Kathy Valentine was the bassist of one of the greatest bands of the 1980s. The Go-Gos reached unparalleled heights with chart-topping songs now legendary. Valentine’s memoir paints a picture—through sex, drugs, and rock and roll—of her high and lows that gave her an unforgettable career in rock.
All I Ever Wanted: A Rock and Roll Memoir
By Kathy Valentine
University of Texas Press
Los Angeles has always been a turbulent place filled with the push and pull of human drive and strange destiny. We have felt it with the jangle pop antics of The Byrds or the hunger-driven and ultimate destruction of Jim Morrison. And as much as bands like X or L7 pushed against the status quo like punk rock dust devils stirring up counter culture cyclones, Los Angeles was as much a part of their psyche as the city itself still shapes music for our culture. And embedded within the city’s history was one of the greatest bands of the 1980s.
Kathy Valentine was in the right place at the right time, even though that place was the bathroom at the Whiskey A Go-Go, drenched by the sounds of X performing in the other room. She did not have to experience group struggle; her individual struggle and hunger began years before. Los Angeles already knew of The Go-Gos. It took filling in for original bassist Margot Olavarria with an instrument that was not even her specialty (she was a guitarist first and foremost). But when she picked up a bass guitar, her life would forever change.
All I Ever Wanted is a book Valentine felt she had to write. Through the definition of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, this memoir of personal stories help shape the overall mantra of this legendary band. And any rock and pop fan should feel obligated to indulge in Valentine’s painfully honest and open-faced highs and lows. The way Valentine humanistically pulls the reader in is engaging. Not needing to spend pages on filler, each story grips on to us with exactly what we want by someone who is bravely willing to spill her guts on the printed page. Her youth as an outcast becomes our youth as we bring in things from our own experience to enrich her story. We understand her fragility. We are sucked into teenage uncertainty and angst. Each chapter is an equal contender into what would shape Valentine as an adult, a famous musician, and a strong female role model.
From the moment she picked up the guitar for the first time in the hippy commune/Montessori-like high school she attended to the equivalent of a religious experience discovering The Stones, Led Zeppelin’s IV, and Suzi Quattro, music became the only stable in her life. From the Austin music scene to the London punk scene and back to Austin for punk and new wave to explode, all of this pointed in one direction—Los Angeles. And through continued struggle and determination, her wish came true, “to be in the best all-female band ever.” By the time she became a Go-Go, she had lived three lives and then some.
But the story does not end there. All I Ever Wanted gives perspective of life as a Go-Go and their success. The recollections of the band at their height are campfire tales of adrenaline and social wildfires. Saying “no” was never in the band’s vocabulary, and as the stories pile on top of each other, emotions and reactions fly.
Being in The Go-Gos had its blessing and curse because when the ride was over, it took its toll on Valentine. The fun was over. The light of decadence had faded out. Yet the aftermath is just as gripping, humanistic, and empowering as any other period in her life.
The pulse of this memoir is like a freight train fueled by rock and roll. Valentine had an uncontrolled need to write this book as her life has taken an uncontrolled gravitational pull to being a rock star. Through the tumultuous times, rock and roll was her life preserver. We have an obligation to indulge in this story, and I feel like a better person for it.