Friday, July 11, 2014

There's No Replacing Jane Wiedlin (But The Go-Go's Tried Anyway)

Hey, sometimes it can work. The Rolling Stones replaced Brian Jones. The Velvet Underground replaced John Cale. Roxy Music replaced Brian Eno. The departure of a key founding member doesn't automatically mean a band is on its last legs, right? Right?? But most of the time ... yeah, it's over.

Creedence Clearwater Revival thought they could continue on without Tom Fogerty; they lasted one more album. R.E.M. thought they could continue on without Bill Berry; they lasted five more albums, but come on, does anybody really count those? Or you can be the Who and try to replace your dead drummer, but at that point they probably should have just started calling themselves "Pete Townshend and Friends."
Toward the end of the INXS tour, Jane informed us that she was leaving the group. She said she would stay through the tour's last stop in Texas in October, but then she was going out on her own. When asked why, she said that she'd simply had enough and needed to do her own thing. She had considered leaving before, she said, but stayed through this album and tour out of loyalty to the band.

I had plenty of sympathy for Jane, and I understood if she wanted to sing and write all the material on her own album. My big fear was the future of the Go-Go's, and likewise my future, which was tied to the band ... We'd been together for seven years. All of us had grown up and changed. We weren't kids anymore. Now we had lawyers and business managers ... From our very first two-and-a-half song gig at the Masque, I had performed every Go-Go's show with Jane standing to my left. They amounted to hundreds of shows and many times that number of rehearsals. I couldn't begin to recount all the times she had laughed, frowned, and cursed at me. She had always been there.
You could do it without her, Belinda! You were like Dumbo, and Jane was your magic feather. You didn't need her to fly.

It's quite impressive how well the band managed to hide the inner turmoil as they stumbled to the finish line. For example: this clip from The Tonight Show with guest host Joan Rivers (while introducing them she gushes, "my daughter Melissa's favorite group!"), where everybody comes off like Best Friends Forever (and yes, the Go-Go's are promoting an album named Talk Show on an actual talk show). Money quote from Rivers: "You're all so good looking, there's not one dog in the group!"

Meanwhile, the party continued unabated:
The Summer Olympics had started on July 28 and the city was filled with athletes and parties. The air crackled with electricity, especially at night. I attended a night of events and a party at the invitation of Tom Hintnaus, an Olympic pole vaulter who was more famous as a Calvin Klein underwear model ... We had a good time together and I liked hanging around the athletes. We played three shows at the Greek Theatre, and each night the front was filled with Olympians from different countries.
Or, as one of Belinda's friends put it, "Which country is she representing tonight?" Footage of the Greek Theatre concerts ended up being released as the Wild At The Greek home video, which is to Totally Go-Go's what Talk Show is to Beauty And The Beat: it may lack the rawness, energy, and distinctiveness of its predecessor, and is overall just smothered in a lot more '80s sauce, but it's still the Go-Go's and therefore it is beyond criticism. Belinda is captured here in her Zsa Zsa Gabor phase, wearing some sort of ruffled pink chiffon (?) top, and with her voice sounding like she just ate a peanut butter and gristle sandwich, it's fair to say that she's taking this concert less seriously than you are. Meanwhile, Jane is continuing to keep every Los Angeles store that sells hair gel in business, Charlotte is, from the looks of it, sporting the same brand of sleeveless sweatshirt that Eddie Murphy wears at the end of Beverly Hills Cop, Kathy just came back from the Cincinnati Bengals' souvenir shop, and Gina is dressed in a Trapper Keeper. Also, Charlotte's eyes are sockets of sheer junkie terror; stare at them too long, and you may lose your soul. The highlight would have to be the clip of "Vacation" where a stray beach ball finds its way onto the stage. Belinda thinks she's taken care of it, but when the menacing little beast returns and finds Kathy's noggin (around 1:05), the lead singer becomes temporarily impotent.

We played our last show together in San Antonio. A story headlined "Go-Go's to Go On" appeared the next day in the Los Angeles Times. Jane followed with a letter to fans that asked for "understanding about [her] departure." She called her years with the band the best in her life, adding, "The other girls have been great about it and I wish them all the future success and happiness in the world. I hope that we will all look at this as a positive step towards more good music for everyone."

I hoped so, too. But after we returned to Los Angeles and began talking with our management about replacing Jane and preparing for our next gig, a spot in January's massive, multiday Rock in Rio festival, I didn't know if it would be possible to carry on. I didn't know whether we could sell the new Go-Go's to the fans - or if we could sell it to ourselves.

Hmm, I wonder where she's going with this. The ultimate irony, of course, is that Jane Wiedlin, who actually played an instrument, wrote songs, and deliberately chose to go solo, didn't end up being nearly as successful as Belinda Carlisle, who played nothing, could barely write six lines of lyrics, and didn't even want to leave the Go-Go's! Ah, but if the story of Belinda Carlisle actually made any sense, then what fun would Adventures With Belinda Carlisle be?
... as we dealt with Jane's departure, Kathy, Gina, Charlotte and I decided that Kathy would switch from bass to guitar, her original instrument, and we would look for a new bassist. Word went out, and more than two hundred hopefuls applied for the job, including high school girls and moms. They sent in demo tapes, photos, letters, and videos telling us why they would make a perfect Go-Go.

We had a blast going through the material and watching the tapes. Some of the demos were downright awful, and others were hysterically funny; thinking back, they remind me of American Idol's early audition rounds. After rehearsing with the ten best, we brought back three or four finalists. One girl was patently wrong; with big, puffy lips and long legs, we joked she looked too much like a supermodel. Then there was Paula Jean Brown, who not only played well enough, she matched in every other way.

"She looks like she could be one of us," I said.

"She doesn't act like it," Kathy said, meaning Paula seemed like a straight arrow.

"Give her a couple of months," Gina added.

"Yeah, we'll corrupt her," Kathy said.
No Paula! Don't do it!!!


Billy Danford said...

Little Earl, I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed following your blog. I too, am a huge GoGo's fan from the beginning, and very much look forward to your take on their careers and their lives. I find myself reading with a smile and laughing at your insight of what i consider the best time for music and one of my favorite bands. Kudos to you sir, and keep those witticisms coming.

Little Earl said...

Why, kudos to you, blog reader! Glad you found it, considering I put about zero effort into marketing this thing. I am a huge Go-Go's fan from about ... four years ago. You say "from the beginning"? Like 1978? Of course, "Adventures With Belinda Carlisle" is only one weapon in my '80s arsenal, but it may be the most potent weapon. The series began back in January 2012, so feel free to read some of the earlier posts - but you may have figured that out already. It should also be apparent that the series is approaching the band's initial break-up, but you're welcome to stick around for the (arguably more hilarious) Belinda solo years. One has to space out the good stuff, you know.