All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir by Kathy Valentine review – 10-legged hell-raising machine | Autobiography and memoir


The most successful all-female band of all time – according to the US Billboard charts – remains to this day the Go-Go’s, an irreverent and combustible new wave five-piece formed in the crucible of the LA punk scene who went to No 1 in the US in 1982 with their debut album, Beauty and the Beat. This excellent memoir from their bassist, Kathy Valentine, forms part of a charm offensive that includes a much-praised 2020 documentary and dates supporting Billy Idol in the UK in June.

It should not be important, in this day and age, but given Damon Albarn’s recent, since-retracted, comments questioning Taylor Swift’s songwriting, it bears repeating: the Go-Go’s were a girl gang who wrote their own songs. And had female management. And inspired female musicians from the Bangles, their obvious heirs, to Kathleen Hanna, who went on to form Bikini Kill. Sure, there’s a Terry Hall credit on one of their biggest hits, Our Lips Are Sealed, but the song was based on letters Hall exchanged with Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin while the two were an item.

Although the Go-Go’s were an LA phenomenon and didn’t hit as hard in the UK, Valentine’s mother is British, and it was when the two were visiting relatives that Valentine saw Suzi Quatro on Top of the Pops. The planet immediately tilted to a more rakish angle.

All I Ever Wanted is full of British cameos: the nanosecond she was in an early lineup of Girlschool called Painted Lady, the time when Go-Go’s singer Belinda Carlisle out-partied Rod Stewart, how they shared a label, IRS, with the Police.

Kathy Valentine: ‘The years in which she tried and failed to recreate a band for herself are like a car crash you can’t look away from’
Kathy Valentine: ‘The years in which she tried and failed to recreate a band for herself are like a car crash you can’t look away from.’ Photograph: George DuBose

When Beauty and the Beat overtook the Police’s Ghost in the Machine in the US charts while the bands toured together, the Police produced champagne. One of the unexpected recurrences within this often jaw-dropping memoir is exactly how supportive male musicians were of the Go-Go’s, how Keith Richards drawled “we’re all in the same union” when Valentine sidled up to him for a cigarette in the studio, asking whether she could listen in on a guitar solo Jimmy Page was overdubbing. The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart is unmasked as a gentleman.

Like drummer Gina Schock, Valentine wasn’t a Go-Go from the very start. But the definitive fivesome swiftly gelled into a 10-legged hell-raising machine, with Valentine switching from guitar to bass and learning all the parts for her audition in a cocaine-fuelled few days. She brought pivotal songs to the band: Can’t Stop the World, on Beauty and the Beat, and Vacation, the title track of their second album.

As well as telling the enthralling saga of how the Go-Go’s got big through hard work, hard partying and great tunes, this is Valentine’s personal bout of forensics. Her arc has a candour, clarity and retrospective warmth born of sobriety and therapy. Valentine can write. She talks of trouble afoot like “trying to keep smoke behind a door”.

She did way too much, way too young, a Texan backstory full of eye-popping under-parenting, nasty high schools and alternative educational settings both formal and informal. Valentine is heart-breakingly honest about a rape and the termination in its aftermath. But there were good men, too: her mother’s boyfriend taught her to play guitar. At a critical juncture, she meets the Runaways, starring Joan Jett. The Sex Pistols and Blondie come through town, adding inspirational fuel to her ambitions.

Valentine’s enthusiasm for drink and drugs were not exactly out of place in rock’n’roll circles. The band’s five years in the sun were basically one long bender – gleeful, sisterly and prank-filled, until, that is, the band’s habits became problematic and they started factionalising and mismanaging their affairs. The songwriters out-earned the non-songwriters. They alienated their long-suffering and astute manager, Ginger Canzoneri. Wiedlin left to go solo and have a hit with Rush Hour.

What happens when success ends is often more fascinating than the ride beforehand. The years in which Valentine tried and failed to recreate a band for herself are like a car crash you can’t look away from. Valentine’s long-suffering boyfriend, Clem Burke of Blondie, buoys her, but they eventually part ways.

Singer-songwriter Carlene Carter is a buddy, and Johnny and June Carter Cash (Carlene’s mother) pay a big hotel bill Valentine is unable to – refunded, with shame and gratitude, when Valentine later makes amends on the 12-step programme. There is less here on the later years of the band’s reunion. Valentine actually sued the band in 2013, settling out of court. But what resonates is that the Go-Go’s didn’t just have “girl band” problems – they had universal ones.

All I Ever Wanted by Kathy Valentine is published by Jawbone (£14.95). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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