THE GO-GO’S (2020)
Featuring Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Margot Olavarria, Elissa Bello, Paula Jean Brown, Ginger Canzoneri, Miles Copeland, Richard Gottehrer, Lee Thompson, Lynval Golding, Dave Robinson, Pleasant Gehman, Kathleen Hanna, Chris Connelly, Martha Quinn and Stewart Copeland.
Directed by Alison Ellwood.
Distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment. 98 minutes. Not Rated.
It was a story that could only happen in the 1980s. Five women who could not play instruments but loved the punk scene, got together to form a band. A couple of years later, their first album hit number one – the only album ever by an all-girl group to reach that pinnacle. The group had three hit albums in three years including several hit singles, becoming huge stars before imploding due to drug usage and internal infighting.
“We didn’t really have time to stop and think about what was going on, because we were worked to the bone,” Go-Go’s lead singer Belinda Carlisle had told me in 2010 when I was speaking with her about her autobiography Lips Unsealed. “We had no time for ourselves. Life was constant work, constant being on the road, constant interviews. We didn’t know how to say no to anything. It was kind of a blur. Of course, going from a band that didn’t know how to play instruments or write songs two and a half years prior, and then becoming the number one band in America – it was pretty daunting. And unexpected. We thought that if we could sell 100,000 copies of the album – that would be a big success. We had no idea it would explode like it did.”
The Go-Go’s are both an inspirational story and, in some ways, a cautionary tale. They changed music and fashion and had an excellent time doing it. Their hits – including “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels” are still played regularly. And even though their first iteration – and their glory years – lasted about three years, the band has been an on-and-off situation for decades now. Carlisle (and to a lesser extent guitarist Jane Wiedlin) had successful solo careers, the others have worked in songwriting and production, but they always seem to gravitate back to each other.
The documentary on the band’s rise and long, winding road is now streaming after an acclaimed run on Showtime. It is an endlessly entertaining look at three crazy years of fame and a deep, enduring sisterhood. The relationships have had highs and lows, but they keep ending up back together.
And the highs were sometimes literal “highs.” The Go-Go’s were a notoriously hard-living, hard-partying group. There is a legendary story about Ozzy Osborne throwing guitarist Charlotte Caffey out of a dressing room once because she was just too fucked up to deal with. When Ozzy Osborne was worried for your sobriety, you’d been doing some serious partying.
While the members of the Go-Go’s have moved on from their hard partying days, they don’t pretend they didn’t have an excellent time with a lot of it.
However, the best part of The Go-Go’s is an opportunity to revisit the music of the band. Beyond their obvious hits, terrific album tracks like “Lust to Love,” “Skidmarks On My Heart,” “This Old Feeling,” “Beatnik Beach,” “Surfing and Spying,” “How Much More” and “Yes or No” have all aged incredibly well, showing that the band has a much deeper songbook than a group with only four albums to their name should claim. Even their 2001 comeback album God Save the Go-Go’s had some terrific moments.
Of course, now they have grown older, gotten sober and slowed down some. So has their audience, although to this day they do still reach fans of all ages. And from their punk roots, the ladies are now decidedly mainstream. Hell, their music has been turned into a Broadway musical called Head Over Heels (which was very cool, but so not punk…) and “We Got the Beat” is currently being used in a now ubiquitous commercial for a drug used to combat heart attacks and strokes.
The concert scene is shut down – at least temporarily – due to Covid. Time has passed. (This year is the 40th Anniversary of Beauty and the Beat, how crazy is that???) The world has moved on. To quote from one of their moodier songs from the early days, “It’s everything but party time.”
Yet, seeing The Go-Go’s recording their first song in nearly 20 years, a surprisingly strong comeback single called “Club Zero,” closes The Go-Go’s out on a positive note. The women have grown and changed, they have been through some hills and valleys, but they still got the beat.
“Logically none of it should have happened,” Carlisle told me in that interview a decade ago. “When I look back on it, obviously it’s one of those things that was meant to be. I think there’s a karmic thing with the band, that we were put in each other’s lives for some sort of reason, and not just to make music. The relationship that we have with each other is really intense. It’s love/hate. It’s kind of indescribable, but it was obviously one of those things that was meant to be. There’s no reason why it should have happened.”
The Go-Go’s captures all that heady excitement, the burgeoning energy, the DIY aesthetic, the giddy “eighties-ness” of Go-Go mania. Not only did they make great music, but they had a great time doing it. The Go-Go’s allows you to revisit those halcyon days. It’s one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen in a long time.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2021 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 3, 2021.