The Go-Go's Charlotte Caffey Details Addiction In New L.A. Punk Book From John Doe: Excerpt
John Doe of X freely admits that he was coerced into writing his first book, 2017's Under the Big Black Sun, about the history of the Los Angeles punk rock scene. But that's led to a sequel, More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk, which publishes on June 4, with an excerpt from a chapter by the Go-Go's Charlotte Caffey running exclusively below (both as text and audio).
And Doe says it was not necessarily easier the second time.
"There was a lot of thought about, 'How is this gonna work? What's the story?'" Doe tells Billboard. Like its predecessor, More Fun in the New World collects essays by Doe, co-author Tom DeSavia and others from the scene -- including actor Tim Robbins, Go-Go's Caffey and Jane Wiedlin, Dave Alvin, Los Lobos' Louie Perez, Peter Case, X's Billy Zoom, Henry Rollins and Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher of Fishbone -- to create a narrative about the events from 1982-87, when L.A.'s punk scene grew in both size and scope.
"The first (book) was all about community and collaboration and freedom and just busting loose," Doe explains. "As that era was winding down, say from '81 to '82, it got a little darker. Heroin came into the picture and people were getting a little more notice. The community became bigger, the audience became bigger. Hardcore was fully established and there were more bands and genres -- and an audience that was able to support all that." But, Doe adds, bigger wasn't always better, even for the musicians themselves.
"We couldn't go see the Circle Jerks or Fear or some of the other bands, because if Exene (Cervenka) and I showed up at those gigs we were thought of as rock stars and people would give us a bunch of shit," Doe recalls. "It wasn't even an undercurrent. There was an aspect of violence that was not even cool violence. That was the bad side, because we grew up with the Circle Jerks and Fear and now we were almost, like, outsiders because we were successful."
Doe says using others' voices for More Fun in the New World, as in Under the Big Black Sun, fleshes the story out more than he and DeSavia could on their own. "I like the fact we give a little more context about the city and also the person's life," he says -- though he notes that the authors "had to change a bunch of names in this one" to avoid legal issues. He's particularly appreciative of street artist and clothing designer Shephard Fairey's contribution ("Prep School Confidential: Finding My Voice"), which Doe feels "embodied all of those things we felt," while Caffey's "Deliverance," which chronicles her addiction issues, was particularly "mind-blowing."
"We knew here then and had no idea she was struggling with addiction like that," Doe says. "The vulnerability and courage it took for her to get through it and also to write about it was incredible."
Doe says there will be no third book; "By '87 we didn't have any real connections. Somebody else has to pick up the mantle from here." But work has already begun on a film documentary adaptation of Under the Big Black Sun, with a sizzle reel being created in order to entice investors and potential outlets for the project. "Our sights are set on a four-to-six-part series; Television is so open to that now, it seems like the way to go." Elements of the audio book will likely be incorporated as well as new interviews, and the hunt is one for historical live footage "because that's where the rubber meets the road," says Doe, who's been touring and working on new material with X and also on the road with the Flesh Eaters. "If you see that and you go, 'Holy shit, that's good!' then people will understand what it was like. It was that way with (the X documentary) Unheard Music; We're talking about ourselves blah, blah, blah...for most of the movie, and then you get to the end and it has this performance stuff that's well-shot and well-educated and you can walk away from that going, 'Holy shit! No wonder they were talking about this band!' That's what we want to do here, too."
More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk -- Excerpt from Charlotte Caffey's "Deliverance" chapter
I was fortunate enough to be living in Hollywood, CA, when the underground punk rock music scene started. It was a small group of artists, misfits and weirdos, where everyone was welcomed and encouraged to express themselves. In April of 1978 I was asked to join an all-girl band that was just taking shape, The Go-Go’s. It was one of those moments in my life—and there were many—when I just blurted out “Yes!” . . . a pure gut reaction. Shortly after that, I went to England with my boyfriend, who, at the time, was Leonard Phillips of The Dickies. I missed playing The Go-Go’s first gig at the now-infamous basement club The Masque. Meanwhile I was gallivanting around England getting myself into all sorts of trouble.
Up until this point it was all innocent partying—fun on the weekends, nothing more than a happy-go-lucky high. But while abroad I tried heroin for the first time. I remember vividly that I snorted something the size of a matchstick tip, thinking, “Oh, it’s not much—I probably won’t feel it.” I was wrong, and that one fateful decision changed the direction of my life. I instantly became addicted, and I spent the next seven years trying to hide it from myself, my band, and everyone else in my life.
The Go-Go’s started to play and practice more frequently. I continued writing songs while struggling with my growing drug and alcohol dependency. In spring of 1981 The Go-Go’s signed a deal with Miles Copeland on his label, IRS Records. Things started moving very quickly. We went to New York for six weeks and recorded our first album, Beauty and the Beat. (That six weeks is a whole chapter by itself— maybe some other time!) One thing I can say is that I thought going to New York to make our record would keep me out of trouble—you know, away from L.A. and my drug connections—but I quickly discovered Alphabet City in the East Village. It was THE place to score. Even though those were some of the scariest streets in the city, my need to get high was so strong that any fear, logic, or sense of self-preservation went right out the window.
In the summer we were touring the States doing tons of press, visiting radio stations every day, promoting the hell out of our record. We said yes to everything because we didn’t know how to say no. “Our Lips Are Sealed” was our first single, and we were stoked when we found out it entered the Billboard Charts. We continued to tour non-stop, and then we were asked to open for The Police. We went on The Ghost in the Machine tour that started in November and continued through January of 1982. We were now playing huge venues rather than small clubs. We played two songs on Saturday Night Live, and to this day, when I watch those performances, I can see the terror in my eyes as I was trying to maintain and act normal after spending the day drinking and doing cocaine. I physically remember the fear I felt right before we took the stage, when someone on set said to us, “Remember, you are playing LIVE in front of fifty million people!” Our album was rapidly climbing the charts, but after SNL aired, against monumental odds, it landed at number one on the Billboard Charts, where it remained for six weeks.
As our success continued to skyrocket, my personal life continued to be a train wreck. I could not sustain any meaningful relationship. I had been living with Peter Case, who I was so crazy about, but The Go-Go’s and my using took precedence over everything. Though, while on the road, I would have a tour fling (or two or three), but no real relationships.
The Go-Go’s got nominated for a Grammy for the notoriously jinxed Best New Artist category. Fortunately Sheena Easton won that year, and we were able to continue our trajectory of success. We were selling millions of records, and our second single, “We Got the Beat,” was a massive hit, selling a million copies on its own. Right in the middle of all of this insanity our record company said we needed to make another album. I panicked, and the pressure started to build. I had written or cowritten eight of the ten songs on Beauty and the Beat, and I had written our biggest hit, “We Got the Beat.” How was I going to top all of that? Was the first record just a fluke? Will our next record be a failure?
Our producer, Richard Gottehrer, suggested we record this time in Malibu at a studio at the top of a hill. We landed at Indigo Ranch, at the old Barrymore estate. It’s located off of Pacific Coast Highway, about a ten-minute drive up Corral Canyon Road. The idea was that we would all live in the bungalows and record in the studio on the property. I thought that being sequestered might deter me from getting into trouble, but that didn’t happen. I still had to maintain my equilibrium with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. I would drive up and down the treacherous canyon road in all states of consciousness. A lot could have happened on the 2.4-mile drive each way, but I was spared. Once again, my need to get high was stronger than any thought of consequences for driving under the influence. Even though by that time I started to realize I was in trouble, I kept thinking I would figure it out and that I had it handled. That was my denial talking to me.
Everyone, including Richard, knew there was a lot at stake with this album. This was our sophomore effort and, historically speaking, should flop. But fortunately Kathy Valentine played me a song that she wanted to work on. She had written it for her former band The Textones. It was called “Vacation.” I listened and instantly liked it but heard how I could make some changes that would lift up the melody in the chorus. Kathy was open to my ideas, and “Vacation” became the first hit single and the title of the record. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The cover art was inspired by the song—a picture of the five of us water skiing in formation. It was actually a picture of five girls in a water show in Florida, with our heads superimposed, and it was classic.
By the summer we were headlining our own tour and selling out places like the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden. While in New York The Go-Go’s shot our first cover of Rolling Stone. Legendary photographer Annie Leibowitz persuaded us to pose in our underwear. When the magazine hit the stands we were horrified to see the caption “Go-Go’s Put Out.” Regardless, I was extremely excited to see us at every newsstand on every corner, our faces on the cover of Rolling Stone!
But as big as my life looked on the outside was exactly how small it really was.