In This Episode
The Go-Go’s made history as one of the most successful all-female bands ever. Bassist Kathy Valentine’s new memoir puts their story in context and highlights her own rocky path to recovery, success, and serenity.. The author of ‘All I Ever Wanted’ joins us to talk songwriting, booze, and sex.
Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox, and welcome to With Friends Like These. This week I’m talking to a friend and a legend, Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s. Before we get started, a quick announcement: this is the last month of the show. It has been an honor to be a part of it. It is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. But at a time in my life, when a lot of chapters are ending and new ones are beginning, it feels right to draw this one to a close. I’m not going to go on too much because I’ll cry and it’ll derail the whole episode. And the show will remain archived on Crooked.com so you can binge to your heart’s content. I hope you have some good memories of this show because I have some great ones.
Now to a new memory and our guest this week. Kathy was and is the bass player and guitarist for the glass ceiling-shattering all-female band, the Go-Go’s. They are still the only multi-platinum all-female band to play their own music and their own instruments. She has a new memoir out called “All I Ever Wanted.” It chronicles not just the rise and breakup and reunion of the Go-Go’s, but also her own free-range childhood here in Austin, Texas. Drugs and sex and rock and roll starting at 12. She also writes about her eventual recovery from alcoholism while still playing in the band. Her story includes a discussion of sexual violence, so if you’re not in a place where you want to hear about that right now, please come back some other time. And now the author of All I Ever Wanted, Kathy, welcome to the show.
Ana Marie Cox: Kathy, welcome to the show.
Kathy Valentine: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Ana Marie Cox: So I think the first thing I want to ask you is a question that you mention in the book that music journalist didn’t ask you very often, what does it mean to you and what do you think it means to others that the Go-Go’s were an all-female group singing songs about women by women?
Kathy Valentine: Well, for us, it wasn’t like a real conscious thing, just kind of happened to be that way. It wasn’t like, I mean, I don’t know, I have to say that when I first decided I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to play with people my age. I wanted it to be females. And part of the reason was I didn’t see why there weren’t more women in that pantheon of rock and roll godhead bands that I loved and that I’d liked all my teenage and growing up and adolescent years, there just wasn’t a lot of women. So when I started playing and decided to be in a band, that was definitely a goal and always at the back of my mind was like, Oh my God, I just wish—and when I met the Go-Go’s, I felt like I had kind of found the band that would fulfill that, that desire and that dream to be in a band of like-minded, kind of a sisterhood that would go to the top. But once, it wasn’t like when we were doing it, we were running around going, We’re all women! You know what I mean? It’s like, it was just kind of by that time, it’s just something, you know, we were just kind of used to and used to being and used to the way it was.
Ana Marie Cox: That’s true. But I mean, you point out in the book, I mean it, it seems maybe it’s just in retrospect, like a huge fucking deal.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah. Well, I think I mean, it didn’t really—
Ana Marie Cox: it didn’t feel like that, but I mean, I think—
Kathy Valentine: I just assumed there would be a lot more. I assumed that, you know, when we were successful, because one of the reasons we had a hard time getting a record deal was, we were told repeatedly, repeatedly by all the major labels that there hadn’t been a successful all-female band. So the assumption would be that they would run out and look for that and other women would think, Oh, I can do it. If you can see it, you can be it. And they see us and and would want to be it. But you know, like when Guns n’ Roses got successful, there was, you know, a huge explosion of bands trying to be the next Guns n’ Roses. And that didn’t happen with us. There weren’t a huge explosion. I think a lot more women became musicians, and you do see a lot more females in bands getting gigs as session players, as touring musicians, but you still don’t see a lot of all-female bands. And I’m not sure why. So we thought there would be—that’s one thing—we thought there would be a lot more in our footsteps. We didn’t think that we would still hold the distinction of being the only all-female band that has had a number one record.
Ana Marie Cox: It’s hard to think of who might be the next all-female band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah, I mean, it’s just such a numbers game. It’s the way I look at it is that, you know, you got to just look at the pool. If you have 2,000 bands starting up, you know the likelihood of one of them having the material, the charisma, the timing, the ability to stick with it, to actually have a sustained successful career is very slim. Out of 2,000 bands, maybe two of them. So out of those 2,000 bands, if only 20 of them or less are female bands, the likelihood of one of those female bands making it to that place is even less so. It’s really a numbers game. You know, the more there is, the more likelihood. I mean, it’s not like there haven’t been female bands. There have been. But it’s that kind of, that echelon of sustained commercial success. You know, nothing at all wrong with being a cult band, I would have been thrilled if we just been a cult band. We wouldn’t have been thrilled that we sold 100,000 records. Honestly, just not having a day job, being able to play and tour, that was plenty.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, let’s talk about the band. The book covers a lot of your young to middle career, I would say, right? I mean, we get up into present day kind of a little bit, but so a lot of it is about your time in the Go-Go’s.
Kathy Valentine: Well it goes from the age of 11 to 30. Which is the epilog kind of, giving a head-nod to the present. But I did that with the idea in mind of doing a sequel one day,
Ana Marie Cox: I look forward to the sequel. But the reason I wanted to ask you more about the band—which we’ll talk more about later too—is that you talk, or you write in the book a fair amount about the emotional journey of the band, the relationships you had with each other, the relationship you had as a group, breaking up, getting back together—the whole thing. And you write about the intensity of the band relationship. And I’m just curious, I’ve never been in a band, so I know to ask you to describe it might be hard, but I wonder if you can at least sort of take a romantic relationship or a platonic relationship and maybe talk about why or how a band relationship is different or the same?
Kathy Valentine: Yeah, I mean, when we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, I addressed it very condensed, in a very condensed way in my acceptance speech on behalf of the band. And I said, you know, being in a band is not like anything else. It’s a lot like a marriage. In our case, it was a polygamous same-sex marriage. But that means that the things that, you know, might have hurt your feelings or the resentments that you kind of don’t bother dealing with, they don’t go away. They stay there. Just like, you know, when you end up having conflicts with a partner or a romantic partner, all of a sudden they’ll be like, and you never put the lid on the, you know, on the milk or whatever, and so it’s like, and you have no idea that that ever bother them, so that all stuff is going on. But it’s also like, I also said, being in a band, our band was sometimes like being a wolf pack, like just kind of like, you’re just like, really kind of just this pack. Nobody else is in it. Nobody else is in your pack. It’s a lot like being a traveling circus. It’s a lot like being family. It was, definitely was a sisterhood. For me, especially. I don’t think, I think one of the things I always assumed was that everybody is doing it for the same reason. And that’s not true. That’s not true at all. It was fulfilling a deep longing for sisters and to feel like I was in a family, and that wasn’t the case for the others. But for me, that was a big part of it. That’s one of the reasons why it was so devastating to lose it, because for me, it was more than losing a dream and my success, but it was like losing a family and sisters to me. So yeah, it’s, it’s very much about relationships. And I remember when that show Survivor came on, one of those first reality shows, I remember watching that show going, this is just like being in a band, you know, with people kind of forming factions and, you know, it’s a mini democracy. And those are flawed, even in the best situations. Big democracies are flawed. So it’s a flawed system, but it’s also the way it’s supposed to be and the way it’s supposed to work, but just like in a regular democracy, you have people lobbying for their cause and you have factions and you, you know, you have power plays and all that. So it’s a lot. It’s not like anything else.
Ana Marie Cox: I hear all of that and it sounds to me—someone who’s not been in a and—you know, I think I get it. But I also know partially from reading your book, you know, not every band feels like that. It’s kind of a special thing, like not every marriage or every friendship manages to capture someone at a very deep level, you know? Like, there is something special about y’all.
Kathy Valentine: Well, there was, but I haven’t seen Get Back yet, but a few of the band members have, and we were just on a Zoom yesterday and they were going, Oh my God, they sound like us. The Beatles sound like, you know, the way they relate to each other and talk to each other. So I think there is a lot that’s the same. But of course, like anything, you know, the individuals and the dynamics and you know, sometimes people have more power than they realize. Sometimes people, an individual, you know, individuals just have different needs. And one of the things I learned from being in a band is one of the most basic lessons of life, which is how can you be a better friend and mother and girlfriend and wife and bandmate, is that everybody wants to be recognized and appreciated for what they bring. You know? If you looked at it and went, Oh, this isn’t equal to what this one brings, but it’s still crucial. So everyone wants that recognition and that appreciation. And I learned that from being in a band, and it’s it’s been an invaluable life tool.
Ana Marie Cox: I think one of the other ways I was thinking about how that doesn’t happen for every band is in the same way that not every marriage winds up being kind of magical, that every friendship does. There are bands that never gel in the way that y’all did. There are bands that get together, and it’s good but it just never happens in quite the same way. Or is there? I mean, I mean, I guess I look at bands sometimes and feel like as an audience member, as a listener, I can tell whether or not there’s that same magic.
Kathy Valentine: Well, I mean, I can use my own life as an example. I’m always in the band and I don’t do the Go-Go’s very much. You know, since 1985, we’ve been sporadic. We don’t, we have not done the Go-Go’s full time since 1985. We’ll get together and we’ll do a tour. We will, we’ve done some recording. Things have happened. But it’s not been a full time gig for a very long time. And all the rest of the time since 1985, I’ve been in bands. I have good taste. I have good judgment. I know what a good band is. I know how it feels. I know how it sounds. And all of my bands are great. They have great songs. They have great musicians. And none of them have come near the success of the Go-Go’s. So what does that mean? You know, it’s there’s so many factors, you know, there’s timing, there’s, you know, being, there’s a zeitgeist of a cultural moment that you can tap into. Where are you? Are you in a scene? You know, the scene that the Go-Go’s came out of was a very specific era and it was conducive. Just like, you know, in New York, the CBGB’s scene spawned Television and Blondie. These scenes, like in Minneapolis, Detroit, you know, these scenes are integral I think a lot of the times to a band success as well. So there’s so many factors. But yeah, you’re right. Not every band gets all of it at once, you know?
Ana Marie Cox: The Go-Go’s were hugely successful. You said that no band you’ve been in since has quite the same success. There’s a kind of, for me, it was a little bit of a poignant moment in the book when you realize that you’re never going to be just another band member again. That you’re always going to be the Kathy Valentine from the Go-Go’s.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah, yeah. And it has been there was a time. I mean, my own relationship with the band has changed many times over the years, and there was a time where I got really good on the guitar and I’m known as a bass player, but I’m actually my main instrument has always been and before I only learned the bass to join the Go-Go’s. And at one point in my 30s, I thought, Well, I just want to [unclear] what I originally wanted and I got really good, and I’ve never really had the luxury of getting to play, you know, solos in front of giant places or do any of that. But at the same time, there was a time when they’re like there was a guy in L.A. who would recruit members for a band, like bands was going to go make an album and then they would look for band members. And all the time, I would say, I want to do it. And he would say, Well, you’re good enough, you’re very good, but they don’t want somebody known. They don’t want somebody with a history. And so there is a while there. I was like, Damn, this is like kind of interfering with my ability to keep working as a musician. But that was just a small little time, you know? For the overall majority of the time of my, my attitude has been very grateful that I, I mean, I’m a working musician so having the luxury of being able to be a Go-Go as a part of that is unbelievable. You know, I get to go travel in style, play to audiences that love you, that know your songs, you know, fly in first class, stay in a good hotel. And I also, and I don’,t can’t say that I don’t like it. I lug my amp out to the trunk of the car and drive down to the Continental Club on South Congress and play to 120 people and love that, too. So I get the full experience of being a musician, and I feel kind of grateful that, I wish every musician got to experience what it was like to do that, that level of success. But it’s also wonderful to just be able to play, and with some great people. You know, I do love that a lot.
Ana Marie Cox: You mentioned in the earlier answer that it took you a while to realize that not everyone else in the band had the same relationship to it, you know, and that you were looking for family and there’s a reason for that, right? The book isn’t just about your career, it’s about your childhood as well and. I don’t know how to summarize, I guess the quickest way to say is you were feral. You were raised by your mom and it was a unique circumstance. Talk a little bit about that?
Kathy Valentine: Yeah. I mean, raised by is kind of where the disconnect, I mean, my mom really didn’t raise me. She provided shelter. She definitely loved me. I never felt unloved. And I think that’s an important thing to point out because a lot of people will read the book and go, Oh, she was a terrible, terrible mother. But, you know, I know people that didn’t feel loved, but everything else was there, but they never felt loved. So I always felt loved. Looking back, especially writing the book, I felt supported. I mean, even writing the book, I would go to my mom and say, I’m going to write about this. Are you okay with it? If she had said no, I would have left it out. But every time, no matter how it made her look, she said, No, this is your book, this is your story, you get to tell it. And that gave me a lens to see my mom in a way that I hadn’t, and it helped dispel and help me process a degree of resentment that I had been harboring for most of my adult life that I was kind of taking care of her. And so she, yeah, it didn’t raise me, provided love, provided shelter but in terms of, I mean, I’m a mom, so I know, I just instinctively knew that you have to give boundaries and guidance and kind of structure, you know? There’s other things to parenting, there are pillars of parenting. But, you know, love and support are big ones, too. So the upshot is for everything that was missing in my childhood, the way I see it is that my earliest memory is that nobody’s going to take care of me. It’s my job, my job to take care of me, and I’m wired that way. And I have to say as a grown up, grown-ass woman, as they say, that’s not a bad way to be wired. You know, that is not a, it means that I let go of grudges and I forgive—not because I’m a saint, but because it’s good for me. I have to take care of myself. It means that if I’m treated poorly in a relationship, I get the fuck out of it. Not because I’m some like big, strong, tough cookie, but because that’s how I take care of myself. And that’s, I really kind of attribute that to being raised without anyone else doing it and kind of going, OK, this is your job. When I got a divorce. OK, back to me taking care of me. This is a nice little ride for a while, I thought someone else was going to do it, but now it’s my job again. You know, so and it wasn’t unfamiliar. It wasn’t terrifying. When you’ve been taking care of yourself your entire life, as far as you can remember, it never really scares you. And it means that, you know, I think that maybe you call it spin. I don’t know. I see it as a positive.
Ana Marie Cox: Let’s get into a little more detail so people have an idea of what kind of non-parenting we’re talking about. Do you want to give an example of something that maybe you were surprised that your mom let you put in the book?
Kathy Valentine: Yeah. Well, my mom, from the age of about, well, the first thing that happened was I got sexually active very early. Not really, because I was like out there seducing men, but because I was drinking and it was very easy to take advantage of a 12-year old that’s drunk, especially a 12-year old that’s lonely, that feels like she doesn’t fit in, that desperately wants to have, to feel loved and valued. So when I was in a situation where a boy got to try to have sex with me, I was kind of like, I was consensual because for me, it equated being valued. And I got pregnant the very first time I had sex and I was 12-years old. My mom didn’t freak out that I was pregnant, didn’t freak out, that I was sexually active. She was very matter of fact and said, You know, we need to get you an abortion. This was pre-Roe v. Wade. This was 1971. To get an abortion, we had to go to California. I went on the pill right away. And as I wrote in my book, it kind of I think for my mom, it was almost like a relief like, Oh, now I’ve got a little buddy. You know, this is like, this is like a girlfriend. You know, she’s doing it, she’s on the—so not a lot of thought as to like what, what it meant for a 12-year old and why the 12-year old might be sexually active. Another time before I got pregnant, I had a sexual thing happen and the boy told everybody at school and I went to my mom in tears, and she, being a child, being a product of the ’60s, her biggest worry was that I would be hung up about sex, so her response to my tears was that You did nothing wrong. You just did it with the wrong person. Which you know, in this day and era, sounds like awful but the context, you know, this is like 1970, ’71 and the sixties were just a couple of years before, and it was a lot of free love and don’t be hung up, and woman being sexually liberated. So there was like, I think, a lack of boundaries as to when all that should start on my mom’s part. Fast forward a couple of years, she’s smoking pot with me. We’re getting high together. We’re buddies. We’re buddies. She, she has a relationship and like a secret affair was one of my teenage friends that I had no idea about until my mid-20s, when we were like on a coke binge and she told like—well, for the people that don’t know, like coke binges, sometimes it means you stay up all night and reveal, you know, all this crap about yourself and that’s when I found out my mom had had an affair with somebody. So I’m trying to think. Those are some pretty big ones. There’s a lot. I mean, it’s not salacious. It’s just very, and it’s not victim-y in my book. It’s very much just like this is how it was. There was good things too. I mean, I was, didn’t fit in in the public school system. My mom, thank God, pulled me out at the age of 14. I dropped out of high school two semesters into the ninth grade and I went to a hippie commune school in Bastrop, Texas, where I became myself. I started playing the guitar. I found what I wanted and you know, that was, I’m glad. I’m really glad that she pulled me out. I don’t know what my life would have been like, but I was not doing well in public school and I was smart and I was, I had a lot of initiative and all those things that that are a pathway to success. I had it all. But if I’d stayed in public school, who knows what would have happened?
Ana Marie Cox: Your book is remarkably matter of fact, I will say, right, it’s not salacious. There’s some pretty amazing things that happen, both in a salacious sense and also just like, wow sense, you know? Like being comforted by June Carter Cash, I think is up there for me as far as, like an amazing thing to happen. You got jilted a little bit and she’s telling you it’s going to be OK. That’s amazing.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah, I was very concerned about like not being name drop-y because I’ve read a lot of rock memoirs and so much of them are just like who the person knew and who they met and who they hung out with and what awards. And I didn’t want that kind of book. I really wanted it to be literary in the sense that I was connecting with language and with honesty and vulnerability, to connect with my readers. And so I was I was concerned about the names, but there was times where it just felt like it really told the story, you know, and it was a part of the story. And that’s when I mean, I left a lot of names out, but that was a remarkable moment and it helped me. It really did help me. And plus, you know, I was good friends with her daughter, Carlene, who was still remains a friend of mine today. So it fit in the story. But yeah, there’s a lot in the book, and there’s a lot of things that were, I have to say, when I was writing it, I had to goalpost and one was blood on the page and one was gaping open wound. And I knew I didn’t want to be a gaping open wound, but I did want blood on the page. So it started getting too far and the meter started going too far towards gaping open wound, you know, I would cut it out. Same time I wanted to make sure that I went deep enough. You know, there would be lots of times I would read the pages from the day before and go, This is good, this is good writing or an essay. It’s not memoir, you know? You got to dig deeper until I’m feeling something. And there was times where I pushed myself away and just fell apart. And that’s when I would write, and that’s when I was getting stuff that I wanted on the page. But what I was going to say is that when I was writing it, I was more concerned with, is it, is it literary? Is it the best I can do? Is it memoir-writing? Am I keeping to my deadline? And it wasn’t until the book was about, it was too late basically, it was done, I had it in my hands, that I was the first time I thought, Oh my God, everyone is going to read this—or not everyone but people. People are going to read this! I didn’t even think about it. And I started getting really uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. Like, what are people going to say about me? What are they going to think about me? You know, I was very honest. You know, I was really honest. Or am I going to get like anti-abortion nuts, like torturing me all the time? Am I going to get people thinking, I have no morals? Am I going to, you know, it was, it was really, really scary. But it was too late.
Ana Marie Cox: Since you didn’t drop the name, I will, but the the person that you were jilted by was Rob Lowe. So and it wasn’t romantic relationship also. It was an interesting situation, actually. Right? Like you’ve got abandoned by your friends and one of them was Rob Lowe, and comforted by June Carter Cash. So I will do the name dropping for you.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: There you go.
Kathy Valentine: Well, and I sent that to Rob before I printed it. Almost everybody got to decide if they were OK with it, because the way I felt like my story was strong enough that I didn’t need to upset anybody or hurt anybody or make anybody wish I hadn’t written that. So I gave everybody an opportunity to read what I had written, and if they wanted their name changed or if they wanted it out or they didn’t want me to write it, it didn’t go. So I felt strong about that.
Ana Marie Cox: I had planned to ask you about the difficulty of writing it and if there were things that were tough to look back on.
Kathy Valentine: Oh, very, yeah, there is a lot of difficulty. Number one, I started, I got the book deal and started the book in 2016, which was at a point where I had been kicked out of the band, I had been fired. And it was the most devastating, horrific time of my life, except it led to me getting a book deal. Not them firing me, but like, the I got kicked out of the band, I got a divorce, and everything that I knew and relied on was gone and it made me start going, now what? Now what? And the now what made me think I want to write, I want to write. That’s now what. And so it was one of those things where, those awful things kind of helped open doors that maybe I was scared to try to open before. But the upshot was that I was set down to write a book with a book deal, with the University of Texas press going, OK, well, to Go Gos are going to be in this and how am I going to feel writing about that? You know, when I was, when it didn’t end well for me and what I found was going back when I kept coming in touch with was the joy and the remarkable fortune I’d had. And that’s, and the gratitude and the adventure and the closeness and the laughter. And that’s, and it was very freeing and very healing because it made me think nothing, nothing is going to override this for me. And I was able to write about that and go back and revisit it. I mean, I started, I started with, the first thing I wrote about the band was my very first night playing with them at The Whiskey, and that became the prolog to the book. And it was just so much fun to recall and remember exactly how it felt and making our first album in New York and what a just a crazy, wild fun time that was. And because it was healing and because it was freeing, fast forward a year and a half later, I’m back in the band and I’m back in the band without a grudge and without bitterness and without hostility. And I think largely because I had been so immersed in the wonderful aspects of it. So there’s that. But also rape, being raped at 14. That was difficult because I was one of these people that, women that didn’t think maybe it counted. I was the dumb ass that hitchhiked to Houston. I was the dumb ass who went off with a friend and two college guys. I was [unclear], you know, in a car and ended up at a strange apartment. I was the dumb ass who when the guy wouldn’t leave me alone finally, just said, Oh, just do it, get it over with, just do it. Because he wasn’t going to stop. And those factors made me in my mind go, Oh, that’s not rape. Rape is when you’re got a knife to your throat and you’re being—you know? And I think a lot has happened for women, for us to, since 1974, which is when that happened, no ’73, where are we now know that rape is a lot more than just being overpowered with force. So writing the book was the first time I really went, because I’m writing about it and I went, fuck I was raped, I was raped. And the crazy thing was—I don’t know if you wanted to go into this now—but you know, I wrote a soundtrack to my book too. And when I wrote that chapter, Chapter 6, and I called it Just do it, because that’s what I ended up saying to the guy was just like, Oh, just do it. And to me, the most chilling line of that chapter was the end when I said I was not a virgin, I was promiscuous, I had a lot of sex and it was all forgettable. I didn’t remember any of it. But that was the one time I never forgot. The one time where I really did not want that to happen. I did not want it happening. And that’s, that was difficult for me, but it wasn’t as difficult as writing the song. And this is what’s so fascinating because it was like writing the chapter took the box out of the deep recesses and put it on the table, but writing the song opened up the box and it was like the grieving and the morning, and it was big. It was like mourning, why was no one protecting me? Why was no one looking out for me? Why was it my job? And it was the first time in my entire life, 46-years later that I mourned for days what happened that night in Houston when I was 14.
Ana Marie Cox: Glad you brought up the soundtrack. We’re going to take a quick break, and I’ll just let people know that when we come back in, we’ll listen to a snippet of the song that Kathy was talking about.
[music] [Just do it. If I can’t stop you, I can let you do it. Stop. Just do it. Stop. If I can’t stop you, I can let you, let you, let you, let you. In a parking lot, in a tight spot, Dusty had some pills to drop, couldn’t get in the club, she didn’t belong. I was bummed. Two guys offered to pick us up. I went along over to their place. No choice as much. Dusty went in the bedroom. She wanted to fuck.]
Ana Marie Cox: Let’s have a little moment of silence, let everybody take that in. That’s one of the more powerful songs on the soundtrack. Could you talk about your process in writing it?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I started the song with the chorus and I, the first thing I played was the D Chord: do it, just do it. And then I went: if I can’t stop you, I can let you do it. And that’s when I started crying and I didn’t stop for three days. To me, it was like being completely powerless and wanting, like finding the only little power I could have as a 14-year old girl stuck in an apartment with a guy that kept going after me, was to say: just do. Like if I can’t stop you, if I can’t make it stop, I can let you. And just wanting to have a little control and power over my situation. And it just opened, that was the key that opened the door. And every time I would sit down and pick it up and try to continue and finish the song, I would fall apart. And I finally realized I was grieving and that it was going to take as long as it took. When I did the prose, you know, I didn’t take things directly out of the book. Sometimes I did, but it was very freeing as a musician and a songwriter, it was, doing the soundtrack was awesome because I could use whatever I wanted for my skills as a writer but I didn’t have to use the conventions of songwriting. I didn’t have to go, OK, here’s the verse, and here’s the chorus and here’s the hook, and here’s the bridge. I could do whatever I wanted. And in that place, in that song, I thought, I want to do some spoken word drawing from the prose and play with it rhythmically or phrase, in the phraseology to make it work. But it was really the chorus that kind of made me fall apart. And the interesting thing about this song is people cry. I mean, I don’t, I think that’s one of the reasons I don’t get a lot of attention for it because it’s very difficult to listen to. I have had, I have had people—men, men, a lot of men say this was really hard for me to listen to. And I’ve had people cry and ask me to stop, to stop playing it because it’s too raw. And the thing that’s also very interesting to me is that it doesn’t sound like a 61-year old singing it. It sounds like a 14-year old girl. It sounds like I am channeling. And I wasn’t trying, that’s just what happened. That’s how connected I was to the experience. My voice doesn’t sound like that normally.
Ana Marie Cox: And that’s sort of what interests me is that you go from this pop song, right, to realizing that this pop song is about something incredibly painful.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah. Yeah, I really love doing that with the soundtrack. It was the most creative fun music I’ve ever done because of how I could. The challenge of expressing musically what I felt really happy with what I had expressed as a writer, you know, and connecting that to what I had been doing for decades as a songwriter and a composer was just thrilling. Thrilling. And that’s why it doesn’t take anything away from it at all to me that, you know, it didn’t get more attention or something because it was such a thrilling thing to to take these two—one that I’ve been doing for a long time and one that I was very new at and to blend them. And I’ll do it again. My next project, I will do a soundtrack to it. It was that interesting and that fun and that creative.
Ana Marie Cox: Because the experience of doing the soundtrack was so wonderful for you. Let’s listen to a little bit more of it. What else would you like us to hear?
Kathy Valentine: Well, one thing I think that people might relate to, I have a chapter called Cheerleader, and it’s after the band has—and when I was doing the soundtrack, I would just kind of look through—it’s funny because my chapters, those weren’t meant to be chapter titles. They were just, I would just go through what I’d written and I would just pull something out and go, just so I can remember what I wrote here I’m going to just pull this word out. But then I got used to seeing them and they just became chapter titles. And when I was doing the soundtrack, some of them song titles to me. And so I would just kind of look through it and go, Oh, I’m going to do, I’m going to a soundtrack song to this chapter. So one of the ones I picked was called Cheerleader. And the chapter was about the band had broken up and I was not succeeding at all. And everyone else was. And I was comparing myself to the other women that had been in my band. They were my peers as far as like, they were my only peers. And they were all succeeding and I was not. And yet I’m wired to take care of myself, as I said at the top of the show, so what that meant was I had to continually convince myself that everything was OK, that I was doing good. And I basically became my own cheerleader. So I thought that would be a fun song to try to convey music, or a fun chapter to convey musically. And it’s turned out to be one of the more popular tracks from the soundtrack. So it’s called Cheerleader.
Ana Marie Cox: Now, let’s listen to Cheerleader as we go to break.
[song] [music plays]
Ana Marie Cox: I’m excited to talk about this one because it’s about drinking.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Tell us about how this song came to match up with the book.
Kathy Valentine: Well, I the first time I got drunk, I was 12, I believe, or maybe 11. So it all happened, it’s so, it’s so weird when you write a book. Like things that you thought were spread out over two years happened in like two months. So first time I got drunk, I chugged Strawberry Hill, Boone’s Farm, Strawberry Hill. It’s probably was the White Claw of our time. And I got blitzed and I was vomiting. I did it with my best friend, and throwing up, and drinking more. And I called that chapter Liquid Forget because that’s what it felt like. And me and my friend had found something that made us not feel so out of place. And I forgot that I didn’t have a dad, and that I lived in a crummy rent house and that I felt so different and so ostracized and such a pariah among the normal people. My poor mom tried to move me into an area, we always lived around UT, and then she’s like, This isn’t good for Kathy, she needs to walk to school. We were just freaks. We do not fit at all. Liquid Forget, I loved writing this one because it’s so happy and groovy. It’s like, because that’s how it—even though I was not drinking normally, I don’t know what normal is for a 12-year old, but it was not normal. It’s not normal, I mean, if I ate something and it made me vomit, I wouldn’t be like, Oh, give me another plate of that, you know? But with booze, it was like, Yeah, I’ll take another one. So and yet it felt like it was saving me. It was serving me it. And it became how I coped with a lot of sadness, a lot of sadness, deep, deep sadness. And that’s why I liked the feel of the song, because even though it sounds tragic for me, it was kind of a good happy thing.
Ana Marie Cox: I think this is the point at which I should say that we’re both sober, and that the reason I wanted to talk about the drinking song is in part because if I hadn’t already known you’re in recovery and I just read the part about what it was like to have that first drunk, I would have been like, Oh, one of us.
Kathy Valentine: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: She’s one of us. You know? I have found—I don’t know about you—but I found that people like us really remember that first time, you know?
Kathy Valentine: Very much so. And the last time, you know?
Ana Marie Cox: Yes.
Kathy Valentine: I loved writing about getting sober, too. It was, and I’ve had so much feedback from people saying, you know, because my bottom wasn’t the bottom that so many people hear about. You know, the bottom that makes people think that they don’t have a problem because they haven’t been arrested or they haven’t gotten in a car accident or they haven’t lost everything near and dear to them, therefore how bad could they be? Well, my bottom wasn’t any of those things either. It was a spiritual and a mental. I thought about it constantly, constantly I thought about drinking and I just got so it was like almost torturous to be in my head because of how much I was trying to control my drinking. And I loved writing about getting sober because for so many people reading that has made a lot of my readers go, I kind of identify with that. So I felt like it was a great, a moment to carry the message of sobriety.
Ana Marie Cox: I completely agree, and it is a little surprising that the rock & roller has a fairly gentle—I mean, all bottoms are the same. That’s actually a thing I love to say and hear is all bottoms are the same on the inside. But the rock & roller didn’t have like a huge, spectacular bottom, let’s say, except on the inside.
Kathy Valentine: Well, it was such a part of my life and livelihood and a lifestyle that I think a lot of musicians when we give a, I’ve seen—it’s not a scientific, you know, statistical proven theory—but I’ve seen a lot of musicians seem to have a pretty easy time staying sober and a lot of it I think it’s because it’s so much, it’s so sanctioned. It’s so OK that when we’re done, we’re done. You know, it’s not like, Oh, maybe, you know? Maybe I can still do it. I just, and again, I could be wrong. I shouldn’t give any blanket statements, but you know, I was done. I wanted my life to be different and I didn’t know how to do it other than that. So, yeah, I had been controlling it for years anyway, just as a musician, because I realized after the first tour, OK, this sucks. You know you better wait, you do it after, you don’t do it before you play. Oh, this sucks to have a hangover when you have to be somewhere at six. So like I had learned how to pace myself, you know, in a way where I could function very highly, you know?
Ana Marie Cox: High-functioning rock & roller alcoholic.
Kathy Valentine: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And I just want clarify when you say why some musicians have a somewhat gentler time with it, is it because there’s so many out alcoholics in the music industry? Is that what you’re saying?
Kathy Valentine: Maybe so? Maybe it’s just like, Yeah, I don’t know why. I actually and again, maybe I’m just full of shit, but it just seems like maybe it’s just the musicians I know stay sober. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I don’t know the ones that don’t. So I should take all that back.
Ana Marie Cox: Well, I mean, I think it’s a sign that you’re surrounding yourself with good people. That’s what I’ll say.
Kathy Valentine: OK.
Ana Marie Cox: I want to talk a little bit more about songwriting. You wrote vacation?
Kathy Valentine: Yeah!
Ana Marie Cox: And I, that it is to me, it is one of the defining songs of my youth. Like, that song is playing in a lot of my memories. I had a K-Tel greatest hits album, and it was on that. And I don’t know, people don’t know what K-Tel records were.
Kathy Valentine: Well, it’s one of the defining songs of my entire life, so I get it.
Ana Marie Cox: So the question I have for you though, I hope that you are able to answer it, which is: what is it like to write a song like that? Like, did it feel good in your bones? Like when you when you realized, like, did you realize how good it was? Did you realize how catchy it was?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I’ll say this, it doesn’t matter how good or catchy your song is if you don’t have a vehicle like the Go-Go’s to make it a hit, if you don’t, the singer with the charisma and voice that’s distinctive like Belinda Carlisle. That’s not, I mean, I brought a song in that, you know, I could have been the Kathy Valentine Band doing that song for 20 years, and it would not have been. So I’m a big believer and you know, it’s great to have a great song, but without the vehicle to bring it to people’s consciousness, it doesn’t matter. And that’s one of the reasons I advocate for bands being very liberal and equitable in their songwriting splits because it causes so much problems. It caused problems in the Go-Go’s. And I don’t mean give people credit for writing a song. The writers should always have the credit. But I do believe that when you’re in a band and it’s the band that’s out there slogging it around on tour, doing the promo stuff, meeting the radio people, glad handing, making sure you get added onto the stations, and you’ve got the band coming up with the parts, you’ve got the musicians going, Hey, what do you think of this drumbeat? What do you think of this? Oh, this is good. And it’s that whole thing that makes it a hit. So all I knew was that I had written a song that was from the heart and that expressed a real thing. You know, I wrote this song. I was 19. I’d come to Austin. I met a guy and hung out with him for it seemed like a month, it was probably a week, you know? But it was from the heart. And I do believe that. I believe when things are from the heart that they resonate. I think people can tell. People that bullshit meters, whether they know it or not. And they can tell when it’s real and it’s genuine and from the heart. So the song was all those things. And I wrote it on an airplane and it had a charm as the first version. I mean, the first version was done by my band, the Textones and it’s been picked up to use in a TV show on Starz for two seasons now. And I love hearing that. I love hearing 19-year old me introduce this show Hightown every Sunday night. But it was taking it to the Go-Go’s, developing the chorus more with Charlotte, having a hit awesome band. I mean, we had hits. We had Our Lips Are Sealed, we had We Got the Beat. Maybe if Vacation had been our first song, it wouldn’t have been a hit, but we were coming off a hit, so everything aligned to make it a hit and I feel incredibly lucky and grateful too. And yeah, I’m proud. It’s a defining song. And it saved my ass! I mean, when the pandemic started, I lost two years’ worth of touring and you know, I can go out on tour with the Go-Go’s and pretty much cover my expenses. I don’t live extravagantly. I can, and I can get by. But when those, when that income went away, I was like, Oh shit, you know, I’m going to be going into my savings and then, Oh, Spider-Man puts Vacation and it. And it’s so funny because normally that shit doesn’t happen when you need the money. I mean, there was a time in the ’90s when, Oh my god, I was just broke. I was just plowing through money, and I used to just be like, Oh, please, please, Princess Cruise Lines, you know, pick my song. And nothing, nothing would happen. Nothing.
Ana Marie Cox: What’s the cruise line that has the stooges? Like, I was still enough of a punk rocker myself that, like every once in a while I’ll hear a song on an ad and I’ll just be like, This seems wrong. This is wrong.
Kathy Valentine: Yeah. Those days are long gone where it’s wrong, I guess. But yeah, so and of course, as soon as I got married to a lawyer that had a secure a great job. I was getting all kinds of placements and covers. But when I needed it, it was like, What am I going to do? Except for the pandemic. That was a, that was a lucky placement. Yeah. Spider-Man. And I would take people out to dinner and I go, This is on Spidey.
Ana Marie Cox: What I appreciated—and maybe I got the wrong idea, maybe this is what I shouldn’t have taken away—but there’s a section in the book when you first get sober. Number one, I completely identify with having my character defects be the thing that got me sober. I wanted to get an A and AA. It sounds like you were similar. You start writing songs and you say they weren’t very good. Like those first songs in sobriety, I love that you said that.
Kathy Valentine: They were horrible. They’re not even not very good. They were like, so cringy, horrible, like, thank God, I never tried to get a publishing deal with them or shop them, gave them to people. I mean, I have some really close musician friends that heard them, and poor people like, were supporting me and like, OK. And nobody ever said anything but God, they were bad. Just for an example, there was one called Army Inside. I have an army inside. And it was a—it was so fringy and bad. Oh my God, there was one called, one that went, I don’t need no bed of roses, all I want is a better life. And it was just so cringy and Hallmark, like, happy thera-pop, bad, horrific songs. The best songs are like from things when things suck. Always. Always.
Ana Marie Cox: I was going to say, what do you think happened there? Like, why were those so terrible? I mean, I have a theory, but—
Kathy Valentine: It was, it was just that, the music wasn’t bad. I mean, I could probably go—it was just the lyrics. I don’t think, I just don’t think. I mean, I was used to like doing blow and drinking and writing lyrics and up all night and just pouring it out. And you know, I was functional. When I got high and stuff, I wasn’t just sitting there like tweezing on the couch. I would like organize all my cassettes and then let’s work on a song and you know, I was not a lazy, a lazy drunk. I was a productive drunk. And so I wrote good songs. And Can’t Stop the World, which was on the first album and one of the first songs I wrote when I was 18. That’s a good song. It’s a really good song. But for me, songwriting has saved my life. You know it is, I have songs that will never be heard because they were just about helping me process. And it’s been really good therapy. I mean, I have, like when I was getting my divorce, I knew that I had to be OK for my daughter, she was seven-years old, and if mom was OK, she would be OK with this, if I could pull it together. So what that meant was as soon as she went to bed, I would go into my closet where she couldn’t hear me and I would fall apart. I would just like sob. And then I would come out, and then I would write a song about sobbing in my closet. And I have that one I do have, it’s on my Bandcamp page. It’s called In My Closet door and it’s, you know, and it’s a great song. And I love it because it’s real. It’s real. And I just think when I was sober writing, I was just, I was trying to do that. I was trying to write through my what I was going through, but what I was going through was a very confusing, immature, you know—some people say when you get sober, you revert back to the age, maturity age that you were when you started becoming an alcoholic, which meant at age 30, I had the maturity of a 16-year old. And so I wasn’t Billie Eilish, you know? I was writing, you know, not good songs at 16.
Ana Marie Cox: You mentioned earlier about the joy you found in writing about the early part of your career, all the success you had, like all the good times and there is, I would say, as a reader, a 0% bitterness in this book, you know? Which is a little unusual in a rock and roll memoir, I think. I think that most memoirs indeed have a little bit of a, you know, some, want to even the score a little bit, you know, want to say something you’ve always wanted to say.
Kathy Valentine: Well, I think I did do that. I think I did get some things on the record that I wanted on the record, but there’s no reason to tear people down to do that.
Ana Marie Cox: Part of me thought, though, as I was reading it, I was like, damn, she must be really sober.
Kathy Valentine: Oh yeah, definitely. And again, it’s not, it’s not like, it’s not from sainthood. It’s not from being, it’s not, I certainly wasn’t afraid. You know, you could read my book and say, This is not, this, the thing I get the most from people that have read my book was that it’s brave. You know, so I certainly wasn’t afraid. But it’s just not, it doesn’t serve me. I’m selfish. It doesn’t serve me to feel bitter, to resent people, to hold grudges. That’s not, that doesn’t feel good. I don’t like the way that feels. I like to take the good and you know, I like to be grateful. And that is, it’s grounded in sobriety. My sobriety is built on gratitude. You know?
Ana Marie Cox: Before we wrap up, I’m curious, what are you listening to lately?
Kathy Valentine: Ooh. Listening to you . . . my goodness. I actually like silence a lot. I’m a bitter disappointment to the men in my life who think that they’re marrying a musician woman who’s going to want to just like, talk about production and songs and records all the time. I just don’t, and I don’t even listen to a lot of music. But for Thanksgiving, I made a really fun playlist and I enlisted my daughter to help too. And it had everything. I mean, it’s hard for me to jump on new music because I definitely blank out on that. But you know, I like everything from, you know, [unclear] Brothers to The Strokes, to The Kinks, to Curtis Mayfield to, you know, while everybody’s been obsessed with The Beatles movie, I’ve been watching the Howlin Wolf documentary and The Wrecking Crew and stuff. And I’m going to get, to get back. I just I’ve just been enjoying kind of like doing deep dives into some of the stuff that, the building foundations of everything I love. So, yeah, I like hip hop a lot. I’m actually been catching up on 40 years of hip hop that I just, maybe because I’ve had a teenager for almost a decade, but it just became to me the most interesting, vital force of music. And I really like, sometimes I’ll just put on my Sonos app and I’ll just say, you know, put on, I’ll just put like Kendrick Lamar and then it will play like everything like, I don’t even know what I’m listening to, but I just like it.
Ana Marie Cox: So we usually don’t talk about current events on the show very often but as you and I are recording, or earlier today, the day we’re recording, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the abortion case out of Mississippi. And everyone knows about Texas, I think. I feel like when I talk to my friends outside the state, one of the first things they say, it’s like, you know, sorry. You, we both live here in Austin, and you write very frequently about your own abortions in the book. How are you dealing with where we are currently with reproductive justice in Texas?
Kathy Valentine: Well, I, I can’t believe we are here. I get very angry because I get it, I’m a mom. I saw my embryo when I was pregnant and I fell in love with my little Audrey when she was a teeny tiny fetus. So I understand really well the emotional, the emotional load behind people saying this is a life. However, I do think that, you know, I have, as a woman that I should have, any woman should have the choice as to when they want to fall in love with the little zygote, fetus that’s growing. And I think for me, I was married, I was financially secure, I was sober, I had achieved my dreams. I was ready. And I am a great mom and have been a great mom because of all those factors. When I was 12-years old. No. I think it would have been psychologically damaging for me to be forced to a birth when I got pregnant at 12. When I got pregnant at 21, 22 and my dreams were about to bust wide open and I would have had to leave the band on our very first European tour before our record had broken, I would have, I would have stopped the tour. There’s no way I could have been replaced. Not an option. Not an option to, and I feel like I had that right. And I think it’s really important to say this because people, it’s just so easy to go, Oh, it’s about pro-life. I think it’s bullshit. It makes me angry. I think if it was really about not wanting people to have abortions because you believe that, of the sanctity of life, that you would make damn sure that birth control was available and easy to get. And I think you would make sure that men had access to vasectomies and you encourage that, reversible ones that would stop pretty much all abortions. You know? Let’s just fix it, all of them. No abortions, if that’s the goal, if that’s the goal. So it makes me really angry. I think it’s about controlling women. I think it’s about equality. And I think more than anything, it’s about keeping poor people and women of color down where they cannot be functioning, growing, evolving members of society. And it makes me very, very angry. And that’s why I’m active. Because I don’t need an abortion. I’m never going to need one. I’ve been menopausal for a long time. And my daughter, if she gets pregnant, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to find her an abortion, just like any other privileged person is going to continue to do. So, you know, they can do whatever they want and they’re still going to be abortions. But this is what makes me angry, because it’s not about that. It’s about hating poor people and keeping minorities from having a fucking chance to get, to get out of their poverty. Sorry.
Ana Marie Cox: No, it’s okay, you can curse all you want. And also I was just thinking like usually we end on a more upbeat note. Yeah, but you know what? Like, I want to remind people that you were a punk rocker. Like, I think that when I listened to the original version of Vacation, I was like, Oh, right, like, this is a punk song, you know? Like, and so maybe it’s good to end with a little fuck you to the man, as it were. Thank you for coming on the show.
Kathy Valentine: Thank you, Ana.
Ana Marie Cox: And a big thanks to the legendary Kathy Valentine. Be sure to pick up her book “All I Ever Wanted” wherever books are sold. This show is a product of Crooked Media. Lesley Martin is our producer. Patrick Antonetti is our audio editor. Take care of yourselves.