Lust for Life
Memoirs of an Unrepentant Ex-Groupie
"I'm a slut but I'm not a lying slut."
-- "Sweet" Connie Hamzy, denying she slept with President Clinton
In December 1992, culture critic Ann Powers wrote about Pamela Des Barres and the groupie phenomenon in The New York Times. Girls like Pamela, Powers wrote, "transformed 'hanging out' into a form of creative expression." The groupie lifestyle was "one of the rock era's liveliest, unofficial conceptual art projects."
Groupies' presence "was never considered legitimate," but Powers nonetheless took their side, noting they not only "embody the contradiction of rock's sexual allure," but were representative of "the most extreme example of women's attempt to fashion a space within rock's manly arena."
Powers made excellent points about that manly arena: Some women fight those stereotypes and become musicians. Others who do legitimate work in the business must fight the groupie label. And a few, like the fey Miss Pamela, wanted to "believe the music's promise of libidinal empowerment [and instead] embraced the role of courtesan."
Pamela and her Hollywood-based GTOs were not the only groupies, just the most famous. In the late Sixties, they opened the backstage doors for Cynthia and Diane Plaster Caster, SuperGroupie Cleo, Jenny Dean, Emeretta Marks, and a host of others.
Grand Funk Railroad had given "Sweet" Connie Hamzy and the girls a shout-out in "We're an American Band," and by the Seventies, groupies like Sable Starr and the Butter Queen were found in every major city. One such Pamela wannabe was me, ringleader of a group of Austin girls known as the "Texas Blondes."
After reading Powers' article, it seemed groupies were practically the unsung Florence Nightingales of rock & roll, substituting backstage blowjobs and the risk of clap for a gracious bedside manner. But was this outlandishly sexual part of my history shameful or worth celebrating?
I pitched this notion of groupie revisionism to SXSW in 1993, and they agreed it was a sexy panel. Powers and Des Barres were invited, as was producer-songwriter Kim Fowley. It was an unqualified success, with an SRO audience right to the end.
We discussed Ann's theory of rock & roll's musical genesis in the rhythms of the body and how it encourages the development of the sensual self. We also talked about how rock allows men to express themselves sexually in a way that few other professions do. The problem is that in such a context, women are rarely seen as equals but instead as sexual conquests. It was a terribly academic spin on something alternately despised and celebrated.
With more than 20 years of debauchery and fast times in the past, did I learn anything? Oh yes: Girls, if you're sucking a member of Limp Bizkit's cock, enjoy it now -- because, trust me, no one will care about them in 20 years. At least choose the ones you can remember fondly.
I had so much fun that just hearing those Eighties greatest-hits CD shills on late-night TV sometimes makes me blush. It wasn't all limos and laminates, but it sure beat Saturday night on Sixth Street.
From the first time I read about groupies in a 1969 Rolling Stone, I wanted to be one. I probably wanted to be one from the first time I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but the soonest I could get to it was when I broke up with my boyfriend in April 1970 and slept with one of the members of Blue Cheer. He was the second guy I slept with. I was 15.
Growing Up Groupie
My mother and I moved to Seattle that May, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a major market for touring bands with virtually no female competition. I pursued my avocation like it was military strategy and honed the technique of being at soundcheck at just the right time, knowing where to score, and a few late-night clubs.
I came back to San Antonio to live with my dad in early 1971. I didn't recognize his mental illness as such then, and considered myself fortunate to have a father who didn't care if I was tripping on mushrooms and allowed my boyfriend to spend the night. If I ran out of pot, I could always raid his.
Being the hip dad that he was, he didn't flinch much when his only daughter called to inform him she was partying at a hotel with Jethro Tull or Yes. He did seem annoyed when I called him after a party with Rod Stewart & the Faces.
"Daddy, can you pick me up at the hotel?"
"It's two in the morning!" he hollered at me.
"At least I'm not spending the night out," I whined.
I went to L.A. for the first time late that summer. My boyfriend was staying far away in the Valley, but I was staying two blocks from Hollywood & Vine with a girl named Carol I had met backstage with Poco in San Antonio. We bonded because Richie Furay (ex-Buffalo Springfield) had given some pot to one of the other band members. It was terrible pot, but no one wanted to hurt Richie's feelings, so whenever he came by the room we had to pretend we were stoned.
"Great grass, dude!" the guys swore when Furay showed up. Carol and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Richie, this stuff is awful!" We giggled ourselves silly.
Happy with a boyfriend, I'd sworn off being a groupie, but the Grateful Dead were playing with the New Riders of the Purple Sage at the Hollywood Palladium, home to the Lawrence Welk Show, a few scant blocks away. Halfway between Carol's apartment and the Palladium was the Columbia recording studio. All we had to do was stroll by the studio two or three times before someone came outside and chatted us up.
The afternoon of the Dead show, Carol and I strolled to the backstage door of the Palladium and found it locked. We banged on it and a friend-of-the-band type opened the door. "We're here to see Jerry Garcia," Carol announced. The door closed in our faces. Moments later the door opened again.
"Yes?" said Jerry Garcia.
"Hi, Jerry!" we chirped brightly. "Can we have passes for the show tonight?"
Jerry said nothing and walked back in, closing the door. Carol and I shrugged and sat down. It had been worth a try. Then Garcia re-emerged bearing two passes.
"Starts at eight," he told us, and handed them over. I left L.A. with my boyfriend a couple of weeks later, feeling pretty damn worldly for 16.
When I started writing in May 1976, I was single again. The week before Jeff Nightbyrd hired me at the Austin Sun to clean the bathroom and answer the telephone (and pester my way into Bill Bentley's gossip column), Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Revue swept through town.
Dirty Ass Rock & Roll
It was a star-studded lineup the likes of which neither Austin nor the Driskill Hotel has seen since: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bob Neuwirth, Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Kinky Friedman, and Mick Ronson. Steve Miller and James Cotton were playing across the street at Antone's original location. That, plus all the auxiliary musicians and attendant tour folks, made for a huge and glittery entourage.
I wrangled an invitation to the Driskill party, and a girlfriend and I showed up wearing slinky Seventies Nystra, which glittered and clung as I
minced up the grand staircase to the ballroom on too-high heels.
Bob Dylan was walking down the stairs toward us accompanied by a man and a woman. He was smiling at me and I almost tripped. As he got closer, he extended his hand and I automatically held mine out. He took and held it tightly. I teetered dangerously, weak-kneed.
"Are these the girls you were telling me about?" he asked his friends. They shook their heads and he looked back to us. "I have to go but I'll be back. It was nice meeting you."
He looked down my cleavage and smiled to my face again, squeezed my hand and walked away. The second he disappeared, I fell off the shoes and onto my ass.
In my new profession as a writer, I didn't sleep with local musicians. This wasn't hard to do, since I rarely dallied with local musicians anyway. Too many personal politics with the wives and girlfriends, and I preferred to be friends with them.
I married for the first time around then and swore off being a groupie for the second time. My then-husband was a photographer, and during our short-lived marriage, we went out regularly, covering the scenes in words and pictures. We were blues fans, but punk was on the rise and we both loved the music and vivid images of its audience. New Wave darlings the Skunks played our wedding reception at Soap Creek.
A few months later, Skunks bassist Jesse Sublett was at a Raul's show, talking up Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale's upcoming Armadillo show. I already knew Austin's resident ex-Velvet, Sterling Morrison, and had no plans to attend.
Two friends insisted I go to the show, but I was so reluctant and dawdled so long that the house lights were dimming as I slipped backstage. Temporarily blinded, I felt my way toward the hallway that ran to the dressing rooms.
Rounding the corner, I ran headlong into a man dressed in black, wearing mirrored shades and a silver hardhat. He pushed me back at arm's length, pausing ever so briefly. I jumped back against the wall as he and the band filed past. The man in black looked back at me over his sunglasses as he ascended the stairs to the stage, and I melted. So this was John Cale!
After the show, the local punk cognoscenti were hanging out and I was observing them, half-envious of their raw mystique. Sterling Morrison was there waiting to do be interviewed with John on the radio. He said hello and we started talking. Cale was signing autographs and glanced toward Sterling and I several times.
Knowing he had seen me talking to Sterling long enough to establish familiarity, I picked up a flier from Raul's and handed it to Cale.
"What's your name?" he asked in deep, melodious Welsh tones.
"Margaret," I flirted with him outright and smiled.
"Margaret." He seemed surprised for some odd reason. He scribbled "Best wishes, Margaret, John Cale" and passed it back. As I reached for the paper, he pulled it back from my grasp so I had to lean toward him to take it.
"What are you doing after the show?" he whispered.
"Anything you want," I murmured back.
In truth, I stood up Cale that night and instead spent the evening with a friend in the midst of a breakup. Three days later, though, Cale and company were playing San Antonio's Sunken Gardens. If he was interested then, he might be interested again, so I drove to the Sunday-afternoon show.
Once backstage, I heard a "pssst" and turned to see him hanging out of the second-floor window overlooking the outdoor stage. He gestured for me to come see him. I ran up the stairs, where he was waiting in a tiny dressing room. There were four rails of cocaine cut on the table inside. John shut the door behind me, pushed me against it, and kissed me for the first time.
We never got to the coke, but minutes later, John's road manager was banging on the door, telling him it was time to go onstage. My strapless floral sundress was in a circular heap on the floor, and I quickly pulled it on. John buckled his black leather pants, buttoned his white shirt, and took a quick snort of the coke.
"I'm here!" he yelled and threw open the door, dashing down the stairs and ready to perform.
After returning to the Armadillo March 9, 1980, Cale was scheduled for six shows over three nights at the Whisky a Go-Go in Los Angeles on March 27-29. A trip to L.A. was in order, this one with the girls, and would change my view of the groupie lifestyle entirely. We came to California as rock & roll tourists and left as the Texas Blondes.
John was the reason I wanted to go, naturally, but I was quite friendly with Cale's backup singer deerfrance and his guitarist Sturgis Nikides. Sturgis and I got along famously with no sexual tension whatsoever; we just plain liked each other -- 20 years later, he's a regular e-mail buddy.
My girlfriends Jessica and Martha and I set out for L.A. one warm Sunday morning in a rented red Ford Fairmont. We also had an unexpected passenger in the form of an underage teenage boy, a friend of Martha's. This pissed off Jessica and me except for one thing: He had a valid driver's license and I didn't. He also had gas money to kick in, and we were broke enough to take it.
We spent Sunday night at a West Texas gas station because we ran out of gas. We arrived in L.A. about 24 hours later, checked into the notorious Tropicana Motel, and slept for hours.
Our room was on the end of the now-leveled Tropicana and had a view of Santa Monica Boulevard. Cale and the band arrived Wednesday afternoon, and the drugs materialized immediately. We'd stockpiled our room with beer and bourbon and were very popular for doing so.
Jessica and Martha had gone to the downstairs restaurant and met some musicians they brought back to the room. Cale and his entire band trickled in, and the party went on most of the night until John and I stole away and went down the hall.
Thursday was the first two of Cale's six Whisky shows. The afterparty was in someone else's room that night, subdued and short, but deerfrance came back to our room with us. We were giggly, girly, coked up, and ready for more. She plopped into the couch, sprawling and waving one arm.
"You're all blondes from Texas. You're the Texas Blondes."
My eyes lit up -- a name, and a catchy one! We promptly designated deerfrance as our first honorary Texas Blonde. deerfrance and I celebrated by posing topless for Polaroid photos holding a sign that read "Texas Blondes."
Friday's post-show party has come to be known in Blonde lore as "The Big Drunk." One drunk party is the same as the next, but I thought I was done for the evening after John visited my room for a couple of hours.
I was already in my nightgown when deerfrance, Sturgis, and bassist Peter Muny showed up. The ice chest was re-stocked with beer, and bourbon, joints, and coke were everywhere. We were knee-walking drunk in an hour, and out came the Polaroid camera.
Snap! There in a flash are deerfrance and I, drunk as lords and babbling for all eternity. I was happy to see John had left his "Lone Star Screw Co." cap in my room, and wore it proudly (if rather drunkenly).
The Saturday show was the wildest of nights. The newly christened Texas Blondes ran around backstage at the Whisky like it was Club Foot, pretending to be Pamela Des Barres with the GTOs. The L.A. girls in the bathroom stared at us as we talked too loud with our Texas drawls, painted on heavier eyeliner, and made our ruby lips even redder, obviously with the band. One forthright local girl liked it.
"Hi, I'm Johanna Went. Who are you and where ya from?"
We looked at one another in disbelief and seized the moment. "We're the TEXAS BLONDES!" We shrieked and collapsed in laughter, and made Johanna the next honorary Texas Blonde.
That night the party was back in a room on the other side of the Tropicana. Sturgis met me there and we walked over together, but it was mostly musicians from local punk bands like the Zeros standing around drinking and smoking pot. In the middle of one non-pot-smoking clutch of musicians was "Fazz" Eddie Muñoz, who had played with the Skunks in Austin and was now with L.A.'s Plimsouls. We laughed, hugged, and played catch-up through a beer or three.
I was antsy for John to arrive and had a bit of a coke buzz going. Someone chopping lines on a table offered me one and I took it, which helped nothing. John had been busy since the morning with a record-store appearance and a couple of meetings, and I hadn't seen him until just before the show.
Afterward, he had gone to do a radio interview with rabble-rousing critic R. Meltzer on L.A.'s Pacifica station. The car was the only radio source, and Martha had gone to the store with it. The TV in the party room had a radio but was too weak to pick up Pacifica. I paced around the party and tried not to look at the door whenever it opened.
When at last the door opened and John charged inside, he was very stoned and lurched to a halt, looking about the room with a dark stare and his hair spiky. I was still talking to Eddie, pretending not to notice John as he pushed his way over and wrapped both arms around my waist, lifting me up. He pressed his lips into my hair and slurred. "Let's go fuck. Now."
Without stopping to say hi to Sturgis or any of his band members, he fairly dragged me out of the party and back to my room. Just before we disappeared, I looked to see who was watching. Sturgis was smirking. Jessica was waving. Eddie was shaking his head but that was okay. They saw John doing his caveman number on me. I was delighted.
A few hours later John woke up and woke me up. The bedside lamp was still on, but it was getting light outside. "Have you got a pen?" he demanded, pushed up unsteadily on one arm, his eyes glassy.
Sleepily, I fished one out of my purse and passed it to him. "What are you doing?"
"Do you remember 'If I Were a Carpenter?'"
I mumbled yes. He reared up slightly and smoothed the sheets between us. In large block letters on the bottom sheet, he wrote "Tim Hardin" and then literally fell flat on his face.
After watching him long enough to make sure he was okay, I extracted the pen from his fist and lifted his head onto the pillow, smoothing his soft, dark, baby-fine hair and kissing his brow.
Cale and the band drove to San Diego later that morning. I visited with friends during the day and moped around that night. We left for Texas the next day, and the Tropicana was short one sheet. What the hell? Someone had written on it.
It was the dawn of the Eighties. We were stardust and we were golden. We ran around with U2, the Clash, the B-52's, Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Police, the Plasmatics, Echo & the Bunnymen, R.E.M., the Pretenders, Devo, the Go-Go's, Psychedelic Furs, Blondie, the Blasters, the Romantics, Rockpile, the Eurythmics, Oingo Boingo ...
'Meet the Texas Blondes'
We loved the boys, and we loved the girls too. Alice took The Edge to church, but I offered to teach Marianne Faithfull to play poker. We bought bandannas at Chrissie Hynde's request, drove Annie Lennox around, and shopped with Cindy and Kate from the B-52's.
"Are we just a bunch of rock & roll sluts?" I asked Kim Fowley, whom I had never met before, during a late-night conversation. "I am having an awfully good time."
"You are beautiful," said the notorious Grammy-winning producer. "There's nothing more beautiful than giving yourself to a musician. Except giving yourself to two or three musicians at the same time."
Fowley went on to write an ear-challenging song about Iggy Pop and a red-headed Texas Blonde named Dayna, and John Cale and me. Even though it was unlistenable, I was quite flattered.
When Cale returned for two Club Foot shows in May 1981, he brought Risé, the woman he would marry. I was devastated, and Sturgis knew it. Plus, deerfrance was now gone from the band, and I missed her.
I was at the hotel with Sturgis and rode in the band's van to the club, sitting in the seat behind Risé and John. Cale all but ignored me (as he should have), so Sturgis tried to console me by making faces behind John's back. It was a long, slow, and tortuous three days. Sturgis invited me to the two Houston shows and I went -- miserable. I wouldn't see John again for almost four years.
I had committed the ultimate groupie sin, the Bad Thing, the I-told-you-so part: I'd fallen hard for John and my heart was no longer into sex, even with musicians for fun, after that May 1981 show. Still, when Iggy Pop came through, promoter Jim Ramsey called me up.
"Bring the girls and meet us in the hotel lobby," he barked. Four of us dragged ourselves to the hotel to meet the promoter and his star. "This is Iggy. Iggy, meet the Texas Blondes." We talked for a few minutes as I introduced the girls and he gave me a goofy smile and a wink.
I sat back in the comfy couches of the bar to talk to Ramsey while the girls entertained the shirtless Iggy next to us. After about 90 minutes of bourbon and chitchat with the promoter, which included negotiating for a laminated pass, I saw Iggy stand up in front of the girls, yawning and stretching like a bony lion.
"I'm going back to the room," he informed them, and then turned toward Jim and I.
"Wanna come with me?"
It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. He still had that endearingly goofy look on his face, and it made me laugh aloud. I could hardly see anything but those incredibly long, thick eyelashes framing his blue eyes. As he stood before me, he scratched his crotch at eye level and I looked. It was bulging. I thought about all the pictures of and stories about Iggy's enormous cock. I loved the way he sang "Lust for Life." I stood up and grinned to Ramsey.
As we walked down the hall, Iggy took my hand and gave it a squeeze. His arms were lean and sinewy. I looked at him closely, past the amazing fringe of lashes, and his blue eyes seemed very shrewd as they stared at my tits.
I figured it couldn't hurt to ask. "I have a fat ass, haven't shaved my legs, and my roots are growing out. You've slept with the young and
beautiful Dayna. Why didn't you pick one of the other girls?"
Iggy stopped in front of a door and fumbled with his key, fitting it in with a metallic pop. He opened the door to his hotel room.
"You like my tits."
Then he slapped my ass, pulled me inside by the arm, and closed the door.
The stories were all true.
But the fun was over. Heartbroken over John, I stopped sleeping with musicians well before my 1984 marriage, but didn't stop meeting them or providing a place to sleep when they came to town.
Besides writing the Chronicle gossip column, I was working for a company that produced a heavy metal video show on access TV and dealt with dozens of then-up-and-coming bands, including Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, and Ratt, doing ID spots, short Q&As, and record-company interviews.
These were usually raucous backstage affairs, but these young and beautiful boys were bursting with energy and naiveté.
"Is it all right for me to drink this Jack Daniels on camera?" asked a very polite Tommy Lee, willing to hide it during the Crüe interview if necessary. (Lee later became less camera-conscious.)
Sometimes these meetings were poignant; I interviewed Wendy O. Williams when she was doing her Eighties metal-queen act, as I had when she was in the Plasmatics. Wendy was a much kinder soul than her braying persona suggested, being adamantly vegetarian and much concerned with animal rights. When she committed suicide in her lonely way a few years ago, I was deeply saddened, feeling she never achieved what she wanted and thinking it was much less than she realized.
Maybe Wendy sensed she was getting too old to play the post-teen rebel forever. In the Nineties, I entered my 40s and playing an overgrown teenager was no longer fun. My girlfriends had gotten married, gotten degrees, had babies, and occasionally ventured back into the wildlife.
Being a groupie was long past, though the stories and reputation stuck around to keep things lively. Was it so bad to have been a rock & roll slut? When Powers' story came out, it was like an epiphany. It was also an unalterable part of my life. Why be ashamed of it?
So I get older, and the up-and-coming musicians stay the same age. Sometimes I hear new music that throbs with a lust for life, and wonder where the groupies are. The groupies are where they always were, of course: hanging around backstage, cruising in as soundcheck ends, or staking out the hotel bar.
They can also be found on the Internet.
This is an almost hilariously appropriate development. Of course groupies thrive on the Net! I know dozens of musicians who take laptops on the road, use instant-message services, e-mail, update Web sites, and take care of business on the road and alleviate boredom. Why shouldn't the girls be there too?
I navigated to GroupieCentral.com (www.groupiecentral.com), the premier Web site of groupie history -- they even found articles from the short-lived slick magazine for groupies, Star, as well as exhaustively researched and updated links to the famous groupies of the past. The advice column is 100% right on, and the gossip columns, FAQ page, and reading list are also very well done.
A search for the word "groupie" on the Net turned up a disappointingly dull anti-groupie screed on Angry.net at (www.angry.net/groups/G/groupies.htm) but mainly locates sites like Everybody loves groupies! (www.jsolar.com/groupies/groupies.html.)
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? It's totally boring. Teaching Kid Rock's drummer to give the Kid a massage and being rejected by the Insane Clown Posse is strictly amateur stuff. Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse. Give me a break!
One problem with GroupieCentral.com is its dreary design, a sort of bad Seventies color scheme and hard-to-read font. Check out the links, though: Metal Sludge (www.metal-sludge.com) has that authentic rock & roll look to it with its black (natch) background.
This site also does GroupieCentral.com one better with its own blonde-bombshell groupie, Donna Anderson. Admittedly, Donna looks like a professional titty dancer, but that's what groupies look like these days.
Donna gets big points for her page at www.metal-sludge.com/longshort.htm, complete with lengths, ratings, and a wicked sense of humor. Anderson and her girls talk the talk of inches, width, stamina, and reciprocation of over 100 hard-rock (and rock-hard) musicians. They compare one unfortunate penis size to South Park's Cartman, but rate -- hello! -- Austin's very own Jason McMaster very favorably.
McMaster is damn lucky, too. Pity Marilyn Manson: "a very lame lay, had an average cock, and lasted all of two seconds. Poor Rose McGowan! Maybe instead of playing around with artificial limbs, he should be thinking about adding an artificial dick!" Wooo!
If I were young and enterprising these days, I would start an Internet service for touring musicians and make cybersex just a keystroke away. The wives and girlfriends need never know. I'd make the boys verify their road status with a call to the hotel desk.
A little C-U-C-Me camera in a private chat room, some Astroglide and whoop, there it is! They might lose the connection, but they'll never catch the clap.
Adapted from Margaret Moser's upcoming book Pearl Necklaces and No Regrets: How I Went From Backstage to Printed Page. Moser is the author of three books and wrote the liner notes for the reissue of John Cale's Vintage Violence.