Our Lips Aren’t Sealed: Q’s With The Go-Go’s Alum Kathy Valentine

Kathy Valentine
Photo by Cameron Ludwick
– Kathy Valentine
Beauty & The Beat Goes On: Kathy Valentine who continues to rock and write.

Kathy Valentine is a unicorn. A member of not just the first all-female but indie band of the punk/new wave to top the Billboard Top 200 Albums, the guitarist-turned-bassist left Texas with bandmate Carla Olson and formed The Textones, subbed for The Go-Go’s 1980 New Year’s Eve run at the Whisky and swan dove into history. 

Romping, raging, playing their own instruments with an all-consuming sense of rock’n’retro pop, The Go-Go’s embraced the ride with everything they had. They blazed, gave IRS Records a massive wave of success, burned out, and fell apart. Valentine, ever the rocker, formed bands (World’s Cutest Killers), reunited with, split from The Go-Go’s and played in more bands (BlueBonnets, the Delphines).

The Austin Music Hall of Famer also returned to college, earning straight A’s. But just as importantly, she emerged as a thinker and contributing critic at TalkHouse. After appearing at the Texas Book Festival, interviewing Jessica Hopper, she was offered a book deal with University of Texas Press – and the capture-the-moment, self-aware “All I Ever Wanted” was contracted into being.

With a book tour up in the air – though one that would see Valentine teaming with Kathleen Hanna, Kelly Deal, John Doe, Lizz Winstead, Gina Schock, Ann Powers, Anthony DeCurtis and Tanya Donnelly – the returned-to-Austin musician and songwriter is working through alternative promotion. But she still hopes to be able to bring her book and friendships to the people.
Pollstar: These are strange times…
Kathy Valentine: On the scale of what’s happening, I can stay home and try to not amplify what’s happening. I’m thinking about how to help out the indie bookstores, to maybe do my readings on their Facebook pages, create virtual events to remind people about their local stores.
Now is where we (as a nation) get tested, and it’s a time for us to learn. What’s important is how we help the independent businesses. I’m thinking of getting a book line, telling people “Buy it from your local seller.” They can ship it to me, and I’ll get on a video call, or call, and we can talk while I sign your book; answer a couple questions, and you can see me.
It’s a pretty amazing book, in that you make it visceral and self-aware, but never wallowing or exploitative.
As somebody who’s sober, I’m used to feelings (laughs). The worst betrayals, heartaches, losses? Sure. But how do you write about what it feels like going onstage? And do it without using clichés!
And yet you capture it well.
It was so important to me, because when I read, I want to glimpse other worlds. That’s what I wanted to create: go onstage with The Go-Go’s. I wish every musician could have that feeling of an audience, a full house of people who know the songs, who’re high and getting off on the music you’re making with your friends.
I felt that at our very first show at the Whisky, the same as when our lighting guy at Madison Square Garden turned up the lights – on this sold out crowd. It’s so immediate and in the moment. Like plugging in to an amp for the first time: I’d been playing an E Chord, but not when it was loud and dirty.
You capture the rush of it, especially the early days.
Writing about recording Beauty & the Beat was a time. No other 22-year-old girls ever were doing that anywhere, so (the writing encapsulated a time) that would never be again. That seeped into the record; I know it did. We were like newlyweds, everything was so heightened. You can feel it.

You also talk about growing up in Texas, a challenging raising shall we say.
The ‘70s in Austin was such a special place, so decadent and innocent. I wanted to be part of it.
My mom was young, single, 23 and going back to school. So even though it showed her as a less than great parent, she kept saying, “It’s your story.”

And then California.
Success, the rise and fall. (That portion) was about coming to grips with failure, sobriety, maybe something will change. What happened.
I was so deep in the feelings (for a lot of it), it was like I was there. I didn’t want to start writing ‘til I was in the feeling. If I was gonna leave anything out, it wasn’t going to be the experience. So even though I wanted a fast pace, I also wanted to leave blood on the page.
And you wrote a soundtrack to go with it.
I made playlists for every year, what I liked, but what was on AM radio, TV, the movies. And when I was writing the songs… I grieved for three days when I wrote “Just Do It” for the chapter about being raped at 14. Trying to have some power over a situation where I had no power didn’t change what it was.
You’re unflinchingly self-aware.
One of the biggest things I realized: I’d played it safe. I was arranging, coming up with parts and writing, but I never exposed myself to criticism; I never put myself out there. One of the things I grieved was how I treated people, how I lost myself. I forgot I grew up practicing to Freddie King. When you’re a Go-Go, you put all that behind you. It was a big deal.
I was so fearful of losing that, I wasn’t able to process anybody else’s stuff. As a band, we’re all still healing for years and years of what happened to us.
And yet, the joy so many girls experienced.
I’d always remembered the camaraderie and laughter. No one has ever made me laugh more than with The Go-Go’s. It’s like being in a club. There was a manic almost way of being – and remembering the joy of some of those highs was incredible.
You got turned on by Suzy Quatro, but there weren’t a lot of examples for young women.
Right? There weren’t any others that I could find. For the Joan Jetts, the other girls looking for inspiration. Fanny? The Pleasure Seekers? Goldie & the Gingerbreads? They weren’t really there, and I didn’t know about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. 
How many more bands there might have been if we’d had role models?! Thank God for the punks, where not every girl was pulling her hair screaming. The roles weren’t defined, so everyone could (be in a band).

Kathy Valentine
– Kathy Valentine
All I Ever Wanted

Did you want to write a book?
Yes, but I didn’t think I had the discipline. I figured I’d get an MFA, because I was good at turning in my homework; I’d hit the deadline and get an A.
But that’s not what happened… 
I did the Texas Book Festival, where I met a woman from University of Texas Press, Gianna LaMorte, who has acquiring ability. She asked me if I wanted to write a book, and we had coffee. At the end of the meeting, I said, “I have the idea you want to give me a book deal.”
She said, “Yes.” And I asked if she wanted to see something I’d written. I sent her several things, and waited for two weeks and didn’t hear back. When I did, she apologized, thanked me for the pages and said, “You’ve got a book deal.”

And it’s meaningful on many levels.
I saw myself as a protagonist who comes out a changed person. I didn’t need a villain. I didn’t need judgement. I just wanted to be clear about everything.  People still focus on the fact we were the first all-girl band to top the Album chart, have the No.1 single. But people forget we were the first indie band to do it, too!  The Police were on a major label; Blondie, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, all had majors behind them. We didn’t. IRS was a little label. There was no SubPop yet. So, it was a huge victory on that level, too.