God Bless The Go-Gos – behind the scenes
May 2, 2011
Check out this cool article from SugarTune about the cover shoot for GBTGG.
Subject – The Go-Gos – God Bless The Go-Gos – a 2001 release on Beyond Records (Re-released in the U.S. in 2004 on Sony/Legacy/Eagle Records), with cover photography by Maryanne Bilham
Having released 3 albums in the early 1980s (including 1982’s huge Vacation, previously discussed in our9/14 Cover Story) that coincided with the path that took them from bar band to opening act for the Police to superstardom on their own, the Go-Gos disintegrated within a year after releasing 1984’s Talk Show, and the members went their separate ways.
Then, after many years working on solo and side projects, some powerful force took control and brought the original band members back together in 2001 to create an album of new music called God Bless the Go-Gos. The record impressed the critics – many of whom had originally downplayed the band’s importance in the emergence of the 80s punk/pop scene – and showed what we all loved about this band. They are still out to have a good time and want us to grab a beer, talk about whatever’s on our minds today, and if we can share a laugh about how ridiculous the head of the cheerleading squad looks in her too-tight uniform, all the better.
Impressively (particularly to middle-aged men like me who want to believe that aging is just the passage of time), in addition to reminding us of their talents as great songwriters and musicians, the “cute and innocent” young girls who we knew in the early 1980s had grown into a band of alluring women that still have “got the beat”! Of course, then, it would take a photographer with a strong sense of how modern women should be interpreted visually to create just the perfect set of images for the cover of the first new Go-Gos record in 17 years. They found that in Maryanne Bilham, who shares her recollections of the process of turning “good time girls” into Saints in today’s Cover Story…
In the words of the photographer, Maryanne Bilham (interviewed in October 2007) –
“I originally started working with Gina Schock – drummer of the Go-Gos – in the late 90s, photographing her for a series of ads for musical companies she endorsed. She then suggested me to their manager as a potential photographer for the new Go-Gos CD – their first in many years.
The people at Beyond Music were handling the Go-Gos project, but it was the band’s long-time manager – Ginger Canzoneri – who was Art Directing and making the decisions about any photography that might be needed. During this period of time I was also putting on a personal exhibition – a project called Divine Eros, which were modern day photographic interpretations of female saints and mystics. This exhibition was unknown to the Go-Gos at the time, but it ultimately provided some interesting synchronicity!
A meeting had been arranged between myself and Ginger so that I could present my music portfolio to her. We discussed the various musicians I had worked with and the images I had created, and as the meeting drew to a close, she decided to show me the top secret concept for the upcoming project. She the produced a sheet of paper with drawings of prayer cards, each one depicting a Go-Go with a unique virtue. Taking this as my cue, the next day I dropped by the images from my Divine Eros show and, a few days later, I was commissioned to produce the new Go-Gos album art work.
The band has always created interesting art work for their album projects. Ginger was adamant that it should be a return to the “classic album artwork of the 70s” – e.g., paying homage to the great works of Hipgnosis, Kosh, Roger Dean, etc. The fact they had not released any new music in such a long time provided us with a unique opportunity to produce a memorable conceptual piece.
Wardrobe was a large component stylistically in pulling the imagery together. Wardrobe designer Jennifer E. Mc Manus was hired to create the drapery and habits. We decided against using crosses or other props that would denote a particular religious denomination. Next on the list was the makeup and hair. Jane Wiedlin had green hair at the time, so this was another interesting challenge we needed to work through. For this work, we selected a stylist named Robin Slater, who is well-known in Hollywood for her feature work on films such as Memoirs of a Geisha, Artificial Intelligence and The Grinch.
Apart from the cover portraits, we decided to also recreate the famous Nicolas Poussin painting titled Les Bergeres d’Arcadie, more recently associated The Da Vinci Code, the Priory of Sion, Holy Blood Holy Grail,etc. We commissioned Schmidli Backdrops (LA) to paint a backdrop of the hillside and tomb using Poussin’s painting as the reference. Both Ginger and I were very well-read on the Templar Tales of Mary Magdalene and the stories surrounding the Cathars and the Merovingian blood line in the South of France (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merovingian) and thought that this would be an interesting element to include in the artwork. This was all pre-Da Vinci Code and everyone’s current fascination with The Divine Feminine, as seen through Dan Brown’s successful novel.
Also, at the time of the shoot, none of the Go-Gos got on particularly well, so in fact I went to some lengths to make sure their portraits and prep were done separately. I guess this is typical of many bands who reform after being apart for a while –they’re like dysfunctional families. Since all the Go-Gos were in different locations at the time, all the info and concepts from the development meetings were passed through Ginger to Beyond Music, who gave us complete creative freedom for the image development.
It took 3 months from the intial meeting with Ginger to complete the project. The images were shot on a 6×7 Mamiya camera on Fuji 400 ASA transparency film, which I cross-processed to color neg and then had skintones balanced. This gave me a fully-saturated image with a flawless skin quality which worked well for this iconic imagery. The final images were then worked on with Photoshop to create halo effects and renderings to create the final effect.
The label was very happy with the results, but at the last minute they became concerned about an overload of religious imagery. Sadly, neither the “Poussin image” nor an image of the group in habits surrounding a disco ball were included in the final art work.”
Editor’s note – While the label may have been happy, unfortunately Catholic League President William Donahue was not and publicly chastised the girls for exploiting religion for commercial purposes.
As was reported on their website in April 2001, “The Go-Go’s have upset the Catholic League For Religious And Civil Rights with the artwork on their upcoming release God Bless The Go-Go’s, as well as their latest website. The group’s site is designed around a religious theme with a place for confession, featuring each Go-Go decked out in the clothing of the Virgin Mary, which the religious organization doesn’t seem to find quite entertaining.” A prayer is also posted for those who feel the need, reading, “Hail Go-Go’s, full of beat, the rock is with Thee. Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thine talent, music. Holy Go-Go’s, mothers of chick rock, pray for us sinners – now, and at the hour of thy concerts, Amen.” Mindi Sue Meyer, of band label Beyond Music, said the rock act wasn’t intending mockery. “These are all religious girls,” she told the New York Daily News. “They believe that God is giving them a second chance. They feel that they’ve been blessed.”