J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sundance ’20: The Go-Go’s


Their admirers make much of their status as the only all-women band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs to have their debut album reach #1 on the charts.  Yet, that still understates their significance. You could easily argue the Go-Go’s were the most commercially successful band to emerge out of the American punk scene. Yes, they evolved into a pop group, leading to conflict within the band. Of course, drama is always inevitable for any band that has that much success and does that much drugs. The original band-members take stock of their music and legacy in Alison Eastwood’s The Go-Go’s, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

They really were punk kids, who decided to form a band, even though they couldn’t play very well, because that is so punk. However, they actually developed skills while playing rough & tumble punk venues. They caught on slowly with the legit punk scene, even managing to tour the UK, where they recorded a single for Stiff Records titled “We Got the Beat.”

Obviously, that tune caught on. It was such a perfect rock anthem, it almost sounds like a cliché now. Yet, they would also chart with hits like “My Lips are Sealed” and “Vacation,” which immediately summon sense memories of the early 1980s. Those were definitely pop songs, reflecting a change in the band’s direction and the departure (firing really) of the founding bassist.

With success came all kinds of partying, as well as tremendous pressure to keep producing. All of the Go-Go’s avoid talking about their private relationships, but they are quite forthcoming on the subjects of drugs, alcohol, and depression. They also candidly address issues of unequal compensation within the band and the ill-advised decision to dump their original manager in favor of corporate suits.

There is plenty of good “Inside the Music” stuff, especially when it comes to their hedonistic excesses. Nevertheless, the real appeal of Eastwood’s briskly paced doc is the powerful jolt of 1980s nostalgia. Even though they first formed in 1979, few bands better represent the vibe of early 1980s pop than the Go-Go’s. They also inspire wistful memories of early MTV, when it was actually about music.

Eastwood’s The Go-Go’s is highly entertaining, albeit often in a gossipy kind of way. It is also a potent reminder of how catchy their music was and still is. The film rightfully asks how they could possibly not be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by now. Regardless, Eighties nostalgia honestly never goes out of style—and this documentary offers it up like a big plate of pop culture comfort food. Highly recommended for fans of the band and 1980s music, The Go-Go’s screens again this morning (1/26) and Friday (1/31) in Park City and Saturday (2/1) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance.

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