Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Muse: Groupies.

All of these great scans are from: Out demons out!  

In 1969 Rolling Stone Magazine did one of the first ever reports of the Groupie phenomenon, featuring members of the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously, the pet band of Frank Zappa) and others.  Perhaps the word came about thanks to the Mothers of Invention and the GTOs?   The Groupie concept is an interesting one because rock and roll gods of the earlier era--when the groupie concept was just coming into sight-- claim that the reality of the groupie-rockstar relationship is so different from the ubiquitous fiction on the subject.  Most allusions to groupies, especially supposed true life tales from the era, show groupies as either sexy starlets (think: Bebe Buell, mother of rockstar-groupie baby Liv Tyler) or damaged gals one notch up from prostitutes that give rockstars all access to their bodies via one-night stands or tour-length temporary girlfriends.  But in reading actual interviews and accounts from both sides of the rockstar-muse relationship during that era (1960-70s), the true story is generally quite different and often more mundane.  

In fact, most musicians of the 60s and 70s make the distinction between female fans that wanted sexual encounters with band members and actual groupies who were there to follow the band over entire tours or long period of time and attend to the band's physical, emotional, artistic and sexual needs, replacing their girlfriend/wife, mother, secretary, and creative consultants.  Groupies could do everything from mending a hole in the clothes to ordering up room service to providing the needed critique or inspiration for a song a guitarist was working on.  Some of the most noted groupies include: Nancy SpungenCynthia Plaster CasterThe GTOs("Girls Together Outrageously"), and Pamela Des Barres of the GTOs, who wrote 4 books on the subject of groupies.  Des Barres claims a groupie is to a rockstar as Mary Magdalene is to Jesus.

Des Barres also makes a point of using the phrase Rock Muse at times, rather than groupie.  Rock muse gets at the other side of the groupie coin, which is the inspiration and input these girls often had on the bands' music and style.  While not all groupies were so inspirational or artistic, the GTOs were very influential on Frank Zappa, from the mundane to the artistic:  helping his wife babysit the kids to forming their side band as an extra arm of the Mothers of invention.  Even though most groupies didn't make their own music, they certainly played muse to a wide variety of songs like Michael Jackson's Dirty Diana and Billy Jean (Billie Jean about a groupie who would chase after Michael's older brothers and claim to be pregnant), The Beatles' She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (about how a group of female superfans called Apple Scruffs broke into Paul's home and stone a picture and a pair of pants, they later returned the picture at Paul's request) and Apple Scruffs by George Harrison, and the film Almost Famous about Cameron Crowe's brush with groupies as a young music critic.  

In Keith Richards bio, Life, he reiterates often that groupies got him through many a tour-- but not sexually, in fact he says they rarely had sex-- they were usually the ones who took care of him: baths, food, drug runs when he got the cold shakes, and records to turn him on to the local bands of whatever city they happened to be in at the time.  He says they were often the worst looking birds he ever laid his eyes on.  But they were there for him, because they loved the music and saw it as a way to give back to the bands they loved.  He would stay up nights listening to records they brought him and would frequently fall asleep snuggling his favorite one after he got sick and they took care of him.  He even would return frequently to the same groupie when ever he went back to her town on tours over the years.  He spoke a lot about one groupie named Flo.  According to Richards, Flo was hard on the eyes, but whenever he was in her town she was his main chick because she completely respected his space, didn't beg for attention, and often just silently kept his company, never asking more than that in return.  He thinks-- as far as he can remember-- although the frequently napped together, there was nothing more between then the friendly naps, record playing, a good company.  Touring was hard on Richards while he was addicted to heroin.  He frequently would try to clean up--cold turkey-- last minute before a tour because he knew drugs were hard to come by on such a hectic schedule and they were hard to sneak past customs with all that traveling.  In Life he tells the story of a particular sheila he met in Australia.  She brought him some smack while he was in her town and he was hooked... back to the drugs and stuck with her until he could pry himself away.  She happened to be a single mother, making a living somehow with drug trade on the side, living in Suburbian Australia.  Richards ended up tagging along home with her and he says he lived with her for weeks as a live-in babysitter taking care of her baby (powdering bottoms, diapers and all) while she worked by day, bringing home the bacon, and the smack, by night.  He was pacified, living this oddly secretive surburbian life as a househusband, she would making him breakfasts before she went off to work, he would stay home and look after the kid in between doses.  He finally torn himself away from suburbian paradise somehow to return to his own routine.   Richards credits groupies for helping him physically get through the grueling tours with comfort food, assistance, drug fixes, and a warm presence and at the same time inspiring him with their sheer love of the music and introducing him to new music he had never heard. 

Of course, not all groupies are care takers like Richard's aforementioned examples.  He also addresses "the plaster casters", who repulsed him, and put them in a category with others who were out to get a piece of the rockstars at their own (the stars') expense... Unlike the type of groupies Richards gravitated to he says, the plaster casters and others didn't care about the band, the music, or the musicians; it was all about grabbing 15 minutes of fame.  They were fame chasers.   In this cynical age, it makes you wonder why women Richards describes like Flo, who spent time with him:  got few or no photographs, nothing bankable to show of the time she spent with him, no book deals, yet would go to the trouble of bathing him when he was throwing up and sit on the bed silently and listen while he strummed guitar... It seems so innocent in these times when every brush with stardom is evaluated for its fame quotient and bankability: iphone photos sold to the tabloids, reality show deal, tshirt shop website, youtube viral video, etc.   It seems maybe Flo really did just have a genuine awe of the music and a reverence for the guys that made the music. 

Not that I think it was a completely innocent phenomenon in those days.  I don't think you can discuss groupies without addressing the realities of gender discrimination.     Female musicians were very excluded from the rock world and it makes sense that just as in life when women were sidelined from the main events,  they found supporting roles à la groupies in the rock n' roll circus to achieve fame and stardom, and even money.  It is an obvious outgrowth from the discrimination against legitimate female musicians that rather than actually learning the guitar and having to fight tooth and nail for a piece of the pie, they just went ahead and let themselves in the backstage door.  Not that potentially great female rockstars went the way of the groupie, I just see groupie phenomenon as the only opportunity for women to achieve fame and influence in the rock scene of that era.  Bob Dylan's early muse Suze Rotolo speaks a lot in her bio Freewheelin'  how much pressure she felt in the early-mid 60s to be "one of the strings on his guitar"-- she was constantly complimented by people for "sticking by her man" or "being is old lady" or "supporting him as the woman behind the great man" although in the relationship was 50-50.  She felt sickened by the position people were pressuring into-- to be the sacrificing woman at Bob Dylan's every beckoning call.  This was one of the reasons Suze left Dylan's side to pursue her own interests in Italy, and he really never forgave her; their relationship came to an end not long after.  That type of attitude toward women's place in rock is confirmed in Richards bio where you can see that subtle sexist perspective creep in when he refers to certain partial or majority female member bands as "chick bands" and suggests in one part that a male musician was eager to make 'real music' with the Stones after making a career of working with mere "chick bands" like Linda Ronstadt's outfit.  

 I find the whole rockstar-groupie relationship interesting and I don't really look at groupies with judgement.  People may stamp them with easy labels like 'slut' but really they were just a small part of the larger system limited the opportunities for women and encouraged that role; and they certainly had influence on music and culture by playing muse to so many great musicians, who as a result, created great music.  

Miss Sandra

While a GTO, Miss Sandra became pregnant by Zappa's resident artist, Cal Schenkel, and had a daughter named Raven. She then moved back to San Pedro, then Italy, after marrying and giving birth to three children. She died of ovarian cancer on April 23, 1991.  (The “Miss” title preceding The GTOs member's names was invented by Tiny Tim, who christened every woman with a “Miss” title, and even referred to his wife as “Miss Vicky”.)

Miss Christine

Legend has it that Russell Mael from Sparks stole her away from Todd Rundgren while he produced their album.  She appeared on the cover of Frank Zappa's album Hot Rats. She also dated Vincent Furnier (AKA Alice Cooper), and members of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Christine died on November 5, 1972, of an overdose in a house in CohassetMassachusettswhich was being rented out by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. Her death occurred shortly after she had spent close to a year in a full body cast to correct her crooked spine.

Miss Mercy

Miss Mercy has been referred to as “a human facsimile," by Miss Pamela who is still a close friend. Miss Mercy's 'biography' in I’m With The Band was expanded at length within the chapter entitled, "Miss Mercy's Blues." Other moments of rock history include work as an extra in the filming of The Ramones’ “Rock and Roll High School”. She had a child by soul funk star Shuggie Otis named Lucky.

Plastercasters of Chicago

Cynthia Plaster Caster is still in the casting business.  Her collection is world renowned and has been 
displayed in museum exhibits with the crown jewel being Jimi Hendrix's cast.  

 Spider Eyes

Excessive mascara gave the 'spider eye' look. It is rumored that Alice Cooper got his black eye make up style by copying groupies at the time. I couldn't find much about this particular groupie "Spider Eyes" though. 


Trixie Merkin

The legend of Trixie Merkin must have completely faded to obscurity as I can't find anything about her. 

****** Update :  Recently got this email from reader Erika on Trixie's whereabouts : 

Hi there Lise -  
just to let you know that Trixie Merkin (one of the photographed muses on the above link, with the caption that she must have "faded into obscurity") is alive and well in Santa Fe.  [My friend] Pierre heard her performing July 13 this year with Soulman Sam at Evangelo's, 200 W San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, NM and was blown away - he said "she's a rock star".  It sounds like she's there every Thursday evening so you should be able to find her. Pretty cool, huh?  I thought you'd want to know - this lady was not only a muse back in the day, but it also sounds like she's a pretty good bass player today.  I hope this helps you to follow up with her.    

Pamela Miller-Des Barres

Miss Pamela, later becoming Des Barres, is one of the few surviving members of The GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously), also known as The Laurel Canyon Ballet Company. Her GTOs tunes included, "Permanent Damage" titled "Circular Circulation, or Do Me In Once And I'll Be Sad, Do Me In Twice And I'll Know Better".  Of course, now she is best known for her memoirs and musings on Rock Muses. 

See more groupie tales below:

Zooey Deschanel in upcoming HBO series on groupies
De Barres on 'greatest groupies'
Memoirs of an ex-groupie
Misogyny, boredom, ecstasy, stupor and exhaustion

Patti D'arbanville, Lady D'arbanville actress/model and former muse of Cat Stevens, reading her chapter in Des Barres Let's Spend the Night Together:


spiderartist said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Trixie played a gig at the Odeon Theater in Mason, TX, on January 17, 2015, with Jay Boy Adams and Zenobia.
She is a remarkable bass player and makes a fashion statement that's completely her own.

Like us on Facebook and come visit our venue.


--Spider Johnson

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