Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Making Of Talk Show AKA This Is The Way The Go-Go's End: Not With A Bang But With An Album

How did the Go-Go's fall apart? Let me count the ways:

1) Drugs
2) Egos
3) Disappointing Sales
4) Drugs
5) Jealousy
6) Changing tastes
7) Did I mention drugs?

But before the Go-Go's bit the dust, they managed to make one more album. New producer Martin Rushent had quite the pedigree: The Buzzcocks, The Human League, The Stranglers, Altered Images, even engineering credits on T.Rex's Electric Warrior and Fleetwood Mac's Future Games (oh yeah!). But if he thought he could bring some much-needed discipline to the Go-Go's, well, he had another thing coming. From Lips Unsealed: "He was a lovely, low-key Englishman whose success had brought him a measure of wealth, stature, and a particular way of working. Then he ran into the Go-Go's; we were like a storm hitting his verdant Tudor studio in Berkshire." It turns out that, even while unraveling, the Go-Go's were still pretty hilarious:
Jane lectured me on the importance of my writing and getting songwriter credits on the album so I would make money, and Charlotte came over to my house numerous times to write with me, but I was too scattered to be creative ... It was no secret why. On some tapes we made of us trying to work, I could hear myself in the background snorting coke. On other tapes, I was on the phone arguing with Mike.
Come on Belinda, we need that follow-up to "Skidmarks On My Heart." I guess it was a tall order. I mean, how was she going to compose any lyrics if she couldn't even board an airplane?
I missed two flights in a row. I got to the airport okay, but I was too high to navigate the terminal and get on the plane. I caught a cab home after both false starts. On the third try, I had a big wad of coke with me and I went into the bathroom to do a line and figure out how to deal with everything. Realizing I couldn't deal, I decided to go home.

As I waited for a cab, I was positive that plainclothes detectives had me under surveillance. Several walked slowly past me, turned, and made eye contact, which I assumed meant they wanted me to know that they were aware of me. How? Well, either they had hidden cameras in the bathroom or they had noticed that I was completed gone. There was also the possibility that I was paranoid.
Yes, there is also that possibility as well. Nevertheless, this cat was starting to run out of nine lives - which brings me to another observation about the Talk Show era. For the most part, Belinda and the Go-Go's had been fortunate, sonically and visually, to avoid becoming too stained by the '80s, but around 1984, I think the '80s were finally starting to catch up with them. To put it another way, the Go-Go's were going through their Lesbian Phase. Like, all of them, at the exact same time. Short hair, short hair, and even shorter hair. While I still can't quite keep my eyes away, I must admit that Belinda's physical appearance during this period hit, shall we say, a bit of a rough patch. Some might suggest that she put back on a little of the weight that she'd lost from her punk days, but my issue isn't so much her weight as it is her hairstyle and fashion choices - if, given the woman's state of mind, you could even call them "choices." Belinda's appearance circa 1984 looks all the more bizarre considering her appearance circa 1986, only two measly years later. Let me just say this: if I told someone that Belinda Carlisle was my '80s Dream Woman and all they saw was a picture or a video of Belinda circa 1984, they might think I was insane. And I probably wouldn't blame them. However, out of this neon cocoon would burst a glistening butterfly.

Here's a clip from a behind the scenes show called Album Flash (apparently on Cinemax?) where the increasingly butch Belinda holds court on everything from old high school classmates to her childhood hobby of mutilating Barbie dolls. Highlights:

"I hated Barbie dolls. I liked the way they looked, but I remember, I used to get Barbie dolls, the first thing that would come off was the hair. I'd get scissors from my mom, and she's go, 'OK, don't cut their hair,' and I'd go, 'OK mom,' and I'd like, chop 'em up and they'd have little butch haircuts and stuff."

"When I go back to Thousand Oaks, a lot of the kids, you know, know that I went to Newbury Park High School and all that kind of stuff, and it's funny because people that used to torture me in high school now are my 'best friends.' It always works like that."

(Also classic is Kathy's response, in another clip, to a question about what it means to be a "female" musician in rock: "Being a woman in the music industry is the same as being a man in the music industry. It really doesn't mean a thing to me. I mean, I don't think about it. Ever. Why should I?")

At any rate, while Belinda's brain was being buried in a snow storm, Jane's was experiencing a new kind of personal clarity:
Then, in the middle of making the album, Jane decided she wanted to sing some of the songs, and she kind of flipped out when she was told no.

As I knew, the word "no" was a hard thing for any of us to hear. We were not told no that often, certainly not as much as we should have been. I understood Jane's problem. She was cute, full of personality, and she wrote some of our best songs; she had an ego just like anyone else, yet she stood off to the side, and it bugged the crap out of her - until finally she blew.

I suppose we could have talked it out, but that wasn't the way I handled problems. My way was to ignore them, to pretend they didn't exist. If I didn't confront Jane, she wouldn't confront me about any of my problems. And that's pretty much the way the Go-Go's functioned in general.

One day Jane just couldn't take it anymore. She smashed the mirror in her hotel room and flew back to the States. When she returned, she had decided to leave the band and pursue a solo career, though she kept that news from us for a few more months.
And if she kept that news from the other Go-Go's, she certainly kept that news from the public. Thus, as we look at all the various clips from 1984, we're treated to the spectacle of Jane Wiedlin dutifully pretending to still be excited about her role in the band while secretly loathing every remaining second of it. Here's a clip from a dressing room in Utica, NY, with Belinda in full Grace Jones mode and Jane holding enough grease in her hair to fry an omelette.

So if you're thinking that a Go-Go's without Jane wouldn't be any kind of Go-Go's at all, well, you would be right.

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