Inside the Go-Go’s vicious, drug-fueled ride to fame
The Spice Girls and the Pussycat Dolls would be nothing without the Go-Go’s.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1978, they were an all-women band that, over just seven years, wrote and performed some of the best remembered songs of the 1980s: “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Vacation.” All unforgettable.
No all-girl rock band had ever scored a No. 1 album until the Go-Go’s did with 1981’s “Beauty and the Beat.” Self-formed, with no powerful man behind them, they made the cover of Rolling Stone scantily clad with the headline “Go-Go’s Put Out” and were bubbly fixtures of MTV in its earliest days.
The boundary-breaking Go-Go’s were riding high. So, why were they so miserable?
A new documentary, “The Go-Go’s,” premiering Friday on Showtime, runs down the band’s rocky history: the artistic clashes, the messy breakups and, most pervasively, the drinks and drugs.
The iconic image of the “Vacation” music video, with the women on water-skis wearing pink swimsuits and white tutus, was an apt depiction of the band, as it turns out. The colorful Go-Go’s were being dragged along by speedy fame — and belly-flopped.
The ladies — Belinda Carlisle, Margot Olavarria, Elissa Bello, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey — started out innocently with the goal of making an all-girl punk group full of self-proclaimed misfits. “We hated society and our family, but we supported each other,” Wiedlin says in the doc.
But by 1985, the Go-Go’s were enormously successful and popular. The mood had changed.
“There would be a lot of questions about what our relationship with each other was like. [We’d answer,] ‘Oh, we love each other. We’re like sisters!,’” says Wiedlin. “Yeah, sisters who f–king stab each other in the back.”
The cutthroat attitude came with making more money. The first sign of discord was when they forced out original member Margot Olavarria, who was furious the band was moving from rebellious punk to more bankable pop.
“My identity is punk,” Olavarria, the founding bass player, says in the doc.
Gina Schock, the drummer who quickly replaced Bello, says, “Oh yeah, Margot, f–k man. She hated it. She was, like, ‘I don’t wanna be a f–king pop band. I’m in a punk band! And I think the rest of us were like, ‘This is evolving, so f–king get with it or get out.’”
Olavarria contracted hepatitis A and was swapped for the better-known Kathy Valentine. She wouldn’t be the last to go.
Between the dramas there was fun. A lot of fun. Their lips may have been sealed, but their nostrils were wide open.
In 1984, drummer Schock discovered she needed to have open-heart surgery to repair a congenital defect. Hardly registered MDs, the girls decided to take her for a blowout weekend in Palm Springs, Calif., “in case she croaked,” Wiedlin says. The rules? Schock was allowed booze, Valium and mushrooms — but no cocaine. They didn’t want her to have a heart attack.
“A total weekend of debauchery,” says Caffey, the guitarist and keyboardist.
The band was often wasted onstage and on TV for millions to see. During their first appearance on “Saturday Night Live” in November 1981, guest-hosted by Bernadette Peters, the go-go-getters started boozing bright and early.
“Let’s have a toast! Champagne!,” says Valentine. “And then lunch time. Let’s have some wine. So, then you wanna balance it out, you wanna lift things up a little. So, magically the blow appears.”
By the 11:30 p.m. broadcast, “we were like cross-eyed drunk,” Schock says.
The substances, however, weren’t always a party. As the Go-Go’s became more famous, Caffey purchased a secluded house in the Hollywood Hills and developed a full-blown heroin addiction, largely unseen by the other members.
“Charlotte tended to isolate herself quite a bit,” says Carlisle. “She had a whole secret life going on. We knew it probably wasn’t good.”
Besides being the keyboardist, Caffey was the Go-Go’s most prolific songwriter, having composed “We Got the Beat,” “Head Over Heels” and “Vacation.” She attributed the delays in the group’s 1984 third album, “Talk Show,” to writer’s block.
“Charlotte was so out of control that Ozzy Osbourne threw her out of his dressing room,” says Schock. “That’s pretty f–kin’ bad.”
A concerned Paula Jean Brown, the band’s new bass guitarist, had an outsider’s perspective and convinced Caffey to finally check into rehab in 1984 after a concert in Rio de Janeiro.
Brown had recently replaced Wiedlin — the eccentric writer of “Our Lips Are Sealed” — a change that marked the beginning of the group’s end. Wiedlin wanted to sing a very personal song she’d written for the new album called “Forget That Day,” but the others insisted that the glamorous Carlisle should always be the lead singer. To this day, she is the most identifiable Go-Go.
“She came to us, and we just said, ‘No,’” says Valentine.
“One of them said, ‘What makes you think you’re good enough to sing the song?,’ ” says Wiedlin, still miffed.
There was already discord, but the final straw was when the band’s management company told the girls that the publishing royalties for “Talk Show” would be divided evenly among the group, even though Wiedlin had written most of the songs.
“And then I said, ‘F–k you, I quit,’” she says.
The Go-Go’s broke up not long after that, and the members didn’t speak for five years. They all gave solo careers a shot, but only Carlisle hit it big with the single “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.”
The vacation didn’t last long. Despite the fisticuffs, the group reunited in 1990 and, with occasional hiccups — “irreconcilable differences,” lawsuits, a Broadway flop — continue to tour today.