Q. Were the Go-Go's the epitome of '80s cool?

A. Are you joking? The Go-Go's were much too brash, much too girl gang to worry about fashion. They also had appalling taste. On the cover of 1984's horrendous Talk Show, they sported massive bows, ponytails, and (shudder) mullets. Their Greatest Hits sleeve is just as bad (what is it with that bowler hat?). On the cover of their brilliant 1981 debut, Beauty and the Beat, they wore face masks and towels (like they were just preparing for fame)! Vacation saw them in tutus and bathing caps, engaged in synchronized jet-skiing. Not exactly cool.

One listen to Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's, their uncageable mid-'90s retrospective compilation, though, will show you where the Go-Go's heart lies--in punk, in the tough street cool of '60s girl groups like the White Boots and the Shangri-La's. Not for them the vacuousness of middle-American shopping malls. They had too much spirit....

Q. Weren't the Go-Go's simply the Bangles with a more righteous beat?

A. Get outta here! The Bangles had "Walk Like an Egyptian" and the atrocious breakfast-show warmer "Manic Monday." (California rock never sounded so insipid.) The Go-Go's had "Our Lips Are Sealed" and the vicious, sarcastic humor of "Cool Jerk." The former were mid-morning AM radio fodder from beginning to end. The latter rocked, only becoming famous because a couple of them happened to look cute on the front of Rolling Stone. (They'd have been far too spunky and quicksilver for popular consumption, otherwise.) The Bangles were Kim Wilde, given a fresh sheen and Xeroxed four or five times. The Go-Go's were America's answer to the U.K.'s own proto-Riot Grrrls Dolly Mixture.

Q. Haven't the Go-Go's already reformed once to play a couple of shows in London in '95?

A. Yes, and great shows they were, too! Why? Because the Go-Go's were older, wiser, and able to enjoy themselves even more than before, mostly cuz they knew nobody approved and they couldn't give a fuck. Far better a reformed Go-Go's than Belinda Carlisle assaulting our ears with "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," though, or Jane Wiedlin's creditable stab at '90s alternative rock in Frosted. Watching the Go-Go's on stage in the '90s, you no longer felt closed in--you were transported into a fantasy world where bad haircuts and purple booties ruled. It was '81, no one cared about cool, and every other song on Radio 1 was "We Got the Beat." The Go-Go's second single was a three-minute explosion of light and color--the thrill of youth translated superbly into nonsensical lyrics. Fourteen years later, all that still mattered was how high you could paint blush on your cheekbones, and whether you still had enough energy left to dance all the way home.

One friend met Altered Images' Claire Grogan backstage at a Go-Go's concert, and held her hand for half an hour as he chatted with Belinda and Kathy. This, we felt--both then and now--has to be some sort of pinnacle of pop perfection.

Q. Which is the best Go-Go's album?

A. Depends on your definition of "best," of course--but if you're after sparky, lively, garage girl-group infatuation and oodles of huggable melodies, you can't go wrong with Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's, with all its punky live recordings. Then there's Beauty and the Beat, of course, with its beautifully clumsy welding of punk to radio-oriented pop on songs like "Automatic" and the rather naughty "Skidmarks on My Heart"--although some fans never quite forgave them for their remix of "We Got the Beat." Vacation is surprisingly good, too--and a handful of diehards really enjoy Jane Wiedlin's solo stuff, despite everything.

Q. Name Belinda Carlisle's first band.

A) Easy! The Germs, for whom she was the drummer. Not so hard to imagine when you stop and think about it....

Q. Any tour stories?

A. Just the famous one, where the girls would retire to their bunks on the tour bus and get their roadies to strip naked. They would then force the men one-by-one to run down the aisle between the beds, and through the use of touch alone, the girls would attempt to guess each member's identity. Fun!

Q. Didn't Kathy Valentine contribute to the new Blondie album, No Exit?

A. Yes--and the less said about that, the better.

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