You might know Kathy Valentine as the bassist for the Go-Go’s. You might also know that her songwriting skills have propelled some of the band’s biggest hits, including “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.” But few people, including long-time friends of hers, knew the whole story as recounted in Valentine’s revealing and moving new book All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir.
For lovers of the Go-Go’s music, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. But All I Ever Wanted goes far beyond that into the details of Valentine’s turbulent formative years, her triumphs and struggles within her iconic band, and how she pulled out of the darkest times in order to tell this tale, honestly and unflinchingly.
Valentine explains in an interview with American Songwriter that she was motivated to write the memoir as a way of telling her own story, not just that of her famous band. “I wasn’t trying to write the Go-Go’s history,” she explains. “That was not my intention. Getting in that band was so profoundly meaningful to me. And yet how would a reader understand how profoundly meaningful it was unless they saw where I came from and understood the painful stuff? The feeling like an outcast and a pariah, being on my own, feeling from the very beginning that I had to take care of myself and no one else was going to do that.”
“If the reader didn’t understand where I was coming from, I don’t think they would fully understand the profound joy of getting somewhere. Putting all that stuff far away behind me, achieving success, doing something extraordinary, and then the devastation of losing it all.”
Indeed, some of the most compelling parts of All I Ever Wanted predate Valentine getting an emergency Go-Go’s tryout in 1980 that would eventually become a permanent membership in the band. She dealt with an absent father and a mother whose freewheeling lifestyle left Valentine without much guidance. The book makes clear that Valentine was lucky to survive several harrowing incidents growing up.
“It was hard to revisit, just like in therapy,” Valentine said of looking back. “I’ve had my share of therapy and sometimes you hit on something and you just let out a lot of grieving that’s stuck down or put in a box and shoved away. It was like therapy in a lot of ways. Maybe even better or more intense than therapy.”
The sections of the book detailing The Go-Go’s rise from West Coast scenesters to pop music royalty are filled with all the head-rush fun you get from listening to their hits. Along the way, Valentine shows off her storytelling flair, especially in anecdotes where she encounters some of music’s biggest names. “I was hesitant to do that,” she explains. “Because some books I’ve read, it felt almost like name-dropping. I ultimately thought, ‘I remember it, it happened, and it’s kind of relevant to the story.’ I tried to keep it to just a few stories that fell into the showing, not telling, aspect of storytelling. If an anecdote with a famous person helped illustrate the setting, the context, where I was, what was going on, and the relationship, and I remembered it very well, I was OK with writing about it.”
Valentine mentions Patti Smith’s Just Us Kids and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One as rock memoirs with the kind of quality to which she aspired. She also felt that her songwriting skills translated well to her prose. “I felt like I had experience writing in a lyrical way,” she says. “Whatever literary merit my book has is probably due to my crafting lyrics for so long.”
When it came to her occasionally strained relationship with her band members, she says that the writing process acted as a band-aid of sorts. “Most people are aware that there was a pretty horrendous falling-out between me and the band in 2012,” Valentine recounts. “It resulted in me having to sue to protect my financial interests I had built up with the other women. It was a very ugly time in our history. And I was writing this book after that happened. I think people would have understood if I had decided to write this ripping, vindictive, bitter tale. But what I found as I was writing about the band was joy and gratitude and being honest, without feeling any negativity or anger because of where I had ended up.”
“And then I wasn’t finished with the book yet when I got back in the band. I was already healed to a degree. I had already let go and forgiven to a great degree because of writing the book. I was able to finish up with everything being in a really good place. Writing it while I was out of the band actually helped me. It took away the focus from feeling that I had been betrayed and done wrong and all that stuff. I started seeing the whole picture, and even where I was at that moment, as a blessing.” (Valentine says that all the other members of the group have both read the book and provided positive feedback.)
Valentine, who also speaks honestly of her substance abuse issues during her time with the band, is forthright in the memoir about her own failings and frailties. “I would have no credibility as a writer if I had kind of sailed through everything as a saint,” she says.” I wasn’t an emotionally mature person. When you’re drinking and you’re in a band and not dealing with the issues and stuff at your core, I think that it stopped me from being as caring a friend. I cried a lot, wishing that I could be the person that I am now, back then. At the same time, there are things that are very much the same. I was a lot of fun and I was funny and I did a lot to try to keep things patched together. I really worked my ass off trying to make everyone happy and stay in the band.”
Those who purchase the audiobook version of All I Ever Wanted will also receive a digital copy of the companion soundtrack Valentine composed. “I feel it’s a significant innovation, because it was directly taken from the book,” she says. “It was a very freeing experience to do. After 45 years of being in a band, which means every song, every idea, every part pretty much gets hashed through the committee, I could employ all of the techniques of songwriting that I love, whether it was catchy choruses and lyrical hooks or guitar and bass grooves and great beats. But I didn’t have to adhere to the convention of songwriting, because I thought of it as a soundtrack. Ultimately, I think the soundtrack stands up on its own as a solo record. And it’s a great companion piece.”
When asked what she hopes prospective musicians will take from reading All I Ever Wanted, Valentine’s answer speaks a lot to what she and the Go-Go’s have endured. “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from being in a band that has helped me to be a better person is to be aware and recognize and appreciate everyone’s contributions,” she says. “When you have a winning combination, a chemistry where it’s kind of working really well, it’s worth the time and effort to find out and care enough about each person in that winning combination: what their needs are, how everyone can be accommodated and thought about and cared for, and just to appreciate and recognize what everyone brings to the table.”