On New Year’s Eve 1980, Kathy Valentine, not yet 22, played her first show with a fledgling Los Angeles group called the Go-Go’s. Less than 18 months later, their debut album, “Beauty and the Beat,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart. They were the first all-female rock band to earn that distinction.
Against all odds, the Go-Go’s have endured as a beloved purveyor of timeless power pop, known for classic hits including “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels,” both of which Valentine helped write. Naturally, the band plays a large part in her new memoir, “All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir” — for which the bassist and guitarist also wrote a companion soundtrack of 15 new songs. It’s a colorful part, too, because behind their wholesome image, the Go-Go’s were a hard-partying band.
“If ‘pop sweethearts’ did acid at Graceland, threw up on the floor at fancy restaurants, cheated on their boyfriends, took nasty Polaroids, made out with girls, watched fringe porn, and stayed up all night writing songs and playing guitar,” she writes, “well, maybe their stupid label might fit.”
Valentine, 61, talked about some of her favorite cultural offerings from her home in Austin, Texas. These are edited excerpts from a Skype conversation.
1. The Meme
In a lot of ways memes dumb down stuff, but conceptually I love what they have brought to our lives. Sometimes I walk out of my bedroom and my hair or my clothes are crazy. And my daughter goes: “You’re a meme.” I can just say “My cat’s a meme” and people get it. It’s this warped perspective that seems to touch everyone.
It has to be vintage. I brought an example [holds it up]. It’s a Sexometer that tells you if you’re “worthless,” “a square,” “romantic,” ”sex starved.” I’m an “amateur.” When I was a little girl, we’d be driving on the freeway in Texas and there’d be these roadside attractions and I wanted to stop so badly. And if we did stop, it would be horrible, like animals in formaldehyde jars. I used to have a collection of Buddhas and this is the one I kept [holds up a pink-velvet Buddha]. He’s also a piggy bank — a Buddha bank. I’ve had my collecting bouts but I’m pushing things out.
3. Jenny Holzer
My boyfriend, who lives in New York City — we’re in a long-distance relationship — is a composer and multimedia artist named Mikel Rouse. He’s my favorite person to go to museums with because he tells me everything about the art, the artist, the movement, and does not use art-speak, which I hate. I was a little familiar with Jenny Holzer but a few years ago I was with my daughter at the Tate Modern and we walked into a Jenny Holzer room. Seeing art affect her was so special. I could see her linger, with things going on in her head and in her heart. It made me very grateful to Jenny Holzer.
4. Words With Friends
I have 27 games going at a time [laughs]. I like it because it’s words, but also you do it at your leisure, it doesn’t trigger obsession. It’s a part of my life that I don’t know that I’m proud of, exactly, but it’s a big part. I’m a Scrabble ninja with this game. Sometimes if I’m winning I just throw one out, but if I’m behind, I will spend hours if not days trying everything to get the most points. I play to win.
I discovered her probably at the end of the ’90s. I wanted to be literate with poetry so I went to the poetry section at the bookstore and pulled a few books I had heard of, a few I hadn’t heard of. As soon as I opened hers, I was drawn in. Sometimes when I’m stuck on a line in a song, I flip through one of her books. She reboots my perspective and makes me approach my writing a little differently. I love how she approaches things that are deep and heavy with a light touch, humor and humanity. She’s my favorite.
They were an essential part of writing my memoir. I knew I wouldn’t arrive where they did but they gave me things to shoot for. I kept them on my desk when I was writing, just so I could see them. They remain my two favorite memoirs by musicians.
Roberta photographed a lot of the early punk days. She was just there, she worked at CBGB, she was friends with everybody, and her photos are amazing. Janette moved from England because she wanted to photograph the early hip-hop scene in New York and her images are just phenomenal. Mikel and my daughter have turned me on to hip-hop so I’m catching up on 40 years of a whole genre, and my friend [Janette] has these iconic photographs of Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Slick Rick. So it’s been fun to augment my hip-hop awakening with her work.
8. Carol Kaye
She was a session bass player and guitarist who played with everybody from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa. She just went in, took care of business, and played on hundreds of records. I reached out to her and she told me she really loves my work as a musician, so that’s really [lets out an excited whoop]. She must be in her 80s now. I said, “Can I come visit you?” and she said, “Why don’t we Skype first?”
9. Old Twitter
Old Twitter, as I call it, was very different. It changed my life for the better. It reminded me of what it was like to gather in France in the salons, where people were witty and good conversationalists. I had access to people who became friends in real life. Everyone from Rosanne Cash to Dave Hill, the comedian, to Lizz Winstead, the comic and activist. I always want it to feel like it used to be and it’s just not like that anymore.
10. Television Bonding
My favorite way to watch television is with somebody. There’s two shows that I love watching with somebody important to me. The first one is “The Office.” Teenagers today love [the American] “The Office.” Billie Eilish loves “The Office.” My daughter was no exception. I had seen the whole thing when it came out but rewatched it with her. When my boyfriend and I started dating, we watched “Arrested Development” and we had the best time. He’s one of these people who can quote every line from everything he ever sees. Those shows really stand up because they bring back memories of sharing the experience of watching with someone near and dear to me.