Am I a Groupie?

group·ie
ˈɡro͞opē/

noun

informal
  1. a person, especially a young woman, who regularly follows a pop music group or other celebrity in the hope of meeting or getting to know them.

Since 1965, the term “Groupie” has been thrown around as a slur to describe a group of woman who would linger around arenas and stadiums in hopes of temporary contact with a musician. Since then, the tradition and culture of the groupie lifestyle have been brought forward to the millennial era, however, groupies are now no longer only woman chasing musicians, but it is also used to describe anyone who obsessively physically follows anything in the pop culture scene, such as sports teams, actors,  authors, there are even groupies for NASA!

Despite its popularity and the wide variety of people who engage in this lifestyle, it is typically women only women who are called this word and they use it interchangeably with words like slut.  So why aren’t the men who wait out behind the sports arena to get their jerseys signed called a groupie? and if they were to be called one, what are the chances it would be used as negatively as it is with women?  Also, why is being a groupie so taboo when they are clearly needed in the pop-culture scene? musicians need fans, and they especially need fans who would go the extra mile for them!

The topic of groupies is a personal subject for me. When I was a young teen, it was something I aspired to be, and then when I got older I realized the negative connotation that comes with the label. When people on social media called me a groupie, they were implying I was a slut. Whether I actually slept with musicians or not, having it be publicly known that I was involved with a musician(s), and people being aware that I was trying to get more involved in behind the scenes of the music industry, more woman turned against me, and the more I was asked if I was a groupie in a negative manner.

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Sable Starr and Lori Maddox hanging around Sunset Strip with other baby groupies. 1970s. Properties of CREEM magazine

But, before we talk about me, and whether or not I am one, try to be one or if I ever was one. let us talk about some of the prominent women in this field who really trademarked the nomad lifestyle of a groupie. Female groupies in specific, have a long-standing reputation for their availability that is almost restricted to those of higher statuses, such as musicians and actors. More specifically, I want to talk about musicians and their interactions with groupies, because this culture/lifestyle/job/whatever you want to call it, wouldn’t be so prominent if it wasn’t used and engaged with.

When I first got into the obsession of music culture: like literally eating, breathing, dying over music — I didn’t know what the hell a groupie was. I didn’t know doing whatever I can to come in contact with my favourite musician was frowned upon by those who weren’t as obsessed with music. When I was 15, I had already become heavily engaged in the “concert lifestyle”, decently connected with roadies, securities,  as well as actual musicians. I then stumbled across an article that was written about several very-young-girls from the 70s who, too, wanted nothing more than to be able to go backstage and see what it was like to be with the band.

One of the “Queens” of the 70s Los Angeles groupie scene was Sable Starr. Sable Starr, birth name: Sable Hay Shields, admitted in a 1973 Rolling Stones article she was closely acquainted with the biggest names in music at that time, including Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Robert Plant and many more — Did I mention that she was only 13 at the time?

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Sable Starr – Photo Courtesy of Creem Magazine

Starr was the initiator of what was to become baby groupies, who were the dominating group of ladies in the lavish style of being with the band, the name was given to them because most of them were way-beyond-under-age (13-16). They frequented the Rainbow Bar and Grill, the Whiskey a Go Go, and Rodney BingenHeimer’s English Disco, also known as the hottest spots to be in West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in the 70s. Many would see their favourite rockstars going in and out of these bars, but it was only a few lucky that got the opportunity to be sat with their favourites, like the baby groupies.When Starr got invited to the Whiskey a Go Go at the age of 14, her career as a groupie began to take off. When asked in the 1973 article how she caught the attention of untouchable rock gods she stated it was her glam-rock way of dress. This emphasized that fashion was a huge part of this culture and lifestyle

From there, like any good businessman or woman, she saw what she wanted to continue that way of life and networked her way to meet more musicians.

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Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and Sable Starr backstage, 1975 – Photo by Peter Simon

For her, it was about the exposure and attention she received.  She was habitually photographed alongside well-known musicians, with the photos being printed in popular music magazines such as Creem, making her name in the music industry and what could be considered a trusted groupie, for other rock musicians to bring along on
their travels.

Sable Starr’s savvy character provided the foundation for future women who were also interested in what appeared to be the glamorous life of a musician’s love-interest. Nearly thirty years later, she was reincarnated in the name of Penny Lane for the popular coming-of-age film Almost Famous. The film takes place in 1973, replicating the most-popular time for rock and roll and more importantly for Groupies.

 

 Penny Lane, like Sable, is the ring-leader of an all-female clique known as Band-Aids, but unlike Sable, Penny gloats of her expertise on distancing herself from the negative term groupie — famously stating:

“We are not groupies. Groupies sleep with rock stars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids” – Penny Lane (Almost Famous, 2000)

Penny Lane and her Band-Aids troop accompanied band members on tour,  each lady designated a specific member of a specific band. Penny was the lady of Russell Hammond of Stillwater, Russell was the lead guitarist and main songwriter for the growing rock band that the movie follows along on tour. The film’s protagonist, the fifteen-year-old Wiliam Miller, joins the band Stillwater tour as an aspiring music journalist, there he meets the infamous Penny Lane who opens up to him about her passion for being a Band-Aid coincides with her passion for music.  However, one of the main dilemmas shown throughout the film is that despite Russell’s physical attraction for Penny, and allowing her to openly join the band on tour as his right-wing woman, he was married and wanted to keep it that way.

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Penny Lane – Almost Famous, 2000 – a Cameron Crowe production

This narrative reminded me of the sad reality of Sable Starr’s life. When Starr was only 16 she met Johnny Thunders, guitarist for the New York Dolls, and soon ran away from home to be with Thunders in New York.

The relationship did not last long, when she learned that Johnny was no who she dreamed of him to be, the life of running away with a big musician did not end in a house with white-picket-fence and an abundance of children. Thunder was an aggressive alcohol and drug abuser, who would even get violent with her.

When Starr, escaped Johnny Thunder, she fell back into the lifestyle of being a groupie for even bigger artists, such as Iggy Pop.  Despite Iggy’s infatuation with her and even writing about her in his song Look Away.  The rock icon didn’t keep her forever, none of them did. Just like Penny Lane in almost famous, Russell Hammond chose his wife and his reputation at the end of the day.

I slept with Sable when she was 13, Her parents were too rich to do anything. She rocked her way around LA, ’til a New York Doll carried her away.” – Look Away, Iggy Pop

In reality, no musician takes a groupie beyond the road. I have experienced first hand that the lifestyle of backstage passes and having songs written about them, is actually an abundance amount of pressure. Most of the time it’s all secrets, and distancing yourself from reality. Being a groupie is not really a realistic lifestyle, you’re never really a part of the team, and will always be disposable.

Whether it be the fictional Penny Lane or the real-life Sable Starr, Lori Maddox and all the other women who have come and gone and lived what I see as their best life. We still haven’t really discussed why Groupies are so belittled.  As mentioned earlier in this discussion, groupies are literally fans of the bands who’ve been selected to either sleep with the band or party with the band, but they don’t force themselves on the musicians, they don’t drug the musicians into getting into bed with them — if anything it’s vice-versa, so why is it that the females are blamed and shamed for getting the opportunity to hook up with or hang out with their favourite band member?

I think of the groupie dichotomy like this, it goes back to the legal argument of prostitution; people, mostly right-winged people, have this jaded-view that the women who choose to sell their body for items of value, such as money, shelter, food, etc do not value themselves. Women who are willing to sleep with musicians to get that backstage experience or their small moment of fame are seen in the same light, the worst part is that it’s usually other women who degrade those who engage in these kinds of activities.

We’re taught that sex is sacred, sex should only be used to procreate or for “love” (whatever that is), therefore a woman uses it as almost a skillset or as an activity they enjoy, is a woman that doesn’t respect herself.

The woman doesn’t respect herself?

gag.

What about the man that is willing to sleep with a girl, knowing that she’s doing it for the experience, to say they did it, to get that backstage pass when the man is most likely in a “committed” relationship… isn’t that more degrading? Nope. Men are allowed to use sex as an activity. Just like men are allowed to purchase sex via prostitutes, but the woman selling it are the “sluts” and “gross”.

It disappoints me to read that such big rock influences: Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and so forth, were all willing to sleep with girls who were under the age of 16. Every so often the exciting tales of the baby groupies circulate, and the majority of the time woman comment that they cannot believe that these 13-16-year-old girls would be willing to attend club events, dress “provocatively” and then have sex with grown men.

These girls, myself included at some point in time, are tempted by the luxury lifestyle of traveling and being close to their biggest music idols. These girls, are blinded by the infatuation of the opportunity to be close to an artist they support and love? Why aren’t more people yelling that these grown-men were taking advantage of underage girls with sex, drugs and rock’n’roll?

Why do we get disgusted at groupies? why are we not disgusted with grown men who can’t control their urges? To me, groupies are smart. They know if they wear the tighter clothes and bat their eyelashes they can get into an amazing concert for free.

Do we get why I’m mad?

I’m about to start using the caps-locks because I’m getting heated, so let us move on shall we?

Let’s talk about me, where do I fit in on all of this? Groupie? Band-Aid? Why do people even think I am any of the above? I’ll answer the third question first but in two parts. First, my love of music tends to spill over to the kind of people I date and lust over,  I constantly joke that I will only date a man if he is Eddie Vedder or whoever I am lusting over at the moment and for that reason, people think I am trying to say “I only date people that are famous”.  However, that’s not the reason and most people who actually know me are aware that being famous is the last thing on my mind.  My love for musicians is not the attraction for fame,  I am not attracted to someone because of their so-called power,  I am attracted for their similar passion for music.

When reading about women such as Sable Starr and Lori Maddox, fame played a huge roll in why they want to be seen with people like Robert Plant and Iggy Pop. This thought continues into this day and age, as a lot of modern-day groupies only really want the selfies, the side stage photos, backstage pass photos just so it can be on Instagram and then they get famous from that. That is the reason why I stopped associating myself with the term groupie.

For me,  I resonate more with the Penny Lane’s belief in Band-Aid‘s: it’s about the music. I want to date a musician for the music. I want to befriend musicians to talk music and watch them perform live every night. I want to be the girl they sing about, inspire, remind them that they became a musician out of passion, not money and power. My intention is not to be seen with a famous person in order to grow my popularity on social media.

Not to gloat or to use this as an opportunity to brag, but had I been out for fame, there were many times I could have posted a picture of where I was and who I was with, but I didn’t and would never expose a person or use a person for fame.

This brings me to my second reason to why I am often asked if I am a groupie, or had been a groupie. Once upon a time, I was with someone who was in a popular band, and as much as I tried to keep it on the down low, stories started to spin and a shit-storm began….blah blah blah (can you tell I don’t enjoy talking about it anymore, because I really don’t). So, anyways, as someone who was once romantically involved with a musician, I made a promise to myself to never exploit someone for my own personal gain. However traumatizing that experience was, I genuinely did learn that musicians struggle with finding a way to trust “outsiders”,  and that it can become one their biggest insecurities, and it is for those insecurities they would rather a groupie in their bed, because it’s a “you’re using me for fame, and I’m using you for sex”.

There’s a scene in Almost Famous when Will, the young aspiring journalist, asks Penny if she has any normal friends — instigating that he’s worried that the people she hangs out with are using her for her body. Penny casually replies that famous people are just more interesting, indirectly telling Will that she doesn’t mind being the source of entertainment for musicians such as her love interest Russell Hammond, because at least she gets to go on tour with her favourite band and live in the moment.   The difficulty in the groupie lifestyle is remembering you’re accepting the task of being an accessory on tour, you’re there to party and interact with the band members.  The groupie lifestyle really does create an impending lifestyle of loneliness.

“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if ya never take it seriously, ya never get hurt, ya never get hurt, ya always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” – Penny Lane

The life on the road for both the artists and the women they bring along is the temporary world they create to get them through the six months or however long the tour is. Something I personally learned from my experience is that you really have to distance yourself from the pent-up emotions you have for your favourite artist and remember that they most likely have a real life back home and that you, too, should have a real life once the show ends.

Now at 22, this is not the part of the groupie lifestyle I am interested in.  I, like Penny Lane I supposed, felt the burn of getting caught up with a musician and well, catching the feels to only be abandoned. There’s no other way to put it than, it fucking sucks and  I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, that he can write all the love songs about you, they still will never choose the groupie.

But where do I fall in all of this now? What kind of groupie was I?

I see the groupie profession in several different tiers. Tier 1, is the groupie who doesn’t post the bluntest proof on social media, maybe a selfie in the green-room mirror with the location being the theatre/arena, because they frequent the scene with a specific often they don’t want to ruin it by fully exposing the band. Tier 2, is the groupie that is about the sex, they don’t care if they’re getting the fame or however long they last with a specific band and member, as long as they can go around telling people that they’ve slept with so-and-so. Tier 3,  is the “I know a tour manager” guestlist groupie, they can cut the line and flip their hair as they walk past the queue. Lastly is Tier 4, the lingerers.  They linger at the back of the theatre/arena for a few hours, get the photo and then that is repeated 10x a tour because they pay to follow them on tour. To me, there is none that is above the other, but to some… it’s a cut-throat competition.

ok but Darya, which one are/were you? Are you a groupie?

Well, I honestly couldn’t say.  I was never a Penny Lane or Sable Starr. A nomad groupie lifestyle was a lifestyle I always had to turn down because I, unlike those adventurous ladies, live at home with strict middle eastern parents who would not let me travel with some band. At least not for a long period of time.

What I can say, however, is I belive in the Band-Aid philosophy whole-heartedly and that is something I will carry forever. I want my life to be music, I want to be on the road with musicians, and at a show every night. I learned a lot from my past experiences, and I hope whoever is reading this and if they are interested in the groupie lifestyle to be cautious. To take Penny Lane’s wise words, and distance yourself from the emotions.

As for me,  I want music to be my career, I want to be at a gig every night, I want to be around musicians and talk music, and be in the scene again. So if that makes me a groupie, I am okay with it.

But just make sure you call me a Band-Aid 😉

Lots of Love,

Darya.

x

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Contact email: blueveinblues@gmail.com

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