Alison Ellwood’s “The Go-Go’s” Documentary Reviewed
Who doesn’t love the Go-Go’s? The first all girl band who played their own instruments, dropped fully formed into the early 1980s, and went to the top of the Hot 100, before the usual mishmash of ego and drugs and money hit the self-destruct button. The Go-Go’s had only a handful of smashes, “We Got The Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels”… enough to sustain their careers into middle age, and a new song, the fine “Club Zero,” released last year, but they had a cool joyfulness that smashed through your defenses, and their hits remain addictive. I wonder why Miley Cyrus hasn’t covered em yet…
Alison Ellwood is the documentarian who gave us “Laurel Canyon” recently, an iffy piece of SoCal mythologizing, and the popular reality show “American High”. But this is her best work. Using archival footage and recent interviews, she lays out the bands history as a less than shocking series of ups and downs, hurt by greed. The two big reveals, at the height of her success Charlotte Coffey was a junkie , and Jane Wiedlin and Gina Schock were lovers for a time, are a lot less revealing forty years later, and that publishing rights (only three members wrote the songs, one of them wasn’t Belinda Carlisle) put them on auto destruct.
A fun loving bunch of LA punks at the start of the scene, hanging out with Darby Crash, and getting messed up constantly in one of the most fruitful music scenes ever (much more fun than Laurel Canyon, come to think of it). They staggered through noisy, less than stellar three chord songs, till changes of personnel gave them Charlotte Coffey, who wrote “We Got The Beat,” and Gina Schock, who had the beat, caught Miles Copeland of IRS records, and got an opening slot on the Police stadium tour. Subsequently, they were the opening act for The Specials, and the girls hooked up with various Two-Tone stars, and kept on going straight through the roof. A rushed second album, and a drug riddled third album were saved with a hit per album, but after that it was over and Belinda and Jane told the other members of the band that Belinda was the voice, Jane wrote the songs, and the rest of them were superfluous. I never saw them live, but the 2020 liver from 1981 is a refreshing, straight forward pop rock triumph, so in my books they were a great live band as well.
It isn’t a difficult story and Alison keeps us in time and place with ease, the commentary by the women is as straightforward as you can possibly imagine, and remains true to the girls who were as wild as anyone you’ve ever seen (trust me, I’ve seen the video -they were wilder than they seem even now), and who remained true to a feminism that was on par with any band you care to mention.
The Go-Go’s broke up in 1985 (Belinda had a pretty successful solo career) and came back together in 1999, in 2018 the Go-Gos were the music for a Broadway Jukebox music “Head Over Heels” and the band still perform live, in fact they have some area shows booked for this July (though I doubt they’ll happen).
Consider them one of the more relevant bubblegum band, Josie And The Pussycats anchored by real girls to women who wanted to have a good time, and consider Alison Ellwood a woman capable of telling an interesting story with simplicity and lotsa great music. I rented it on Itunes, you should too…