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Kathy Valentine on Writing Her Memoir and Rejoining The Go-Go's

Kathy Valentine
Christopher Durst

Kathy Valentine

Kathy Valentine agrees there's some irony in being the Go-Go's member who wrote "Can't Stop the World," the closing track from the group's multi-platinum debut album Beauty and the Beat.

"I guess I was wrong -- you can stop the world," Valentine tells Billboard with a laugh. "All it takes is a pandemic to stop the world. It's pretty funny."

Coronavirus cancellations have scotched Valentine's plans for events to promote her new book All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir -- including a launch during South By Southwest in her hometown of Austin, Texas last week. But it hasn't at all diminished Valentine's enthusiasm for the autobiography and its companion album of the same name, whose track "Camouflage" is premiering exclusively below.

The 290-page tome, which publishes March 31, is an open and often surprising read, detailing a turbulent youth and troubled relationships with her parents, a rape when she was 14, a near-fatal home invasion and robbery in Los Angeles, addiction and getting clean more than 30 years ago and, of course, the thrills and agonies of the still semi-active Go-Go's, with whom Valentine is in a third tenure.

"For some time I wanted to write a book, and then my first idea was to do a collection of short stories," says Valentine, who studied English at the University of Texas before striking a deal with the school's press for All I Ever Wanted. "Then I thought, 'Well, I've read a lot of memoirs...I've got a story to tell, too. And nobody else can write your own story except you.' I thought my first book would be something that only I can do. I thought it would be good and entertaining, and it was a way to also kind of get me on track as another thing I can do in my 60s and 70s or longer."

Valentine set high standards for the project. "My bible was (Patti Smith's) Just Kids...and (Bob Dylan's) Chronicles," she says. "I just kept those two books on the desk and kept looking at them. I knew I'd never come close, but I thought if I'm aiming in that direction, even if I fall short, I'm at least aspiring in the right direction."

HER LIPS UNSEALED

Valentine says clarity and sobriety allowed her to make an unsparing assessment of her life and allowed her to be more insightful about everything -- especially the band, and why she's come back to it twice during the past 40 years. "Y'know, losing it and getting to do it again, I didn't have bitterness," explains Valentine, who co-wrote hits such as "Vacation" and "Head Over Heels" and sued the Go-Go's in 2013. The case was settled out of court and she rejoined the group in 2018, in time for the Broadway musical Head Over Heels and the Showtime documentary The Go-Go's. "I missed them, a lot. I love playing in that band. But part of our chemistry is...a level of dysfunction and toxicity that took a long time to work itself out. It's just been part of our history."

Things are much better with the Go-Go's now, she says, and the other four members have given All I Ever Wanted their blessing. "I was really nervous, 'cause you never know what's going to offend someone," Valentine says, "but everyone likes it and is proud of me. Gina (Schock) called me and said, 'Kath, I feel like I never really knew you,' so that was cool. We were going to tour this summer, but now I have a feeling it's gonna be awhile before people are touring again."

Besides pulling back a curtain on the Go-Go's, Valentine is also happy that All I Ever Wanted shines a light on her other musical endeavors, including an early lineup of Girlschool in London and the Textones in Los Angeles, for whom Valentine originally wrote "Can't Stop the World" and "Vacation." "I was never the standout Go-Go; I was the bass player, so just by nature you're more in the background, and I never minded that role," Valentine notes. "I've always kind of positioned myself as just wanting to be in a band, and all my bands were really good. But when I've done something that's not about being in a band or part of something and is just about being me, it feels really, really good."

SHE GOT THE BEAT

The All I Ever Wanted album, Valentine says, was an unintended but welcome by-product of the book. "When I finished the book I didn't feel finished with the story, so I started writing some songs and it was a phenomenal experience," she recalls. Thirteen of the 15 tracks directly complement chapters from the book and explore a variety of musical motifs and styles, some with spoken word sections, and Valentine reveled in that creative license.

"None of the conventions of songwriting had to be adhered to because I looked at it as a score," she explains. "I could use all my knowledge of songwriting and basically did whatever I wanted. I tried to capture the feeling of the chapters or the era they took place in. I just had a blast, sitting in my studio just doing whatever I wanted. It's just me doing stuff, and I loved it."

With a planned Go-Go's tour currently on hold, Valentine is beginning to eyeball more books. She's already at work on another non-fiction work about women in music, and she also hopes to put together a collection of short stories. And because All I Ever Wanted ends in 1990 and includes scant reference to the subsequent years -- including the 2013 legal blowout with the Go-Go's -- she promises that the rest of the story will be told as well.

"I will write another memoir; It won't be my second book, but it will be a future book 'cause there's a lot of storytelling from 1990 to now, too," Valentine says. "To be 61 and all of a sudden have this doorway, this portal open where, 'OK, you can write and you can put music to it,' I feel like there's some possibilities that are exciting. I feel like I’m putting myself out there for the first time, 'cause I've always been very protected in the band dynamic. It feels really good."

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