I Was A Teenaged Go-Go Girl
By Charlotte Cooper.
Do you know what a go-go girl is?
Go-go girls are the hottest bitches on the scene, they’re the queens of the night. When you see them twitching their thighs and shaking it, it makes you want to shout out Go Baby Go! Go Baby Go! as you wipe nervous randy sweat from your forehead with a spotted hankie.
Where did go-go girls come from? I guess it’s something to do with the Whisky A Go Go club in LA that was so popular with those hip-swinging 60s folk back before flower power ruined everything.
Go-go girls wear white make-up and little white kinky boots. They have big big hair and little little dresses. They are either very sullen or very smiley. Their boyfriends are bouncers at the clubs where they work. They spend a lot of time fighting off frisky admirers. Go-go girls do dances with names: the Shimmy, the Swim, the Watusi. Sometimes they get put in a cage or on a podium, they are the chosen people after all. They love to dance and dance and dance and dance, and they get paid for it too.
Go-go fact: Go-go girls who don’t make it end up as strippers and they often become lesbians. Another go-go fact: Go-go girls often have acne-scarred skin.
Anyway, that’s a little lesson in go-go-ology.
Lemme tell you, I’ve been dining out on this story for quite a while. I would like people to think that I often do cool things, and that my life is a testament to coolness in every way, that I don’t really like Simon and Garfunkel, or have a verucca, or wear big pants from chubby lady shops. But the truth is that what I am going to tell you about my short career as a teenaged go-go girl stands out as the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s one of those stories that goes in and out of fashion. During the late eighties and most of the nineties, nobody gave a shit when I told it, but now that the whole NY punk thing is big again, I’ve got a whole new audience to boast at.
Okay, so here goes. In 1986 I was working as the Saturday girl at the Spastics Society charity shop in Wembley. This entailed: being surly to customers, smoking Silk Cut all day long, taking money, bitching and complaining incessantly, getting things out of the window display for people to paw and prod, refusing to haggle, having the first pick of the donations, stealing money from the collections tin, and being in love with my teen colleague Mick. (Michael Taylor of Wood Green, if you are out there I still burn a flame for you.)
The manager of the shop’s boyfriend used to be in a very successful punk band but had fallen on hard times. They both knew a lot of people from the seventies punk scene in London. Leee Black Childers was one of their friends who used to drop by now and again. Leee used to manage David Bowie, Iggy and the Stooges, the Heartbreakers, lots of people. One of his best friends was Jayne County.
Now some of you might be too young or too square to know who Jayne is. I’ll fill you in. Jayne was born in the deep south in the fifties. Back then she was called Wayne. She moved to New York City and lived with Jackie Curtis and a whole load of other Warhol drag queens and she starred in his play, Pork. Jayne was not a drag queen, she is a transgendered woman. She had a couple of bands and became a rock n roll star. One of her most famous songs goes: “If you don’t want to fuck me baby, baby fuck off!” She’s recorded it ten times, including a hi-nrg version. Jayne became a scene face during the punk years, she was a regular at CBGBs. She had a dress made of wigs. In the eighties she moved to Berlin and had some surgery. She came to London, which is where I met her.
Jayne fact: the city of Detroit stands in an area called Wayne County – any connection to Jayne? Who knows!
My boss and her boyfriend treated me like some kind of proteg・ It was a weird friendship. They used to take me out to clubs with them, terrible mid-eighties places, Rusty Egan type places. The Wag Club.
Leee’s friend Angie Bowie was in town doing some shows with Mick Ronson, so we went to see her. I wore, as always, one of my vintage fifties ballgowns purloined from the Spastics Society. Jayne was there, she came up and said how much she liked my frock. I guess she’d been eyeing me up. Not long after that, my boss said that Jayne was looking for a fat go-go dancer and would I like to do it?
Would I? Would I? Would I? Fuck yeah!
A week later, Jayne met me at Brixton Station, we took a bus together to her flat in Streatham. She told me the plan: there would be two go-go girls, one fat, one thin — comic genius, right? We would wear nylon babydoll negligees (which were ten a penny in charity shops in those days) and dance around on stage during Jayne’s forthcoming show at … oh my god… Peter Stringfellow’s eighties superclub, the Hippodrome!
Jayne had already lined up a skinny girl, a model, this really hip young rich thing, but she soon abandoned the idea and I was kind of relieved. I roped in a girl I knew from college, this awkward goth kid, a bona fide anorexic too. To my shame I can’t remember her name.
Our rehearsals consisted of sitting around Jayne’s front room and watching John Waters videos. Jayne narrated the first 50 minutes of Female Trouble to me one time, she knew it so well. I thought it was a film about her life.
Another time, me and the anorexic went and ate at the Pizza Hut opposite Jayne’s place. I mean ‘ate’ in the loosest terms because my ana pal merely pushed her food around the plate, she was living mostly on vitamin pills at that stage. I looked up towards Jayne’s flat and saw her silhouetted in the window, like Norman Bates at the Psycho mansion. She waved and we waved back.
Showday arrived. We had our own dressing room, a proper lights round the mirror deal, and our tiny window looked out over a brothel, each room was illuminated by a red lightbulb. We got into our outfits and sat around, bored. Showbusiness was not as exciting as we’d been led to believe. Jayne came and gave us a nip of sulphate, a tiny dab off the end of a key. More waiting. More waiting. More waiting. Then…action!
Someone took us to the stage through the back of the building, all winding corridors, narrow doorways, pipes and fuseboxes. The Hippodrome had a hydraulic stage that came up out of the floor, we took our places on the platform, ready to be elevated up into the main dance area. It’s funny, these are the memories that remain with me so much more clearly than the actual show itself.
The audience consisted of tourists, goths, ageing punks, assorted gayboys, club kids and the trendiest girl from college alongside her closeted best friend. She couldn’t believe that we were dancing around, she had no idea that me and the anorexic girl could possibly have this cool secret life that she knew nothing about. We rubbed her nose in it, for sure, we shimmied on the stage right over her and openly sneered in her face.
Jayne sang along to a backing tape, what?, four or five songs. “Cream in My Jeans”, “Fuck Off”. Some others. The anorexic girl and I danced around, shaking our arses at the audience, showing our knickers, being totally unafraid, free, the coolest kids in the world, absolutely triumphant! Then we disappeared down into the depths of the club on that stupid fucking stage. It was over pretty quickly.
So that was it. There were plans to repeat the show, but they never took off. I’d see Jayne now and again, but I was too young really to be a proper friend, and she was part of my boss’s crowd, not mine. I don’t know if she would remember me now.
My Mum was dying of breast cancer when I was a go-go girl for the legendary punk outlaw transsexual and all-round heroine Jayne County, in fact Mum died shortly afterwards. With her death my life changed, it sobered everything, it froze me. Things became still for a while.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charlotte Cooper lives in the East End of London. She’s a writerjournalistauthorzinester, an associate editor of Cheap Date magazine and boss bitch of The Chubsters, a viscious girl gang. She wrote Fat and Proud: The Politics of Size and her first novel, Cherry, got busted by Canadian Customs for obscenity.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, August 10th, 2003.