Groupie Manifesto

When I was growing up in a small town during Generation X, I read rock star biographies and music magazines and books on feminism. Wonder Woman was on the cover of Ms. I wrote fantasies in my diary. Once I started writing about being desired by rock stars, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop the cast of characters, either — as the pages added up, so did the men in my story. Andy Gibb, all the guys in KISS (not just Ace), Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, a few unknown musicians I just made up in my head, even a late night TV comic I found sexy. Dreams of them all through my head spilled like milk and ink as my fantasies poured forth onto the page. The writings of Helene Cixous helped me understand the page was my body. This especially resonates for me. In my writing I lived how I wanted to live.

I went to midnight movies. It was there that I saw Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, which despite all their musical and rumored rebellion seemed standard to me; the princess in the castle looked like every popular girl I’d ever seen: Blonde, skinny, childlike. I also saw the Ramones Rock & Roll High School — and again, the skinny blonde cheerleader type, energetic and easy. And Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Yes, there she was again — slender, pale, desired. Musical genres changed, but not the girl. Voiceless, aggressive, a tiny dancer — The Girl Remained The Same.

The girl was a groupie. She looked nothing like I did, and I knew I would never look like her, and it broke my heart for the thousandth time, but the groupie sang to me silently like a siren on the rocks. Rock star siren and rock star sparkling, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. A groupie.

I grew up during Second Wave Feminism, which historians mark as beginning in 1972. This was the effort in America to secure equal rights de facto (in practice) as well as de jure (through law), including but not limited to family, workplace, and reproductive rights. Self-determined sexuality meant women could have sex outside of marriage, and with birth control. Groupies were young adult women on the cusp of this revolution, navigating old-fashioned double standards with newly emerging independence.

I made it my mission to make out with as many rock star look-alikes as possible at those midnight movies. My best friend fell for a guy who looked like Robert Plant. He borrowed my pornographic fantasy writing and never returned it.

Rumors intrigued us. Groupies called Queens seemed to command adoration from those they adored. Mick Jagger in a radio interview saying that all women are groupies, and that the best aphrodisiac is a new woman, felt titillating. Perhaps understanding what he meant superseded the insult inherent within what he meant. Then again, all men are groupies, and the best aphrodisiac is a new man, too. Maybe this is what the little girls — who grow up to be women who desire beyond being desired — understand?

Reading rock star biographies, I would find the occasional reference to a rock wife or girlfriend. Those women bored me. Who wanted to be married? Cheated on? Not me. More rare was the mention of a groupie. Those women thrilled me! They were autonomous, representing the freedoms and pleasures feminism promised. Even their names were exciting. Mercy! Miss Pamela! Morgana! Cinderella! Lori Lightning! Cynthia Plaster Caster! I just had to know more. Ms. Groupie! Dreams of groupies all through my head!

It would take years — and years! — for me to learn about and eventually meet my rock ‘n’ roll icons. By the time I knew more, I was a grown woman, and mostly glad I had never been a groupie. I was glad because I knew in my heart of hearts I would have been the one other groupies and rock ‘n roll guys would be mean to. The ballad of rock stars and groupies is a power ballad.

Who I would have wanted to be is Lori “Lightning” Mattix. The LA Queen, a 13-year old queen, deflowered by rock star David Bowie in the bathtub and abducted by guitar legend Jimmy Page, a Greek mythology made modern. The first time I saw her name I pictured her, and what I pictured was my idea of the perfect groupie. And when I finally did see real pictures of her, that’s exactly what she looked like. Dark-eyed and raven-haired, vivacious and skinny, with thighs that didn’t touch and breasts that stood up. Sexy in satin short-shorts. Wow! No wonder Jimmy Page kidnapped her, held her hostage in his hotel room, and made her fall in love with him! In my interview with her, I could feel why she was one of the few groupies allowed atop onstage speakers during Led Zeppelin concerts, and actually allowed in the room during interviews with Led Zeppelin, and how come mighty guitarist Page would be inspired by her intensely and alternatively aggressive and gentle energy to wield his bow with evermore creative aplomb. It is said his performances were better because LA Queen Lori was there, stage left. When he left her mid-date and mid-teens for model, musician, and groupie Bebe Buell, Lightning was heartbroken, all tear-streaked face and high drama, Page’s heart as calloused as his fingers, playing her heart-strings gorgeously.

There was the nascent feminist in me. Kidnapping? Hostage? Underage sex? Hm. I was making out with rock star look-alikes and I was underage and I felt uneasy. Was it really a compliment when Jagger called us all groupies, and that a new one is the biggest turn-on? When Page said scenes with groupies were like eating hamburgers? Interchangeable and disposable, like a look-alike chorus girl, legs kicking up? Dead meat. More hm. Sticking a hairbrush inside a groupie, however willing the groupie? Throwing groupies in pools? Trapping groupies in elevators, and never letting them (get) off? Burning their flesh with cigarettes, and hitting them, however highly paid the rider contract stipulates? Raping groupies with fish, videotaping it, and making jokes about red snappers?

Hanging fish like coats, throwing steak off the balcony, locking monkeys in the bathroom, swimming with squid trapped in bathtubs, dead swans in the street?

The nervous laughter of one who is about to sacrifice morality, or ethics, and just toss right and wrong out the window along with the hotel television set. Gluing hotel room furniture to the ceiling and a mess in the room and who cleans it up? A car in the pool and it’s all in good fun!

How to be cool like a groupie or rock star and still do the right thing. The sexy world of groupies and rock stars in the all-American context of rock & roll suddenly sorrowful.

Mick Jagger notorious for ignoring women in the room unless they are there to serve him sexually. David Bowie deflowering a 13- year old, then when he was done, asking her underage friend to join in for a threesome. Joey Ramone beating up his girlfriend, repeatedly. Heartbreaker Johnny Thunders breaking more than hearts. Michael Gira accused of rape.

How to reconcile my fantasies of these hot rock ‘n roll guys with the reality of them. Impossible. Better to just hit pause on that, and press play on the music. Because that is what they are worth. And their music is worth a lot.

Sexism turns into sexuality, sexuality turns into sexism. Girls and women can’t say yes so boys and men don’t accept no. Girls and women interpret a violation as validation. He hit me and it felt like a kiss. She’s asking for it. Lie back and enjoy it.

Lori Lightning’s velvety voice softening when she talks of Page, saying she doesn’t care what anyone says about her or her relationship with Page because she has her memories of him, the times she shared with him, and no one can ever take that away from her. Twenty-somethings I’ve met on Pamela Des Barres’s rock tours and writing workshops who adore Page and Plant, nevermind the naysayers and player-haters!

Groupie feminism is sovereign desire. I always felt too unattractive to be desirous, or desired, but in my fantasies and in my writing I had a right to desire, and was always desired. What I heart about groupies is that they desire. And are desired! As feminist writer Germaine Greer said, groupies demystify sex. Rock star hotel room doors covered with secret notes and lipstick kisses, bubblegum hearts and sticky glitter from groupies — sexy hope on a door. Adore. Groupies go after what they want. Groupies are essentially sexual romantics.

Star magazine was published in 1973, for five issues from February to June. Underage groupies and female musicians were interviewed, and male rock stars were the centerfold. Advice columns encouraged assertive sexuality, make-up tips, and women’s liberation. Platform shoes were popular and cartoons about groupies abounded. Girls and women freely roamed the streets at all hours, unescorted and dressed any way they wanted, with their own money to burn.

Lori “Lightning” Mattix was spotted in the pages of Star by sexy Silverhead rocker Michael Des Barres. Her skinny arms and flashing smile! Those lips, those eyes, that hair! MDB told other rock stars about her, and her legend was secured. Bowie is pictured in the same issue of Star as she, and when the centerfold opens to him I think, how could any girl resist him? Star made stars of rockers, but it made stars of groupies, too.

Stardust from groupies a patina that adds to or perhaps creates the allure, assuring rock star iconization. Like tears, kisses, and prayerful rubbings on Byzantine icons, rock stars become gods in their shine. Fame is sticky glitter. As rock stars such as Led Zeppelin are awarded the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for the cultural contributions to the performing arts, I wonder about groupies. Are there lives not true and artful performances, and worthy contributions? Where are their awards? Groupies are not just a piece of ass. They are a piece of history.

Girls Together Outrageously were a band of groupies formed in the late 1960's. The GTO’s released their only album, Permanent Damage, in 1969. The album was made by the band along with various studio musicians. The liner notes on the album feature Miss Pamela, Miss Sandra, Miss Cinderella, Miss Christine, and Miss Mercy as band members via photographs alongside a personal passage that defines the group for each of them. All are credited as songwriters. Miss Sparky is featured in the album’s booklet insert with a photograph and credited as a songwriter. The album, which includes music, spoken word, conversations, and interviews, establishes the band as an odd performance art rock group. The lyrics are always astounding and sometimes troubling.

The group originally called themselves the Laurel Canyon Ballet Company. Musician Frank Zappa suggested the name the GTO’s. The acronym is usually interpreted as Girls Together Outrageously, or Girls Together Only. I think the GTO’s, with their performance art, musical ambition, and sexual assertiveness, are a precursor to Third Wave Feminism’s art and music-focused riot grrrl. Their only album might in fact be unlistenable and strangely catchy. But I love the album cover and the band: the album art is purple, the liner note layout is cool, and the “music” on it is extravagant. I love that it is their only album, and that they only did one show, a legendary performance at the Shrine in Los Angeles, in 1968. The one-time experience feels precious. I love the album because visionary artist Cynthia Plaster Caster, the groupie who casts rock stars’ genitalia, is interviewed on the record. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, known for his love of underage girls as well as for his influential support of all women of any age who make music, is on the album, too. I love the GTO’s because they are groupies making music.

Groupies take action. Sable Starr, notorious groupie who drew sad hearts from her fogged breath on the hotel room window as Mattix gave her virginity to coveted Bowie in the bathroom (Starr later joined in the festivities, sad heart fading fog behind her) and who was regularly beaten up by her boyfriend, that sexiest of rock ‘n roll heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders, said in Star, “If you’re the aggressive type, the flashy type, you make it…You just have to be noticed, you know, because you just can’t stand in the crowd hoping that one of the guys in the band will notice you.” Wow! So not me. I’m passive Pisces with a self-doubting Virgo Moon. Starr solves the problem of not being chosen; she doesn’t wait.

Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Gram Parsons and David Bowie are just a few of the rock stars who have been influenced by the groupies who gave them their style. In her books, and in Pamela des Barres’s 8-week Writing Workshop — a workshop lovingly dubbed “groupie therapy” — I learned about writing, and I learned of the very specific and idol-making flourishes with which famous (and not-so-famous) groupies adorned rock stars. Alice Cooper’s make-up; Rod Stewart’s blond shocktop; Gene Simmons’s top knot; Paul Stanley’s star; Gram Parsons’s jacket; David Bowie’s dyed red hair — all ideas from women: GTO’s Miss Christine; Pamela des Barres; and Angie Bowie, respectively, and respectfully.

Groupies are essential in the understanding of the history of music, the history of women, and the evolution of emancipation. They are paradoxical with their reflected glory and unmarried independence. It is important to understand groupies in terms of self-expression and self-government. Music is as much about self-expression as sex. Rock stars have acquired mythical status, replacing the gods and goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Modernism’s shattering of tradition and the belief in a traditional god lit the stage for the rock star’s emergence. Feminism and civil rights set the stage for a sexual and racial liberation that would announce itself most loudly in the music arena; the term “rock ‘n roll” is slang for sex. So rock stars took center stage. Groupies worshipped at the altar. Offerings on the rock star’s hotel room door like offerings to a god.

My mom’s political science professor said that what we can ask of the artist is the art, and no more. Elvis told his girlfriend June in 1956 that fans “don’t love me, they love the idea of me.” Some musicians reportedly turn groupies away, saying that they can’t deliver what the song already does. It reminds me of my fantasy writing in 5th grade. Writing fantasies about having liaisons with rock stars was my own way of making music when I was young. My writing about groupies and rock stars helped me navigate my experiences with them as I got older. Music, and writing about groupies and rock stars, improves my experience of being alive. There is that dreaminess that makes life so lovely. Memory, imagination, and experience: the love affair is truly in the song. So I heart groupies. Because they love the song as much as I do. 🎵❤️💋