God Bless the Go-Go’s: Each of the members of the Go-Go’s had pretty much given up on getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Having released their Beauty & the Beat debut album in 1981, they became eligible 25 years later, so 2006. But the years kept passing without so much as a nomination and, after a few of those cold shoulders, the ladies said “fuck it then.”
To be fair to the HOF, the precedent definitely isn’t to induct artists in chronological order. This is for the best; honestly, we’d still barely be out of the ‘60s if artists were inducted in order of formation and/or debut release. It would start to feel stale, and young people en masse would struggle to give a shit. They need to mix it up to keep it fresh, to stop it from feeling like a club for people outside of the youth’s plane of existence. But still, even holding onto that for balance, the Go-Go’s should have been in years ago. The glass ceilings that they smashed, the walls that they plowed through – their inclusion is certainly not before time.
While the Runaways came before them, the commercial success that the debut album achieved was unprecedented for an all-female rock band at that time. Their legacy is one of hammering the patriarchy in its own backyard (the misogynistic music scene). No gimmicks – they wouldn’t know how. This was simply a group of talented musicians writing and releasing incredible music, and blasting it until people listened. They were unignorable.
So here we are in 2021, 15 years after they were first eligible for inclusion, and the Go-Go’s are about to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Some artists on the punk end of the spectrum, notably John Lydon and the Sex Pistols, do all they can to play the HOF and its significance down.
Lydon famously wrote of the Pistols’ induction: “Your museum. Urine in wine. We’re not coming. We’re not your monkey and so what?” The Go-Go’s don’t feel that way. Any frustration about not getting in dissipated when they did.
“The truth is, we felt for so many years that we were going to be inducted next year, no next year, etc,” says drummer Gina Schock. “That went on and on until finally, we were like ‘ok fuck it.’ We’re not going to be inducted. We can live with that. Fuck ‘em. That’s how we all were. Then we get nominated and we were like, ‘Oh my god, maybe it’s going to happen.’ All of a sudden, we were like ‘YES! It’s gonna be great.’ We were like a bunch of kids, pissed off that we weren’t being recognized in the way we thought we should be. And then we were all happy. It’s so cool.”
The Go-Go’s back story has been told many times, expertly through last year’s The Go-Go’s documentary movie. But to recap, the band formed in 1978, Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin joined by original bassist Margot Olavarria and original drummer Elissa Bello. Charlotte Caffey soon joined to complete the early lineup, then Bello was replaced by Gina Schock. A year later, Olavarria was out and Kathy Valentine was in, and the classic lineup was in place. The movie does a great job of recalling the Go-Go’s place in the early Los Angeles punk scene. Indeed, prior to the band’s formation, Carlisle played drums with the Germs. More on that later.
“We were living in the moment,” Carlisle says. “It was all about being cool on the scene. It was a girl’s club. Of course we’d joke around, wondering if we’d be rich and famous. But I think it was just about being cool on the scene, and being in a band because everybody else was. We never had a problem filling a club from the very beginning. Then, maybe the goals changed a bit. We wanted to do this for a living and have a career with this. So we may have taken it more seriously down the line. I think after we went to the UK and came back, and Gina joined the band, that was when we got really serious about having the Go-Go’s as a career.”
“I went to L.A. wanting to make it in the music business, and my template for bands were all career-long sustained careers,” adds Valentine. “Once we were successful, I couldn’t imagine giving it up or walking away. There wasn’t a Rock Hall to aspire to, but I certainly wanted to be in a band that would grow and evolve, album after album after album. That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to break up in three years.”
Sadly things didn’t quite go to plan, at least at first. Beauty & the Beat was followed by Vacation in ‘82 and then Talk Show in ‘84. Both were great albums, but they failed to reach the commercial heights of the debut. That’s not an uncommon story, but the Go-Go’s began to disintegrate. Wiedlin was the first to depart in 1984; Valentine shifted to guitar and Paula Jean Brown came in on bass for a year. When Carlisle (with Caffey) decided to split and embark on a solo career, the game was up. Read her book All I Ever Wanted, and it’s clear that Valentine was devastated. Carlisle, as we all know, enjoyed an immensely successful solo career. Wiedlin did well too (“Rush Hour” anyone?).
It wasn’t until the start of the new millennium that they got back together, the God Bless the Go-Go’s album coming out in 2001. It seems incredible that 20 years have passed since that record. They worked from their separate corners of the world to record the “Club Zero” single last year and that was great, but there’s no sign of a new full-length album.
“I’ve learned to never say never in the Go-Go’s,” says Carlisle. “Something comes up and then it makes sense. I don’t know about recording a full album because that takes a lot of work and it’s a big commitment. All of us have very full personal lives and careers outside of the Go-Go’s. But I’m not opposed to it. I think God Bless the Go-Go’s is such an amazing album. Beauty and the Beat and God Bless the Go-Go’s – I don’t like one more than the other. I think they’re both equally my favorite. ‘Club Zero’ came out and that felt really good. If something came along that made sense, I’ve learned not to say never.”
“The problem with us recording is we are so spread out over the whole world basically,” adds Wiedlin. “Belinda’s now living in Mexico City, and I left Mexico last year to move to Hawaii. Kathy is in Austin, Charlotte in Los Angeles and Gina in San Francisco. The logistics of it are so crazy, and personally, I’ve embraced the retired life. I’m not sure I could make that kind of commitment. To make a really good album, it takes a really long time. The songwriting process alone would take forever.”
Despite the fact that the members are based all over the globe, they still very much feel like an L.A. band. They were formed here, they were a part of the punk scene here, and there’s something about their sound that is fundamentally L.A.
“Are you kidding? L.A. is our home,” says Schock. “That’s who we are, that’s our roots, I’m proud of it. Like my book says – made in Hollywood. And we were made in Hollywood. It might be a little bit of a cliche, but guess what, it’s true. It’s where we all gathered together and became the group that we are. L.A. loves us and we fucking love L.A. That town’s been very good to us.”
“We’re L.A. through and through,” adds Carlisle. “I love that. For me, being born and raised there, and growing up on music, it’s just a great feeling. We love California. A lot of our influences were taken from California radio. Even at the beginning when we were a punk band, the songs were always very melodic. So yeah, we’re L.A. through and through and very proud of it.”
They absolutely should be, and we’re so very proud of the Go-Go’s. Besides everything else, their importance to female musicians can’t be overstated.
“None of us thought about it at the time, we were too busy doing it,” says Schock. “We’re musicians, we’re friends, we love what we’re doing and now we’re selling records. People love what we do. How fucking awesome is that? Guess what? We just got to be girls. It’s great how it all works out in the end. I can’t tell you how many young girls and women tell me, ‘You know what, you guys are the reason I started playing.’ To me, that’s our greatest contribution. Other folks, getting them interested in doing something they wanted to do but might have been a bit afraid because they were a girl in a man’s world. It’s all different now, and we were unknowingly, unwittingly, a part of that change.”
“We broke down barriers because we continued,” adds Caffey. “That’s how we continue to break down barriers. But honestly, there’s still a tremendous amount of sexism and all sorts of isms all over the place and we all know that. I guess you just chip away at it, is the best you can do.”
So here we are in 2021, and the Go-Go’s are about to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It seems entirely fitting that former Germ Pat Smear will be going in the same night, with the Foo Fighters.
“It’s so funny,” says Carlisle of her former bandmate. “He sent me a text saying ‘who would have guessed – from the Germs to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.’ I said, ‘I know, it’s so weird.’ Thinking about where we came from and how we both started. It’s very cool and it’ll be great to see him.”
As for the night itself, the musicians don’t know exactly what to expect but they are intent on enjoying the occasion.
“I don’t know what to expect, because I don’t know how it goes,” says Caffey. “But I know we will be accepting an award and performing. Those are the two things I know. I can’t wait. It’ll be really fun to blast the roof off of that place.”
“A lot of the time when you have these big hullabaloo events, you don’t have any time to hang out with the people you love,” adds Wiedlin. “So ideally, I’ll get to hang out with my family. We’re all staying at the same hotel. I have plans to try to get a really great outfit to wear. It’s such a big deal – probably the biggest deal of my lifetime. So I want to acknowledge how special it is, and try to live in the moment of it all. Sometimes when you do these high-profile gigs, it’s easy to get dragged down by all the minutiae, and how you’re getting pulled in a hundred different directions. But I want to concentrate on how amazing it is that this happened and share that happiness with my family and friends.”
Finally, we have to ask the five artists about the future for the Go-Go’s. The documentary was a huge success, and the Head Over Heels musical (featuring the music of the Go-Go’s) opens on November 9. There are shows scheduled too.
“I have my book coming out [Made in Hollywood: All Access with the Go-Go’s] – I’m very excited about that,” says Schock. “And I’m having a gallery opening. I’ll be showing my photographs – first time ever. That’s at a gallery on Sunset Blvd called Mr Music Head on November 6. So much to organize. I’m on the phone every day. The musical is coming back again. We’re doing Go-Go’s shows in December, and then next year we’re playing stadiums with Billy Idol in the UK.”
“I’m working on a new pop album, so fans can’t complain too much,” says Carlisle in conclusion. “I’m really busy with my solo career, kind of under the radar. I’m really lucky I have a great back catalog to work from. I just do things that are fun. I have a tour in Australia coming up. I just had to postpone my UK tour because of COVID. For me, playing live, there’s nothing like it and I really miss going out on the road.”
We miss you all too. God Bless the Go-Go’s!
God Bless the Go-Go’s: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. PT on Saturday, October 30. They perform at the Microsoft Theatre on December 29.
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