Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Kathy Valentine Book | Lefsetz Letter

All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Memoir

She got pregnant at twelve.

Do all artists come from a fucked-up background? After all, if you’re loved and complete, what do you have to bitch about?

Plenty, but not as much as the broken people.

Kathy Valentine drank and drugged with her single mother, who established absolutely no limits. Valentine says kids are looking for limits, I don’t know, because I can still remember my father screaming at the top of his lungs, insisting I behave in one way or another.

And then she was bitten by rock and roll.

You remember the people who were bitten by tech, right? The ones who moved to San Francisco, the ones who started developing apps? Very few made it,

But a few did.

Same deal with rock and roll and Kathy Valentine.

The boomers’ past is fading in the rearview mirror, and being rewritten by those who either were not there or would rather erase the battles and freedoms won in that era. There was a complete upheaval, the young ‘uns against the establishment, and the establishment had no clue, all it could employ to combat the youth was scolding and in extreme cases the police.

And what fueled that upheaval?


People always say the turning point was the Beatles, and that definitely was a significant event, but you should never forget the impact of the folk movement that preceded it. After all, that’s where Bob Dylan got his start, that’s where he became famous first.

And you didn’t have to go to Newport. If you went to camp, those folk songs were sung. And they were inherently different from what was on the hit parade, they were not mindless drivel, they had subterfuge built in.

And then the Beatles came along and all hell broke loose.

There’s a music business now, but it’s nothing like it was back then. As a matter of fact, today’s music business resembles the pre-Beatle era more than it does the post-Beatle era. People didn’t froth at the mouth if you worked in the music business, you could get a gig at a record store no problem, and then the entire world flip-flopped. Getting a gig at Tower Sunset was akin to getting into Harvard, maybe even better, you made better connections. You dreamed of working at a record label! I don’t think that tops the dreams of today’s kids.

So, Valentine is bitten by the bug. Only the lightbulb went off for her seeing Suzi Quatro on TV, not the Beatles.

Quatro never really made it in America. She ultimately appeared on “Happy Days,” but that show had no edge, none of the thump of her bass or the intensity of her records.

And Kathy Valentine wanted to follow in Suzi Quatro’s footsteps.

She got a guitar, and a lame Peavey amp that she regretted buying nearly immediately.

And then she infiltrated the scene.

That’s another thing that’s different, you couldn’t hook up on the internet, that’s why everybody went to New York or L.A…that’s where the players were!

But living in Austin, Valentine got to see and meet all that city’s royalty, she knew Stevie Ray when he said his brother Jimmie had more licks than he did, when he just got on stage and played everything he knew.

So, Valentine and Carla Olson got together in L.A.

Well, Valentine moved there with their drummer, her best friend Marilyn, who immediately ditched Kathy because she wasn’t old enough to get into the clubs.

So, Valentine and Olson formed the Textones and…

Olson never made it.

If you lived through the era, all the names and locations are familiar. They may seem glitzy from afar, but Club 88 was a dump far off the beaten path. A scene was building, but no one broke through until the Knack, and most of the bands did not get record deals and those who did tended not to make it. You couldn’t turn on KROQ without hearing the Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away,” but that was the only place you heard it, until it was ultimately featured in the movie “Valley Girl.” There was a scene, with famous players, who even got a ton of local ink, like Olson, but they never broke out of the city, they kept their day jobs.

So Valentine lucks into a gig with the Go-Go’s, she’s a better player than the girl she replaces, and she gets the gig and goes on a wild ride until it ends.

Oh, she’s drinkin’ and druggin’ and fuckin’ and then…BOOM! The brand breaks up.

In hindsight she places blame on the manager(s), and the way the band mishandled some of their own decisions.

Bands are always ungrateful. They’ll leave a manager on a whim. They always think they can make it without the manager, but the truth is they never do. Ginger Canzoneri was inexperienced, but she got the band where they were.

As for Valentine?

The Go-Go’s had no loyalty to her, she came late, just before the breakthrough, she did not fight in the trenches with them, with only one goal, to make it, and a million minefields in their way.

Which is why supergroups never seem to last. The bands did not grow up together, ride in vans together, schlepp their own equipment together.

But it was a different era.

The Go-Go’s told their label IRS they did not want a third single from their album and they nixed endorsement deals. Can you imagine that happening today? NO WAY!

Actually, money was not a factor until the checks came in, and then it was clear the songwriters were making much more. And when you split your other income five ways…that makes a difference.

Maybe the band never recovered from that.

Maybe the band never recovered from nixing Jane Wiedlin’s desire to sing her own song.

Bands are not corporations. Well, maybe they’re incorporated, but you can’t learn how to build one by getting an MBA. And you can’t learn how to form and break one in any school music program. Every band is different, and there are a lot of great bands that don’t make it. First and foremost, can the band stay together? And if it does…who is the champion, who gets the band notice, and who writes the songs…oftentimes they’re different people. The introvert writes the songs and the extroverts break the band. Can you say Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth? And the resentments run deep. And luck is always a factor. And usually, the only people who can get excited about you have no music business experience.

It was very different from today. Now the label will sign an act for a single, hope to make its entire investment back on that. But in the old days, signing a band was a commitment, of money, time and effort, you didn’t do it on a whim.

And even if you got signed… Did the record come out right? Is your champion still at the label? Did MTV and radio change formats, leaving you out?

The Go-Go’s blew up as a result of MTV.

Today MTV is meaningless.

And today kids are smart. There are two types:

1. Those who know the score.

2. The ignorant who will do anything to make it and most times won’t.

No one worried about their future back then, they didn’t graduate from college and get a gig from a recruiter. I kid you not when I tell you that when I graduated from college, I had no idea what an MBA was! And studying and going into business? What could be more boring!

Which is another reason why MBAs have not been successful in the music business. When asked by the Warner Music brass how he planned to have better numbers the next year, Ahmet Ertegun didn’t make a spreadsheet, never mind a PowerPoint presentation, he said…HAVE MORE HITS!

You fly by the seat of your pants in the music business.

It’s a game of musical chairs, and Kathy Valentine got left out. She didn’t really make that much money, a pittance compared to the techies, and then she blew it. You would have saved, but you could never have been a rock star!

So this book is different from every rock autobiography I’ve ever read.

Usually, they’re ghostwritten, or done with a collaborator. And usually, they’re just a recitation of the facts, with some wild stories mixed in. They’re little different from an episode of “Behind the Music.”

But you can be sure Kathy Valentine wrote this book herself.

Overwrote in fact. She includes too many descriptors and allusions, they’re well-done, but they detract from the narrative, a little anyway. You see this is her first book, and experience counts. You’ve got to write for the audience, not the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the book must first and foremost be readable.

But Valentine is aiming much higher than the rest of the rock biographies. This isn’t one and done, just the first journey on a road of writing.

And writing is a skill. And she’s definitely got something.

So, this is not like Linda Ronstadt’s book, there’s plenty of dirt, even if that’s not the focus.

And it’s not tied into a bigger promotion.

It’s just Kathy Valentine’s story.

Now I don’t know her, and I’m still not sure I know her after this book. Was she the wild chick who alienated people or the glue that kept things together, or did she have to get sober to become complete?

Now let’s be clear, Valentine is more forthcoming than most musicians. Oh, they’ll tell you about their bad behavior and how they’re clean now, but you don’t get much of their inner life.

I’ve still got questions.

Valentine does an excellent job of describing how it feels to be left out. Caffey ties up with Carlisle and they have great success and great incomes, and Wiedlin has a hit and Schock gets a deal with Capitol. One day you’re on top of the world, the next you’re a has-been, not a complete unknown, but definitely a rolling stone. How do you cope with that?

Well, Kathy Valentine got sober. She even went back to college and got her degree, something almost unheard of from those who’ve had success. She still plays in bands, but her glory days, and her big income, are behind her.

And now, the Go-Go’s are living on their legend, none of them can have a hit, as a matter of fact, the hits of the others dried up pretty fast. So, there are a couple of years of success and then everybody runs on fumes, sometimes for the rest of their lives, which is sad. At least Valentine seems to have broken the mold on this.

But what really makes “All I Ever Wanted” interesting, is it’s the viewpoint of a girl/woman, how she wanted to be in rock and roll, which was dominated by men, and found a way to succeed. We hear all about sexism in the business, but rarely through the eyes of those who made it.

The road is like a pajama party with drugs and alcohol, this is not the male world of groupies.

But they’re women, so they’re hit on, they can’t live normal lives, they have to be on guard all the time, this is what the Me Too movement is all about. The basic is…CAN WOMEN FEEL SAFE AROUND MEN?

Many times no.

But Kathy Valentine tested the limits. She hitchhiked, she wasn’t afraid of the world, she did not know any better, she ran on instinct, being in a rock band was all she ever wanted, she lived her dream.

But dreams never last.


No comments: