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The Go-Go's

After decades of bonding, disbanding and reforming, these women have nothing left to prove. They're comfortable with themselves and with who they are as a group: the world's most successful female band.

July 14, 2006|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

AFTER almost three decades of bonding, disbanding, and reforming, the Go-Go's are used to the hard way. Though they have not recorded any new music since 2001's "God Bless the Go-Go's," a CD recently hailed by Steve Van Zandt on his "Underground Garage" radio show, they have toured at least six weeks every summer for the last eight years. Now living separate lives as wives, mothers, solo artists, hit songwriters, reality TV stars and music industry players, the "First Ladies of the '80s," as the Go-Go's are sometimes called, reconvene at casinos, benefits and lucrative gigs for Yamaha and Microsoft. "The Go-Go's earn more now as a touring act than they did in the 1980s," says Brett Steinberg, their rep at Creative Artists Agency. They remain the world's most successful all-female rock 'n' roll band. Ever.

Descending from American girl groups and beach boys of the '60s with a dash of '70s British rock glam, the Go-Go's -- Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine and Jane Wiedlin -- were the first L.A. band to spin punk and pop into solid gold. Their sunny hits, "We Got the Beat," "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Head Over Heels" and "Vacation," took early 1980s dance rock out of the Hollywood clubs and onto the national charts. This year alone, the songs have popped up in national TV commercials for, respectively, Pizza Hut, Kmart, Pantene and Priceline. "Vacation" also appeared in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 77 words Type of Material: Correction
The Go-Go's: An article in Friday's Calendar on the Go-Go's said that the band's song "Our Lips Are Sealed" was used in a Kmart ad this year and that "We Got the Beat" was used in an ad for Pizza Hut. "Our Lips Are Sealed" was used for Old Navy and "We Got the Beat" for Papa John's. In addition, the caption for a photo of the band in the 1980s identified Gina Schock as Elissa Bello.

Schock has a theory about the Go-Go's recent surge in popularity. "The world is so hateful these days," she says, "it needs the Go-Go's now more than ever to remind people of something good." The Go-Go's are taking appropriate measures. Following Hilary Duff's 2004 cover of "Our Lips Are Sealed," the band struck a deal with Disney to create the Po-Go's, a kiddie combo that will record and perform new Go-Go's songs and selections from their endless-summer repertoire.

Tonight at the Greek Theatre, the hometown heroines really have something to celebrate: For the 25th anniversary of their quadruple platinum debut, "Beauty and the Beat," they will perform all the songs on the record for the first time.

"Dude, we're like Springsteen. We rock for like an hour and 20 minutes," jokes rhythm guitarist Wiedlin. "And we're also doing our first costume change. We're going to come out looking like Cher." In some ways, the Go-Go's already do. They have endured as symbols of Southern California pop, as particular to Valley Girl mall-punk of the '80s as Cher was to the Sunset Strip of the swinging '60s. They earned their stripes over the course of just four years and three recordings ("Beauty and the Beat," "Vacation" and "Talk Show"), stepping over rock's gender line to prove that they could play -- and party -- as hard as boys.

During that time, however, drummer Schock recalls, they were on "a conveyor belt, answering the same damn questions over and over.... They worked us to death, and we did what we were told to be successful." By 1985, they were finished, torn asunder by the fame they had so assiduously sought. There were substance abuse problems, constant ego trips over who was getting the most attention, financial battles with their record company and one another over songwriting royalties, and screaming matches that sometimes escalated into physical fights.

"We didn't have guy groupies," Carlisle remembers. "We wanted them, but I think they were too afraid of us. They'd come backstage into this vortex of energy and just cower."

It took five years before the Go-Go's could stand to be in a room together. In 1990, they played a benefit for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and recorded a cover of "Cool Jerk." Carlisle had already scored a No. 1 single with "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." They toured briefly in recession-struck small towns, billed as Belinda and the Go-Go's. The reunion didn't stick.

In 1994, almost a decade after the Go-Go's first dissolved, they released a compilation CD. "Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's" exposed their musical and psychological punk roots. There were pictures and stories that hinted that the five members shared an appetite for self-destruction on a par with Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses. Six years later, the whole story would make for a sensationalistic episode of VH-1's "Behind the Music." On stage or in front of a camera, the Go-Go's were America's sweethearts; elsewhere they were a drinking, drugging prototype for today's Girls Gone Wild. "We did exactly the same as everyone else," says Wiedlin. "The only thing that makes our story interesting is the fact that we were women."

Punk beginnings

The Go-Go's began as a do-it-yourself lark for Wiedlin, a fashion design student, and Carlisle, a would-be flight attendant born Belinda Kurczeski in Burbank. Carlisle held court as "Dottie Danger" in an apartment nicknamed "Disgraceland" in the Canterbury, a Hollywood punk rock dump.

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