Depending on who you talk to, The Go-Go’s will be remembered as the poster girls for rebellious womanhood, or damaged hell-raisers bent on self-destruction. To the average ‘80s teen, they were the epitome of porcelain-skinned Valley girls. They’ve been honored as punk pioneers, and derided as the genre’s bubbly champagne debutantes. Some called them sellouts, most called them superstars. One adjective guitarist Jane Wiedlin says they can all agree on to describe the band is, “lucky.”
“When we started The Go-Go’s I didn’t know anything,” the 58 year-old guitarist says. “I’d never been in a band before and we were lucky coming up in the LA punk scene with two other girls learning to play our instruments.”
The record she’s referring to of course is the 1981 debut Beauty and the Beat that launched their career, an album that they originally felt was too saccharine and poppy to represent what they were really about as young LA punks when it first came out. Decades later, there’s no question that adding some sugar to their sound is what helped them stick. Sometimes Wiedlin laughs at the fact that no matter how far she’s come as a songwriter, she’ll always be known as the writer of “Our Lips Are Sealed,” written about an affair she had with a famous (and married) British rock star in 1980. Hey, at least it was a hit.
“We were lucky when we did get to make a record, the public really liked it and I will always feel really grateful and proud of my career, it’s been an amazing ride, life is good and I’m super grateful,” she says.
When the band steps out on stage at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa this weekend, it’ll be for the second to last time in their career (the tour officially wraps up with a hometown show at the Greek Theater on Aug. 30). After years of putting it off for one reason or another, the band have embarked on their farewell tour. Though the band says they’re not breaking up, they will however, cease to tour after this last month-long run with. Bassist Kathy Valentine — who left the Go-Go's in 2013 over "irreconcilable differences" and later sued her former bandmates — won’t be joining.
Prior to the tour, the band spent weeks emailing each other back and forth on possible set lists, different songs to learn and new cover songs. Just before they were set to meet up in LA to start rehearsals, the band emerged from their separate homes all over the world to preparing themselves.
“To me, the week before rehearsals start is the most panicky part,” Wiedlin says. “Like ‘Oh god, what if I don’t remember the songs, what if I do this, what if I do that…there’s a lot going through my mind right now. It’ll be nice to just get in the room together and start playing together. It really is a lot like riding a bike, it all comes back to you.”
Their first performance this year was during the Billboard Music Awards. It was an offer that came totally out of the blue, but one that was more than warranted: The Go-Go’s are still the only all-female band to write their own songs and play their own instruments on the songs that got them to the top of the Billboard charts. When singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Charlottle Caffey and drummer Gina Schock took the stage, it was a revelation for a number of reasons. Not only had the band and their first hit “We Got the Beat” still hold up surprisingly well, but they were still the only all-female act to actually play live—plugged in with no backing tracks. And despite looking amazing for a group of women in their late 50s, they passed on the award show’s trend of wearing glorified lingerie on stage.
“I felt like we stuck out, but in my mind we stuck out in a good way,” says Wiedlin, who was a little dismayed by the hypersexuality of women going on at the awards show. Obviously The Go-Go’s were no strangers to using their sexuality on or off stage, but from the time they were playing legendary punk clubs like OC’s The Cuckoo’s Nest to playing stadiums, it was always about the music first. “I’m not really sure if [some female artists] today are being forced to act like that, or if they think they have to act like that in order to be successful or if they think it’s cool to act like that but to me…I just turned to one of the other girls and said ‘People could just go to a strip club and see this.’”
While it’s a bit sad that pop music hasn’t seemed to come very far by Wiedlin’s standards, it’s pretty amazing to see the journey she and her bandmates continue to make as people. Despite a career plagued with drug addiction, in-fighting, lawsuits and hurt feelings, The Go-Go’s still managed to weather the storm and come out on the other side to do some positive things with their lives once the lights dimmed on their rock careers. Wiedlin talks about her current passion of animal rescue, with all the fervor of a rockstar in her prime.
As a resident on the big island of Hawaii, she works for two non-profit organizations. The local group Aloha Ilio Rescue ("ilio" means “dog” in Hawaiian) and the international group Animal Balance are both committed to rescuing street dogs and providing information and clinics for the spaying and neutering of pets in island communities. “It’s super intense doing it, like 18 hours a day and we spay and neuter hundreds of dogs and cats in a week,” she says. “It’s hard work but I’ve never been more proud of anything else I’ve done because we’re really making a difference.”
If that weren’t enough, you can find her working occasionally as a wedding minister all over the country, a gig she picked up in 2008 in effort to support the fight for gay marriage. And of course, being a Go-Go means that Hollywood still comes knocking every so often for guest spots on sitcoms or reality TV.
As Wiedlin and her band prepare for one last victory lap in their performing career, the chance to savor the moment is a gift that’s both exciting and scary, but one they plan to embrace one song at a time. If this is really the end of their time on stage, hopefully the tour won’t feel like work, but more like the vacation they always wanted.
“One of the intentions I’ve set for myself before I get on stage is to say this is the last night I’m gonna get to do this in this town and be really present and really grateful and really enjoy it,” Wiedlin says. “So that way it’s not a sad thing, it’s a gratitude thing.”
The Go-Go’s perform with Best Coast at The Segerstrom Center, 600 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, www.scfta.org, (714) 556-2787 Sun. Aug. 28. 7 p.m. $49-$129. All ages.