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'The Go-Go's' Documentary Offers A Look At The All-Female Band's Journey To Stardom

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Go-Go's are widely considered the most successful all-female rock group in history. And they're the only all-female band that wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to have a chart-topping album. That was their debut, "Beauty And The Beat," released in 1981. Now they are the subjects of a new documentary called "The Go-Go's."

When I spoke with The Go-Go's' guitarist Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock, I asked them about the band's duality - their punk roots and their later image as America's sweethearts. Just a note - this conversation does have some pretty punk rock language in it.

CHARLOTTE CAFFEY: Well, there's many sides to all of us, and there's many sides to this band. And we started out in the punk rock scene in Hollywood, 1978. And the one continuous thread through this entire 40 plus years is our little saying - you can take the girl out of the punk, but you can't take the punk out of the girl.

CHANG: (Laughter).

CAFFEY: Gina, go ahead.

GINA SCHOCK: Charlotte, yeah, you said everything I was thinking. We're, you know, 60-year-old punks (laughter). But no, at the heart of things, that's where we come from.

CHANG: Yeah.

CAFFEY: The shiny, happy part, you know, America's sweethearts, that was what the media called us.

SCHOCK: Yeah, that was kind of fabricated.

CAFFEY: And we were always like, yeah, America's sweethearts from hell.

CHANG: (Laughter).

CAFFEY: But we're all really smart. We're really funny, focused, and we put on a great live show.

SCHOCK: Yeah. I mean, it's explosive when you put the five of us together.

CHANG: So you guys got to tour England with The Specials and Madness, and that is where you found yourselves playing in front of a bunch of white nationalists. These guys would say disgusting things to you. And you say it only made you more belligerent, which I loved. Can you just tell me what that was like, performing for people like that?

SCHOCK: It was scary. And a lot of times, we'd come off stage and just be in tears. I'm sitting in the back, so I was just getting - having bottles whizzing by my head. And they were spitting all over everybody, and - show us your (expletive) - just horrible, rude things.

CHANG: Yeah.

SCHOCK: You know, you can only get beat up so much. And then you turn it around, and you're like, OK, we're not taking this anymore. We'd come out on stage, and we would kick ass. It toughened us up. It made us way better musicians. We got way tighter. And after we did that, we were kind of ready for anything.

CHANG: Yeah. So as you guys were becoming more and more well-known, you started veering away from punk and more into pop. And I'm wondering - how did that feel? Like, did it feel that that was more about you guys choosing to go there or the industry choosing for you?

SCHOCK: First of all, The Go-Go's have always had pop melodies, OK? And the punk aspect was just at the root of it. But look at the other folks that do it - we were talking about this the other day - like Green Day, you know?

CAFFEY: Buzzcocks.

SCHOCK: Yeah, and the Buzzcocks - same sort of thing. We were both of those things.

CHANG: But did you feel that evolution was more about you guys choosing that or...

CAFFEY: Oh, yeah.

CHANG: ...There was industry pressure to sound more and more a certain way?

SCHOCK: We didn't care.

CAFFEY: Never listen to the industry - never.

SCHOCK: Never.

CAFFEY: What happened was - the way this came down - early on in the Go-Go's, there were these more kind of like punky songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TONITE")

THE GO-GO'S: (Singing) The street lights are shining bright. The billboards are shedding their light.

CAFFEY: And then one day I brought in a song. And I was like, man, they're going to, like, kick me out, or they're going to love it. And it was "How Much More," which is off the first record. And it was very melodic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW MUCH MORE")

THE GO-GO'S: (Singing) Every night I see you walk - walking by, walking by.

SCHOCK: But, Charlotte, it wasn't - you didn't consciously do this. This was just the evolution of your songwriting and your playing.

CAFFEY: Oh, everything we did was completely organic - from the way we looked to the way we sounded, the way we played - everything.

CHANG: That's so cool. Well, let's talk about the breakup. I mean, there are so many stories people tell about why you guys broke up as a band, like money, creative differences, addiction. And when you look back - I guess I just want to hear it from you guys. Tell me your version. What happened? Why did the Go-Go's break up?

CAFFEY: We might have two different versions. But go ahead, Gina.

SCHOCK: Yeah. At the forefront for me was the publishing issue, which, you know, went into our management office one day. And our manager at the time pulled the check out, threw it on the desk - and it was this large amount of money - and said to me, you see what Charlotte makes compared to you? Because she's a songwriter. And I just went crazy. I lost my mind. And, you know, I certainly understand the value of songwriting, but I just - you know, I felt that if this had been explained to all of us early on, things might have been a little different. They might've worked out a little differently.

CAFFEY: And we know better now after all these years that the five of us is the magic combination.

CHANG: Yeah.

CAFFEY: But, you know, it really, really for me came down to the fact that I didn't think I could stay sober. I was very nervous about getting stressed out and picking up drugs. And I just couldn't see me existing. So that was the bottom line for me.

CHANG: You know, something that you guys say in this film is that being in a band together all those years gave you the chance to become best friends but also worst enemies sometimes. And I'm curious - as this film was coming together, did it help you guys heal a little, forgive each other?

SCHOCK: Absolutely. We have gone through a lot of stuff, and here we are over 40 years later. Ailsa, we are family. It's just the way it is.

CHANG: I want to talk finally about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: ...Because how can we not talk about this? How surprised or how offended are you that The Go-Go's still have not been inducted?

CAFFEY: Well, we've all gone through the gamut of emotions about this. And we're - like, I'm kind of burned out on it. Look; being in this band, of course it would be great, yeah. But, I mean, I don't live and breathe every minute of every day thinking like, oh, my God. We have to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, you know, I've got a life. We all have lives.

CHANG: I mean, it is tremendous what The Go-Go's did - the first and only all-women band ever to have a No. 1 album where you wrote the songs yourselves, you played the instruments yourselves. Do you have any advice for women coming after The Go-Go's on how they can achieve a distinction like yours?

CAFFEY: To all musicians - forget gender - to all musicians, it's about - do what makes you happy. Just go for it, you know? We had many obstacles against us, those dumb-ass record execs. Like, we can't sign you because you're girls, and we've never done - you know, it's just like, come on. And it's just - if you believe in yourself, you believe in what you're doing, keep going.

SCHOCK: Also, because there's going to be, as was for us, there's going to be a million rejections, you know? I mean, all the record companies said no, you know, say 10 record companies, whatever. But one said yes, and it took only one to make The Go-Go's happened.

CAFFEY: That's right.

SCHOCK: You only need one yes, and then you shine.

CHANG: That's a metaphor for life. Charlotte Caffey and Gina Schock of The Go-Go's - the new documentary about their band's story is called "The Go-Go's," and it is out tomorrow on Showtime. Thank you both so much for spending this time with me. I so enjoyed this.

CAFFEY: Bye.

SCHOCK: Thank you.

CAFFEY: Thank you, Ailsa.

SCHOCK: This has been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VACATION")

THE GO-GO'S: (Singing) Vacation, all I ever wanted. Vacation, had to get away. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.