A THUMBNAIL HISTORY

Whence "A Go-Go" ?
- AN AMAZING BACKTRAIL

         There are more spellings of A Go-Go than there are spellings of the name 'Moammar Ghaddaffi' in Libya, so among other things on our list-of-things-to-do whilst researching the world's favorite nighttime viewing sport, we have been questing after the most 'legitimate' spelling of this entirely ubiquitous word.   We have settled on A Go-Go, and soon you will see why.

         During World War II in France, the resistance managed to find time for recreation despite the German occupation.   They would slip away to secret "libraries" - libraries that kept jazz recordings and the like, and listen to their hearts' content.   (The Nazi occupation took a particularly dim view of jazz music, convinced that as it had "black" roots, it must be degenerate.)   And to keep from drawing attention to themselves, these clandestine private clubs were called: "record libraries", or in French, "discotheques".   

         In a seemingly unrelated event, shortly after the war ended, in early 1947, Compton MacKenzie published a book titled Whisky Galore about an ocean freighter with 10,000 cases of whisky that was wrecked near a booze-starved island during World War II.   It was made into a movie called, "A Tight Little Island", but when the film was released in France, they reverted to the direct translation of the novel's original title: it became "Whiskey A Gogo".   (The exact translation of 'A Gogo' or 'Au Gogo' is 'galore', - most likely from Old French gogue. or en gogue; meaning 'merriment'.)

         After the war's end (the real war, not the movie), these nightclubs, these 'discotheques' became ever more popular - all the while maintaining that wartime underground mystique.   But with money in short supply, the nightclubs would continue to entertain with recorded music most of the time, and, rarely, when they could afford it, with a live band.   These smallish almost-private nightclubs were the sort where the patrons put their names on their own bottles of cognac, returning regularly to join their "in crowd".   This was the beginning of Paris' own 'La Dolce Vita' era.   Before the end of the year (1947), one such new Night Entertainment Venue opened in Paris, and, inspired by the movie, called itself Whiskey A Gogo.   As the Nazis had been driven from the land, dancing returned, and an increasing number of these French nightclubs also provided for customer dancing, albeit the dance floors remained small and personal.

         The Whiskey A Gogo enjoyed great success, and in 1960 it revitalized and marketed the wartime term "Discotheque" - and, well, I think we can lay the blame for the 'Disco Revolution' directly at their feet.   They are credited not only with opening the first modern Discotheque, they are also credited for redefining it; now meaning "a nightclub where the featured entertainment is dancing to recorded music (rather than an on-stage band)".   It was then that the 'Discotheque' moved away from the small, more private word-of-mouth 'record library' style nightclub to something grander, generally advertised to the public, with a larger, dominating dance floor.   So great was it's success, it generated myriad imitators (Cafe A-Gogo, etc), and many other "Whiskey A Gogo's" around the world - the name eventually being franchised.

         In 1964, a Whisky A Go-Go opened in Hollywood (-note the alternate spelling of Whiskey without the 'e', and the hyphenated 'gogo').   Little did anyone know that history was about to be made.   The Whisky A Go-Go nightclub was billed as a discotheque, but soon started featuring live performances as well.   Singer Johnny Rivers headed up one such live band there, and between sets, a mini-skirted Disk Jockey would spin records from a suspended cage at the right of the stage.   When the girl DJ wasn't spinning records, she would pass the time in her 'bird cage' dancing to the music of Johnny Rivers and crew.   Audiences thought this was part of the gig, and the concept, and name, of A Go-Go dancing were born (and quickly abbreviated by many to 'Go-Go dancing') .   

         Following the Los Angeles Whisky A Go-Go's lead, New York's Whiskey A Go-Go introduced (in 1965) scantily clad dancers (plural), and A Go-Go dancing as we know it had arrived.   It wasn't long before this new form of dancing was found in quite a few of the larger Discotheques.   But it was also 'a natural' for America's already existing 'girlie bars' and striptease joints, and by the late '60's, various forms of 'Go-Go' dancing were found in these Night Entertainment Venues as well.

         Rick Menard's Grand Prix is no longer open, but has left it's mark in the history of Bangkok's Night Entertainment Scene nonetheless.

Photo contributed by reader - without attribution.

         Quick to spread overseas, bars featuring A Go-Go dancing could be found in virtually all large cities - Bangkok being no exception.    Author Alan Dawson, in his book "Patpong" cites the Grand Prix Bar & Restaurant on Patpong Road (Patpong 1) as the "first successful Go-Go bar" in Thailand - introduced, initially with a solitary 'dancer', in late 1969 by owner Rick Menard.   And the rest, as they say, is history.

* With thanks to  Zootramp Publications for their timely historical input. 

Copyright    Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com : January 2006