Jane Weidlin: The Specialist
When we set about naming this project of ours, we settled pretty quickly on Ageist. It allowed us to own a term that had been used against us. It signaled intent. It was, we felt (and continue to feel), pretty punk rock.So it’s with no small amount of excitement that we’re featuring Jane Wiedlin in this newsletter. The Wisconsin native had dreams of becoming a rock ’n’ roll fashion designer when, in 1976, she fell in love with punk music and the gritty LA scene it had birthed. She went on to form a group called The Go-Go’s. Maybe you’ve heard of them.
“I had no idea how hard it was to break into the music business; I had no idea you shouldn’t form a band before knowing how to play instruments,” she says. “Had I known more, I probably wouldn’t have even tried.”
The group was rooted in the punk music scene even if they transcended it in a short amount of time with hits like “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation.” Though the Go-Go’s performed for the final time last year, Wiedlin already has another music project —Elettrodomestico — and a bone to pick with those underestimating her.
“I feel great and young and I do everything I’ve always done my whole life,” she told me. “And this number hanging around my neck like a heavy anchor — it really bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Ageism, no one ever talks about it because it doesn’t seem as exciting as racism or the gender stuff, but ageism is huge.”
Wiedlin and I spoke a lot about becoming invisible as a woman in the music scene after she turned 40. An earlier side project she started was signed to Geffen Records in the 1990s, but didn’t get the necessary marketing support from the label it needed to take off.
“Of course it’s only gotten worse. But the thing about me is that I don’t let other people stop me from doing what I want to do,” she says. “I’m just doing my thing like I always have. Sometimes it does get to me, but mostly I just think, ‘People are dicks. If they can’t see the value in me just ‘cause I’m in my 50s, then fuck them.’ ”
I don’t know if we could’ve put that more succinctly. The thing that saves Wiedlin, that has saved all of us really, is creativity. If staying useful and active increases our physical and mental longevity, creativity has to feed that emotional drive that keeps us vital.
“Look at painters,” says Wiedlin. “Should painters stop? A lot of them don’t get famous until they’re 80, 90 years old. So why should the rest of us be old and decrepit and not do what we love and not continue to create? Staying creative is what keeps you vibrant.”
Though LA birthed the band, Wiedlin has spent her adult life living in many different places: Mendocino, Costa Rica, Panama, Wisconsin, San Francisco, even Hawaii. She spent this summer traipsing around Italy with Elettrodomestico bandmate, Pietro Straccia. This restlessness too is what keeps her mind right.
“I bounce around quite a bit and I used to think, ‘Oh, I just can’t stick to anything; I’m a loser.’ But now I just think, ‘I enjoy adventuring.’ Curiosity gives you that sense of adventure to see new, weird things and that’s what inspires you to write or paint or whatever you do,” she says. “I don’t know, I think this ageism thing peculiarly American. I bet there’s cultures where it’s not as prevalent as it is here.”