The Go-Go’s: A Year of Living Dangerously
I’m about 10 feet away from the room where the Go-Go’s are meeting when the whispering begins:
“God, what a jerk that guy is …”
“Yeah, can you believe we gotta talk to that clown …”
“I just hope he doesn’t hang around too long … oh, hi, Chris!”
Peals of laughter bounce off the walls. Welcome to the world of the Go-Go’s, where women are girls, men are boys, everyone is fair game and no one ever stops smiling. If you can’t have fun with the Go-Go’s, maybe you can’t have fun, period. “Being in this band is like being in high school all over again,” says Gina Schock, the group’s drummer. “We’re like a bunch of little maniacs.”
So why fight it, I figure, as the band tears out the door of their management company’s office on their way to a rehearsal for a video from Talk Show, their current hit album. But just as I accept the idea that the Go-Go’s are America’s most wholesome hedonists, Gina approaches me on a stair landing and pulls her shirt up.
The scar begins at her collarbone. Light brown, as wide as a man’s thumb, it runs down her chest, between her breasts and underneath her brassiere, stopping a few inches above her bellybutton. This is where the sternum of the Go-Go’s’ drummer was sawed open in an operation that tore the heart out of America’s best female rock band.
Gina’s open-heart surgery was merely the most visible of the problems the Go-Go’s had suffered over the last 18 months. There was another medical problem, management hassles, even a lawsuit with their record company. At one point, the group nearly broke up.
“I kept saying, ‘Something good’s got to come out of all this,'” says guitarist Charlotte Caffey. “‘This stuff doesn’t happen to us. This happens in real life. Not in the Go-Go’s little bubble.'”
For Jane Wiedlin, even the Go-Go’s triumphant Vacation tour in 1982 was troublesome at the end, coinciding as it did with an especially rough time with her boyfriend, singer-songwriter Tim Scott. Still, as the 26-year-old Wiedlin hastens to note, “The off times have been our most difficult periods more than anything,” and the hassles began almost as soon as the tour was over. For one, Ginger Canzoneri, the energetic but inexperienced manager who guided the band from its earliest incarnation to the top of the charts, left the band.
“She disappeared,” Wiedlin explains. “We didn’t want her to leave or quit or be fired or anything. But knowing Ginger as well as we do, her normal way of dealing with a situation that she’s unhappy with is just to disappear. It had been building up for a long time; I’m surprised we didn’t see it coming.”
At the beginning of 1983, the Go-Go’s got another shock, when they received their semiannual financial statement from I.R.S. Records. They discovered that they were owed more than a million dollars in royalties from the sales of Beauty and the Beat, their first LP, and the two hit singles it spawned — “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.” But when the band demanded its money, I.R.S. reportedly said they didn’t have it. According to Emily Shenkin, a lawyer for the group, the Go-Go’s then declared their intention to leave the label, and I.R.S. filed suit to keep them. (The dispute was resolved out of court. Royalties were paid, and the Go-Go’s remained on I.R.S.)
Even before Canzoneri’s departure, the band had hired Front Line Management, which guided acts like the Eagles and Steely Dan. But that association was jeopardized when Front Line founder Irving Azoff suddenly left the company to head MCA Records. Stunned, the band began reevaluating managers all over again. After a month and a half, they decided to remain with Front Line after all.
According to Jane, the haggling played havoc with the band’s inner strength — and its unity. The central problem was “not being surrounded by business people that we could yell and scream at,” she says. “So, the anxieties of the band were all turned inward. In the beginning, we all had boyfriends to take things out on, and then later we had all these people who worked for us that we could take it out on. And then last year, we really didn’t have anybody but ourselves.”
Curled up on a sofa in her Malibu digs — a sun-swept house that features a parade of Mexican tchotchkes; two diaphanous teddies, hung on the wall of her bedroom; and, outside, a miniature horse named Bunny Wailer — Jane seems the perfect essence of a Go-Go. From her unintimidating glamour and pixieish stage presence to her unforgettable voice (think of Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), she comes across as bonny and bright as Sunday’s child.
Wiedlin, however, is no niblet. She’s the Go-Go who checked out New York’s S&M club, Hellfire; who has read the searing bondage-and-discipline memoir Nine and a Half Weeks five times; who nearly sent her parents into apoplexy when she discovered David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album as a teenager. “My family all said, ‘Oh, he’s a fag.’ And I said, ‘No, it’s cool to be bi.’ That’s when they really started thinking I was sick.”