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Kathy Valentine gets real in compelling memoir

By Bob D'Angelo


I could write Go-Go’s references all day about Kathy Valentine’s gritty, honest and compelling autobiography.

You know, I was head over heels about it, or Valentine’s lips are unsealed about the first — and only — all-female band to score a No. 1 album on the Billboard Hot 200.

But that would not do Valentine justice, since her book, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’Roll’ Memoir (University of Texas Press; hardback; $26.95; 290 pages) reveals a driven, complicated and inspiring woman who battled addiction, sexual abuse and alcoholism.

As an adult, she was a victim of a harrowing home invasion (“it haunted me”). She had an abortion as a 12-year-old and was a rape victim at 14. Combine that with an indifferent mother who exercised minimal supervision and a father who left her at an early age and rarely, if ever, connected, and the prospects for failure were great.

Valentine’s mother was more like a pal, particularly when they would get high together. Her father remained aloof for years but eventually told Valentine that he kept her Go-Go’s record next to his Merle Haggard album.

High praise, even if it was an alphabetical placement.” Valentine writes.

Valentine powered through the negativity, using music as her conduit. She began playing a guitar while in high school, formed a band and became immersed in the music scene in Austin, Texas. She moved to Los Angeles, where she met Charlotte Caffey in the bathroom of a Los Angeles nightclub. Originally not a bass player, Valentine stepped in temporarily for the Go-Go’s before joining the band full time. She adapted well; the bass line on songs like “Beneath the Blue Sky” or “Yes or No” provide ample evidence, and Valentine teamed with drummer Gina Schock to give the group a strong rhythm section.

Within a year, the Go-Go’s scored big with a multi-platinum album, “Beauty and the Beat.”

Valentine helped write such hits as “Vacation” (which she originally penned while a member of the Textones) and “Head Over Heels” (my favorite Go-Go’s song). Valentine’s book title, interestingly enough, is drawn from a line in “Vacation.”

The Go-Go’s broke down barriers for women in rock ’n’ roll. Other women had excelled before — Valentine, at 14, was inspired after watching Suzi Quatro sing “Can the Can” on television in 1973 — but no one had the Go-Go’s charisma. The group — Valentine on bass, lead singer Belinda Carlisle, rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin, lead guitarist/keyboardist Caffey and Schock — wrote their own songs, played their own instruments and exuded a punky, cool, new wave attitude.

Valentine characterizes her relationships with the other band members as “fluid affairs.”

“In the years we spent together, I would come to know every facial expression and recognize each of my friends’ singular quirks,” she writes.

As in any band, there was drama.

Wiedlin, for example, wanted to sing the lead vocals on “Forget That Day,” from the “Talk Show” album, believing her lyrics were autobiographical and personal. When the others opposed it, Wiedlin “didn’t take the rejection well” and left the recording session in the United Kingdom.

“The rigidity of the band angered her,” Valentine writes.

However, Valentine was not prepared when the band assembled for a May 1985 meeting with Front Line Management, the company handling the Go-Go’s.

“We’ve decided to break up the band,” Valentine heard someone say, unsure if it was Caffey, Carlisle, both of them, or Front Line. Valentine recalls that the meeting felt like “an ambush” and “just a cold sucker punch of a statement.”

Valentine writes that she felt like Caffey and Carlisle — “Miss Hits and Miss Voice” — were “tossing us aside with less emotion than getting rid of old clothes.”

Music is the artistic and fun part of a band, but business can be cold. Still, it is a fascinating part of All I Ever Wanted.

I found it interesting, for example, that Valentine and her bandmates did not like the way “Beauty and the Beat,” turned out. Valentine believed some of the songs were rushed, and that the group “sounded like chipmunks” on some of the tracks. She’s right. Listen to “How Much More” and “Tonite,” and you get the idea.

The way the money was divvied up among the band members was also surprising. Caffey and Wiedlin benefited greatly because of their writing credits, but Valentine also did well, making more money than Carlisle, who was considered the face of the band by the public.

The group was lukewarm about doing a music video for “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and delivered a less-than-enthusiastic effort. However, the emergence of MTV kept the group on the video channel’s playlist, and the song became a staple of the summer of 1981.

Valentine does not shy away from her early career, however, writing about her days with Girlschool in London and the Textones in Los Angeles. Those were heady times, and so were the parties, drugs and decadence during her days with the Go-Go’s.

In All I Ever Wanted, Valentine rubs shoulders with some big names in the music industry, including Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, James Honeyman-Scott, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lenny Kravitz, Bob Dylan, Clem Burke and Dave Stewart.

She also counted John Belushi as a friend, seeing him not a comedian or actor, but as “a sweetly enthusiastic and complicated guy who opened himself up to nearly anyone,” Valentine writes. “Sometimes the wrong people.”

If there is a flaw in this book, it is that All I Ever Wanted basically ends after the Go-Go’s made a comeback in 1990. Valentine, who got sober, called Caffey, who had battled a heroin addiction.

“Charlotte. It’s Kathy. I’ve been sober four months,” Valentine writes of the resumption of their friendship.

“In less than a minute we had a connection again,” Valentine writes.

The last 30 years of Valentine’s life (and the Go-Go’s) are summed up in a two-page epilogue, which is disappointing. Valentine sued the group in 2013 after they fired her for “irrevocable differences.” The case was settled out of court, and Valentine rejoined the group.

“Dysfunction is in our DNA,” Valentine writes. “But it’s a tendinous and strong imperfection that seems to also keep us connected.”

Since then, the group has enjoyed a revival with the Broadway musical, “Head Over Heels,” and the Showtime documentary, “The Go-Go’s.”

Valentine’s “Can’t Stop the World” was the final number on “Beauty and the Beat,” and the song’s opening lines are a metaphor to the artist and the band: “I gave up looking for a reason/To live with things just the way they were.”

All I Ever Wanted is an honest, gripping look at an artist who started with nothing, had it all, lost it all and then slowly fought to get it all back. Valentine pulls no punches and reveals her vulnerability, too. Her frankness makes this memoir a refreshing read.

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