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Kathy Valentine: Going to the Rock Hall with the Go-Go's but not done pushing the beat

Photo by Christopher Durst

Kathy Valentine and the Go-Go’s made me do something I didn’t want to do. I think the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as a concept, is stupid. The whole point of rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s iconoclastic, music of rebellion, something that needs no official validation from an institution. Yet for years after they were eligible, the Go-Go’s weren’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and that’s ridiculous. So thank you, Kathy Valentine and the Go-Go’s, for making me care about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Go-Go’s will be inducted into the Rock Hall on Saturday, Oct. 30, and they deserve to be there not just because they became the first—and still the only—all-female rock band to score a No. 1 album, 1981’s Beauty and the Beat. They also deserve to be there because songs from their three albums released in the early-to-mid ‘80s are indelible parts of our culture. They sound just as vital today as when they were released.

The Go-Go’s were tight, powerful and oh-so-catchy, and bassist/songwriter Kathy Valentine played a key role in those recordings. She and Gina Schock provided a muscular rhythm section while she also contributed key harmonies and songs. And her playing remains memorable, whether we’re talking about that bass intro to “Our Lips Are Sealed” or her riff on “We Got the Beat” or the bass break on “Head Over Heels,” perhaps my favorite Go-Go's song, which she co-wrote.

Previous Caropop guest bassist Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Attractions) said he’d have been as happy to have come up with Valentine’s “We Got the Beat” part as his own for “Pump It Up.” The title track and big hit from the band’s second album, Vacation, started out as a Kathy Valentine song she originally recorded with her previous band, the Textones.

The Go-Go’s broke up, reunited, recorded, broke up and reunited again a couple of times, with drug use at times playing a well-documented role. In her book, All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir, out now in paperback from the University of Texas Press, Kathy Valentine writes about these band dynamics but so much more. This is a moving piece of work that goes into detail about her painful childhood in Austin, Texas, in which she grew up way too fast, and was exposed to way too much, while being raised by a single mother who made many unfortunate choices in boyfriends and lifestyle.

All I Ever Wanted is not a vicarious thrill ride, though it has its thrilling moments. In more than one sense of the word, it’s a sober look at a life in rock ‘n’ roll and all that entails. And Kathy Valentine, first and foremost, is a rock ‘n’ roller, as can be heard in her work with the Textones, the Go-Go’s and other bands and solo work up through today. Her latest single is a blazing duet with Rhett Miller on the Go-Go’s/Textones song “We Don’t Get Along.” That rock ‘n’ roll quality also shines through in her no-b.s. approach whether life is dealing out glamor or heartbreak.

Valentine was a gracious, thoughtful guest as she spoke with me from her Austin, Tex., home. She discusses the specific challenges that remain for a woman in rock, the creation of those wonderful songs, what it was like to ride the Go-Go’s rocket ship, the band’s overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the continued battles for reproductive rights and equality, and the writing of All I Ever Wanted.

Check out her new music and much more on her website.

Now please listen to the Caropop podcast with Kathy Valentine, rock out and tell your friends.


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