All I Ever Wanted

All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir
By Kathy Valentine
[University of Texas Press]

The Go-Go’s were the dirtiest dirty little secret of every teenage punk/hardcore boy of the 1980s. If you were a punk, it was a shameful thing to own Beauty and the Beat. But we all had it, stashed somewhere back there behind the KISS albums we claimed we hated but still loved and behind the, ahem, “gently used” copies of Penthouse, Oui and High Society that we bought from the kid down the street for a buck a pop after he stole them from his dad’s secret stash. We were too “hardcore” to admit liking anything as cheesy and sissy and girly as The Go-Go’s. But, by golly, we had that album. And we listened, too.

Nowadays, the teenage punks of the ’80s have moved to the south side of middle age. And we’re all stoked that The Go-Go’s bassist, Kathy Valentine, now 60 years old, has delivered the auto-bio, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir. I mean, The Go-Go’s really were a good band. They wrote catchy, memorable pop/surf/wave songs that have stuck in our collective craws for nary on 40 years. And these days, we, the 50+ year-old punk/hardcore teenagers of the 1980s, are not ashamed. “I am a Go-Go’s fan and proud of it,” we scream.

Remember when grandpa used to get drunk and talk about what a great singer and what a looker Doris Day was? Well, these days, we’re grandpa. And The Go-Go’s are our Doris Days. And that’s just fine.

All I Ever Wanted is more than just a rock book. I mean, well, sure – the bulk of it is about a rock band. And it’s chock full of the requisite tell-all thrills we desire. But it’s just as much a coming-of-age-in-the-permissive-70s cautionary tale. Valentine had a tough life coming up, and a lot of terrible things happened to her. And, in the process, she learned how to play rock music.

Oddly enough, the bulk of the sex-and-drugs portion of the book is not about the period when The Go-Go’s ascended to mega-stardom. Valentine’s darkest daze went down in 1970s Austin, Texas, when she was something of a neglected, latchkey tween and early teen, being raised by a divorced, hard-partying, wannabe bohemian mother who wanted to be her best friend. At one point, when Valentine was 15, she had a 38-year-old “boyfriend” while, at the same time, her mother, then 36, was dating a 24-year-old. And yeah, the two couples hung out and partied together. In the ’70s, Valentine’s mom may have scored with her many boyfriends, and she may have scored a lot of drugs, but she surely never scored any “Mother of the Year” awards, that’s for sure.

So, in Valentine’s first “sin” cycle, she was a tween, and her first “redemption” came when she first picked up a guitar after “my mother’s drug-dealing, heroin-addicted, prison-escapee, biker boyfriend was bringing a huge amplifier and an electric guitar inside [her house].” Sometimes the path to redemption arrives in unexpected ways, it seems.

After a couple of failed attempts at forming bands in Austin, Valentine relocated to Los Angeles, where she was a driven and focused, self-taught musician who first achieved semi-notoriety as a member of the curiously named Textones (turns out, band leader Carla Olson was also an Austin native, so it ultimately made perfect sense), who released a pair of 7-inches before Valentine left, and were most known because Nick Lowe borrowed their drum set for use in the making of the “Cruel To Be Kind” video at the storied Tropicana Motel. Valentine was an accomplished musician when she joined The Go-Go’s, then already on the brink of stardom.

Sure, The Go-Go’s ascended quickly, thrived in the white-hot light of primeval MTV, produced three hit albums, and broke up within five years of Valentine’s joining the band. And, yeah, they got up to all kinds of the wacky hijinks that rock ’n’ roll bad boys get into – the big difference being, of course, that they were (not really that) bad girls. It’s the usual story here: unfair contracts were signed in haste without forethought, hit records were made, fame was achieved, endless tours ensued, booze was chugged, drugs were scarfed, beds were wrecked, filthy lucre became the band’s raison d’etre, unscrupulous managers sowed seeds of discontent within the ranks by convincing a certain member (Guess who? Shocker: It’s Belinda!) that they were the real star, and then band broke up. Who wouldda thunk it? And who said heaven is a place on earth? (Shocker: It’s Belinda again!) Of course, the band got back together umpteen times and still kinda/sorta operates on occasion to this day. And thankfully, Valentine spares us the account of the band’s reunion. I mean, really, who wants to read about a bunch of old people getting the band back together for the umpteenth oldies revue tour?

What makes this book different than the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of other rock books, really, is Valentine’s authorial voice. All I Ever Wanted succeeds – not only as the story of a rock ’n’ roll band, but as a story, period. Anyone would probably enjoy reading this one – even smart people who aren’t interested in rock books. She really is a good writer. Of course, she’s passionate about the subject matter (her life and career), but she deftly avoids the easy traps of cliché and self-focused melodrama that have dogged so many rocker-cum-autobiographers before her. Valentine takes herself and her expression quite seriously, thank you. And she knows how to turn an artistically wrought phrase, too.

She writes: Somehow, after picking up a guitar seven years before [joining The Go-Go’s], I had ended up crossing a bridge that connected a devout and fervent desire to rock ’n’ roll with some cool gals to a shadowy dream of making music my life. Not only did I revel in where I had ended up, I thought with absolute certainty it would never end. No one could be stupid enough to fuck this up.

We all know where this is going, right?