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Go-going, going, gone? 

Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's is out to prove she's not a has-been

"We were America's sweethearts, but we weren't that sweet." That's Jane Wiedlin explaining the appeal of her group the Go-Go's on the first episode of "The Surreal Life 4," which seems to be playing endlessly on VH1. The all-girl '80s outfit once had a rowdy reputation, trashing hotel rooms, snorting loads of coke, and frolicking with male groupies. But times have changed, and diminutive guitarist/singer/songwriter Wiedlin is indeed sweet - and very animated - during a recent telephone chat from Los Angeles.

As a founding member of the Go-Go's, which originally formed in 1978, she helped blast a way for future female rockers. "We were the first all-girl band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs to be really successful," she says.

In the early '80s, the band, which still includes original members Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock, enjoyed a rocket-propelled rise to the top with a string of catchy pop hits. "Our Lips Are Sealed," "We Got the Beat," and "Vacation" continue to endure and resurface in remakes, movies and even commercials.

"It's kind of fun that the '80s are popular again," she says. "It cracks me up seeing teenage girls wearing '80s fashions because I just think it's awful. But the music was great."

Now, more than two decades after the Go-Go's were fixtures on MTV, Wiedlin is experiencing a renaissance of sorts on its sister station, talking part in the quirky "Surreal Life." The concept is simple: Take a cross-section of pop culture figures, from the remember-thems to the who-the-hell-is-thats, and throw them together in a cool house in Hollywood Hills, where they are filmed 24 hours a day.

Since the show began airing, Wiedlin's public profile has increased, largely due to her much-publicized confrontation with tart-tongued rapper Da Brat. Da Brat called Wiedlin a "has-been," setting off a war of words.

"People are making so much out of it," she says. "They keep showing it as this big, exciting moment. I'm sure they'll show me crying and stuff, which is so lame, like I care. But at the time, it was a little bit shocking."

The whole "Surreal Life" experience was intense for Wiedlin. "I had no idea that that level of scrutiny would be so hard to take," she says. "When I first went in, I thought, 'OK, it'll be really hard at first, then it'll get easy when you get used to it.' But it just got harder instead of easier."

One of the most difficult issues was privacy. "The only privacy rule was the camera crew couldn't come in the bathroom if you were alone," she says. "But if more than one person was in there with you, then they could come in, too. The bathroom was like a suite of rooms: a room with sinks, a room with a toilet, a shower and two different rooms with closets. It was like a maze of rooms, so whenever I'd start to freak out, I'd just go in the closet and sit there for a while."

Upcoming episodes find the housemates in a variety of offbeat settings. At a cattle ranch, animal-rights supporter Wiedlin was asked to brand a calf. "I started crying and refused to do it, of course," she says.

Now that she's survived the "Surreal" ordeal, she thinks the upcoming Go-Go's tour will be an exercise in luxury. "The Go-Go's don't like to tour more than about a month out of the year, so we are doing two weeks in the South," she says. "It's like one day is the show and then two days off! I'm super excited to be able to go to all the great restaurants in New Orleans and Atlanta and just have fun."

Since there's no new Go-Go's album at the moment, the current tour will concentrate on their back catalog of hits. "We've gotten some offers to do some different things that we're gonna be talking about," she says. "Disney wants us to make a children's record and I really want to do that, so we'll see what happens. I like the idea of doing stuff where there's less pressure."

"When we did God Bless the Go-Go's [in 2001], it was fun and I'm proud of it," she continues, "but it was so stressful. They were kinda pushing us out in the mainstream and having us compete with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and people were thinking, 'What? What is this?' We didn't fit in. So I think the idea of doing more kinda oddball projects appeals to me a little bit more."

When not playing with the band, Wiedlin has appeared in films, done voice-overs for cartoons, written songs (with Caffey) for country singer Keith Urban, and penned a book on Costa Rica. She's now working on the new album by fellow reality star Paris Hilton.

Now that's really surreal.

lee.smith@creativeloafing.com

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