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Go-Go's unseal lips for revealing new Showtime documentary
With a new documentary and a memoir from one of the band's members, the Go-Go's lips are decidedly unsealed these days.
There's certainly plenty of story being told by both "The Go-Go's," which begins a run on Showtime on Friday, July 31, and bassist Kathy Valentine's new "All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir." The Los Angeles quintet was, after all, the first all-female band playing its own instruments and writing its own song to score a No. 1 album -- 1981's platinum "Beauty & the Beat," with its singles "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "We Got the Beat" and a Best New Artist nomination at the 1982 Grammy Awards.
Success took its toll on the Go-Go's, however; There have been just three studio albums since "Beauty," several break-ups and no shortage of rancor and acrimony. But putting all that out in the open, they say, has done more good than bad.
"I really didn't know what to expect, but there was something that shifted in all of us. It kind of healed a lot of the old stuff," guitarist-keyboardist Charlotte Caffey, who wrote "We Got the Beat," says by phone. "I'm just happy that everyone was honest and we got to experience each of us in a little bit of a different way than we have before, which was great.
"At the end (of the film) I had so much warmth and love and respect for everyone, more than I ever have before."
Valentine, 61, agrees that "the documentary has really brought us to a healing place," while guitarist Jane Wiedlin, the Go-Go's other primary songwriter, says that "The Go-Go's" -- which premiered during January at the Sundance Film Festival -- "was a real eye-opener for me. I had never constructed the arc of our story in my mind. I didn't know if this was going to be another 'Behind the Music' and 'Whoo! Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll! Party!' and Iím so glad it wasn't. It really gets to the heart of the band -- the warmth and the fun and how it busted doors open for women, and everything else."
Director Alison Ellwood ("History of the Eagles," "American Jihad," "Laurel Canyon") says that the Go-Go's -- also including singer Belinda Carlile and drummer Gina Schock -- were initially hesitant about the idea of a documentary. "It took a long time for me to convince the girls to do it," she says. But, as a fan of the band, Ellwood persisted because she knew how rich the story would be.
"It's a classic rise and fall," the director explains. "I always say the Eagles, in some ways, is a film about male anger, and the Go-Go's is a film about female pain. It's just a classic story. And they had no Svengali behind them or anything like that. They made themselves."
GETTING THE BEAT
"The Go-Go's" charts a comprehensive path from the individual stories of current and past members -- as well as original manager Ginger Canzonieri and others -- and the band's formation in the Los Angeles punk scene. The latter was a bit of discovery for Ellwood.
"I didn't know about them until they became big," Ellwood says. "I did not realize how deeply rooted they were in the punk scene. What I really discovered about them is the hooks are catchy, but the lyrics are, like, subterfuge. They're much more meaningful and darker than you expect, and that is pretty amazing."
Wiedlin, 62, is particularly happy that the documentary spends a significant amount of time on those punk roots and music that was far grittier than what would surface on the Go-Go's albums. "It's so interesting, and hardly anyone knows about it, but that's really where we came from," she says. Caffey, 66, recalls a trial by fire in the early clubs as well as when the group toured in England before its success.
"Those audiences were really intense. They didn't want to see some scrappy little all-girl band from southern California," Caffey says. "They were spitting at us, throwing crap on us. We'd all be tough and play really hard on stage and then get off stage and cry."
The Go-Go's pull few punches during the film, talking frankly about the joys and tribulations of success, ego battles, financial inequities, mental health issues and partying out of bounds -- particularly Caffey, whose heroin addiction sent her to rehab and ultimately led her, along with Carlile, to quit and effectively end the band for the first time in 1985. (Wiedlin had already left, during 1984.) "They're very cinematic storytellers -- and they all look absolutely drop-dead gorgeous," Ellwood says. "I knew they were smart, but I didn't know how smart they are, and how humor is such a driving thing with them. That was just fabulous."
Among the film's eyebrow-raising moments is Schock's revelation that she and Wiedlin had a relationship during the group's early days, which ended fairly quickly and amicably. "Gina's parents are pretty old-fashioned and she was uncomfortable with it, so I never said anything about it and sort of waited for her to bring it up," notes Wiedlin, who's been openly "pan sexual" since she was a teenager. "I was really shocked to see that, and so proud of her. We were living together and it was just something that happened and then it wasn't happening; I don't even remember breaking up, so I don't think that it was a very big deal.
"And always, always, always, the band was more important than anything else."
HEAD OVER HEELS AGAIN
"The Go-Go's" rolls out at a time the Go-Go's are in good shape and more active than the group has been in many years. The group has been touring intermittently since 1999 -- including three nights with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl in 2018 -- while a planned tour for this year has been postponed to 2021. It music also provided the foundation for the stage musical "Head Over Heels," which played Broadway during 2018.
There's been drama, too. Both Shock and Valentine sued the band during subsequent years -- the latter after being dismissed in 2013, settling with her return to the lineup five years later. "I'm not proud to say our band has a history of choosing scapegoats over the years, sometimes within the band, sometimes outside of the band," Wiedlin explains. But in addition to the documentary and the bassist's book, this year also brings the July 31 release of "Club Zero," the Go-Go's first new recording in 20 years.
"Y'know, losing it and getting to do it again, I didn't have bitterness," Valentine says. "I missed them, a lot. I love playing in that band. But part of our chemistry is...a level of dysfunction and toxicity that took a long time to work itself out. It's just been part of our history."
All concerned are interested in making more new music, though with the band a part-time endeavor and Carlile living in Bangkok, it's not an easy proposition. "Everyone's spread out and has their own lives," Caffey says. "It's an interesting journey to have with five people, when you get back together and have so much fun. Since we've seen the documentary, that's really added a layer of healing to everything that's happened in 40 years. That makes anything possible, I think."
Wiedlin adds that, "It never occurred to me that this music would still be getting used and getting played. ďMost people don't even know where we are. We didn't make a ton of records, and the ones we did were crammed into just a few-year period. It's a miracle, in the 21st century, where we're at. It really is."
"The Go-Go's" premieres at 9 p.m. Friday, July 31 on Showtime, with a first encore at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1. Check listings for subsequent showings.
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