The Go-Go’s were a pop/new wave band that was huge in the 1980s. They were the first band made up of all women who wrote and performed their own songs to get a number one record—and still are the only band to get that title. This 2020 documentary starts with their humble punk beginnings, to playing stadiums, their break-up, and ending with their eventual reformation in a fast-paced hour and thirty-eight minutes.
All the members and ex-members are present, including Margot Olavarria, the bass player who quit the band because they stopped playing punk songs. Members of the Go-Go’s had no intention of sticking to the punk clubs and turning away major tours. Drummer Gina Schock was ready to sign that major label contract on day one. Since the beginning of the Go-Go’s they were driven by the idea of playing for millions of people. But the filmmakers and the band themselves want you to know their roots are in the L.A. punk scene.
Despite that personal judgmental point of view, this movie is very fun and full of amazing stories about four unapologetic coked-up women touring the world. Cocaine is almost like a running joke in the documentary. One of my favorite quotes from the film is from Schock referencing the Rock in Rio Festival— “Charlotte (guitar) was so out of control that Ozzy Osbourne threw her out of his dressing room. And that’s pretty fucking bad.” (Don’t do coke, kids.)
A big gripe I have with the movie is the constant rhetoric that the Go-Go’s were a very popular all-women band who wrote their own songs. But other than Kathleen Hannah, you don’t see or hear from other women in bands. For example, there is an arc about how the band went on tour with the Specials and Madness. Members of both the Specials and Madness talk about how the Go-Go’s were rocking every venue and the audience couldn’t believe they were girls. The Bodysnatchers, a seven-piece, all women ska band were also on that 1980 tour. And other than seeing a glimpse of the band name on a flier, they are never interviewed or mentioned.
And a minor annoyance I have is with the archived footage has some very out of place sound effect overdubs. Including spitting sound effects. It’s very off-putting.
I walked away from this documentary having more respect for The Go-Go’s music and I’ve had songs stuck in my head for several days. However, I now have a strong dislike for Belinda Carlisle due to her constant selfishness and throwing band members under the bus or to the curb. Like most huge rock bands, money was a big issue and why Jane Wiedlin quit the band. The Go-Go’s discuss their experiences in the band as toxic and as Wiedlin puts it, “We’re like sisters. Sisters who are constantly stabbing each other in the back.”
Despite my complaints, it’s a good time and worth signing up for a free Showtime trial just to watch. It’s a nice way of seeing how money, ego, and fame can fuck up a friendship—and how losing all of that can rekindle one. It may be the funniest music documentary I have ever seen. And everything Jane Wiedlin says is amazing. Including this bit from one of the band’s 2018 practice sessions, “My god, do we have the mother fucking beat!” –Rick V. (Showtime)