Rock Groupies and Feminism

2ndSep. × ’11

Groupies aren’t usually seen as a positive force for women — the word has never been associated with feminism. And yet, as the fantasy of “Almost Famous” shows, we are intrigued by this certain “free spirit” brand of female sexuality and “promiscuity”.

This week I took a look at some of the most famous rock groupies for The Frisky. Check out that piece for a quick slide-show, or nerd-out with me here as I look at rock groupies and the affect feminism has had on the term, “groupie” and groupie culture.

1960’s

Los Angeles in the 1960’s was known as a “groupie heaven”. There were a lot of girls hanging out on Sunset Boulevard in the groupie look — layers of scarves and ruffles and heavy eye make-up. But it was the GTO’s who rose to fame. The GTO’s stood for “Girls Together Outrageously” or “Only” or “Orally”; whatever you choose. Their members included Pamela Des Barres and Cynthia Plaster Caster.

Many of the women of the GTO’s had come over from the hippie community. The original members of the GTO’s were close with — sometimes financially supported by — Frank Zappa, who eventually produced their albums. The GTO’s were a band despite none of them being able to sing or play instruments (how very riot grrrl of them.) They were hanging out with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and were known as the girls you would want to meet if you were a musician.

The GTO’s owned being groupies, and they owned their creativity as well.  Aside from spoken word and music performances, the GTO’s were said to have had a hand in men’s careers, and are credited with coming up with Alice Cooper’s signature mascara’d proto-goth look. Cynthia would go on to be thirdwave feminist darling — as her plaster casts of rock-star penises have been shown in countless feminist art shows.

1970’s

The early ’70’s saw a new era of groupie in the mix. The girls in the tiny shorts, floppy hats and strewn with scarves became known as the “groupie babies”. The name was apt, as the two most famous of the pack got their start at 13. The groupie babies also had near instant brushes with fame, as a short lived, but infamous groupie magazine called “Star” chronicled their lives in paralyzing glamorization.


Sable Starr and Lori Maddox were the  ’stars’ of the magazine. Lori got her start by losing her virginity to David Bowie, as the tale goes, at age 13. She began seeing Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin after he saw her in the pages of Star and swore he had to meet her. In true romance novel style, he had his tour manager “kidnap her” and take her back to his hotel room. Sable was Lori’s best friend, and lost her virginity to Iggy Pop at age 13. Sable was also linked to Robert Plant and David Bowie but fell in love with Johnny Thunders, guitarist of the New York Dolls. She ran away to New York City at age 15 to live with him, and hung around Debbie Harry while her boyfriend got further into drugs. When she finally decided to go back to California and live a “normal life,” she was only 17.

It’s hard to pull feminist themes from the famed groupies of this era. Where-as girls their age a decade previous were fainting at Elvis concerts, Lori and Sable were hanging on the Sunset Strip with Iggy Pop. But this does speak to real teenage experience — it seems we have a hard time societally dealing with the fact that teenagers are sexual, and those teenagers who do decide to explore their sexuality may end up doing it in extreme or unsafe ways. Certainly we still see this today.

1970’s — Punk Rock and the Death of wanting to be a Groupie

Punk rock in it’s purest form was an extremely short lived genre. And one of the most cliche’d images has become Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistold and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Nancy was a New York groupie who hung around Sable Star and bands like the New York Dolls and Aerosmith.

When Nancy got with Sid, the press dubbed her “Nauseating Nancy,” and to this day, it is how she is remembered — in revile. And when she was killed, stabbed, at the Chelsea Hotel…not many people seemed to care. Was it the blasé punk rock attitude? Was it that people were sick of groupies? Was Sid and Nancy, the unit, detestable? I’ve always read the story of Nancy as one that is quite sexist, and it seems Nancy changed the course of the “famous groupie”. The label stopped being a good thing.

1980’s and ’90’s

With the rise of hair metal and rock making more money than ever —  there were also more groupies than ever. But now the “famous groupies” are famous for other things — being actresses, models, porn-stars and…do musicians themselves count as groupies? It may be too obvious to note, but while the groupies of the 1960’s were busy playing home-maker to the rock-stars, these girls were all about getting their own career out of the deal.

Carmen Electra got her name and rise to fame from Prince, Pamela Anderson was almost just as well known for dating Tommy Lee. Donna D’Erricho was a well known as a Baywatch star as well as a wife to Nikki Sixx. And there were women like Tawny Kitean and Erin Everly or Bobbie Brown who became video-babes for Whitesnake, Guns and Roses, Warrant, as well as girlfriends to the bandmembers. On the indie side of things, when Winona Ryder rose to fame in the ’80’s she was dating quite a few musicians.

What about Male Groupies?

There is one “famous” male groupie, and he goes by “Pleather”. Pleather rose to fame by the accounts of his conquests — which include Courtney Love — in Pamela Des Barres’ book I’m With The Band; Confessions of the Groupie. He recounts Courtney’s shaky self-esteem, but apparently has a lot of very nice things to say about women in music.

I find it interesting that it is not until riot grrrl and the explosion of women in rock during the ’90’s that we see the concept of a male groupie.

photo by J Silva

2000’s

The Internet has allowed allowed certain groupie cultures to flourish. One semi-active groupie forum dedicated to indie rock and pop punk offers tips from other girls. They talk about which bandmembers fool around, which will give you an STI, who has a girlfriend and tips on how they got them.

Reading through pages of the forum, it struck me at times these were young women owning their desires and getting what they want without shame. There was little slut-shaming (of course not, they were Kathleen Hanna fans) and a strong sense of solidarity among the girls.

On the forum, when the girls ask about who is dating /has slept with who, there are a few names that come up again and again: Audrey Kitching, Hanna Beth and Jac Vanec: who are neon-clad, pastel-haired “Internet personalities” with have records of solely dating musicians. I imagine they are of the ilk who fight the groupie label — but unlike the Electras and Andersons of yesteryear, it’s hard to pin-point exactly what these girls do for a living. Which in my mind makes them all the more like the free-spirited GTO’s of the ’60s. What’s interesting is that we see the rise of the famous groupie again, not thanks to the tabloids but the Internet.

What do you think, is groupie bashing unfair?

As women gained more equality, in work and otherwise, the groupie label fell for famous groupies. They become simply known as models, artists, or whatever it is they are passionate about. However, the hobby of sleeping with a musicians still exists with it’s own culture. And it’s a hobby that I don’t think necessarily needs to oppose feminist ideals.

Pamela Des Barres, was a bit more blunt about it when feminists called her sexist , saying: “Hey I went after what I wanted, and I got it. Gloria Steinam can kiss my ass.”

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16 Comments

  1. Posted 2011-09-2 at 16:33 | Permalink

    I always love your posts – they’re so different than anything I’ve seen anywhere else!

    That being said – I haven’t given the concept of “groupie” much thought. Actually, I’m still not sure if I even know what a groupie IS. This is partly because – at least from your post – groupies are associated with rock musicians, and that’s not a genre of music I like or listen to. Though, I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary American music – unless it’s GLEE – so I’m unfamiliar with this idea of people willingly going out of their way to chase and be with celebrities (I also have a seething, passionate hate for our celebrity fixated culture).

    Essentially, though, I don’t think that feminism and groupie-ism(?) are exclusive. I think feminism has this habit of posturing itself as very narrow, and very strict. Feminists are women who reject men and the need to want to be with a man – that sort of thing. I’m reminded of this with the quote that you used with Pamela Des Barres. This concept of feminism being vanilla while also being authoritarian is something I see a lot on twitter, FB, “real life” where women say, “I’m a feminist but I love had core sex/fucking” or “I know it’s not very feminist of me, but I like when men approach me/ask me out/etc”.

    There’s this prevalent idea that if you’re feminist you’re romantically aggressive (at least in a heteronormative concept), but disinterested in sex (since you can’t be sex positive and a feminist – it’s like the two are contradictory, like in some ways feminists have begun to reject sexuality. I think of your post on femme guilt, which is tied to sexuality – in its own way I think – and I remember reading about a woman who was well-dressed in a feminine way at a feminist gathering and all she got were evil glares. But I think this ties into this idea that if you dress feminine, you dress for men, which is bad for feminism, since some feminists are fundamentally misandrist and function from a place of prioritizing certain types of women).

    I’ve seen some feminists proclaim that they’re only interested in equality and justice, and are all about consent between adulthoods. But, I also find this to be problematic and too simplistic. Shouldn’t feminism be more than just about some kind of retro-all love no war approach to humanity?

    But then, in a way, you probably need a more expansive and “less judgmental” form of feminism if you’re going to include everyone – even the female groupies. But I guess some would say: Why should they be included? Shouldn’t there be guidelines, or rules?

    Though, I think it has a lot to do with morals. For example, I personally don’t agree with casual sex, “friends with benefits” or any kind of sexual relationship outside of a committed, monogamous relationship. These are my morals. But when my friend told me she had drunk sex with some random guy from a bar she went home with – I had a lot of mixed reactions. I felt bad for her because her friends were harassing her and treating her poorly about this. On the other hand, I strongly disagreed with what she did to, but I didn’t want to get caught up in lecturing her, yet I couldn’t stop myself from losing some respect for her because of the choices she made.

    So I think when we talk about feminism, sexuality, freedom and choice – a lot of it comes down to personal ethics and how much should we give; whose freedoms/privileges take priority? How do we create a balance? I have a very specific philosophy about life – and have a hard time respecting (or at least understanding) other people whose philosophies (ie: choices) contradict my own. I think this is a fundamental problem with feminism (and life really), and I’m not sure what or how to remedy it. :/

    Great post!

  2. Posted 2011-09-2 at 17:04 | Permalink

    I agree with Tatiana it’s a great post and lots of food for thought as usual. I would be happy to be a Rachel Rabbit White Groupie!

    I notice one or two things immediately: are groupies always heterosexual? Are there any homosexual groupies either men or women, we know about?

    And I expect feminism has ignored groupies largely, because feminism tends not to have much time for ‘promiscuous’ women. There is a certain element of ‘transaction’ in the groupie/pop star relationship. I don’t think feminists like that being so open.

    I know that Gary Numan the 80s British pop star, married one of his fans/groupies. I always liked that story.

  3. Posted 2011-09-2 at 17:48 | Permalink

    Tatiana,

    Love this comment.

    I want to especially pull out this part for discussion:

    ” I see a lot on twitter, FB, “real life” where women say, “I’m a feminist but I love had core sex/fucking” or “I know it’s not very feminist of me, but I like when men approach me/ask me out/etc. There’s this prevalent idea that if you’re feminist you’re romantically aggressive (at least in a heteronormative concept), but disinterested in sex.”

    I think this is super accurate. Because being sexually submissive is a “traditional female gender role” it often gets scorn from mainstream feminism. But what if submission turns you on? (What if dressing like Kim Kardashian turns you on?) I think when we roll our eyes and scoff at sexual expressions that fall into “traditional female gender roles” we are creating more sexual shame around this stuff. I think it very much fits into the discussion we had here about femme guilt and my idea that we don’t really talk about how much of gender roles are really about sex– and sex isn’t a bad thing.

    The myth that the good feminist is a domme-y agressive type sexual who only picks men up in bars is pretty harmful. Thoughts on that anyone?

    QRG, Thank you! Really interesting question about whether or not there have been homosexual groupies. I know from hear-say that there are gay groupies– I read somewhere that Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas gets more female groupie sex offered to her than any other members of the band. But definitely it’s really only straight female groupies than have become famous. Surely it says something about culture, but also I think their traveling in “groups” helped the rise to fame. I would be curious to know if there were ever any gay “groupie groups”.

    And as to feminism not really liking the open-ness of that transaction, I agree. I’m bothered by the fact that when discussing relationships, it’s not okay to talk about the fact that money is often one of the many reasons why people stay in a relationships–often one of the reasons they marry. According to marriage historian EJ Graff, money is one of the reasons people from most societies have always married throughout time. Maybe as women begin to earn the same as men, we will see more open-ness about this.

  4. Posted 2011-09-2 at 17:57 | Permalink

    well I’d say women are starting to earn the same as men, and what’s happened? Marriage rates have fallen dramatically…

  5. Posted 2011-09-2 at 18:05 | Permalink

    Hah, very true! What I was imagining was along the lines of, say, a straight couple getting married with money as part of the equation– because the woman earns more, and the guy is an artist. It’s coming from a piece of advice I once read, directed at creatives: marry someone who has a normal 9-5, real office job, so you can get by. Which struck me as gender-neutral.

    I’m interested in the future of marriage, and actually interviewed 5 marriage historians about this for a piece that I am sitting on. I think we could be moving away from marriage entirely as a society, but it seems right now marriage is in a “brainstorming phase”. I think in the coming decades we will see major changes in the way people do relationships and marriage.

    Regardless though, it seems to me there will always be that transaction of sex/partnership and money/power in any society.

  6. Posted 2011-09-2 at 18:18 | Permalink

    “The myth that the good feminist is a domme-y agressive type sexual who only picks men up in bars is pretty harmful. Thoughts on that anyone?”

    I have thoughts! :D

    Even though I think a feminist perspective when looking at film is helpful, it gives me mixed feelings. I had this discussion on Twitter yesterday about Disney (because EVERYONE loves to hate Disney) about the typical fare: female characters (both lead and supporting) as being portrayed as submissive and waiting. And I pointed out that not all women are super aggressive, independent rejecters of the male sex. There’s this idea that if a female lead isn’t kicking ass and taking names (while rejecting men in the process) then she’s not a good female lead and should be scorned.

    I am developing issues with this. I find it problematic to paint an empowered woman as a specific type of woman. This concept of “going after what you want” is typically portrayed as a physical act of aggression – versus anything comparatively subtle. The problem lies in the obsession with creating ideals that can’t be met (at least not by everyone) and then getting mad when people reject those ideals or can’t comply for whatever reason.

    And I think – while going back to your quote – that some feminists really want to be men, or have the power of men. A lot of the feminist perspective seems to exist in juxtaposition to men, and how women want to be men without having to become men. Does that make sense? I feel as if women want the power of men; for example, I was thinking of the term “shero” that I saw somewhere. There’s a female version of hero, it’s called heroine, so why make up a conglomerate word of “hero” and “she”? This might be a leap in logic, but my concluding thoughts were that whomever made up this word was probably trying to incorporate some sense of femaleness into a word charged with (male) power. That way, the word of “she” got some of the power that hero always exudes.

    Another example is in an episode of True Blood, where Sookie (in an attempt to date both Eric and Bill) says, “Well, when men have a bunch of girlfriends it’s okay, but if a woman does it, then it’s not” which to me, is irrational logic. Your experience as a girl isn’t in contrast to the male experience, which I think is a powerful underlying thought in feminist discussions. So, my femaleness isn’t defined by my lack of maleness. (I hope I’m not being confusing ^^”).

    So I think this image of a sexually charged feminist – as per the quote I took from you – is based on this idea of creating a female man. Part of that is chauvinistic because it often entails femme guilt and the rejecting anything that’s remotely feminine. But another part, at its core, is that a lot of women want the power of men (super assertive, aggressive, independence, etc). They want to use the same language that we use to talk about men, to talk about women.

    I think this is bad, and doesn’t exactly resemble justice or equality. I think the discussion of what exactly constitutes femaleness (even if it is only a social construct) should be examined and not just how much of “it sucks to be a girl because it’s better to be a boy” type deal. Which I think begets a point QRG has made about how feminists often reject the male experience.

    So complicated! But those are my thoughts!

  7. Han
    Posted 2011-09-2 at 22:08 | Permalink

    I really have nothing intellectual to add to this except to say that I learned quite a lot! I could see all the work you put into it and I really appreciate it! Another great article! I find myself always interested in what you have to say.

  8. Posted 2011-09-3 at 14:05 | Permalink

    I believe that anything a woman does out of her own choice, anything that is her decision can’t possibly undermine feminism really, can it?

    But actually – and I apologise for the shallow nature of this comment – the thing that struck me most when reading this article, was what a great film could be made about Sable Starr and Lori Maddox… has it already been done? Seems ridiculous if it hasn’t. I guess Almost Famous (love that film) must be kind of close. But yeah… haha, I want a good girl-centric film about groupies.

  9. Posted 2011-09-3 at 19:18 | Permalink

    Tatiana,

    Disney! It brings me back to the first few college courses I took on gender studies, I remember reading an essay on Disney princesses and how dis-empowering they are. No doubt that it’s a problem when all of society is telling women they need to be submissive, sexy and always in need of rescuing by a man, and that it’s an even bigger problem when this narrative is presented to children.

    But you are right, so often when we fight that one oppressive image we feel we must swing completely in the opposite direction. That if seashells over the boobs and a sexyish mermaid tail is bad, whatever the opposite is must be right. What is needed for young girls especially are more three dimensional characters.

    Okay, okay but to this point because it is so excellent: “So I think this image of a sexually charged feminist – as per the quote I took from you – is based on this idea of creating a female man. Part of that is chauvinistic because it often entails femme guilt and the rejecting anything that’s remotely feminine. But another part, at its core, is that a lot of women want the power of men (super assertive, aggressive, independence, etc). They want to use the same language that we use to talk about men, to talk about women.”

    I think to an extent, this is really wonderful and powerful. I’ve played with masculinity in my own sexuality and like being able to explore my own male-ness. But the problem is that this should not be at the expense of my femininity. Just as owning my “masculinity” in sex feels powerful, so should owning my “femininity”. And here I use air quotes because I am referring to what we *traditionally* consider to be sexually “masculine” or “feminine”. But in so many areas of society, even in feminism, traditional “femininity” in sexuality isn’t really seen as empowering.

    It would seem that with the rise of a new “more sensitive” male, tables would be turning. But, I’ve heard from many submissive men that they find it super hard to date and that they feel their sexuality is erased and just not respected.

  10. Posted 2011-09-3 at 19:35 | Permalink

    LGS, I could not agree more, you are making me want to create this film! Almost Famous was loosely based on a lot of the things that happened among the GTO’s and some of the groupie babies. Kate Hudson said she studied Pamela Des Barres for her character, but it’s been said that she was mostly playing groupie baby Geraldine Edwards.

    Thought there was one scene from Almost Famous that seemed ripped straight from Lori Madoxx’s life (who was also known as Lori Lighting.) Lori was seeing Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, although he had a girlfriend back home. She would lay on the hotel room bed while he talked with his girlfriend, and that was okay. She was sort of like his “on the road” wife. But when Page started sleeping with another groupie, Bebe Buell she lost it. Bebe is also the mother of Liv Tyler, and was a beautiful woman and was said to be narcissistic.

    Bebe and Jimmy were in the hotel room and apparently Lori burst in and tore them apart, beating at Bebe, while Jimmy just stood there, apparently looking “amused”. This story kinda gets under my skin and really reeks of the sort of machismo that was so heavy in the rock scene then, and to an extent still exists today.

    Anyway, it’s been years since I’ve seen Almost Famous but I thought this was very close to a scene in the film…

    Also, in this peice I really struggled because I wanted to include hip hop groupies, as we’ve seen the rise of the famous hip hop groupie in recent years ala Super Head and Internet sensation Kat Stacks. But that is truly deserving of a piece of it’s own, as famous hip hop groupies report fightnig extreme sexism and often abuse.

    BTW, I am a total Kat Stacks fan: http://katstacksfans.com/ Kat is a groupie/hip hop terrorist who does things like publish rappers phone numbers, or defame them by uploading videos of their drug supply…I’ve heard Kat considers herself a feminist, and from hew view she is fighting the sexism within hip hop.

  11. Posted 2011-09-3 at 19:39 | Permalink

    Okay; this film needs to happen. Under the control of the right people, it could be amazing.

  12. Posted 2011-09-4 at 09:42 | Permalink

    ‘I believe that anything a woman does out of her own choice, anything that is her decision can’t possibly undermine feminism really, can it?’ -LadyGrinningSoul

    I don’t think the feminists who I choose to criticise and decide to challenge would agree with you. And I don’t think I do either. I undermine feminism all the time, quite deliberately.

  13. Posted 2011-09-4 at 13:01 | Permalink

    Quiet Riot Girl – Haha, yeah, I rethought that last night in bed. I undermine feminism all the time too. I think I meant it doesn’t undermine women as a gender.

  14. Posted 2011-09-4 at 13:15 | Permalink

    I agree with LGS, I think that a lot of feminism is about supporting/trusting women. Or at least the mainstream blanket term of feminism. And this is the reason a lot of my IRL friends don’t consider themselves feminists– because it’s too gendered, to binary, what about offering our support to other marginalized peoples?

    However, I do think the digital wave of feminism is way, way less about blind love/support of all women and more about helping marginalized people– I”m thinking the Jessica Valentis and Courtney Martins of the world.

  15. Posted 2011-09-5 at 08:07 | Permalink

    what about offering support to men? They are marginalised all the time in many ways.

  16. Daria
    Posted 2011-09-14 at 22:05 | Permalink

    Very interesting article and comments. I don’t know much about many of the women mentioned but I did read the book, “And I Don’t Want to Live this Life” by Deborah Spungeon about her daughter, Nancy. I am glad that you mentioned that Nancy was in fact, murdered. A young, drug-addicted, mentally ill woman murdered by her drug addicted, rock star boyfriend and SHE’S the nauseating one? Yes, quite sexist and extremely telling of the victim blaming abused/murdered women still endure.

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