Go-Go’s bassist Kathy Valentine’s memoir has it all – sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll; but more importantly, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir really speaks to the tenacity of the human spirit. From being inspired to play after seeing Suzi Quatro on TV to joining the Go-Go’s at 21 and achieving massive success as part of the band to losing it all, Valentine gets into all of the highs and lows of her journey as a Go-Go. However, the memoir is especially poignant when Valentine traces her tumultuous upbringing which includes neglect, betrayal, rape, abortion, drugs and alcohol. A true rock ‘n roll survivor, it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Kathy Valentine about her new memoir and the resurgence in Go-Go’s love that has happened this year.
Jeromme Graham: Hi Kathy, firstly, how are you holding up during the pandemic?
Kathy Valentine: I’m very very busy. My book came out right when the pandemic started and I canceled a 23-city book tour, a Go-Go’s tour for the summer was canceled, which makes it sound like you’d just be home doing nothing with all those plans canceled but it’s been quite the opposite. I’ve done tons of press for my book from home, I’ve done some recording and learned how to make videos so I could get music out on the internet since I can’t play or perform. I went back to school, I’m in college. It’s been a time of productivity, to be honest.
Jeromme Graham: One thing that has brought a lot of joy to music fans during the pandemic, particularly fans of the Go-Go’s like myself, was the Showtime documentary. How did it feel to see the reactions from fans to it?
Kathy Valentine: It’s been really wonderful because it feels like finally our achievements, our legacy and everything we accomplished are being lifted up and shown in a really wonderful light. It feels really nice because sometimes it felt over the years like we were either dismissed or overlooked or that the things people focused on were not really what the Go-Go’s were about. More like, oh they imploded or they couldn’t stay together. I don’t know. It feels like a really positive and righteous celebration of all that the band was and to some degree, still is.
Jeromme Graham: On that note, why do you feel that people, particularly the critics or music press, were being dismissive of the highs and everything the Go-Go’s did achieve and focusing on the negatives? Was it just misogyny or people being dismissive of pop music from the past?
Kathy Valentine: I don’t know really. I’m not sure. We’ve all been really really proud of what we did and our place in history and everything we accomplished, we’ve always been very proud of it. We kind of just got used to being overlooked a lot. Sometimes I would even see stories or articles written by women about women in music and they would still give us very short notice. It was always something that I never quite understood. All I can think is that people follow. Once something seems to be the consensus, it seems like people just fall in line with that. And all it takes is one thing to shift it all and in our case, this documentary has brought such wonderful accolades and people realizing that we did was quite extraordinary, that we are something to be celebrated and we have a very cool place in pop music history.
I think also the thing that has always been at the center of the Go-Go’s success is our songs and our music. Once that is brought up to scrutiny, you can’t really argue with a good song. You’re not going to make a song less good by not noticing it, it is what it is. Our music and our catalog have withstood the test of time for decades now and it’s still relevant. Young people like the Go-Go’s, little children like the Go-Go’s, the songs are still played on the radio. I’ve listened to music from bands that were out around during the same time and era and it doesn’t have the quality, it doesn’t hold up over time. There’s a timelessness and a classic element to our music and that’s what helps this renaissance of Go-Go’s love that we’re seeing.
I’m really happy that my book could come out and be a part of that too. My book does the same thing. It’s a literary memoir, a coming of age story of me and that part of my life, the rise of success and I wrote about it in a way that makes the reader feel like oh I get this, I get what this was. I’m proud to have played a small part in that too.
Jeromme Graham: Touching more on your memoir All I Ever Wanted, what led you to want to write a memoir? Why did you feel like now was the right time?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I felt like I could do it. I thought that I had a compelling and interesting story. I read a number of memoirs and certainly a few music memoirs and I thought my story was just as compelling, if not more than some of those I read, but also memoirs from that weren’t known until they wrote them because their lives had more of an extraordinary interest. I felt like I had a really unconventional, untraditional journey that included making it in the music business and going as far as you could go and losing it all. So, my biggest concern was that I wanted to write a really good book. Not to be dismissive of myself but I knew that I’m not the biggest celebrity in the world, I’m not even the most known person in the Go-Go’s, I’m not the lead singer so that meant one thing – I needed to write a really good book. The writing had to be top notch and that was my favourite part of the challenge.
Jeromme Graham: You were pretty raw and honest in the book regarding your childhood, sex, abortion and drugs. You pretty much told everything, warts and all. Did you feel any trepidation at all of being so transparent?
Kathy Valentine: I feel like you don’t write a memoir without being willing to be honest, vulnerable and open, so there are some dark things and some terrible memories but they happened. The way I look at it, it happened, it affected me and it’s part of the story. Along with the joyful parts and the triumphs, there are some peaks and valleys that make the journey interesting. If it was just oh, woo hoo everything is great – it wouldn’t be a very interesting book. It’s so funny, with my mom – I asked her and said I’m going to write about these things, you know she neglected me in many ways. I was practically feral and was raising myself and she said “No, I want you to write your story and what it means to you.” And after she read it, she said “Oh my god, I feel so terrible, I didn’t realize that I had done all these things and had been so hurtful.” I was like “Oh, it’s ok, it would’ve been a really boring book if you had been a different kind of mom.”
Jeromme Graham: That reminds me of a Twitter exchange I saw you had with a Twitter user, where they had mentioned that they were struggling with their sobriety and you responded by making yourself available as a resource, offering them to reach out. Do you hope All I Ever Wanted will help anyone that’s been through their own struggles?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I believe in the idea of sharing your experience, strength and hope and that visibility is what helps change. And not just change, that visibility helps people grow and that can be anything from careers to sobriety to seeing people get through grief and loss. I also used to write on Facebook on my sober anniversary which is in January, each year I would write a thing. I wasn’t a big Facebook person but I’d always do that and I would every time get hundreds and hundreds of responses and so many of them were people saying this helped me so much, this made me realize that I have a problem and inspired me to do something about it. So I knew that I could reach people through writing openly and honestly about my alcoholism and drug addiction. I think my story is important there too because it’s very easy to think you don’t have a problem if you’re keeping your job, if you’re keeping your family. For a lot of us, it’s about how you feel and how you process. You know you’re holding your life together and yet you know something’s wrong, you know. A lot of these stories, they get so down and out, they lose everything or they go to jail and those are really compelling stories but it’s also important for people to hear you can quit before it gets to that point. Your higher self is a part of you that knows there is a problem and we spend a lot of our time trying to not face that.
Jeromme Graham: Shifting focus to the music, there was a line that really stayed with me as you were writing about the band getting a record deal and making your first album, you said “Our band was making a pop record with a punk rock ethic” – it feels like that attitude was present in every Go-Go’s album. Which Go-Go’s album or song means the most to you?
Kathy Valentine: I would say Beauty and the Beat changed my life. And in so many ways, it’s what made us such a huge band. Those songs on that album are the ones that we pretty much play every time we tour, so for 40 years I’ve been playing the songs off Beauty and the Beat. That’s also the first time that I had a song on an album that sold millions of copies. I was the last to join the band and many of those songs were already written and I write in the book about how right at the end of the recording session, we added “Can’t Stop the World” which was my song. That meant everything in the world to me because ok, I’m not just the last person to join, I’m somebody that contributed to this record and so that had a lot of meaning for me. There’s so many other songs but if I had to pick one record, I would say that one had the biggest impact on my life.
Jeromme Graham: Throughout the course of the book, you brilliantly captured the rollercoasters of emotions of being in the band during that meteoric rise with so many highs and really toxic lows. What would you say is the legacy that you want people to remember of the Go-Go’s?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I think that we represent possibility and that anything is possible. Yes, I had been a musician for several years, it wasn’t my first band and Gina (Schock) too. We moved out to Los Angeles with the possibility of making it in the music business and the other girls that started the Go-Go’s, they’d never been in a band, they never played an instrument and they started the band with the possibility of why shouldn’t we able to do this, other people are doing it. Then as we all came together, we couldn’t get a record deal and this little record label takes a chance on us. What are the odds of a little label signing a band that every other label passed on and we’d have an album go number one in the country. I think our legacy is about possibility and what can happen if you just don’t stop and go for it. I know that people have told me that just seeing a band – not only girls that thought they could be in a band but even guys have told me that seeing the Go-Go’s in the 80s made them think of their own possibilities could come to fruition in their lives. I think that’s our legacy.
Jeromme Graham: I’d say you all definitely inspired the pop punk renaissance that would happen throughout the 90s and the 2000s. A lot of groups were out that had that Go-Go’s spirit in their sound.
Kathy Valentine: I think so. We definitely had a big influence.
Jeromme Graham: What’s next for you and for the Go-Go’s after this year? Hopefully there will be more books to come.
Kathy Valentine: I would definitely love to write another memoir one day. There’s a big story after this one ends. I wasn’t writing an autobiography, which tends to be everything, memoirs are a slice of life so there’s a lot left to that story. Before that, I would like to do a collection of literary fiction and just establish that I can write other things than just about myself. And the Go-Go’s might tour in the summer. We’ve got a tour booked, the one that got canceled for this past summer 2020 got rescheduled for 2021 and if the world allows for that then that would happen. I just re-recorded a cover of “Beneath the Blue Sky’” which was a song I wrote on the third Go-Go’s album which a lot of fans say is their favourite song, I loved doing that. I have this idea that I might revisit some other of my songs that the Go-Go’s did and do a fresh take on them my way. I love recording, I have a little studio, I really enjoy doing that. Sometimes it’s fun to write a song brand new but I’m kind of interested in revisiting some of my songs that the Go-Go’s did.
Jeromme Graham: That’s really cool to hear. I think that third album Talk Show gets a bit overlooked compared to the first two albums. It’s my favorite Go-Go’s album, personally.
Kathy Valentine: Oh cool. You should check out the new version of “Beneath the Blue Sky”, a lot of fans say that they like it as much or more than the original. It’s just a different take. And my daughter is on it as well. I might go back to that album and do some of those songs, it’s just kind of fun to reimagine them. When you’re in a band, it’s all about what the band sounds like. But when it’s just you doing it, I’m not trying to compete with the Go-Go’s versions, it’s more like what would this be like if I was in control, what if I had been the producer. It’s fun to get to try my ideas without having them be approved. In a band, that means that a lot of your ideas don’t get to happen because somebody might go oh I don’t like that. It’s more fun as a musician.
Jeromme Graham: Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask this. Every year on Twitter when the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame nominees are announced, there’s always a push from Go-Go’s fans wanting to see you all finally get inducted. Do you feel like the Go-Go’s should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame and who would you want to induct you?
Kathy Valentine: I think we absolutely should be in there. I don’t see why they could ignore what we did so I think we absolutely should be. It seems like they like to have somebody more current be the person that inducts you so thinking in terms of what they like, someone like Pink would be awesome. I think she would be my first choice in terms of having somebody of this era. Otherwise, if it was somebody from a different era, god who knows? I’ll take whatever they give us. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a woman. Billie Joe Armstrong would be cool. To me, Green Day is the band that most embodies what we were about with that pop sensibility with a rock frame around it.
Thanks to Kathy Valentine for her time and to Eric Alper for helping make this interview happen. Kathy Valentine’s memoir All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir is available here.