All I Ever Wanted: A Rock N Roll Memoir Kathy Valentine
Disclaimer: this is a book for fans of the Go Go’s/rock ‘n’ roll/memoirs etc. It has precious little to do with punk. The writer of this review likes the Go Go’s more than the Gun Club so with all that in mind, read at your own risk.
With no “real job” to go to during the COVID-19 pandemic and plenty of time to read I bought myself copies of Substance, Peter Hook’s book about New Order, and Dream Baby Dream, a biography about Suicide. After those I digitally checked out Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s oral history on the birth of New York punk, Please Kill Me from the local library. After all of that I was pretty tired of reading about junkies and rock stars.
I requested Kathy Valentine’s book long before I read any of these and when it showed up in my mailbox (thanks Caitlin) I was a little underwhelmed. I had chosen it but I was so burned out by stories of rock n’ roll and groupies and drugs that I hardly wanted to look at the book open much less read it.
The Go Go’s have largely been relegated to the same ghetto as many other bands composed of women, disregarded as musically bereft or ignored all together. However, The Go Go’s primary songwriters Charlotte Caffey and Jane Weidlin (as well as Kathy Valentine) are solid pop writers. In We Got the Neutron Bomb Henry Rollins astutely called the band, “a sturdy pop unit.” Kathy Valentine and Gina Shock are powerful as a rhythm section. Caffey is a wonderful lead guitarist who makes interesting choices pulling from a similar bag of tricks as X’s Billy Zoom, surf, early rock n roll, etc.
After reading in Peter Hook’s book about groupies who wore little trays on their heads so Gene Loves Jezebel and their roadies had somewhere to put their drinks while they got blowjobs, reading Kathy Valentine’s memoir was a breath of fresh air. Recently, celebrities writing their life stories has become something of a trend. Some are very interesting and some are bore fests.
Kathy Valentine’s book certainly appears to be coming from some place of trying to reckon with her life, regarding her drug use and the narcotic fueled relationship with her mother and while she may be a wonderful songwriter (i.e. Vacation, Head over Heels) her memoir writing is serviceable at best, which takes nothing away from the stories told.
One of the most wonderful things in All I Ever Wanted speaks to that title. This is truly a book about one person. The book doesn’t focus on the Go Go’s prior to her joining the band, gossip is kept to a minimum as well. Many times names are changed or not mentioned at all which, again, is in direct contrast to other celebrity memoirs where the reader is harangued with “tell-all” details and a laundry list of the writer’s sexual liaisons. This book doesn’t stray from some of this, and it certainly speaks to the excesses of so called sex, drugs, and rock n roll, but Valentine attempts to make amends for certain things and really only places blame on herself (or others when it’s called for.)
One of the most poignant sections of the book, and something you couldn’t find in a book by Peter Hook, is when Kathy, finding herself pregnant and in a band with a record blistering up the charts decides to have an abortion and still plays that night at Madison Square Garden. It brings to mind a modern version of the Ginger Rogers quote about having to do the same moves as Fred Astaire but “backwards and in heels.”
The book is well worth reading if you’re a fan. Even if you’re not but you appreciate stories of underdogs or those struggling with substance abuse, there is plenty to chew on.
Side note: The Plugz get more love in this book than in Marc Spitz and Brenden Mullen’s We Got the Neutron Bomb, the oral history of LA punk. Valentine points to the Plugz as been very important to the Go Go’s which on re-listening to their records there are definitely some stylistic similarities between the Plugz’ Better Luck and the Go Go’s first two albums.