Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Vacation" AKA The Go-Go's' Response To Achieving "All They Ever Wanted": Get Drunk And Waterski

Ah, fame. It was all the Go-Go's ever wanted. But now they just had to get away - from the public, and from each other:
With the success of Beauty and the Beat, the Go-Go's turned into more of a serious business than it had initially begun. We lost our anonymity and privacy. We also began to lose the relationships we had with one another. At photo sessions, I heard one of the girls behind me say, "Does she always have to be in the middle? Can't someone else stand in front?" I saw eyes roll if reporters asked me too many questions.
"'Belinda, Belinda, Belinda!' Why is it always 'Belinda'?" Well, you know why it was always Belinda. The things is, I can understand why the other members resented the way the media lavished extra attention on Belinda, considering that she didn't really ... do anything. But I can also understand why the media lavished extra attention on Belinda: because she was the summit of the female form, a Greek goddess temporarily given terrestrial life as an '80s pop singer.

Oh yeah, and the music:
On top of the jealousies, there was serious pressure. As we worked on our second album, we knew Miles wanted another megasmash ... the reality was such that we'd had more than two years to come up with Beauty and the Beat and now we were given only a couple of months to write songs for the next album.
Another album? You mean we have to keep ... making music? We can't just do coke and film sex tapes? Yes, Go-Go's, a follow-up album. Jane was pretty tapped out. Charlotte was too busy scoring heroin. Other bands would have been screwed. But it was time for the Go-Go's to deploy their secret weapon: Kathy Valentine.

Kathy was like the Go-Go's' ace in the hole. She was like their George. Most bands would kill for one great songwriter. The best bands sometimes manage to have two. But here's how stacked the Go-Go's were: they managed to have three. And Belinda was not one of them. So basically the Go-Go's had three great songwriters ... and Belinda. They were stacked dude.

Before joining the Go-Go's, Kathy had already composed a handful of songs as a member of the obscure Texas group the Textones. Jane and Charlotte took one of the more promising numbers, fiddled with some of the lyrics, and presto.

Given the title and the shimmering melody, you'd think "Vacation" would be a carefree summer anthem. But the Go-Go's may have fooled you once again:
Can't seem to get my mind off of you
Back here at home there's nothin' to do
Now that I'm away
I wish I'd stayed
Tomorrow's a day of mine
That you won't be in

When you looked at me, I should have run
But I thought it was just for fun
I see I was wrong
And I'm not so strong
I should've known all along
That time would tell

A week without you
Thought I'd forget
Two weeks without you and I
Still haven't gotten over you yet

All I ever wanted
Had to get away
Meant to be spent alone
So let me get this straight: girl develops a crush on a guy before heading home for summer vacation, figures it was some minor attraction and that she'll quickly forget about him. Instead, she's sitting at home, her feelings are growing and growing, and she has nothing else to distract her, because she's on fucking vacation. So the very thing which was "all [she] ever wanted" has now been ruined by the longing that's eating away at her mind and soul. To the beach!

Uh ... this song is de-press-ing. With its theme of a romantic fling turned peskily serious, "Vacation" shares some similarities with the earlier "Lust to Love," but considering one was written primarily by Kathy and the other was written primarily by Charlotte and Jane, this just goes to show that, despite their party girl exteriors, the Go-Go's were collectively a bunch of sad sacks. None of these sacks, of course, were sadder than Belinda, who did not have a hard time finding her way into these lyrics. Highlights:
  1. The way she sings "get" in the first line, it's as if she figures that the more intensely she sings the word, the more quickly she'll be able to escape from the sickening prison that is her low self-esteem, coke addiction, and the new-found fame that's going to enable the whole enchilada.
  2. The growl on "me" in "When you looked at me": hey, she may be singing a fluffy pop song, but she will kick your ass.
  3. Her little trick of putting a period after every word on "But. I. Thought. It. Was. Just. For. Fun.," similar to what she did in "This Town," and even though she'd used it already, it still works, damn it.
Yes, once again, the Go-Go's managed to churn out another catchy, radio-friendly bummer. Charlotte seems to have switched to a more synthesized keyboard, which gives the music a bit more of a commercialized '80s quality, but Gina sounds like she doesn't give a shit and she still thinks the Ramones are coming on next. Also of note is the song's interesting structure, where the two verses appear at the very start, and the rest of the song is simply just bridge, chorus, bridge, chorus. But that's kind of how a vacation feels, isn't it? Those first couple of weeks, you think you're going to have plenty of time for verses, and then before you know it, there's a massive pile of bridges and choruses and suddenly you have to go back to school.

So between you and me, "Vacation" may have been a spruced-up leftover, but as far as the American public was concerned, it kept the band's momentum rolling along nicely, climbing to a robust #8 and keeping Miles off their backs for a couple of months. Coincidentally, the song also came in at #8 on Rolling Stone's recent, and dubiously ranked, "Best Summer Songs Of All Time" list. It also bears the distinction, according to I.R.S. Records, of being the very first cassette single, or "cassingle" as the label was trying to call it. I don't believe the phrase caught on quite as well as the format did - and the format didn't exactly catch on either.

Of course, another single meant another video, and you'd figure that after they'd seen first-hand the massive boost that MTV's constant airing of the "Our Lips Are Sealed" clip had given their debut album, the band would have been willing to take their next video a little more seriously. But nope.

Allow me to make a confession. Some pop culture phenomena were, I'll admit it, before my time. I remember Madonna. I remember New Kids On The Block. I even remember the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But at some point in the early '80s, from what I understand, the Go-Go's became a whole "thing," and while I was technically alive at the time, I recall none of this. According to the scrolls and cave paintings I've excavated, however, I've been led to believe that the media almost treated the group like a teen-pop band. Everyone had their favorite Go-Go. Columnists gossiped about the band members in magazines. TV shows scrambled to fit the Go-Go's into their schedule. At some point (according to legend), the media began referring to the Go-Go's as "America's Sweethearts." I don't know where the phrase came from, or how often it was deployed, but I find it hilarious - as did the band themselves, it seems.

Apparently, one of the members found an old '50s postcard of the Cypress Gardens Waterski team, and the rest of the group thought it was hysterical. "They want America's Sweethearts? We'll give them America's Sweethearts." So the Go-Go's decided to show off a previously unrevealed skill. See, while the public may have known that America's Sweethearts were skilled musicians, who knew they possessed such incredible dexterity on waterskis?

Isn't that right, Jane? "We still saw videos as an annoying waste of time. After seven or eight hours we sent out someone to sneak in booze ... if you look at our eyes, we're all so drunk. We didn't even try to make it look like we were really waterskiing."

"Not ... really ... waterskiing"? What does she mean? The Go-Go's would never lie to us like that. Don't tell me those synchronized leg kicks are faked. And let me ask you this: if they're not really waterskiing, then how do you explain them bouncing up and down? I mean, look at Jane at 1:31. She can barely hang on! And while, in the non-waterskiing portion, Belinda's hair may be doing its best Lucille Ball impersonation, check her out at 2:29, bobbing on the water ... in her little tutu! And the necklace, and the tiara, and ... somebody just stop me now before I hurt myself.

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