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.
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.
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.
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.”