20 Years After “Almost Famous,” How Has the Groupie Changed?


Penny insists they aren’t groupies. Groupies, she says—her eyes glowing behind purple sun shades—sleep with rock stars as a result of they need to be close to somebody well-known. “We’re right here due to the music. We encourage the music.”

That’s the viewers’s introduction to Penny Lane, the soulful, self-proclaimed Band Support (which for her is a extra correct description of what a groupie really is) in Virtually Well-known, Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical energy ballad a couple of teenage rock journalist who joins the fictionalized band Stillwater on tour for a dream task for Rolling Stone. The 2000 movie takes a loving have a look at the 1970s rock scene via the eyes of its 15-year outdated protagonist, William Miller. 20 years later, Virtually Well-known has endured as a coming-of-age traditional and a consummate movie for music fanatics and journalists alike. However, let’s be sincere: The true star of the movie isn’t William. It isn’t even Stillwater. The brightest, most dazzling gentle of all radiates from Penny Lane. 

Portrayed by Kate Hudson in her breakout function, Penny Lane is, without delay, the band’s muse, their rock and their greatest fan. Primarily based on a number of younger and iconic groupies of the time, like Pennie Lane Trumbull and Pamela Des Barres, as director Crowe informed Des Barres in her memoir, Let’s Spend the Evening Collectively, the character of Penny represented a sense: pure love for the music. 

However the function of groupies, who additionally generally had relationships with the musicians they adopted, has all the time appeared difficult beneath the scrutinizing gaze of in style tradition and, Des Barres tells FLARE, continues to be vastly misunderstood. As Virtually Well-known turns 20 in a world reckoning with its problematic therapy of ladies via actions like #MeToo, that function feels extra advanced than ever.  

The heyday of groupies was a time of cultural, religious and sexual revolution

Whereas the world wherein Penny Lane thrived could appear to be the stuff of flicks, for many individuals it was a actuality. The late ’60s have been brimming with youth tradition and idealism—and the opportunity of creating change via protest, feminism and sexual liberation. The revolution was a response to socio-political adjustments like post-war gender roles, new types of contraception, and the rising momentum of the Civil Rights Motion. Des Barres, who was a pal and lover of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Web page, amongst others, in addition to a member of the Frank Zappa-produced experimental music venture, the GTOs (Women Collectively Outrageously), was within the thick of all of it. “You actually believed that you just have been making a distinction simply by being wild and free,” Des Barres tells FLARE from her residence in Reseda, California. “I used to be taking my contraception drugs proper on the road. I used to be my very own type of feminist.” 

Counterculture reverberated via generation-defining music. In Los Angeles, Sundown Boulevard grew to become an epicentre for rock and roll. Venues introduced in bands just like the Doorways, the Byrds and the Rolling Stones, serving to domesticate a legendary scene. Des Barres had all the time been deeply moved by music and needed to be a part of that world. The primary time she went backstage, at 16, was at a Byrds present on the Strip—she simply knocked on the door. Guitarist Roger McGuinn opened it and handed her a joint. After highschool, she totally immersed herself within the scene. Her pal, Don Van Vliet—the artist Captain Beefheart—launched her to Frank Zappa and, as a part of the GTOs, Des Barres had knocks on her personal backstage door. She would additionally meet bands at different exhibits. Web page, who she went on to have a relationship with, courted her at a Bo Diddley live performance. 

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“There was a lot happening,” Des Barres remembers. “There have been so many golf equipment to go to and so many gigs each night time, you couldn’t resolve which one to attend. In fact, I spent most of my time on the Whiskey a Go Go. They did have all the nice music. [Led] Zeppelin would play the Discussion board one night time they usually performed the Whiskey the following night time for 250 folks, as a result of it was the best place to be.”

(Picture: Columbia Footage)

Groupies have all the time held a divisive—and misunderstood—function

One of the crucial misconstrued notions about groupies is that sleeping with a rock star is their total impetus (and in addition, so what if it is the one purpose?). For a lot of groupies, Des Barres included, intercourse was just one a part of the job description. Extra predominantly, the groupie’s function is deeply rooted in being a muse—a guiding spirit that helps an artist attain the heights of artistic genius—based on Des Barres

Draped in hand-cut velvet mini clothes, feather boas and vintage lace, Des Barres herself was a serious trend affect on among the bands she most adored. Making shirts for Jagger and Web page and taking them classic buying, Des Barres contributed to the bohemian aesthetic that’s synonymous with the time and people acts.

“I took Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, [and] Jeff Beck to their very first classic retailer in Hollywood known as the Glass Farmhouse,” Des Barres remembers. “And I took all of Zeppelin to [Nudie’s] Rodeo Tailors, the place I labored for a really quick time, to get did out in nation garments. You can discover quite a lot of photos of Jimmy carrying Western gear for a sure time limit. You recognize, folks, they needed to be with us. We have been girls who understood what they have been doing and liked what they have been doing, would speak about music with them, turned them on to totally different music, and vice versa. It was very equal.”

In reality, groupies like Pennie Trumbull and her Flying Garter Women held quite a lot of refined energy of their roles as cultural intermediaries, a job mirrored via Penny in Virtually Well-known. Within the movie, Penny fairly actually helps get William’s foot within the tour bus door—he arguably solely beneficial properties the actually intimate entry to Stillwater that he does via his connection to Penny and her Band Aids. 

“The issues that the ladies within the film do are extremely essential components of the music trade,” says Dr. Paula Harper, a postdoctoral fellow in musicology on the College of Washington in St. Louis. The best way wherein the Band Aids navigate connections and curate events, she says, is definitely akin to public relations and advertising and marketing work—labour they might be paid for in the event that they have been males and never negotiating whether or not they have been additionally sexually accessible or not. 

However this autonomy—and affect—is commonly missed once we consider or focus on groupies in this time period. Maybe equally to why Penny distanced herself from the phrase “groupie,” Des Barres additionally balked in opposition to it for some time because it grew to become, she says, a pejorative time period and a finger-pointing jeer for a “unfastened lady” determined to mattress rock stars. And don’t get her mistaken; there have been women, she says, whose purpose was to sleep with musicians, roadies, managers and sound verify folks, however the reality is “Nothing’s mistaken with it,” as Des Barres says. “That’s one other factor: you are able to do what you need along with your physique. You’re not hurting anybody. If that’s what you need to do, do it.” Although Des Barres married a musician—her former husband is English rocker Michael Des Barres—which, she says, is what she needed, the label groupie has adopted her round her grownup life. “I needed to attempt to redeem that phrase [groupie] for many years, as a result of it’s a misunderstood idea,” she says.

Judgement is one thing Des Barres faces to today. “I’m nonetheless known as and labelled—at age 71, virtually 72—a slut, a whore,” she says. “And it’s often [by] males. Misogynistic males on Fb—that’s the worst—making horrible, lewd, disgusting feedback on my images with Keith Moon [that] I put up, or whoever.” 

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Largely, this misogynistic response to groupies stems from long-held societal beliefs across the safeguarding of girlhood. “A lot of white middle-class tradition in America is constructed round this concept of the preservation of girlish innocence,” Dr. Harper says. “It’s all properly and good so that you can decide your favorite Beatle and picture holding his hand, however as quickly as you’re like, ‘I might even be excited by having intercourse with him,’ it’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, no, no, no. Younger women are supposed to be virginal perpetually. You’re by no means meant to consider intercourse, a lot much less have intercourse.

“As quickly as this valuable woman has intercourse, there’s no safety anymore. All that societal concern and must sanctify goes away, and the fault lays squarely on the shoulders of that ‘fallen lady.’”

Nevertheless it’s a disservice to check the ’60s to now 

Des Barres wrote her first memoir, I’m With the Band, in 1987. The ebook was trailblazing in the way it unapologetically outlined her sexuality on her personal phrases, regardless of being lambasted as too racy, largely, she says, by different feminists who noticed her as subservient to males. (“So not the case,” Des Barres emphasizes.) “So only a few girls talked about their sexuality at that time,” she provides. As such, her candour was distinctive, exemplifying the significance of  girls talking out truthfully about their sexual experiences, optimistic or detrimental. 

And that features as much as in the present day. Because the 2017 resurgence of the #MeToo motion, sexual misconduct allegations in opposition to celebrities have emerged virtually day by day; and with rock’s historical past of glorified extra and debauchery, debates have been ignited over consent, energy dynamics and underage women, notably round “child groupies” like Sable Starr and Lori Mattix, who famously misplaced her virginity to David Bowie at 15. Des Barres stresses the significance of #MeToo, but additionally says the occasions can’t be in contrast looking back.

(Picture: Columbia Footage)

“I will surely not agree with [musicians sleeping with underage girls] now—not that I agreed with it then, however it was a unique timeframe,” Des Barres says, talking to how a lot older males having intercourse with a lot youthful girls, or women, was extra culturally acceptable within the late ’60s and into the ’70s. She cites Loretta Lynn, who was legally married at 15 in 1948, for instance. “I do know [how] that sounds, in in the present day’s world—you’d in all probability get shit for that, for even printing me saying that ‘it was a unique timeframe’—however you must put issues into context and perspective.” 

(Nonetheless, whereas this behaviour was extra extensively accepted then, that doesn’t imply it was ever OK. Fortunately, there are extra platforms accessible inside which to debate these points—and the nuances round them—in the present day.)

Des Barres, who has grow to be shut with Mattix through the years, provides that “[Lori’s] needed to take care of quite a lot of shit as a result of she was underage.” When requested in an interview with Thrillist if she felt exploited, Mattix responded quite the opposite—she appeared again fondly on that point in her life. “Who cares what folks mentioned about me? I really feel like I used to be very current. I noticed the best music ever. I acquired to hang around with among the most superb, most stunning, most charismatic males on the planet.”  

On the similar time, predatory folks and enabling networks have existed and nonetheless do exist within the backstage shadows of the music trade, the place energy dynamics can grow to be blurred into abusive territory. California label Burger Information lately shut down after lots of the imprint’s bands have been accused of sexual assault on social media. In 2017, Model New singer Jesse Lacey was accused of sexual abuse, youngster grooming, and soliciting express images from minors. Chris Crippin, former drummer for the band Hedley, spoke to CBC about witnessing years of inappropriate behaviour by frontman Jacob Hoggard, who’s going through allegations of sexual abuse, and who Crippin says bullied him into holding quiet. There are numerous different examples. 

That is, after all, a part of a broader drawback that we’ve seen repeated throughout industries—like in movie, for instance, and the spectacular fall of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein that was pushed by #MeToo and Time’s Up. 

“Till we acquired to the enthusiastic adoption of the #MeToo motion, this was simply the widespread norm throughout quite a lot of industries: highly effective folks profiting from the truth that their trade is selective and managed by a small variety of extremely influential gatekeepers, that that construction is deeply exploitable in quite a lot of methods, one in all which is sexual,” Dr. Harper says. “I wouldn’t essentially say [movements like #MeToo] are the dying gasps of rock star-ism, as a lot as [they are] endemic to industries that function with no oversight and with no recourse for people who find themselves handled badly in that system.” 

The web has made house for brand spanking new types of fan collectives  

Social media has supplied a brand new platform for revealing abuses of energy, Dr. Harper provides. And equally to how the web has created house for these voices, it has additionally allowed fan collectives to emerge in new methods. 

Dr. Harper suggests there are trendy web variations of the groupie: those that enthusiastically flow into within the fandom areas of social media and continuously have interaction with their favorite artists or put up about them. The digital world is one other avenue for fan communities to prepare, assist the bands that they love, and join with others who share their ardour for the music. One among these teams is “stans.”

However are stans—the millennial time period for obsessive fandom, as coined by Eminem in his 2000 hit of the identical identify—really akin to the groupies of the ’60s and ’70s? Are they a brand new type of groupies? Perhaps. However some key variations do exist, together with the truth that stans are usually a mass phenomenon and fewer of a person one, and intercourse—or the will to sleep with mentioned favorite celeb—seems to be much less part of stan tradition than among the groupies earlier than them. Plus, there’s the poisonous aspect of stan tradition that may attain harmful depths to defend their idols in opposition to any perceived criticism—a number of journalists have lately acquired the terrible brunt of it. 

Stans, like groupies, may possess a deeply significant affinity for his or her favourites. And their final purpose is to assist their favorite celebrities succeed. In Stan Tales, a collection in Paper that explores what it means to be a stan, E and R of the Billie Eilish Twitter account @eilishupdates spoke about how they’ll all the time love and respect the singer, and that their love for her has given them each nice recollections and new friendships with fellow stans. Additionally they recommended Eilish for the way she “needs us to really feel like she isn’t unreachable by interacting with us continuously.” 

Celeb, after all, has all the time been accompanied by emotions of inaccessibility from these on the proverbial outdoors. However, glamorous facades apart, it was a lot simpler for followers to fulfill their favorite band a number of many years in the past than it’s now. And whereas social media has supplied a perceived intimate window into the lives of our topics of fandom, issues like tight safety at huge venues, infinite entourages, and even hundreds of thousands of followers, could make accessing these stars really feel almost unimaginable. However, as demonstrated with Eilish bridging that hole by usually partaking straight along with her stans, Dr. Harper thinks that the web has simply made entry accessible differently. 

“That is only a new mode of celeb fan interplay that’s possibly not precedent on the truth that you have been in the identical metropolis as David Bowie, however you’re persistent sufficient at including Cardi B [on social media],” she explains.   

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All issues thought of—and regardless of the pure love for music {that a} rock muse radiates—Des Barres doesn’t assume the function of groupie will ever be celebrated, merely, she says, as a result of society is so uptight about sexuality and groupies are equated with intercourse. Every other essential labour they take part in, like advertising and marketing or public relations, as Dr. Harper observes, is collapsed to sexual availability beneath the rubric of “groupie.” 

However individuals are nonetheless so fascinated by them, Des Barres provides, as a result of they symbolize a bygone period; a rock renaissance. She likens Morrison to Da Vinci and Michelangelo, artists who modified the world with their artwork. As she writes in Let’s Spend the Evening Collectively, the music made her really feel wildly alive and she or he needed in on the cosmic secret. To get near the golden gods. 

Sapphire, a Band Support in Virtually Well-known portrayed by Fairuza Balk, maybe brings it residence greatest: “They don’t even know what it’s to be a fan. Y’know? To actually love some foolish little piece of music, or some band, a lot that it hurts.”


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