Making your mark as a woman in a man’s world is tough. Succeeding in industries where men rule (which is most) has required groundbreakers. Those who will forge a path for others to follow on. In pop music that was The Go-Go’s, though they are still the only all-girl band, who wrote their own music and played their own instruments to have a number one album on Billboard. During the early to late 80s they were one of the hottest American music acts and yet they are still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I guess some work still has to be done.
Shortly after a musical about the band had a run on Broadway, now comes Alison Ellwood’s documentary about the band. It gives you a behind the scenes look at the band. In their own words as a lot of it is based on interviews with band members themselves. The documentary debuted at this past Sundance film festival and is now out on blu-ray/dvd.
Hard to believe it has taken this long for a documentary to be made on the band. A band of women who came up very quickly from the Los Angeles punk scene. As lead singer Belinda Carlisle says at one point, most people think that they were put together and a product of a man. But they were a self made band. Starting off with guitarist/vocalist Jane Weidlin and singer Belinda Carlisle then came guitarist/keyboards Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock then finally bassist Kathy Valentine. From then and on to their most successful years they were managed by a woman – Ginger Canzoneri.
What was rather unique about these five women, besides their success, was their pursuit of it. They wanted fame, success and money along with all that came with it. We see, though, that once they had achieved all this it ended up tearing them apart both as a band and personally.
The band started out in the late 1970s in the punk scene in Los Angeles then became known as they were the only all-girl band. Got used to being cussed at, spat at and have things thrown at them while on stage. Definitely a toughening up moment. Making them decide right up front whether they really wanted it at any cost. Then after one tour in Europe as the opening band for The Specials things began to click for them. Caffey had written “We Got the Beat” and Weidlin had written “Our Lips Are Sealed” and the band was off to the races. They then got signed to I.R.S. Records opened for The Police and while on the road their first album, Beauty and the Beat, rose to the top of the Billboard Album Chart. A number one hit! A first for an all-girl group and still the only one.
This is where the story became rather typical. Fame destroyed them. Fame came with drugs, drinking, separation, and jealousy. A tight unit shattered. Weidlin left after the tour following their fourth album, Talk Show. The four tried to go on but it wasn’t working so Carlisle and Caffey ended the band.
The break up was so bitter that Carlise and Caffey did not speak to Schock and Valentine for five years. Though the band has gotten back together in 1990 and been together off and on since, it has been acrimonious at times with lawsuits over songwriting and money by different members.
That is the beauty of the documentary. That the women are very open about what they loved and hated about the experience. The access to the band members and that they were able to tell their story in their own words. Plus we hear openly about Caffey’s heroin addiction and Weidlin’s life long mental health issues. Interesting and important (especially for aspiring female musicians) film about the rise and fall of a very successful band. Showing the true band, that they were punks, kick ass and not just a pop fluff girl band.