September 10, 2000

                                         The Go-Go's Ain't Gone

                                            At Middle Age, the Quintessential California Girl Group
                                            Is Out to Prove It's Still Got The Beat.

                                            By ALLISON ADATO
                                          photo for the Los Angeles Times by Dale Gold

                                              Monday, 7:15 p.m.
                                                 It's raining in New York. Kathy Valentine is contemplating a
                                            suntan from a bottle and Belinda Carlisle is naked, save for a lace
                                            thong under an NYPD-issued blue-plastic rain poncho. Days
                                            before their concert tour is to begin in Detroit, the Go-Go's have
                                            agreed to play a handful of songs on an outdoor stage in Times
                                            Square as part of the city's Fleet Week festivities. From their
                                            dressing room, they peek at the crowd, mainly uniformed sailors on
                                            shore leave getting drenched. Lead singer Carlisle, who ditched her
                                            planned ensemble because of the downpour, calls for their tour
                                            manager, Paul Spriggs. Though he has lived much of the last two
                                            decades in buses with such bands as Run-DMC and Joan Jett and
                                            the Blackhearts, Spriggs has never toured with five women in their
                                            40s. He seems newly on alert, trying to anticipate their demands.
                                                 "Paul, I need a stapler," says Carlisle, smiling sweetly. In
                                            minutes, he produces one. She fastens the sides of the poncho and
                                            slides into black heels. While they admire her daring, Carlisle's
                                            bandmates declare the poncho unflatteringly long. Valentine comes
                                            to the rescue with nail scissors. Voila! "Fashion regression," says
                                            Carlisle, 42, referring to the garbage bags she sported onstage at
                                            L.A. punk clubs more than 20 years ago.
                                                 In the earliest days of the Go-Go's, the band's five members,
                                            each barely beyond her teens, believed two things: First, that they
                                            would never break up. Second, that they couldn't imagine doing this
                                            job past age 39. But after just five years, before ever running up
                                            against the paradox inherent in those beliefs, the band imploded. "It
                                            never occurred to me that it would end," says Valentine, the bassist,
                                            now 41. "I was devastated. I floundered. It took me years to find
                                            my own musical identity."
                                                 To the public, the Go-Go's were a clique of spirited,
                                            guitar-wielding California girls who had more in common musically
                                            with the Beach Boys and Shangri-Las than with the synth-pop acts
                                            that dominated '80s New Wave. Moreover, they were forever
                                            linked to one another as pop pioneers: Not only were they the first
                                            all-female band with an album to hit Billboard's No. 1 spot, but they
                                            were the first to crack even the top 100. For Angeleno girls of a
                                            certain age, the Go-Go's were a point of civic pride: They proved
                                            you could grow up right here and become a rock star. Carlisle's
                                            voice, with its crisp, West Valley enunciation and range that rarely
                                            dipped below that of a school-choir alto, only encouraged these
                                            fantasies. Since the band dissolved, each member has enjoyed
                                            playing either solo or starting lesser-known bands. But none has
                                            achieved the commercial success they had together and, it seems,
                                            took for granted. "My biggest regret in life," says guitarist Jane
                                            Wiedlin, 41, with a hint of bitterness in her Judy Holliday voice, "is
                                            how little I enjoyed the Go-Go's experience."
                                                 The experience was marred by the collision of five strong, if not
                                            fully mature, personalities. There remains the specter of what might
                                            have been. What if they hadn't allowed egos and money to come
                                            between them? What if they had spent more time in the studio and
                                            less time partying? Today, 15 years after their split, the bandmates
                                            are writing new material and spending their summer on tour. But,
                                            save for some highly esoteric in-jokes, the Go-Go's have left their
                                            old baggage behind. This time drugs, booze and on-the-road
                                            dalliances have been replaced by acupuncture, Pilates and calls
                                            home to the kids. (Two are married and moms.) "If you're not going
                                            to spend money on drugs," says Wiedlin, "you might as well spend it
                                            on a massage." On a ticket with another '80s favorite, the B-52's,
                                            they are selling out mid-size venues and proving that there is still a
                                            market for the Go-Go's--at least as an evening of nostalgia.
                                                 The challenge will be getting their core fans--those who were
                                            teenagers in the '80s--to view them as a viable band this decade.
                                            "In high school, you wanted to be them: be with your best friends,
                                            share clothes, travel all over the world," says music-industry
                                            executive Michelle Hinz, who was 14 in 1981 when the Go-Go's'
                                            first album, "Beauty and the Beat," came out. "I think people still
                                            have positive feelings about the Go-Go's because they were never a
                                            guilty pleasure," she says. (Being a devout fan of, say, Wham! in
                                            your 30s might be harder to own up to.) Still, fond memories will
                                            only take a comeback act so far, she says. "You gotta have a hit.
                                            It's harsh that way. You can put on the best show, be the coolest
                                            people, but it's not a hit if the music isn't there."
                                                 Remarkably, considering the time that has passed, the Go-Go's
                                            are still one of the few all-female bands out there. Alternative
                                            favorite Luscious Jackson broke up recently; the punk-pop group
                                            Sleater-Kinney has yet to crack the mainstream. "It's great that
                                            we're still unique," says Wiedlin. "But it's not a great comment on
                                            society." Of course, there are other female rock stars (Courtney
                                            Love, Shirley Manson and Gwen Stefani), and many of them front
                                            bands. But the dearth of all-girl bands is easy to overlook in an age
                                            of the Lilith Fair, when female singers are backed by male
                                            musicians, and the pre-fab Spice Girls serve up "Girl Power." As
                                            the Go-Go's step back into the niche they vacated, guitarist
                                            Charlotte Caffey, 43, assesses their situation this way: "It's like,
                                            'Guys, if we don't figure it out this time, we're idiots.' "

                                                                    * * *

                                              MONDAY, 7:23 P.M.
                                                 Standing in the stage wings, Miss America, 25-year-old Heather
                                            French, is singing along to "We Got the Beat." At her side, the
                                            young man whose job is to tote around Miss America's tiara in a
                                            wooden box is bobbing his head. As cameras project the crowd
                                            onto the Times Square Jumbotron, it becomes evident that nearly
                                            everyone--including all those servicemen who were toddlers when
                                            the band broke up--knows the words to "Vacation" and "Our Lips
                                            are Sealed." The Go-Go's may not have a huge catalog, but it does
                                            include some hook-filled classics. In the dressing room after the
                                            show, Valentine watches the Navy men through the window. "We
                                            should have played another song. Those guys are serving the
                                            country--we need to entertain them." "So go invite two up to your
                                            room," suggests drummer Gina Schock, 42.
                                                 Before Valentine can respond, a representative from their
                                            management company comes in. "Do you want to do ABC-TV?"
                                            "We want to do whatever will help our career," says Valentine.
                                                 What might have helped their career 15 years ago was intensive
                                            group therapy. Having forged a fast alliance during the late 1970s
                                            L.A. punk scene, it was as if each of the Go-Go's, in a fit of
                                            youthful exuberance, had entered into a marriage to four other
                                            people picked up in a bar. When fame and its attendant ills
                                            pummeled them, that untested relationship cracked under the stress
                                            of egos that demanded equal time on albums and in the press,
                                            varying degrees of drug and alcohol addiction, and fights over the
                                            disparity in earnings because Caffey and Wiedlin (the primary
                                            composers) were receiving lucrative songwriting royalties.
                                                 "We may have broken up at the height of our fame, but it was
                                            not," Schock says pointedly, "the height of our success." While they
                                            could take satisfaction in their popularity, they were less proud of
                                            how they comported themselves privately. "It's like the first time you
                                            fall in love; your eyes are just glazed over, you're just so swept up
                                            by the whole thing," says Schock. "The second or third time around,
                                            if you're lucky enough for that to happen, you should have your
                                            [act] together, know what's important and what makes you happy."
                                                 In fact, there were second and third chances. Though effectively
                                            divorced in 1985, the band reunited twice--in 1990 and 1995--at
                                            the urging of their former record label to tour in support of albums
                                            recycling their hits: "Go-Go's Greatest" and "Return to the Valley of
                                            the Go-Go's." "The first time," says Valentine, "it felt good to be
                                            friends again." The second reunion, for which they grudgingly put on
                                            smiles and seemed little more than a five-headed oldies jukebox,
                                            was miserable. (Caffey, then pregnant, didn't attend; guitarist Vicki
                                            Peterson, late of the Bangles, replaced her.) After that, remembers
                                            Valentine, "I said I would never do it again."
                                                 When the tour ended, so did any forced familiarity. Caffey
                                            spoke to Wiedlin, but not to Valentine or Schock, who didn't learn
                                            about the birth of Caffey's daughter until later. Valentine sometimes
                                            heard from Schock, but never from Wiedlin. Carlisle kept in casual
                                            contact with everyone, but lived halfway around the world in
                                            Provence, France, with her husband and son.
                                                 The band has e-mail to thank for its current state of
                                            togetherness. About 18 months ago, when a director approached
                                            Caffey and Wiedlin about turning the Go-Go's story into a feature
                                            film, they sent news of the offer to the others via e-mail. The
                                            dialogue that ensued raised the question of yet another reunion.
                                            Could they bear to do it again? Soon accusations and apologies
                                            zoomed across town and across the ocean. The nonconfrontational
                                            medium allowed them to express things they never had said
                                            face-to-face. (Schock, who did not own a computer, was included
                                            by phone.) Each one easily recalled incidents or offhanded remarks,
                                            nearly two decades old, that still stung. In turn, each apologized for
                                            bad behavior.
                                                 The result is that the Go-Go's are by contract a band again.
                                            Immediately, they agreed on one thing: "We can't keep playing
                                            these songs over and over," moans Schock. So they have
                                            committed to record a new album for release next year. The
                                            contentious issue of songwriting royalties was settled with the help
                                            of lawyers. Now they all share writing credit. One of their first new
                                            compositions, "Apology," can be read as a characteristically
                                            Go-Go's boyfriend tune or as a musical telling of how they repaired
                                            relationships within the band.

                                              TUESDAY, 3:54 A.M.
                                                 Jane Wiedlin can't sleep. She, too, can't quite believe that she's
                                            doing this again, and has worked herself into a fit of anxiety over the
                                            tour schedule, which includes several nights on which the band plays
                                            a show, gets on the bus and arrives in the next city early the
                                            following morning. What if she can't do it anymore? What if this was
                                            just a bad idea?

                                              TUESDAY, 12:30 P.M.
                                                 Caffey goes shopping at Sam Ash Music for a practice guitar
                                            amp and at Bloomingdale's for a Wonderbra ("good onstage
                                            support"). She browses the shoe department but feels she can't
                                            drop $200 on a pair. "In the old days I never thought about
                                            money--but then, of course, the clothes were so ugly in the '80s
                                            there was nothing I wanted," she says. "Now I'd rather buy
                                            something for my daughter." While on the road, Caffey logs onto
                                            her e-mail to download digital home movies of her 5-year-old. With
                                            two musician parents (Caffey's husband is Redd Kross singer and
                                            guitarist Jeff McDonald), daughter Astrid is already plotting her
                                            ascent. She has made up a band, called Sno-Cone, and
                                            occasionally picks out clothes and announces, "This is what I'm
                                            going to wear when we play Japan." The band schedules a break
                                            midway through the tour. When Caffey flies home, Astrid asks her,
                                            "Mom? Can we go up and cuddle, like in the old days?" "The old
                                            days?" laughs Caffey, a bit horrified. "It was just three weeks ago!"

                                              WEDNESDAY, 5:24 P.M.
                                                 As the limousine pulls away from the hotel, one band member,
                                            whose identity will remain undefined, announces she has forgotten
                                            something in her room. The car stops and she runs off. The others
                                            are getting antsy as rush-hour traffic clogs the streets. Finally, the
                                            Go-Go in question returns, having sprinted conspicuously through
                                            the hotel lobby with a personal massager. The other four collapse in
                                            laughter. "That," says one, catching her breath, "was totally worth
                                            the wait."

                                              WEDNESDAY, 9:30 P.M.
                                                 MTV News reporter Kurt Loder is on their plane from New
                                            York to Detroit. He greets them: "Uh, welcome back." Pause.
                                            "What are you doing here?"
                                                 "We're playing," says Valentine. "Friday. You should come."
                                            Though Loder is the senior man at the cable channel's news
                                            division, this is the first he has heard of a Go-Go's summer tour. He
                                            is en route to Detroit to cover an Eminem concert. Back when the
                                            Go-Go's sold as many records as Eminem does, the L.A. folk
                                            singer Phranc used to perform a song called "Everywhere I Go I
                                            Hear the Go-Go's." (". . . through the sound of dropping bombs /
                                            they're dancing to them in Lebanon . . . .")
                                                 To approach that popularity today will require proscribed
                                            comeback rites codified by MTV's grown-up sister network, VH1.
                                            Recognizing this, the Go-Go's cooperated with a "Behind the
                                            Music" documentary in what proved a genre-defining episode: Fast
                                            fame. Drugs. Drunken sex antics caught on tape (and recently
                                            available on EBay). Lawsuits. Dissolution. Sobriety. Redemption.
                                                 Caffey's revelations were particularly affecting. Although all of
                                            the women recounted nights lost to alcohol and cocaine, the quiet,
                                            pridefully punctual guitarist admitted to a consuming heroin
                                            addiction. So carefully had she hidden her past that after watching
                                            "Behind the Music," one of Caffey's sisters called to say that the
                                            show must have gotten it wrong, that Caffey had had, at worst, a
                                            drinking problem. And some of the mothers at Astrid's preschool
                                            questioned why she would discuss a problem she had put behind
                                            her long ago. "I decided to talk about it because I take my sobriety
                                            very seriously," Caffey says. Neither she nor Valentine ever touch
                                            alcohol now, though the others drink socially. Surprisingly, she
                                            doesn't associate life on the road with her addiction. "The year after
                                            I got sober I went on tour with Belinda," says Caffey. "I thought I'd
                                            try it out and see what happens. And [taking drugs] didn't appeal to
                                            me. I'd rather have a piece of chocolate cake."
                                                 Listening to Caffey recount her story, Wiedlin is nodding. "I
                                            don't think the worry is, 'Are the Go-Go's going to get me back on
                                            drugs?' Instead it's been, 'Are we going to be able to get along and
                                            not lose our minds?' "

                                              WEDNESDAY, 10:55 P.M.
                                                 Arriving at the hotel, each checks in under her tour pseudonym
                                            (Babe Lincoln, Iona Trailer, Sharon Needles, etc.) Then they
                                            escape to the privacy of their own rooms. Not hanging out together
                                         every minute is one of the new rules for sanity while touring. "It used
                                            to be that everybody was up everybody else's ass," is how Schock
                                            puts it. "Years ago, if Belinda and Kathy decided they wanted to go
                                            into Detroit for dinner and hadn't asked me immediately, I would
                                            have felt like I was missing out on something. Now I'm happy to
                                            stay in my room and read. Back then, we were partying every night.
                                            I might have brought books with me, but I probably never read
                                            them."

                                              THURSDAY, 12:05 P.M.
                                                 The Go-Go's board the bus that will be home for five weeks
                                            (the tour ended in early August) and pick bunks, as if it were the
                                            first day of camp. The beds are stacked three high, and the middle
                                            row is coveted. (The top sways; the bottom is noisy.) It is agreed
                                            they will rotate so everyone gets a chance to sleep in the middle.
                                            Schock puts James Brown on the tape deck and Carlisle settles into
                                            a seat with a book about UFO sightings.

                                              THURSDAY, 2:40 P.M.
                                                 In a men's locker room at the small sports arena they've rented
                                            for rehearsal, Carlisle is calling home to France on her cell phone.
                                            She misses her son. When she finally gets through, she learns that
                                            Duke is taking a nap; she'll have to try again later. "I could call 12
                                            times a day, but I don't," she says. "It's torturous." At 8 years old,
                                            Duke has no aspirations of following his mom into music. Instead,
                                            she says, he takes after his grandfather, the actor James Mason.
                                            (Carlisle's husband is Morgan Mason, a former Reagan
                                            administration aide, who now runs a cable station in Europe.) "My
                                            son has a concept [of the Go-Go's], but he's not interested," says
                                            Carlisle. "Before I left he asked me why I couldn't just do this all
                                            over the phone."

                                              THURSDAY, 3:50 P.M.
                                                 The ploddingly slow tech rehearsal in this empty arena in
                                            Saginaw, Mich., grinds to a standstill as Schock, behind the drum
                                            kit, takes a last drag on a cigarette. A couple of the others, some
                                            reformed smokers, bark at her to hurry up. "Are we playing or
                                            smoking?" At an earlier rehearsal they had equipment problems,
                                            causing similar tension. "We used to be such prima donnas," says
                                            Schock. "We would have walked out." But this time no one storms
                                            off. The sulkiness quickly passes. "I'm on constant monitor now,"
                                            admits Valentine, "checking if I snapped at anyone."
                                                 Over the last 15 years, each woman essentially has been the
                                            boss of her own career or band. But while they enjoyed the
                                            freedom of self-determination, those leaner years gave them an
                                            appreciation for what they gave up. The other projects, says
                                            Schock, "helped us grow as musicians and writers. But ultimately,
                                            despite what you've learned in that time, how are you going to get it
                                            to the public unless you're in a band that can make that happen?
                                            The Go-Go's is the forum to get what we do out there."

                                              FRIDAY, 3:45 P.M.
                                                 A fan from Chicago is waiting to see his idols before they board
                                            their bus. He quit his waiter job to follow the band's tour, beginning
                                            in Detroit. Equally flattered and appalled, they sign a stack of his
                                            pictures dating back to the early '80s. "I don't even have some of
                                            these," says Wiedlin. The fan offers her a few duplicates. Inside the
                                            bus, they pore over them, jaws dropping over ill-advised perms,
                                            pumps worn with Day-Glo sweat socks and a decade's worth of
                                            bad belts. "We were babies!" "Look how thin I was. And I always
                                            felt fat!" "It's all so embarrassing. I can't look. Wait, lemme see
                                            that."

                                              FRIDAY, 8:17 P.M.
                                                 The sun has not quite set over the outdoor arena in suburban
                                            Detroit. Beach balls are volleyed across a crowd that is happy to
                                            welcome the Go-Go's back; the last time they played here was
                                            1984. Schock, who began the evening with one leg shaking from
                                            nerves, is comfortably smashing away behind the drum kit.
                                            Valentine and Caffey amuse themselves with bits of guitar stage
                                            business, as Wiedlin twirls and Carlisle improvises a dance of
                                            Emma Peel poses. If, as teenagers, they believed that doing this job
                                            would look ridiculous after a certain age, they are no longer
                                            surprised that it doesn't.
                                                 As in New York, the audience sings with the hits. Then it's time
                                            to debut a new song. "Pretend you like this just as much," jokes
                                            Wiedlin. Whether these people will go out and buy the new album
                                            remains to be seen.

                                              FRIDAY, 9:40 P.M.
                                                 At a small reception after the show, Caffey is beaming. There
                                            are aspects of the performance that could have gone more
                                            smoothly. Who cares? "The whole time I was thinking, 'I get to do
                                            this still.' " Regardless of the band's future prospects, they are
                                            ensured a place in the pop record books. More significantly, they
                                            share a place in each other's histories. Schock, for one, can't talk
                                            about the vine inked around her wrist without telling the story of the
                                            long-ago day when she and Wiedlin wandered into a Sunset
                                            Boulevard tattoo parlor and made some chemically clouded, yet
                                            permanent, cosmetic decisions.
                                                 In the post-Go-Go's years, says Valentine, "I put band after
                                            band together and learned that you can have great musicians, but if
                                            you don't have that chemistry, it doesn't work. You put us five in a
                                            room together, and something happens. It's never been a question
                                            of 'Do we still have it?' But rather, 'Do we want it?' " Without irony,
                                            she echoes a sentiment from the band's beginnings: "We might not
                                            want to be doing this in 20 years, but right now there's no reason
                                            we can't have a really good run."

                                                                    * * *

                                                                    - - -

                                            Allison Adato last wrote for the magazine About R.E.M.'s Michael
                                            Stipe and his foray into feature film production. She wishes she
                                            had been born a Go-Go.
 

                               Styled by Anita Morand; hair and makeup: Danielle Russell; on
                                            Jane Wiedlin: Heike Jarick sweater and Piane Gonda choker; on
                                            Kathy Valentine: Christina Perrin tank top, Xin on Melrose
                                            necklace and Slane & Slane choker; on Belinda Carlisle: Prada
                                            sweater, Vivienne Tam at Bloomingdale's skirt, Jimmy Choo shoes,
                                            Slane & Slane ring; on Gina Schock: Christina Perrin jacket,
                                            William Reed tee and Tommy Hilfiger pants; on Charlotte Caffey:
                                            PureJoy shirt, skirt and tie.