David Gans (tnf) Mon 5 Sep 05 17:10
Lisa Rhodes is a scholar, author, musician, and activist. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies from UT-Austin;s. she is a professor of American Studies at Temple University and is currently acting director of the Women's Studies Program there as well. She was a new wave/rock musician who played in and out of Austin, Texas in the 1980s; she is also a songwriter whose credits include co-writing a song recorded by the Neville Brothers on their 1994 album "Live From Planet Earth." "Electric Ladyland: Women and Rock Culture" is her first book, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in March 2005. From the publisher's catalog entry: "Electric Ladyland" is a social and cultural history of a formative era in rock and roll, examining how the changing roles of women were intertwined with the evolution of the music. Articles and reviews from Rolling Stone and the Village Voice provide a window on a time when female musicians such as Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, and Joni Mitchell battled sexism from concert promoters and mainly male reviewers. Feminist rock journalists, however, were coming into their own. In particular, Ellen Willis, music critic for the New Yorker, and Lillian Roxon, author of the influential Rock Encyclopedia, transformed the way society perceived sometimes-marginalized female performers. The groupie was born at the same time, and Rhodes devotes considerable attention to the rise of this phenomenon. Through journalistic accounts as well as personal interviews with groupies of the 1960s and 1970s, she explores these women's dual legacy of self-assertion and promiscuous behavior that resonates to this day through the popularity of such films as "Almost Famous." Deeply informed by critical media studies and drawing on diverse and rich sources, "Electric Ladyland" assesses the lasting effects of cultural representations on female sexuality and gender roles. Our interviewer, also new to the WELL, is award-winning rock journalist Margaret Moser. She is the author of three books, including Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things. A retired groupie and high school dropout with no college education, Moser directs the Austin Music Awards for South by Southwest and is currently a senior editor/writer for The Austin Chronicle.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 16:52
I'd like to qualify David's statement, saying that the rock & roll groupie was born in the Sixties. The actual pursuit of men because their profession is ancient, with references to women following armies of men around centuries ago. That tack took on the name "camp followers" a few hundred years ago, but the notion of being a groupie is in no way restricted to either rock & roll or the military. Hello, Monica Lewinsky! As a retired groupie - meaning I no longer attend concerts with the idea of nabbing my favorite musician in the sack - I am curious, why the continued interest in groupies, particularly those like me from the "classic" eras of rock, Cynthia Plastercaster, Pamela Des Barres and Pennie Lane? Why are the current crop of titty dancer/porn star. silicone babes not as interesting?
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:03
Oops, I forgot to say hello. Hello.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:23
Hello, A large part of the above post comes from the U of Penn Press description of the book and I think that is where that phrase comes from. I would agree that there have always been varieties of folks (men and women) who are attracted to people for various reasons. The term groupie is unique and codified during the 1960s. The Oxford English Dictionary said that it was first used in print (their litmus for creation) in 1969. I actually found a usage of it by Richard Goldstein in his "Pop Eye" column in the Village Voice in 1966. I have petitioned to have it changed. It is the term that was new, not the activity. As to why the current crop of "groupies" aren't as interesting, I think it has to do with why they are valued in the first place: their visuals. Pretty folks don't necessarily have much to say. The women in the first and second wave of groupies were really interesting women and many were characters in their own right. They were more like courtesans and muses than titty dancers and porn stars.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:39
As far as the continued interest in groupies from the "classic" era, I believe there are several reasons for this. They are sexy and sexual and much of American culture is drawn to things that are both, within certain limits. The groupies are also drawn in pretty rigid heterosexual tropes or stereotypes, i.e. pretty girls that like to have sex with rock star boys. There were homosexual groupies then and now, but that wasn't the focus of much of the verbiage and reportage written about them. This makes is appear less complicated than the present, another attractive draw for folks now. As an element of history from the pre-AIDS era, the groupie's approach to sex and disease also seems impossibly naive to our sensibilities.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:47
It's true that the entrance of AIDS on the scene curtailed my fairly indiscriminate activity in regards to musicians and non-musicians. Somehow, lining up at the free clinic for a shot of penicillin didn't strike fear in me in those early days. But the advent of AIDS also coincided with my second marriage, so my interest was waning in other ways too.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:49
Yeah, I realized after the fact that the description I qualified as David's smacked of cover copy :) Still, I like pointing out that the "I love a man in a uniform" mentality is probably as old as history itself and worldwide.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:54
Yep, I was just regurgitating proffered prose.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:56
As for this - > Why are the current crop of titty dancer/porn star. silicone babes not as interesting? - I wonder if it doesn't have to do with the fact that the center of the popcult universe has long since moved away from rock stars. I mean, when we three were coming of age, the whole goddam world seemed to be following the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, and dozens of other musical icons.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 17:58
One of the aspects that has most fascinated me about the groupie lifestyle is how it so often elicits the madonna-whore image. I am thinking specifically of a recent local contretemps here in Austin, where a local band who felt I slagged them (and not even in print) resorted to emailing me anonymously, calling me a whore, among other featherweight insults. It was a non-issue as far as I was concerned, since the opinion they took offense to was posted only in a members-only Yahoo forum. Yet more than 20 years after the fact, my reputation as a groupie was the one they summoned. They did slam me as a no-talent hack but I can read that in the Letters column of my paper any week ;)
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Tue 6 Sep 05 18:02
I tend to agree with you, David. The groupie status was once almost as celebrated as rockstardom. In this day of 15-minute stardom, the groupies seem to fade as quick as the rock star flavor of the moment.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Tue 6 Sep 05 18:08
David, I agree that the explosion of media has fragmented the pop culture world to the point where there really is no center anymore. I believe also that the sheer numbers of the baby boomers made whatever was most important to them the only game in town, so to speak. Margaret, I don't find it unusual that people (especially guys of a certain mentality) would attempt to use your groupie past as a put down. They are using the oldest weapon in the sexist's arsenal: the sexual double standard. If I guy has sex with five women in one night, "he's the man" but if a woman does it, she's a slut. It is all about power and no one gives up power voluntarily. The sexual double standard will die a slow death for that and a myriad of other reasons having to do with the history of sex and sexuality in America.
Berliner (captward) Wed 7 Sep 05 10:00
FWIW, groupies in the big band days were known as "band aids," as far as I can tell. Not that I was there or anything.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Wed 7 Sep 05 10:14
Ed, do you have a source for that term? I would love to learn more about it. M, it is interesting that you bring up the madonna/whore binary, as I found numerous examples of journalists in the '60s and '70s using that construction. I actually wrote a section about it in the 2nd chapter. Basically, the effect of its usage appears to me to support the good girl/bad girl binary which is really just the sexual double standard in a different outfit. It also discourages sexual pleasure among women for its own sake, also a way of curtailing women's options and power.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Wed 7 Sep 05 19:00
Re: madonna/whore binary Yet it seems as if the "whores" have almost always stood as the more powerful force. Power of the pussy, I suppose, though it also works in the inverse when virginity is prized. The double standard reminds me think of an 80s comic whose name I can't think of, and whose routine included a bit about sacrificing virgins to dragons and volcanos. "Hell yeah, throw the virgins in! We want the sluts to stay! Why keep some prude around the sluts will put out?" You can easily juxtapose the madonna/whore binary to the wife or girlfriend/groupie roles. The unwritten law of touring is, "what happens on the road, stays on the road." Most musicians have no intention of bringing their road flings home with them, despite the Almost Famous scenario. The smart groupie understood that. That's one reasons I had the Texas Blondes attend meetings at my place before a concert. I always made clear that we welcomed them when the came and waved bye-bye when they left. Of course, I broke my own rules with John Cale but ain't that what rules are for?
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Thu 8 Sep 05 17:19
It depends on what the women are being used for. If they are being used for fun and pleasure, agreed the women who put out are more powerful. If they are being used for procreation and the production of "legitimate" heirs, the whores are useless and powerless. This also really assumes a fairly heterocentric construction. I am also interested in discussing the subversive aspects of women playing rock and roll, especially those that harness technology. The women players in the '60s and '70s were really breaking some new ground, as well as the groupies
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Thu 8 Sep 05 19:36
"Groupie" was a pejorative term thrown at a lot of women who worked in the music business too. Like the distinction between being a rock wife or band girlfriend and being a groupie, its use was intended as insult. I believe Lisa's point in post #13 applies to that situation also. The fuel in that fire is the subtext of sex in rock & roll music itself, particularly the beat. The correlation between the desire that rock music can inspire (especially live) and the use of sex as a dynamic in lyrics was extraordinarily powerful on me. It still is. I never hear a song like "Stray Cat Blues" without experiencing the purr of sexual desire or having my eyes glaze over remembering the flush of teenage heat. Even at age 51, the effect can be hypnotic. And that's not limited to male performers. At the Rockergrrl conference in Seattle in 2000, I stood right below Ann Wilson as she played with her band and you couldn't have peeled me away from that stage. Although my pleasure wasn't manifested in a sexual desire for her, my heart was pounding so hard and I was so exhilirated I could have been an easy target for some devil with a silver tongue. For a little while at least.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Thu 8 Sep 05 19:40
Ed, you're right about the "band aids" term. I can cross-reference that with some stories the Boogie Kings told me about touring in the Sixties along the Gulf Coast. That as the term they used too, before groupie came along.
Berliner (captward) Fri 9 Sep 05 04:03
My memory of where I found that was in an oral history of jazz somewhere -- no pun intended. Also, I think, during the belated media discovery of groupies after Rolling Stone's story, you'd always find, around the fourth paragraph, a sentence like "Of course, the groupie phenomenon is nothing new," followed by the "band aid" mention.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Fri 9 Sep 05 08:00
Ed, there was a Time magazine article in 1969 that mentioned Roman gladiator's groupies and the Zeigfeld girls! What I was interested in exploring in my book was how attaching this name to women fans who had sex with the rockers changed the "rules of the game," so to speak. For a while, using the term was a sign of underground cachet and countercultural membership. When the term "groupie" began to be widely used in the press in 1969, its meaning shifted and it became different.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 9 Sep 05 12:10
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Kurt Sigmon (kdsigmon) Fri 9 Sep 05 14:14
Lisa - hello and welcome to the Well. I am enjoying the book a lot, as a memory stimulant for some admittedly hazy days in my past. I do remember reading the original articles on the Plaster Casters and about Janis appearing at Stax in Rolling Stone, reading your take on them was a nice trip.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Fri 9 Sep 05 14:46
Thanks Kurt, for the welcome and the kind words.
Margaret Moser (fairblonde) Fri 9 Sep 05 18:17
I have a question for Ed, who I know is quite blunt. The Texas Blondes went into high gear around the time you moved to Austin in the late 70s and wrote for the daily newspaper. What was your take on us? Were we unusual in any way (as an organized flock of groupies, I mean) or just a little color on the scene? I loved being one of the Texas Blondes. We were given that name by legendary CBGB booker/doorperson Deerfrance, whom we met when she was singing backup for John Cale on his 1979 Sabotage tour. Once we had a name, our identity solidified. We had a matrix for how to act and what to do from Pamela Des Barres and the GTOs, and the Plastercasters to a lesser extent (I wouldn't learn about Pennie Lane until *Almost Famous*). Yet I insisted the girls be more than just arm candy and one-night stands. I'd call "meetings" before concerts and educate the girls on the band coming to town, so they knew the band's names, current album, the current hit, something about the band's history, and could converse intelligently with the musicians. The name "Texas Blondes" eventually took on a life of its own when band managers, promoters, and publicists would call me in advance to let us know the details of the band's arrival, hotel accommodations, etc. "And please bring the girls" was always the last thing they said. Virginia and I once had an answering machine message that ended, "And don't bother leaving a message unless you're one of the RAMOOOOOOONES!" I came home one day to a message from their manager Gary Kurfirst, who laughed and said, "as a matter of fact this IS the Ramones!" That was the moment I felt like the Texas Blondes had achieved the right status in the rock & roll world.
Berliner (captward) Sat 10 Sep 05 02:04
Actually, Margaret, I just figured the Texas Blondes were the local groupie crew. I'd already been in San Francisco's music scene for ten yars, and spent a lot of time backstage, mostly at Winterland, so I wasn't fazed by the existence or antics of groupies, and had long ago gotten over the fact that I was never going to be scoring with any of them because I was too far down the ladder of cool. Anyway, I wasn't certain about the Blondes' status at first. I knew you, because you'd asked me if you could freelance for me as a writer. There was, as expected, the kind of "oh that old whore, groupie skank" reaction from some people, but at the time I had no idea if you were like those backstage gals at Winterland or had once had sex with a musician or, even more likely, *not* had sex with the "whore skank" guy. I was looking at you as a writer, and as a writer, you had what it takes. Still do, of course.
Straight Outta Concord (angus) Sat 10 Sep 05 02:27
Coming at the book from a fan's perspective, I'm really surprised and gratified to see so much material about Ellen Willis and Lillian Roxon, two writers who meant a lot to me when I was a Seventies teenager.
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