“The Go-Go’s are the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever been a part of,” Belinda Carlisle once confessed.
In a span of three years, the Go-Go’s went from platinum selling, pop-punk revolutionaries to a group of unhinged girls who were physically, emotionally, and mentally bankrupt. It got to the point where performing live was no longer fun, and the thousands of shrieking fans were seen as a bunch of annoying groupies. What happened?
Number one, substance abuse (no shock there). And two, stardom hit these girls’ faces like a bucket of ice-cold water. One second, they were playing in grim basements and being spat at by angry crowds, and the next, they were filling arenas by the millions. Desperately gasping for air, Belinda, Charlotte, Jane, Kathy, and Gina struggled to make sense of it all.
Here’s the topsy-turvy, turbulent story of the Go-Go’s.
One summer day in the late 70s, Belinda Carlisle walked into a record store in Southern California and came across an album cover that was hard to turn away from–Iggy Pop’s Raw Power. Microphone in hand, metallic silver pants, and eyes painted black, Iggy looked like an extraterrestrial freak. And Carlisle loved it.
Through punk music, she discovered a world of satisfying anarchy. A world where you trash things for the sake of trashing, and the louder you were, the cooler you seemed. In 1976, Carlisle packed her bags and ditched her hometown in favor of Hollywood’s punk rock scene. There, she met Jane Wiedlin, and together they formed the most successful all-girl band of the ’80s.
“In the beginning, it started out as a fun thing just to be cool and meet boys,” Belinda told interviewers from Behind the Music. The girls randomly divided themselves into different roles and called themselves the Go-Go’s. Belinda was the lead singer, Jane opted for guitar and on the bass was Jane’s good friend, Margot Olavarria.
But there was one little problem–they had no idea how to play. Jane had no clue what chords were or how to tune a guitar. Margot was no better. And Belinda? Well, she tried hard not to sing off-key (even though she had no idea what singing on key even meant).
Luckily for the Go-Go’s, they had plenty of spunk and guts and drive that they somehow managed to book a gig despite sounding like an absolute train wreck. Their first show was at Hollywood’s notorious Masque Club–a hellhole of a basement with broken toilets that would flood the room every minute or so.
The Go-Go’s played three songs on stage that night, singing one of them twice in a row. The audience enjoyed the show, but not because they thought the girls were any good. They enjoyed laughing, spitting, and throwing drinks at them. The girls were mortified. But they weren’t willing to give up just yet.
In the fall of 1978, The Go-Go’s ran into guitarist Charlotte Caffey one night and asked her if she wanted to join their band. Without giving it a second thought, Charlotte shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?” She proved to be a valuable asset to the group. Not only did she play guitar well, but she also wrote her own material.
Together, the four girls rented a rundown apartment where they hosted blurry, boozy, smoke-filled parties. They spent long nights bonding over their love of boys and drinking. For a few good months, it seemed like everything revolved around getting laid and having a blast. Music wasn’t their first priority.
Driven drummer Gina Schock added a whole new dimension to the somewhat lazy, laid-back group of girls. Upon joining the band, she told the girls—who were rehearsing a few times a month–”Listen, you need to rehearse four or five times a week if you want to make this happen.”
With Gina on the drums, their sound began to improve immensely. So much so that their close friend Ginger Canzoneri offered to become their manager and help them land serious gigs. “I had faith in the band,” she told interviewers.
Before they knew it, in December 1979, they were the opening act for the English band Madness.
Madness loved the Go-Go’s so much that they asked the girls to join them on their tour across the UK Ecstatic and eager for the journey ahead, the girls boarded the plane and left the States behind. For the first time in their lives, they felt like true rock stars. Well, except for the fact that they were incredibly poor, lived off two pounds a day, and had to steal milk off people’s porches.
Oh, and they were booed, spat at, yelled at, and tormented during each one of their shows. The English looked down on them. Partly because they were girls. And partly because they were Americans.
After three months of what seemed like ever-escalating torture, the girls headed back to California. They told everyone that the trip was fantastic. Except it wasn’t.
The one good thing that came out of their trip to England that year was the single “We Got the Beat,” written by lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey and recorded in UK’s Stiff Records. It was definitely more pop than punk, but it worked. It became a hit in the LA dance scene.
As they moved closer to the mainstream, things with bassist Margot were starting to get rocky. She threw fits about their new pop sound and tried forcing them back into their punkish roots. But the Go-Go’s had the opportunity to become successful. And if that meant softening their sound a bit, so be it. By the end of 1980, they kicked Margot out of the band.
Margot’s replacement was Kathy Valentine, a high rocking talent who brought new energy and songs that the band could have never written on their own. Still, no matter how much they improved, no one wanted to sign them. Was it because they were girls? Could be.
After months of rejection, they were finally spotted by recruiters from the IRS record label. The label’s executives knew that the girls didn’t play very well. But they had bright energy, fun songs, and great hooks. That seemed to be enough to get them on board.
The Go-Go’s debut album, “Beauty and a Beat,” had a dreamy cover that showed the girls in towels wearing face masks. It was as if they were caught off guard at one of their sleepover parties, right before their regular pillow fight.
In reality, they were instructed not to move so as not to get the towels dirty. Their manager, Ginger, had to rush to Macy’s afterward to return them straight away.
The girls had such a tight budget that they couldn’t even afford towels for their cover album.
The Go-Go’s had to adapt to the audiences’ demands. Apparently, they didn’t want foul mouthed girls yelling at the mic. They wanted cute, bubbly, fun-loving darlings with pink tops and beaming smiles. And so, the girls delivered, even though behind the scenes, they were twisted, crazy addicts.
Publicly, they played it nice. But here and there, a video or a picture of the girls would surface showing them doing some naughty things like partying with sketchy crowds or drunkenly mumbling sexual comments to the camera.
Jane Wiedlin’s affair with married British rocker Terry Hall (of The Specials) resulted in the band’s breakthrough single and the opening track of their debut album. Terry sent Jane a letter from the UK, confessing his love and how much he missed her but, more importantly, he wrote her some of the lyrics to “Our Lips are Sealed.”
Jane was at her parents’ house when she received it. She stayed up all night humming the words through her cassette player. The following day, she took it to the studio, where it was given a proper pop polish. The single launched the Go-Go’s straight to the top of the charts.
By the spring of 1982, the Go-Go’s debut album had reached number one on the Hot Billboard, remaining there for six satisfying weeks. They sold millions of copies, earned a Grammy nomination, and their bank accounts had become significantly heftier.
And then, of course, the fame and fortune got to their heads. They had ascended to such dizzying heights at such an astonishing speed that by the time they reached the top, they were out of air. “The unbearable pressure of being rich and famous was just too much,” Jane recalled. So, they turned to drugs.
While all the girls were abusing substances and spending their evenings out and about, Charlotte Caffey grew more reclusive. She put on her best “normal” face for as long as she could, until she couldn’t any longer. She was a heroin addict, and it was getting harder and harder to hide it.
Every time Caffey would take a hit, her pupils would constrict, and to balance the effects out, she would take a line of blow to get her eyes to look normal again. The sad part about this is that the rest of the band members were way too distracted by their own affairs to notice.
Charlotte wasn’t the only one whose bad habits were spinning more and more out of control. Belinda Carlisle was spending about $300 a day on her cocaine habit. She even kept a shoebox full of it hidden in her closet. The drugs took over them as the months went by and began tearing the band apart little by little.
The Go-Go’s started as a unified sisterly group. It was them against the world. But once they made it to the top, they flushed all their hard work down the drain in favor of getting high. Not only did that ruin their music, but it ruined the initial bond that tied them all together.
As they got more famous, the group began to notice that there was one girl getting more attention than the rest–Belinda Carlisle. She was the lead singer, which meant that she was the face of the band for many. Girls like Jane and Charlotte, who put their sweat and tears into writing lyrics and composing tunes, felt like they were taken for granted and left in the shadows.
They grew resentful of Belinda, who was pretty oblivious to their feelings due to the constant state of high she was in. She didn’t have time or energy to hear her bandmates’ jealous rants. She had people to meet, men to date, and autographs to sign.
In mid-1982, the girls rushed back to the studio to record their second album, Vacation. Looking back, the members admit that it was a massive mistake. Instead of recording Vacation, they should have taken one. The band’s jealousy, alienation, and addictions crippled the creative process and left them with nothing.
Just listen to their second album. It’s clear that the girls didn’t put nearly enough thought into it as they did with their first. Even though they put on happy faces during the shooting of their joyous boat-surfing video, each one of them was battling her inner demons.
After the release of Vacation, manager Ginger Canzoneri threw in the towel and said goodbye. She had had had enough of the dysfunctional band. She tried bringing them back together several times, giving them the ultimatum–no drugs on tour. But they laughed in her face.
The girls were so out of it that it took them several weeks to realize Ginger had left. Once they did, they convinced themselves that it was for the best and that all the bad things happening to them were her fault anyway. But of course, they were wrong because without Ginger, things got way worse.
In the summer of 1982, the Go-Go’s were out touring for the second time, singing songs from Vacation all over the States. But this tour was an absolute mess. Not only did the girls hate each other by that point, but they hated the crowds too.
Too high to be grateful for their fans, all they thought about when they performed on stage was, “I can’t wait to get out of here so I can get drunk or laid or whatever.”
The concerts had become a one-sided affair. And by that point, the only thing the girls shared was their love of drugs.
Miraculously, amidst all that chaos, the girls managed to record a third album. But not without fights and arguments over who sang what. Jane decided to step up and asked to sing one of the songs she had written. Belinda refused. She was the lead singer, so it made no sense to let Jane do it.
But things really exploded when the girls found out that Charlotte and Jane were getting paid more for writing the songs. The rest of the band members called a meeting and demanded that they divide the funds equally. Jane was reluctant, and things got so ugly that she eventually took a step back and said, “I’m done.”
Jane Wiedlin was Charlotte’s songwriting soulmate. Without her, the band felt empty. And Charlotte was left to deal with it the only way she knew how. She abused more and more of the lethal substance. “I was in the grips of the devil,” she recalled.
She spiraled further into the abyss until she finally hit rock bottom. That’s when her moment of clarity happened, and she realized that if she didn’t pull herself together very soon, there wouldn’t be anyone to pull together anymore. In the winter of 1985, she checked herself into rehab and quit cold turkey.
Charlotte emerged from rehab after 28 days, clean and sober. And her brave actions inspired Belinda to do the same. But while both girls were finally getting better, their band wasn’t. Now that they were sober, they could see clearly how damaged things were.
They came to the quick conclusion that the Go-Go’s were damaged beyond repair and that there was no other choice but to quit. This obviously infuriated the other band members, who felt terribly betrayed. Kathy Valentine recalled thinking, “Man we put up with you for years. You and your drugs problems. And now you don’t have one, and you’re blowing us off.”
The Go-Go’s lasted for no more than three years. They went from being number one on the charts to hating the fans who placed them there. And once the band broke up, they went from being loving sisters to absolute strangers in an instant.
In the years to come, the girls married and gave birth. But none of them attended the other’s celebrations. Sadly, feelings of anger were still in the air, and none of the girls was willing to deal with it. They went years without talking to each other.
The aftermath of the band’s breakup wasn’t pretty. And the bitterness seemed to linger for years. In 1997, more than a decade after their split, Gina Schock sued the band after discovering that Charlotte Caffey was being paid royalties and keeping them all to herself.
In the lawsuit, the Gina alleged, among other claims, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud. She sought $100,000. Eventually, the issue was settled quietly, with the two bandmates signing an agreement not to discuss the case any further.
In 2012, the Go-Go’s hit the road together for a reunion tour in honor of the 30th anniversary of their album Vacation. But it wasn’t a full house because Kathy Valentine had to undergo surgery at the time for problems in her wrist. As it turns out, her injury set off a bad chain of events.
She sued the girls after they reduced her profit-sharing from 20% to 2%, costing her around $1 million. Kathy also sued them for conspiring to keep her away from another planned reunion tour in 2013. The girls eventually made up, and by 2018, Kathy joined them for more reunion performances.
Over the years, the girls kept making music separately. Jane released a few successful singles, and Gina wrote songs for other famous artists. But Belinda’s career took off more than the rest. Her number one hit, “Heaven on Earth” put her on the top of the charts and was the highlight in a parade of hits yet to come. “It’s great to not have the shadow of the Go-Go’s hanging over my head,” she told interviewers at the time.
But, once again, the pressures of being thrown into the spotlight took a toll on Belinda, who, now that she was cruising solo, had to cope with it on her own. She spiraled back into old habits, and after several years of trying to get better, she was dropped by her record label. “I was in a really bad place from age 40 to 47,” she told The Guardian.
In August of 2001, Belinda Carlisle, then 43 years old, stunned fans when she posed nude for Playboy. She said they had approached her several times in the past but she had refused because she felt like she had to have another reason to do it other than money.
Now that she was in her 40s, Belinda felt like posing nude could send a really good message to other women out there: “[That] you don’t have to be blonde, stick thin, and 20 years old to be sexually viable,” she explained.
In reality, the photoshoot wasn’t very empowering. It was completely airbrushed and didn’t do much to express the message she aimed for.
Belinda was paid $600,000 to show all.
Behind Belinda’s naked smile and confident façade, was a fragile, self-loathing woman. Sadly, Belinda felt like she had to starve herself and run for miles each morning so that she could be worthy of the public’s attention. And this went on for years, starting in the mid-’80s when she first went solo.
“During the Runaway Horses album period, around 1989, I had to look a certain way and be a certain way. My eating disorder was all part of the same things–eating, shopping, drugs, alcohol and sex. It’s all part of the same thing–filling that hole in the soul.”
Belinda’s eating disorders didn’t start when the Go-Go’s disbanded. Her rocky history with food goes way back when the girls were at the start of their journey. It seemed like whenever the media wrote about her, they always had to mention her weight. She was called “cute and chubby” and “pretty and plump.”
In her memoir, Lips Unsealed, she wrote that for as long as she could remember, she was haunted by her weight. Her family used to call her “fat and stupid,” so she grew up believing that being heavy meant being worthless.
For years, Belinda struggled with cycles of overeating and restricting. “If I did eat something wrong, I would be on the treadmill for hours and hours,” she told ABC news.
Belinda understood that filling that hole in her soul wasn’t going to happen through more rehab or pills. It had to be something alternative. Only something more wholesome could treat the roots of her problems.
Belinda sought refuge in India, where she discovered yoga. “Every time I go there, I become slightly altered for the better,” the singer shared. Thankfully, Belinda has been sober for years now. She doesn’t drink or smoke, and she does a lot of yoga.
Belinda hid her addictions from her husband Morgan Mason, whom she married back in 1986. She even managed to hide her drinking habits when she was pregnant with their son, James. Thankfully, James came out healthy and fine.
Not only that, but he’s extremely aware of his mom’s past troubles. “I brought him to meetings when I first got sober,” she revealed, “I took him to the 12 Step meetings so he could understand the nature of the illness. Because it is an illness.”
As far as new material goes, the Go-Gos aren’t releasing much stuff. They recorded a reunion LP back in 2001, and their most recent single, “Club Zero” in 2020. As for tours, they performed in 2011, 2012, and 2013. But not in 2010, as was intended.
Apparently, Jane suffered a serious injury that year, scrapping whatever plans they had. She was hiking near her home when she tumbled down a cliff. “I knew something was terribly wrong with my knees as I rolled down the mountain because there was a horrendously loud popping noise, like champagne being uncorked,” she recalled.
After 17 years apart, the Go-Go’s blessed their fans with an album they felt was blessed by God. “God Bless the Go-Go’s” was released in 2001 and received generally favorable reviews. Rolling Stone wrote: “The album doesn’t attempt to update the band’s sound with hip-hop moves or electronic frippery, for which God should bless ’em, indeed.”
Putting their music aside for a moment, what interested a lot of people wasn’t their sound as much as the album’s artwork. Several Catholic groups criticized the album’s cover that showed each girl as the Virgin Mary. In response, Carlisle noted, “Any sort of art shouldn’t be an issue. Art should not be censored. I don’t get that it’s controversial at all.”
Belinda moved to France in the 1990s with her husband and says it’s one of the “best things [they’ve] done, honestly.” It opened her up to a whole world of music and inspired her to create one of her most memorable albums to date–Voilà.
An ode to romance, beauty, and life, Voilà is full of moving lyrics sung in French. As for language barriers, Carlisle assured that one doesn’t need to understand the words to know that, for instance, “Avec le Temps” is a devastating love song.
While Gina didn’t release her own record, she certainly didn’t put her music aspirations behind her. Drumming is in her blood, and Go-Go’s or not, she will always enjoy creating music. Over the years, she has co-written songs for two major artists–Selena and Miley.
Miley Cyrus’s tween poppy song, Breakout, as well as Selena’s fun hits Crush and Kiss & Tell are all the workings of Gina. The former Go-Go has also collaborated with Alanis Morrissette, Little Richard, A-Ha, and Carrie Wilson. Looks like Gina can rock, punk, pop, and country all the same.
At the turn of the century, Jane released her album, Kissproof World, a record full of personal songs talking about love, life, religion, and everything in between. Her favorite song on the album is “Icicle,” a song about “someone using numbness as a way to protect themselves.”
Jane wrote the song about herself, admitting that for the longest time, she abused everything in arm’s reach to avoid feeling anxious or sad. “It was about me. But I think a lot of people do it, so I was hoping it would be universal,” she explained.
Nearly two decades after the band split, Kathy Valentine released her beautifully written memoir, All I Ever Wanted. It climbed all the way to number one on Amazon’s Rock Biography chart and was praised by musicians and fans worldwide.
Writing the memoir was a healing experience and a perfect closure to an unforgettable period in her life. She delved into life pre-Go-Go’s, during, and post-Go-Go’s. “I don’t think any of my readers would really get how important this band was to me, or how devastated I was at losing it, if they didn’t understand where I came from and how profound it was all for me,” she said when discussing her writing process.
Directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, the Go-Go’s docufilm is an eye-opening journey into the lives of this groundbreaking band. Let us remind you, The Go-Go’s were the first-ever all-girl band to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and make it to number one on the charts.
The documentary received great reviews and fans were elated to get a closer look into the formation of this memorable group.
Variety wrote of the film: “[It] captures how a band like the Go-Go’s, in the midst of making some timeless songs, changed the pop firmament even more than we knew at the time.”
As the Go-Go’s began working on their third album, Charlotte realized she couldn’t move some of her fingers on her left hand. After a thorough inspection, doctors informed her that years of playing guitar strenuously led to a condition called carpal tunnel syndrome, which is basically an inflammation around the wrist.
“It was supposed to last two weeks,” the guitarist told Rolling Stone, “and it went on for four months.” The girls began resenting her for not showing up to practice. Things got so tense that her wrist issues nearly broke them up.
Charlotte wasn’t the only band member with medical issues. During the same time as Charlotte’s wrist problems, Gina went to the doctor for a routine checkup and discovered something worrying. Tests revealed that she had a tiny hole in her heart.
It was determined a birth defect and wasn’t treated as anything too serious, for the time being. The drummer was told that if she left it untreated it might cause her some problems along the way.
Despite the band’s differences at the time, they all came together once they found out about Gina’s heart condition.