That pesky “Groupie” label

A few weeks back I was in the middle of some research I was doing for my writing when I came across a subject I kept in the back of my mind for later mulling. The article I was reading was an essay printed from Bitch: The Women’s Rock Newsletter with Bite. This was a rock ‘zine printed back in the 80’s, and while at the time I probably wouldn’t have identified myself with much if any of the female rockers or people pictured in the magazine, (At the time I was in my teens, my hair was either blonde or brown depending upon how much Sun-In I’d used in my hair – I have pictures that won’t ever be printed here to prove it – and I wore mainly pastels as opposed to black leather and lace. I was truly the “good-girl” antithesis of a rocker, saccharine-sweet as possible.) secretly – as in “in my room, late at night, I would whisper to my stuffed animals before I went to sleep” that I wished I was brave enough to step outside the box a little. I didn’t really hit my hard-rock music edge until college – the early to mid-90’s (I graduated from college in 1993), although even then, I was in a sorority and was far more apt to follow along with wearing my ZTA letters – Zeta Tau Alpha – and just be one of the crowd than stand on my own. I kept my love for Duran Duran, AC/DC, most of the hair bands, Aerosmith, Led Zepplin and even Ozzy well hidden from friends and fellow sorority sisters – who tended to favor top 40’s sticky bubble-gum pop. Even so, as I accompanied my then drummer boyfriend to his gigs on the Sunset Strip, I secretly admired those girls who would stand in the front of the crowd, daring my boyfriend and the other guys in his band to lose their concentration just long enough to flirt. They could get away with the hard-edged image and not look completely ridiculous. I wanted to look and have the attitude of some of those women, but on my own terms I guess. I just didn’t fit in, and sadly – I think my rocker boyfriend recognized this as well. He soon ran off with one of his groupies, who was way more to his style than I ever was. We’d been high school sweethearts and had been dating for nearly five years. How utterly cliché. Maybe that is why I never became a groupie?

I digress.

The point, and yes – there really IS a point here, is that in this essay I’d come across, the author (Cheryl Cline) comments on adult fandom and groupie behavior – and yes, there is a difference. Even back in the 80’s writers contemplated the boundaries of fandom and groupie behavior. The idea of an adult confessing her crush on a rockstar “is to overstep the bounds of proper feminine behavior.” She continues, “It’s a sign of maturity to pack up all of the posters, photos, magazines, scrapbooks and unauthorized biographies you so lovingly collected and shove them in the back of the closet.” Ok, so mine are at least in the closet…hung up so I can see them, and displayed so I can find them….*coughs* for when I’m doing RESEARCH, of course.

Hardly.

“If you’re under thirteen, you’re supposed to have crushes on rock stars. It’s normal, so it might be a good idea to babble on about Duran Duran….” So is she saying that I should have already given this up by now?? Fear not, my friends. Read on..

(this is the part that ties into my original paragraph, I promise!)

“True groupiedom is a tough business and not everyone is cut out for it. For one thing, not everyone looks like Britt Eckland.” Keep in mind, this was written in the 80’s. If you don’t know who Britt Eckland is – Google awaits. Count me amongst the zillions who do not look like Britt Eckland, or even Sable Starr. (Again, Google her if you don’t know…) I just don’t think any guy, any rock star for that matter, would look my way even once as they passed me by. I just have that “any other girl” look, and I accept that. However, and this is a big however… I don’t know that I’d want it any other way. Would you?

“Even girls who indulge in the hardest core fantasies about a rock star and who occasionally (say, four, five times a day) fantasize about being his groupie do not, in real life, want to be groupies.” If that sentence somehow confuses, here’s something slightly more blunt to try on for size, “A desire for sex shouldn’t be confused with the desire to get fucked.” (Lori Twersky; ‘Devils or Angels? The Female Teenage Audience Examined’, Trouser Press, April 1981)  Of course, I can hear the men out there protesting with vigor, “Yeah, but that article was written about teenagers. You are grown women.” This is true, but the notes still carry with resounding power.

Even though as a young woman I looked at those women and admired them for not being afraid to step out of the female box and dress with quite a bit more edge and attitude than I had at the time, I don’t know that I really wanted to BE a groupie. “The idea that women rock fans want to be groupies of the most craven sort is a strictly masculine daydream – Them as the rock stars surrounded by Us, the groupies.” Cline continues to a place where I think we as fans tend to struggle with the whole concept – I’ve seen it discussed angrily here on the blog whenever we’ve dared to bring the subject up, and I have no doubt that it will continue from here. ‘Groupie’ is a slippery term. Strictly speaking, a groupie is a person (a woman, usually), who ‘chases after’ rock stars, as my mother would say. But ‘groupie’ is also used more or less synonymously with ‘girl Rock fan’, ‘female journalist’, and ‘woman Rock musician’; it used to mean anyone working in the music field who isn’t actually a Rock musician; its used as an all-purpose insult and a slur on one’s professionalism; it’s used as a cute term for ‘hero-worship’; and it’s used interchangeably with ‘fan’. To some, the phrase ‘fans and groupies’ is redundant.”

I don’t argue that the term ‘groupie’ is interchangeable with the term ‘fan’ for many out there, whether you’re female or male. I’ll even go a step farther – there are some fans out there that really are groupies whether they want to admit it or not. That’s how they choose to “get ahead” in the business. Whether or not they’re actually getting ahead isn’t for me to say, because let’s face it – I’m just a blogger, and I’m sure as hell not getting paid to heave up my opinion each day. I pay for my own gigs on my own steam, and that’s the way I want it until Duran Duran starts paying my way. (It’s a joke, people!)

The funny thing about these rock ‘n’ roll fantasies, at least for me, is no matter how much I fantasized about Duran Duran back in the day – never once did I think about it as a quickie night on a tour bus or even more bluntly – on my knees somewhere in a dark, or not-so-dark corner backstage. (I’m cringing just as you are, but sometimes you’ve got to go with the really raw, really blunt imagery. I’m sorry. I’ll go wash my brain with bleach now, and I expect you’ll do the same.) My little-girl fantasies were about the long term, or God-forbid, about actually meeting and just talking to them! I certainly never thought much about the scene that might have unfolded backstage at one time. And now? I guess I wonder how I’d even begin to respond if I really had the chance? I suppose that after I got finished picking myself up off of the floor from shock, I’d have to wonder why any of the band would be that desperate for company at this point in their lives, and why on earth they’d think I’d want to destroy a thirty-year relationship to accompany them back to their hotel room for a single night.

A thirty-year relationship you ask? Yes. Because for me – that’s what I’d be ruining. My own fandom. I mean, how does one go from being a fan who merely fantasizes about the idea of MEETING them to someone who has actually slept with one of them and come out of it feeling OK and not the least bit awkward? It isn’t as though it’s a relationship that would last.  How would you go to another show and not feel used or know they aren’t snickering behind your back? I don’t know. Becoming a friend, and I mean a genuine friend, has far more appeal. Not that I expect that to ever happen, but I think some of you will understand my point. I just don’t think you can ever come back from being labeled a groupie, and once that label has been smacked upon your forehead – what then? Do you move on to other musicians? Other bands? At what point does this stop working for you and begins locking you out of the world you want to desperately be in? I really don’t know, which is probably a sign that I was never cut out for that scene.

In hindsight as I think back to those days when I would sit in the back of The Roxy or The Whisky-a-gogo waiting for Brian to finish his set, I think back to how much I would admire the girls that had the nerve to dress like hell-on-wheels with an attitude to match. I think part of me still has admiration for those who can and will step outside the box of “mom”, or “wife” or any of the other feminine ideals that get thrust upon us once we’re grown. I’ll still go to concerts or other events and look at some of the more harder-edged women around me and sort of long for the audacity to wear leather, dye my hair unnatural colors beyond just the vivid red streaks I’ll have at times, and look like I’ve lived my life in a club on Sunset Strip, but the fact is – I just haven’t.  I’m the mom you might see wearing Doc Martens to a PTA event; the girl who once bopped around town in a Suzuki Samurai with chromed wheels and a custom turquoise paint job, “blonde” hair up in a high ponytail; and the person you might see smiling up at the band at a Duran Duran show. I’ve never been one to talk my way backstage, and chances are, I probably never will. I’ve been known to have great admiration for some who have the look and the attitude along the way, only to find they bend the rules at will. While the ends may seem to justify the means to many, it isn’t who I am, and it’s not something I can indulge.

-R

4 thoughts on “That pesky “Groupie” label”

  1. I once met at groupie (not a DD groupie). It was one of the first concerts I ever went to, I must have been about 14. Anyway, the groupie spent her time bragging how many members she slept with. And I watched her get her backstage pass. All it required is no bra and a lifting of the shirt.

    The difference to me is plain. A fan is someone who appreciates the artist and their art. A groupie just wants to get laid and have bragging rights. 😀

  2. I have seen/met plenty of groupies who are truly just that – they want backstage, they want to party with the band (and I'm talking any band, not specifically Duran Duran here), and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get there. I've also met groupies who are sort of different. They too have a goal in mind and are willing to get to that goal however need be. They seem to think that respect actually comes from doing the dirty work it takes to get there, and by 'dirty' I don't really mean writing a blog and taking care of the kids by day, going to shows at night. I think every groupie has a goal in mind, but whether it's purely bragging rights or working their way up the music business “ladder” probably depends.

    I don't mean to say I actually admired these girls that would go and flash whatever guy was in front of them to get backstage, although I've got to say they've all got one hell of a lot more bravado than I ever had and I'll give them props for that I guess. There is no way I would have ever done that, and I think at this point people would probably give me whatever I wanted NOT to flash them. 😀 I remember being so mortified when the girl my high school boyfriend cheated on me with came up to me at one of his gigs and introduced herself as his new girlfriend. Of course he'd sort of forgotten to mention that to ME, and he was my ride home! Good times. I looked her up and down as she stared me down smugly and realized that no, we were definitely not in the same league. I no more belonged in that world with my pink sweaters and denim jeans than they belonged at my sorority house. In that one moment, I sort of wished I was a little more like her and a little less like me, and not just because she was walking away with high school boyfriend. (to be fair to my husband…I ended up with a way better deal.)

    After giving this fair consideration, I have to say that my blog is really more like two separate things:

    1. I am definitely not a groupie, nor am I looking to work my way through the music industry in whatever fashion needed in order to get to whatever I want. (I'm really very happy writing here and writing more books, thanks)

    2. However, I really sometimes wish I could at least PLAY the part of a rocker chick sometimes. Alas.. I think I am more of the “soccer-mom-on-a-weekend-out-with- friends” sort.

    -R
    -R

  3. I don't know why, but that scene from Sing Blue Silver comes to mind. You know the clueless girls trying to get a backstage pass? I was always so angry about that… that they didn't even know the names of the members. So unfair!

    As far as I was concerned, they didn't qualify as fans OR groupies!

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