Vacation Reads: Two Go-Go’s Books
As you might imagine, I read a lot of rock bIographies. One of my recent favorites is All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ’n’ Roll Memoir by Go-Go’s bassist/guitarist, Kathy Valentine. It’s a compelling read from the first couple of pages, especially in the chapters dealing with Valentine’s wild childhood in Texas. There was a lot of ink spilled over Flea’s 2019 coming-of-age book, Acid For Children, but I think Valentine gives him a run for his money in the street cred department. Together, those two autobiographies offer a confessional glimpse at the kinds of colorful personalities that populated the LA punk/new wave scene in the early-/mid-1980s. (I would also add John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s tremendous oral history, Under The Big Black Sun, to that list).
Valentine’s account of her tenure with the Go-Go’s is solid—starting with her replacing original bassist and founding member, Margot Olavarria, prior to the band’s meteoric rise—but I found her pre-Go-Go’s musical exploits (Violators, Painted Lady, Textones) more interesting. There’s always something really entertaining and endearing about punk rock underdog stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Go-Go’s are great, but it’s a familiar story by now, complete with all the sex, drugs, infighting and disillusionment that often seem to come along with rock stardom (maybe I read too many rock memoirs). I was much more interested to read about the writing and recording of Beauty and the Beat and Vacation. In particular, I was fascinated to find out that the song “Vacation” was originally written by Valentine and recorded by The Textones.
That “Vacation” factoid caught my attention because I wrote a short story based on “Vacation” for the crime fiction anthology, Murder-A-Go-Go’s. It was curated by Holly West and features a foreword by Go-Go’s guitarist, Jane Wiedlin. The collection includes dark, song-based tales spanning the band’s career, including “Our Lips Are Sealed” by Lori Rader-Day, “This Town” by Greg Herren, “Head Over Heels” by Craig Faustus Buck and “Unforgiven” by Hilary Davidson—among many other killer contributions.
Inspired by Valentine’s book (it’s great—you really should read it), I decided to share my full short story, “Vacation,” with you here. I took some liberties with both the song and the concept of crime fiction, but I was pretty happy with the results. Hope you dig it.
By S.W. Lauden
The alarm is wailing again, just like every other morning. I was already awake when it started, flipping through this notebook to remember what I wrote last night. I must have been exhausted because I only filled three pages. My handwriting looks like the work of a lunatic toddler, so messy in some places that I can’t figure out what it says. Safe to say the pills they force down my throat are screwing with me. But I have to admit the voices are quieter — not gone, but not screaming either. Not like that goddamned alarm. That beep-beep-beeping makes me want to murder somebody.
My roomie just hit the snooze button, delaying the inevitable. It’s amazing how some people can go right back to sleep, even when they know the attendants are coming to herd us off. I don’t think we’ve said more than a few words to each other since I came in, which is fine. Nobody talks to me much in this place, not unless it’s their job. I’d be surprised if half the bullshit I spew to my doctor is true.
These pages are the only place where I can be totally honest, because I’m the only one who knows they exist for now. Those fuckers wish they could bore their way into my private thoughts, but I’m too smart for them. The words I write in here are for our eyes only. I can’t wait to share them with you, but that has to wait until I earn my mail privileges back.
Speaking of the fuckers, here they are now. Time to hide you away until after lunch. Right now I have to go see a specialist they brought in just for me. Should I feel special? I already met with him yesterday, one of the worst hours of my life. My regular doctor was there too, but she didn’t say a word to me after ‘hello.’ Just leaned over to whisper in the specialist’s ear every once in a while. He’s an asshole, but it’s nice to have somebody else I can lie to for a change.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
The forced smile looks wrong on his pasty potato face.
“I took a pretty good shit a few minutes ago. Still holding onto that memory.” Not sure what notes he could possibly write in response to that, but he does it anyway. He’s always writing when we’re together.
“Before you came to stay here. What do you remember about your family?”
I feel him circling, trying to get me to talk about you.
“Nothing. It’s all a blur.”
“That’s what you keep saying, but I think your mind is trying to protect you from something.”
“My memory’s shot because of all these goddamned pills you’re feeding me.”
His face flushes red, but his tone is even. It’s far too easy to get under his skin. “I’m not feeding you anything. We’re just having a conversation. Same as yesterday.”
I bare my teeth, less of a smile and more of a threat. My regular doctor leans in to whisper in his ear. The specialist mutters ‘okay,’ shifting from frustration to empathy in the blink of an eye.
“Let’s talk about something else…”
I say nothing. We’re done for the day as far as I’m concerned.
Did you see the sky today? The way the white clouds hung from all that electric blue? They let me out to get some fresh air and I thought about you. I’m not even sure what day it is, but I could imagine you looking up at the same time. You always knew how to appreciate little things like that. Remember how you used to push me on the swing at the park? I went so high I thought I‘d touch the sun.
I’m tempted to close my eyes and imagine that warmth on my face again, but my roomie’s always watching what I do. Making mental notes of my every move. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put us together so they’d have somebody to spy on me.
Whatever. It’s none of their fucking business, but I won’t bring it up. No way I’ll give any of them the satisfaction of knowing I noticed. Because the truth is I notice everything. I notice how the others keep their distance from me in the lunchroom. The way this specialist keeps asking about my memories, slipping in little comments and questions about them when he thinks I’m not paying attention. And I definitely notice how easy it would be to snap my roomie’s neck in the middle of the night, before that fucking alarm starts going off again.
I’d do it too, if it wouldn’t keep us apart longer. I can’t wait to get out of this place and escape with you. Maybe we can finally go to that lake you told me about. The one you went to when you were a kid. We could go out in a boat and you could teach me how to waterski, just like in the pictures you showed me.
But for now, I have to get through another meeting with this specialist.
“Let’s try talking about something else. Maybe that will shake a few memories loose. Are you a baseball fan?”
My mind floods with unwanted images. I see the tip of a bat pushing the shower curtain back to reveal a man. His muffled sobs sound wet and desperate from under the plastic bag duct taped around his head. I’m still trying to make sense of the situation when everything speeds up. The meat of the bat comes down hard on the man’s skull again and again. The plastic bag splits and blood splatters the filmy white walls of the bathtub.
“I’ve got nothing. Sorry.”
My doctor leans forward, but the specialist ignores her. “I used to love the sound of a cracking bat. My old man took me to a lot of games as a kid. How about you? Did your dad ever take you out to see a ball game?”
“My dad was too busy taking care of my mom. She was twice his size, but he hauled her drunk ass from the couch to the bed almost every night. Not that she gave a crap where she woke up. We were trapped in that crappy house because of her. I barely even made it to school most days.”
The words taste funny in my throat, but I don’t think he notices.
“So I take it your family didn’t go on a lot of vacations.”
I laugh out loud at that one. “My old man always promised to take me places, but there was never enough money or time. It honestly felt like a vacation whenever my mom was passed out long enough that I could get some peace and quiet. But none of that matters now. It’s all ancient history.”
“You never know what matters until you get it out in the open.” He’s still scribbling on that pad of his when he fires off the next question. “Do you know where your mom is now?”
That stops him in his tracks. My doctor puts a hand on his shoulder, but he brushes her off. He studies me with squinty eyes.
“Sorry to hear that. When did she…pass?”
“Years ago. When I was ten or eleven, something like that. And don’t be sorry. Might have been the happiest day of my life. She was a nasty drunk.”
He clears his throat and pinches his lips. “Do you still hear from your father?”
“Not recently. No.”
“When was the last time?”
“A year ago, maybe? Hard to be sure with all this poison in my bloodstream.”
He puts his pad on the table face down. I want to know what he wrote so badly that I can almost taste it. Makes me understand why they’re always trying to read my notes to you.
“We’re out of time for today, but I want you to think about what we discussed. See if you can remember anything else from before you got here.”
“Think about the last conversation you had with your father. Try to remember what he said to you and where you were.”
The specialist wants me to think about you. He doesn’t realize that I stay awake almost every night writing these letters. They want to know about our relationship, but I won’t let them inside my head. Those are our special memories and nobody gets to share them with us.
“Turn that fucking alarm off!”
I’m standing over my roomie’s bunk, screaming at the top of my lungs. I’ve been awake all night writing to you again. Maybe that’s why the alarm has me so worked up this morning. “You hear me? Turn it off or I’ll crush the thing, and you too! It’s impossible to concentrate around here.”
A doughy hand comes out from under the blanket, groping for the clock. It hovers dangerously close to ‘Snooze’ for my current mood.
“Do it and I’ll snap your fingers off.”
The alarm goes silent with the flick a wrist. For a moment I swear can hear angels singing. It doesn’t last.
My roomie sits up, blanket draped across narrow shoulders and over a perfectly round head. “What are you always writing about, anyway?”
I wander over to the window. It’s too high up to give much of a view, but the morning sun feels warm on my face. “None of your fucking business.”
“Maybe I’ll make it my business.”
I turn to look, but my roomie hasn’t moved an inch. Just another empty threat.
“And maybe I’ll shove that alarm clock up your ass the next time it goes off.”
“I’d like to see you try.” I take a step to close the space between us. My roomie only laughs. “Come any closer and you’ll be crying for your daddy when I get through with you.”
My shoulders tense, teeth clench. “Don’t talk about my father.”
“Back up or I’ll be talking at your funeral.”
Do you still think about me too?
“Have things gotten better with your roommate?”
It feels like a trap, but I can’t hold back. “Motherfucker is driving me crazy.”
The specialist spins to face my doctor. “I thought you upped the dose to deal with that.”
I answer for her. “It’s just that fucking alarm clock.”
He turns to me again, easing back in his chair. “I know the feeling. My wife gets up an hour before me every morning. Hers doesn’t stop buzzing until we’re both wide awake.”
“Buzzing would be a nice change of pace.”
“Tell me about it. What’s your roommate’s alarm sound like?”
I have to give it some thought. “Like the whole world is coming to an end.”
“Interesting. I’ve never heard an alarm like that before.”
“You’re welcome to come check it out for yourself whenever you want.”
He reaches for his pad, jotting down a few notes. “I’ll keep that in mind. Did you make any progress on your memories since we last met?”
“Nope. I’ve had other things on my mind.”
“Anything you’re ready to share?”
I’m tempted to make something up, see how far I can push him, but I’m too exhausted from the pills and lack of sleep. Fucking alarm clock.
I fold my arms and shut my mouth tight instead.
“Turn that fucking alarm off!”
I’m standing over my roomie’s bunk again. I’m not exactly sure how this baseball bat got into my hands, but I have to admit it feels good.
“Did you hear me? Turn it off or I’ll destroy it.”
I don’t even get a doughy hand in response this time. I yank the blankets back, almost dropping the bat when I see the familiar bathtub. The man is lying there with the same terrified expression on his bruised and bloated face, trying to gnaw through the duct tape with broken teeth. The bat takes on a life of its own, delivering blow after crushing blow.
I step back, studying my hands as the bat wails away without me.
“What really happened in the bathroom that morning?”
The specialist’s question catches me off guard, but so does the look on his face. It’s an expression I haven’t seen before. Anger, maybe?
“Sorry, doc. I’d like to help, but these pills have me — ”
He slams his pad down onto the table. “God damn it. We don’t have time to go over this again. I’m not a doctor. I’m a pro-bono attorney from The Innocence Collective trying to save your mother’s life. But I can’t do that unless you tell me the truth.”
“The Innocence Collective?”
“For the last time, it’s a non-profit organization that keeps death row inmates from being executed. People like your mother.”
“The morning your father died. You and your mother were both there.”
“What? My mother’s the one who died.”
His hands come down on the table with a thunderous bang. “Cut the bullshit. Your mother’s in a maximum-security prison up north. She pled guilty to murdering your father and got the death penalty. You ended up here because you were a minor with a history of mental health issues and violent behavior. Now she’s about to be executed unless you give me something so I can get a stay of execution.”
I close my eyes to fight back tears. The man in the bathtub slowly becomes my father. I watch the bat raining down on him again and again, the sound like a two-by-four striking a sack of wet dirt. His body goes still, but the beating doesn’t stop.
I jump up and try to run from the room, but I’m chained to the table. The specialist — my mother’s lawyer? — watches me with a cold look in his eyes. I slump back down into the folding chair. The words rush out of my mouth.
“I did it by myself. I was the one with the bat.”
The so-called lawyer glances at my doctor before turning to face me. He leans across the table, an anxious edge to his voice.
“Can you repeat that for me please? More clearly this time.”
“I killed my roommate with that bat last night. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“We don’t have time for these fantasies. Your mother’s scheduled to be executed at midnight. Tonight. There’s no time to waste on your invisible roommate.”
“I couldn’t help myself. That fucking alarm clock kept going off.”
The legs of his chair squeal across the concrete floor as he pushes back from the table.
“For the last time, you don’t have a roommate. You’ve been in isolation twenty-three hours a day since you came here six years ago. And the only alarm clock was the one going off in your house the morning your father was murdered. It was still beeping when the police arrived. It’s all in the court records.”
I’m too busy fighting unwanted memories to form a response.
We were supposed to go on vacation that morning, to that lake you told me about. Mom was angry because she didn’t want to go. All of our bags were already in the car when I stumbled into the bathroom. It was your alarm clock that woke me up from the other room. You were in the bathtub. You looked so scared and small.
“For the last time, did your mother act alone or did you help her kill your father? If you tell me the truth, I might be able to save her. She’s the only family you have left.”
“I don’t know. I need some time alone, to get my head straight.”
“There is no more time.”
He motions through the window for the guard to let him out. I’m still in the same spot when he twists his head to look at me.
“You know what? I’m not falling for this little psycho act of yours. I think you know exactly what happened, but you’d rather let your mother pay the ultimate price than tell the truth.”
“I just need a little peace and quiet…”
“They found your notebooks, by the way. Those letters you wrote to ‘your father’ were a nice touch. It would be great if you pretended to care half as much about your mother.”
The door opens and he disappears before I can respond. I look over to my doctor who is leaping from her chair to comfort me. Somewhere in the distance I hear an alarm clock going off. I know I won’t be getting any rest tonight. Or any time soon.
But at least my mother will finally get what she deserves.