Kathy Valentine is a force to be reckoned with. A working musician and songwriter, she’s best known for being part of the groundbreaking, all-female band the Go-Go’s. In April of 2020, she will share her story with the world with the release of her high-anticipated memoir, “All I Ever Wanted – A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir.”
As a member of the iconic group, she wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s most renowned songs, including “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.” The Go-Go’s became the first multi-platinum-selling, all-female band to play instruments themselves, write their own songs, and have a number one album. Their debut, “Beauty and the Beat,” spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 and featured the hit songs “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” The record’s success brought the pressures of a relentless workload and schedule culminating in a wild, hazy, substance-fueled tour that took the band from the club circuit to arenas, where fans, promoters, and crew were more than ready to keep the party going.
For Valentine, the band’s success was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream but, it’s only part of her story. “All I Ever Wanted” traces the path that took her from her childhood in Texas, where she all but raised herself, to the height of rock ’n’ roll stardom, devastation after the collapse of the band that had come to define her, and the quest to regain her sense of self in the aftermath. In the captivating book, Valentine also opens up about the lasting effects of parental betrayal, abortion, rape, and her struggles with drugs and alcohol—and the music that saved her every step of the way.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Kathy Valentine to discuss the making of “All I Ever Wanted – A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir.” Along the way, Kathy offers an inside look at her creative process, breathing life into the book’s stellar soundtrack and the lessons she learned along the way. Most importantly, she offers some insight on what the future may hold for her as an artist.
Thank you so much for taking time out to chat with me today, Kathy. Your new book, “All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir” has been a great read during these crazy times!
Thank you for helping me get the word out about my book! I’m just so dependent on word of mouth right now, the press, and all kinds of stuff now that the book tour is off, so thank you for that!
Let’s jump right in! There are a lot of music autobiographies out there. What sets yours apart?
I wanted to make sure I did right about music a lot in my book. Even before I was a musician, I think that music was something that soothed me and connected me to people. I think that’s true of a lot of us. There is one point in the book where I talk about how talking about our favorite songs was one of the first ways I bonded with other people. I felt a lot of the music memoirs or interviews that talked to women musicians didn’t focus on as much. So, that was something I really wanted to put across with my book. I wanted to express how music had been with me every step of the way, even before I was a musician. I think, for teenagers especially, rock ‘n’ roll shows you that there is a world outside of what might seem like a very small world when you are younger. You might be having the most ideal adolescence of anybody, but most of us aren’t! [laughs] However, music can be a view to a world outside of where we are!
What went into finding your creative voice as a young artist?
I think it takes a long time actually. Some artists, Prince for example, come out of the chute with a strong sense of identity. There are artists of that caliber that have a very strong vision and voice very early on. Mine was a little more general. I just wanted to be a musician in a cool band. I didn’t want to be a star and I didn’t need the spotlight. I just wanted to be in a band! It felt like it would be like being in a family. There was a lot of that in my story and what I tried to convey was how much I wanted that connection and wanted to feel like I was a part of something. As an artist, I think it took a really long time to find my voice. Being in The Go-Go’s, once you’re a part of a band, your voice isn’t as important as the total. I became very used to and accustomed to shaping whatever my talent was to fit my situation to make the whole the best it could be. It was more when I was out of bands that I started having a lot of confidence and became really connected to what my voice was. As an artist, it’s a never-ending quest because you and your circumstances change. Also, the way you approach your art changes. It’s one of the journeys of being an artist is the evolution you experience over time. I think what you get good at is being in touch with expressing yourself.
Writing an autobiography is an ambitious task and a project most of us will never tackle. I imagine the process gives you some incredible insight.
The book has been phenomenal for me! After I finished the book, I was so excited to get back to music. I really missed music because the book had become my focus for 3 years. I was playing in a band, which is something I am often doing, but I wasn’t being really creative musically. I was just showing up at my gigs. I was very anxious to be creative as a musician but what I found was that I wanted to dive in much deeper. With my book, I really put myself out there for the first time. As a band member, I wasn’t the lead singer. I was more of a background person but a very important person. I was involved in things that the public doesn’t always see from arranging the songs or helping people come up with parts during rehearsals. I was an active, integral member but it wasn’t the most public of jobs. So, the book really made me feel like I had put myself out there for the first time. I found this desire to do that musically, too. That’s one of the reasons I kept going and did a soundtrack to the book. I felt like, “Okay. It’s me. It’s all me. These are my words, feelings, perceptions and thoughts. This is my story and I want to do this musically, too!” I kind of used the book as an inspiration and took this new sense of identity to explore musically. It’s become part of my message – at 61 years old, you don’t have to be settled and accepting of everything you’ve done. You can still be doing things that are challenging, exciting, exhilarating, and frightening. It’s a really exciting time for me, to be honest.
When did you realize you wanted to tell your story in book form?
It started because I wanted to segue into writing more. I started becoming aware that I was a good writer. This was mainly because I was going back to school. I have been taking college classes, on and off, since the 90s. I’m a lifelong learner! As a person in the arts, you sometimes do a lot of work and don’t get a lot of results out of it. The result is that you just enjoy doing it. I found that in academic life, I would learn something, and I would come out thinking better and have more ideas in my head. One of the things I came away with from taking those classes in college was that I was a good writer. I would have to do essays. I would do short stories for creative writing classes. I also turned in research papers! I knew I was a good writer and began thinking about doing something career-wise. Rather than saying “Okay, here I am with my great novel”, I thought, “Why not start with the story only I can tell?!” As that door opens and people respond with, “Oh, I like this voice. I like the way she writes. I can relate to what she says.” Then I feel like people might be more receptive to the other things I write, whether it is an article, an essay, a blog or writing a series of short stories. Whatever it is I want to do, I feel like his book is a way to get on the map and open the door to more of that.
What can you tell us about the process of writing the book?
I can tell you that it was really challenging and there were definitely times that I just wanted to give up. I remember being at a party once and saying to another writer, “I just don’t think I am going to be able to do this. I think I’m just going to give back the advance.” The writer said, “Oh, no. You never do that! You just finish it.” [laughs] I dealt with a lot of things. Personally, I really had to come to terms with my perfectionism. I realized within the first 6 or 7 months that I wasn’t going to finish it if I kept trying to make every sentence perfect. The time to do that is when you revise it! It’s more important to just get something on the page. I think that is something I will hopefully carry with me for the rest of my life as a songwriter and everything. Sometimes I would take months and months to finish a song because I felt everything had to be perfect. I would think, “This line isn’t as good as that line. It all has to be perfect.” That’s not the best way to operate! [laughs]
I also dealt with procrastination. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles that come to many writers, but I found a process that worked for me. It was challenging! It’s a good question that you’ve asked because when I look back it was a really big accomplishment and I’m really proud of myself. I did it myself and no one helped me. I didn’t have a ghostwriter. Obviously, I had an editor, but they weren’t writing it for me. They actually helped me by saying things like, “These 3 pages are beautifully written, but they don’t move the story forward.” There’s a phrase that writers hear all the time — “Kill your darlings.” That just means that you just have to chop out stuff that you think is the best thing you’ve ever written because it’s not really serving the story. There were learning things like that. I think I would like to do the next book a little more efficiently. However, other writers tell me that you go through the whole thing again! [laughs] I’m curious to see what happens when I start the next book.
I have to say I was very lucky because I had a book deal. I did not have to write my book and then shop it around. I think I would probably still be working on it if that was my situation! I’m very good with a deadline if someone says, “Do this and do it by then.” Left to my own devices, I will think, “Oh, I don’t know what to do here. I think I’ll go write a song!” or ‘ I don’t know what to do here. I think I go do the laundry.” There is always enough to do that I can put something down and go find something else. So, I was lucky that I had a book deal and I had a deadline. It was either now or never!
What were some of the other things you learned about yourself through the creative process for this book?
I learned a lot about my relationship with my mom. I feel like, for most of my adult life, I have struggled with my relationship with my mom and I’ve had some resentment toward her. Writing the book made me realize that while she did have a lot of failings as a parent, she wasn’t all bad. Some of the pillars of parenting are making sure that your child feels supported and loved. I was able to see more clearly that even though she didn’t guide me, parent me or give me boundaries, she did love me. I always felt loved. I always felt supported. It has opened my heart to my mom, which is really valuable. She is 83 now, so to be able to let go of some of my resentment toward her and embrace her faults and all has been a huge gift. She supported me writing the book and she does not look like the best parent. She was very brave. It was more important to her that I write my story as honestly as I wanted to write it. It was more important to her that I did that than to have her look good. That earned my respect and made it very clear for me to see that she has always supported me. She never said, “Oh, you can’t be a musician. You’ll never succeed at that.” In fact, she always helped me to see that I could succeed at whatever I wanted. That was a huge gift!
It’s ironic. All I ever wanted was to be in a band and be successful at being a musician, to feel like I was part of a family and to be able to take care of myself. That’s where the title came from. That theme kept coming back to me. Aside from being the line in my biggest song, it’s very much the theme of the book. And yet what is giving me so much satisfaction and exhilaration is doing what I didn’t really want, which was to go out there and be me and forge my way! I realized I had always played it very safe by being a band member. I was never really putting myself out for scrutiny. Even when I brought “Vacation” to the band, I was scared to have my song compared to the great songs that Charlotte [Caffey] and Jane [Wiedlin] had written. I wanted them to be a part of my song because I felt so insecure about my contribution. Of course, I was very young and I’m not that insecure now, but at 21 years old, it was all such a bluff! I projected so much confidence and attitude, but inside I was just so insecure and wanted to feel like I belonged. Looking back at my journey, was a real eye-opener. I kind of think everyone should write a book! [laughs] Even if it’s not the most interesting thing, it’s really good therapy and it’s a lot cheaper! [laughs] As long as you can be honest with yourself and really look at yourself and your part in things, it’s a very therapeutic way to look at your journey through life.
I wanted to ask you about the cover image for the book, which is very striking. What made it the right image to represent the time period covered in the book?
Because the events of the book take place mainly in the past, I felt comfortable that it wasn’t a photo of me now. The book really isn’t about me now, although I’m writing it from the lens of me now. That photo was taken when I was 20 years old. I think it captures me before fame. It’s a time when I had no fear and I had come to LA without one doubt in my entire being that I was going to succeed at what I went there to do. It’s a special time that I think is unique to youth. I love the way it’s looking back. It’s like it’s me looking back at my life, even though it’s young. It came from a series of photographs that my friend, who I first met when I moved to Los Angeles, took when I was 20 years old. It was the first time that I looked at myself and didn’t just value being smart, being funny or being a personality. It was the first time that I looked at a photo and saw someone that was attractive. I didn’t choose the photo actually. The University of Texas Press has an art department and they chose that one. I’m super happy with it! I love going into bookstores and finding myself drawn to a book just because of the cover and I will pick it up and buy it. There is something about my book that, if it wasn’t mine, that I would pick it up and buy it!
I couldn’t agree more. I remember seeing this striking image in the initial press release for the book. It immediately made me reach out to learn more!
I’m going to tell the photographer that because she is just proud as can be!
Let’s talk a little bit about the soundtrack for the book. At what point did the concept come about and what went into bringing it to life?
Writing a book is very different from writing music. When you turn it in, it’s well over a year before it even goes to the printer. It felt weird to be done after 3 years of sitting down every day at my desk and working on it! While I was very anxious to get back to music, I didn’t feel like I was ready to walk away from this story. There was so much that I wrote that spoke to me. What was really neat was that there are 42 chapters in the book. What I would do after I would write a section was look through it and whatever word jumped out at me, I would stick that at the top of the page to remind me what the chapter was about. I never intended for those to stick as the chapter titles, but I just got so used to seeing them that they ultimately became the chapter titles. I started feeling that some of those titles made me want to write a song. They started to feel like song titles to me. I thought, “I’ve got a whole book. I’m a musician and I haven’t seen anyone else do this before. Plenty of musicians have written books but I don’t know of any that have gone and done this.” So, I went in and wrote the first song.
Immediately, I found it so satisfying because I looked at it as a score and a soundtrack rather than a song. That meant I wasn’t bound by any conventions of songwriting. I could use my knowledge of hooks, structure and chords but I could also take text recite over a beat, go into this crazy bass playing thing, put these rippin’ guitar riffs down and then go into this pop chorus. Saying it sounds like a big mishmash but that’s not how it sounds. It sounds like it goes with the chapter. I really tried to capture the tone of not only what I said in the chapter, but I also tried to capture the feeling too. If the chapter contains something that is dark, I try to have that in there with different sounds. To achieve that, I was working by myself in my studio. I have a good mic, a good little amp, a good little mic-pre and some software. Everything was just me doing what I wanted. I worked with a co-producer and sound mixer in New York named Michael Rouse. He was amazing! He made it sound modern and contemporary. I felt really free. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted and try whatever I wanted. Each song was an adventure! I would sit down and have no idea what I was going to do or where it was going to go. It could be one minute long or three minutes long. I just went for it! It was so much fun and total creative freedom for me!
Another cool thing is that the music is going to be part of the audiobook! The audiobook publisher was really excited to have this completely new element to help tell the story. So, not only is it me narrating the story but each chapter that has a soundtrack will be there. You’re not forced to listen to it but if you choose to listen to the song, you can hear it. I’ve also recorded underscoring for a lot of the narration. For example, when I write about starting my first band, I actually found a cassette of the second rehearsal I ever did in my life! When the person is listening to me talk about my first band, they are going to hear me playing in my first band! That was really cool and I was really fortunate to find an audiobook publisher that was creative and interested in doing something new, different and innovative!
Where do you look for inspiration and where do you see the next chapter in your career taking you?
My antenna is always out looking for inspiration! I’ve got 200 voice memos of me singing little melodies, tons of notebooks with things written down and notes on my apps. I’m always looking for inspiration! Books, magazine articles and newspaper headlines can often spark ideas for me. I’m a musician, so I will always play in a rock ‘n’ roll band, as long as I’m physically able. I love doing that and it’s a part of who I think I’ll always be. I was so enthralled with this intersection of music and tying in storytelling from prose to song that I’m thinking of going back to one of my earlier ideas. It would be a collection of short stories that might have a theme, I’m not sure what it would be, but putting a soundtrack to each story. It might be an album with a collection of stories. That is really interesting to me. My daughter is going to college in a year, so while you are always a parent, I’m going to have a lot more time and freedom to do creative things. I have another couple of books I would like to write. At some point, I would like to write a second memoir because this one goes from 1970 to 1990. It told a very good arch of a story. There was a protagonist, who is me, and there are obstacles, peaks and valleys, and I came out the other end as a changed person. That is a classic arch of storytelling that everyone knows about. At some point, I would definitely like to write another memoir. I’m a big fan of people like Augusten Burroughs and Mary Karr. These are writers who have taken different sections of their lives and really explored it. There is a lot more that I would like to write and it’s a very different story. So, while I’d love to do that, it’s not the next book! I’m done with me for a while. I’d like to tell some other women’s stories too, women musicians that maybe haven’t written their story or had their story get out there. I’m interested in perhaps being their voice.
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I think the biggest lesson I learned from The Go-Go’s and from my life is about relationships. When it comes to relationships with people, recognizing what everyone contributes to a situation, whether it’s a job, marriage, romantic relationship, parental/familial relationship If you don’t recognize and appreciate what each person is bringing to the table, it’s a setup for a toxic dysfunction. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. I don’t think that comes across in the book, so I’m probably going a little off-track. In terms of the book, what I would like to do is inspire people by showing them that you can face your issues or whatever trauma you’ve experienced. When you let yourself feel those feelings, they don’t overwhelm you. I had good people love me and be my friends, despite being not at my best all the time. In the book, I wrote about wanting to make things fun all the time and I couldn’t seem to face myself. For me it took sobriety but that might not be the case for everyone. I think facing the things you don’t want to face is a really good thing to do in your lifetime!
Follow the continuing adventures of Kathy Valentine by visiting her official website at kathyvalentine.com. Connect with her on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “All I Ever Wanted – A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir” will be released on March 31, 2020. Pre-order the book at this location.