die hard. Exactly as the teenage guitarist learned to play the bass four days before she joined the Go-Go’s, and the same way she got sober through daily routine, she learned how to write a book.
“I knew that you had to just sit down and do the work,” says Valentine. “I think that’s true for any kind of endeavor; you have to figure out your process. It took me a while to get there, but I did.”
Still Feels Like Family
Now Valentine is approaching a new stage of life; not as a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, but as an empty nester. She thought it would be like going back to life before her daughter, Audrey. Until she realized motherhood changed her more than her lifestyle. With Audrey away at college this fall, it’s the perfect time for a reunion of a different kind.
“I had a pretty deep-set longing to feel like a part of a family. And I think being in a band satisfied that longing,” says Valentine. “It hit me: friends. You’re going to make more room for friendships. Once somebody is in my little world, in my circle, I consider them family. Being in a band still feels like that to me.”