THE GO-GO’S HAD MADE IT TO GERMANY. Their nerves were frayed, their tempers on edge, but what would you expect after six months on the road? Half a year of staring at cheap blue hotel wallpaper and floral-print bedspreads can do bad things to a band’s psyche, especially when its members call the smoky, funky confines of Los Angeles clubs their home. So, by the time they hit Hamburg, catty barbs were being exchanged with feline quickness, and the tension…well, the tension was getting thick.
What’s a girl to do? Somehow, the Go-Go’s always seem to know. They walked into their dressing room, a Teutonic masterpiece of five perfectly matched and aligned dressing tables, each topped by a perfectly centered and spotless mirror. Across from these pristine vanities was a buffet table laden with infuriatingly symmetrical platters of food. So the band’s manager, Ginger Canzoneri, did the only sane thing: she snatched a grapefruit off the groaning board and hurled it. No further prompting was necessary. In minutes, the entire buffet was dripping off the wall.
That’s when guilt made its entrance –– Catholic guilt to be precise, except for Belinda Carlisle, whose guilt was of the Southern Baptist variety. It’s the kind of guilt that waltzes in when you least expect it and prompts the sort of behavior Van Halen would be ashamed to even think about. The Go-Go’s had trashed their German dressing room –– but when they were finished, they tried to clean the whole thing up.
“We looked around and thought, ‘Oh, God, this is terrible,'” says Belinda, laughing. “So we got little towels and scooped all the crap into piles against the wall.” And then she adds, with almost a trace of sorrow, “It didn’t work.”
AMERICA AND THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, meet the Go-Go’s: International, Filthy Rich, Jet-Setting Rock- and Screen-Star Bitch Goddesses, or something like that (it was last winter’s in-joke, and they’ve long since forgotten exactly how it goes). They’re cute, they’re bubbly, they throw nice little tantrums and then clean up after themselves, everybody loves them, and they’re the biggest all-female band in the history of rock & roll.
Sure, the Supremes could probably argue that last claim, but when was the last time Diana Ross picked up a guitar or wrote her own songs? In the year since their debut, the Go-Go’s have racked up a Number One album, Beauty and the Beat; two Top Twenty singles, “Our Lips Are Sealed” and the gold “We Got the Beat”; an initial tour that found the then-unknown band selling out every show; and, after swallowing their rapidly expanding pride and consenting to be an opening act, a crucial stint with the Police, where they went out and broke things wide open.
It’s your standard Bright New Act Makes Good story, but it’s also more than that. It’s the story of five women in their twenties (mostly early twenties) who’ve provided heroes for the little sisters of the longhaired guys who play air guitar at Foreigner concerts. The group’s hit music is conceived, written, arranged and performed almost entirely by women; peer behind the full skirts and teased hairdos, and you won’t see the lurking presence of a guru like Phil Spector or Kim Fowley, or even a Mike Chapman, Peter Asher or Chris Stein. Look directly at those skirts and hairdos, and you won’t see them flaunting their sexiness a la the Runaways or ignoring it like Fanny did; they’re simply comfortable being female and playing the rock & roll songs they write.
The Go-Go’s are safe, wholesome and proudly commercial; the operative image is bubble bath and sweet innuendo. It’s an image they know they need –– a tease that gives the peppy pop music a twist and a hook –– but it’s not what sells 2 million albums. That’s happened because they’re a good, tough little band: the evidence is there on Beauty and the Beat and the new LP, Vacation. For me, it was best presented one night last February in Detroit.
Mind you, this was nothing like Los Angeles, where a Go-Go’s show means wading through a sea of teenage girls dressed to kill in enough short pastel party outfits to make East Michigan pall. This ain’t the Whisky, they could have sung, this ain’t no foolin’ around. This was just another stop in seven months of touring, another night opening for the Police (and their fans), another identical backstage dinner of chips, dip and apple wedges. But it was also a chance to set aside memories of some initially shaky Go-Go’s shows –– their Saturday Night Live spot, an unfortunate example –– and prove they could be powerful and cohesive from the start.
Drummer Gina Schock is the most angelic-looking Go-Go with her shiny blond hair and toothsome grin, but she’s also the bluntest and most outspoken member, the one who gripes at photographers and the only Go-Go you’ll never see in a miniskirt. Onstage, she pounded out a beat as direct and no-nonsense as her hard-nosed urban speech patterns. The plastic shrunken head bouncing off her bass drum testified to a taste that runs to such films as Pink Flamingos and to such books as Hollywood Babylon.
Dressed in black and looking punkier than her colleagues –– looking, in fact, like the spiky-haired Shirley MacLaine –– was Kathy Valentine, who plunked away with basic, rock-solid bass lines seemingly inspired by years of immersion in the Rolling Stones. Still, the generally soft-spoken bass player focused on amiable front-row fans and flashed broad smiles their way.