Monday, March 8, 2010

Web Cover Story: Famous People Are Just More Interesting--Do Today's Groupies Deserve Public Scorn? (Part 1)

When you look at the lives of these women and others like them through the rose-tinted glasses of history, that era seems like a golden age when musicians and groupies alike were living the rock dream and reaping the benefits of an increasingly progressive cultural mindset. In many ways, that is true. In terms of sexual politics in the popular culture, it was a revolutionary period when outdated, rigidly defined gender roles were eroding. Things weren't perfect of course. Despite some notable examples to the contrary and the fact that the second wave of feminism was in full swing, opportunities for women in the music industry weren't the way they are now. One could argue that the motivations behind becoming a groupie represented the last vestiges of a stubbornly sexist society finally beginning to make real strides in terms of equality. For many women, as it has often been throughout history, sexist attitudes entrenched in the boy's club mindset that permeated rock made using sexuality to get close to a man in power a direct way to break down repressive barriers. In these womens' cases, that's just how it worked out--sex (not to mention their charisma, drive and intelligence) equaled notoriety. For many others, of course, it did not. Thankfully, in our time of full sexual equality, it's not like that anymore, right? 

Well, that's a little complicated. Look at the contemporary fame arc of sex-tape celebrities for evidence to the contrary. Despite a few decades of progress, apparently for a lot young women, nothing has changed. But how we perceive this behavior has. In 2010, the groupie isn't a respected equal or a contributing member to a bands' success as romanticized in Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous. In that film, Kate Hudson's "Penny Lane" and the rest of the "Band Aids" were turned into fetishized objects of reverence. Today, women who have sex with members of rock bands-- whether compulsively, or occasionally--are being outed on the internet as people worthy of scorn. In the most famous groupie examples, it was a matter of shifting the dynamic of sexual supplicant into one of power. Women like Des Barres and Plaster Caster were self-aware enough, or at least became so once they entered the spotlight, to flip the balance of control to their favor. For young women today, particularly in the still largely male-dominated contemporary punk and emo scenes, that isn't an option. Especially when their experiences are instantly posted to sites like Fueled By Gossip or Dirty Deets or the most recent glaring and controversial example--Fuck Yeah Groupies

It wasn't that long ago that the worst that could happen to someone's reputation regarding their sexual exploits came in the form of graffiti on a bathroom wall. The internet changed all of that, although pretty much the same principles are at work. If a woman is willing to talk openly about her sexual partners as if they were conquests, that's her prerogative. But when it becomes seedy gossip, as it has in many of these internet communities where young women--many underage--are being shamed by anonymous commenters posting about rumored sexual trysts, that's something else altogether. The original Tumblr version of Fuck Yeah Groupies was unsurprisingly taken down after many complaints. A Google cache version, which we won't be linking to here, is a pretty shocking experience. "Welcome to Fuck Yeah Groupies" it reads. "This account is dedicated to groupies. You brighten our lives with your constant need to spread your legs for just anyone. thanks for bringing the lulz....If you guys have any groupies you want me to post on here submit who they are, who they've done, and a photo of them." Comments about particular girls' rumored dalliances like the following are bad enough:
"she stole from a skylit drive at warped tour follows bands up and down the east coast to hook up with band guys shes hooked up with guys from in fear and faith, dance gavin dance, escape the fate, and lovehatehero. [Ex-Sky Eats Airplane frontman] jerry roush claims she tried to have sex with him but he wouldn't touch her from stories he heard."
Adding photos of the girls in question, some topless, along with links to their Myspace and Facebook pages takes things to a whole new realm of unsavory. It would be one thing if something like this were the isolated effort of a single person, but the bevy of commenters adding fuel to the fire and actively seeking out gossip about particular girls from their respective scenes shows that this is something that a lot of people have an appetite for. The person who started Fuck Yeah Groupies is a 19-year-old girl from Boca Raton, Florida, who, like many of the other people interviewed for this story, asked not to have her real name used. Let's call her "Kate." She explains, "Girls got upset about me using their photos so they flagged the Tumblr. Pretty much all the Tumblr was about was me posting the girls' photos, who they slept with and their links." Undeterred with her site's suspension, she's now on its third iteration. But how does she get her information? "The girls in Florida I know about because they've either told me themselves or they've told friends who told me," she says. But as the site picked up steam, it started to move beyond just her home state. In fact, on the new FYG Formspring site, there's still a lot of activity concerning girls and bands from all over the country. "Anyone can submit anything about groupies they know," she says. 

Understanding the desire to gossip is one thing, but starting a site dedicated to outing people's sexual behavior seems a bit drastic. Where did the idea come from? "People were asking for groupie posts constantly over on Fueled By Gossip," Kate says. "I got sick of seeing a post about them every few weeks so I created it." 

There's more than a prurient aspect at work here though, she says. Rather than just a malicious effort to harm people's reputations, she says there's a bigger idea behind it, one that strikes at the heart of the groupie entirely. "[Groupies have] been a problem for a very long time," she says. "Girls have a hard time enough as it is being taken seriously in the music industry. Last thing we want is for someone to automatically think that the reason a girl wants a job as a merch girl or tour manager or band manager or even on Warped Tour is because she wants to sleep around."   

Why does she think people sleep with band members? "The only reason I can even give for someone wanting to sleep with a band member is to look cool," she says. "People go to shows now and they don't really go to listen to the music anymore. They go to be noticed. The scene is now all about who you're seen with, who you're partying with or whose number you have."   

When you look at it from that perspective, Kate's mission almost takes on a sort of perverted feminist crusade quality. "Yeah, I guess if you look at it that way," she says. "I know that these girls more than likely will continue to do what they do regardless [of what I do], but at least now their true intentions are out in the open." 
"Sara," a 20-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, started the Dirty Deets community after reading a lot of groupie posts on Fueled By Gossip as well. "People are interested because people love gossip," she explains. "That's pretty much it. Really." 

Sara understands the idea of wanting to have sex with a member of a band, but thinks in many cases it's taken too far into obsession. "It's okay because these girls are fans of the band," she says. "They might find a member to be attractive. Whatever. It's weird to me simply because some girls make it their mission to [hook up with members]." 

As for any guilt about airing people's dirty laundry, she says she has none. "[I have] no reservations," she says. "These [musicians] are in the limelight. It comes with the territory."  True, rock bands are celebrities to an extent, but what about the heretofore-anonymous "groupies"? Sara believes they're no more entitled to privacy because many of them actively seek the attention and may even take pride in it. The thinking goes, she says, "'If I sleep with him, maybe I'll be famous, too.' Ninety-nine percent of groupies wanna sleep with a band guy to become well known. They want the 'scene points.'" An anonymous post on the Dirty Deets page elaborates on that sentiment:
"I dont get why people call girls that hook up with band guys groupies, 1 if you could, most of you know you would. If we didnt hook up with guys in bands we would just be hooking up with other random people or frat guys. Its just preference, because to be honest band guys are way more fun than dirty frat guys or randoms you meet at a bar, and its fun to think to yourself that you hooked up with so and so when you hear them on the radio haha"
Margaret Moser, longtime music journalist for The Austin Chronicle and author of Rock Stars Do The Dumbest Things is the former "queen" of the Austin groupies who "showed Southern hospitality to a range of artists from U2, the Clash and the B-52's to the Ramones, the Police and R.E.M" according to her bio page on the University of Texas at Austin website. We asked her to take a look at some of these gossip sites. 

"I've come to the point where I very much value sisterhood," she says. "I think this is very counterproductive. My sense is that these young women that are involved in this blog are really young. You can tell because of their language. Women in the business who are 40, 45, 50 aren't calling each other 'immature' and things like that. It's not the way that we operate. It's clear that these are young women who are very green to the [music] world, even if they've been in it two, three, four or five years. That's not like being in it for 20 years where you really get the perspective. I think the presence of this kind of mean-spirited stuff can be pretty damaging to somebody who maybe legitimately loves her job being a merch girl. As someone who has been on both sides of the bed, I have thoroughly enjoyed working merch for bands that I didn't sleep with, and didn't want to sleep with!"   

During Moser's heyday as a groupie (1970 to 1971 and then again from 1976 to 1983), there was no interconnection between any of the competing sects of groupies--and if there was, it wasn't positive. "We have this kind of unofficial sorority now where we're all very friendly with each other, but I can guarantee you we weren't particularly friendly back then," she says. 

"There was nothing to connect us except reputation. I might have read about the other groupies in magazines, but that was the only way I was gonna know who the other ones were because there was no way you could instantly be friends with somebody the way you can on MySpace or Twitter or in a chat room." 

But technology is one of the only things that's changed since then because, as Moser says, groupies have been around forever. "This is a kind of syndrome that you see going back as far as culture goes," she says. "People love to worship. The girls of today who admire the boys in the videos are not that much different from the girls in the '50s who admired their teen idols, [and they] aren't much different than the jitterbug girls before that or the flappers."   

Still, sites like Fuck Yeah Groupies represent another difference from the way she remembers things--in Moser's time, she says, the music was key to the entire experience. "One of the things I was interested about on this [webpage was how] she was defining groupie. She defines it so specifically as someone who goes after musicians without really caring about the music. That was the part where I really disagree with her. For me, it [was always] about the music. The idea of giving myself to a musician whose music I didn't care about would be awful, repellent." 

For a girl in the '70s, "giving yourself to a musician" may have seemed like the best route to be a part of the music she loved. "It's the idea that it's kind of the ultimate gift. That's a na├»ve way of saying it, but I'm 55 now, I'm not out there offering myself to musicians. I was when I was 15. That was kind of the way it was. Your music makes me feel so good that all I have to give you is myself."   

A feminist reading of that sort of thing probably wouldn't be too kind. But the fact that a lot of young girls did, and still do, feel that way remains. It was indeed a lot harder to get a foothold in the music world then. It's better now, but not perfect. There are countless examples of women holding their own in the world of rock, either behind the scenes or onstage. 

"You can actually participate now, if you're driven to do it," says Moser. Her story is more likely one of the exceptions, however. Not every groupie goes on to an impressive journalism career. "I was a groupie. I got most of what I know by being backstage and observing what's going on," she says. Her sexuality was merely an entry into that world. "Sex tends to be a weapon that [young women] wield. It's so strong," she says. "The hormones are coursing, they're still coming out of the gate and you don't know what to do with them. All of a sudden, you're in this world that's very testosterone fueled and it's exciting. This music is fabulous, it goes down to the core of my soul and makes my blood pump and my heart race. I know it does this for other people too. So I understand this."   

But she thinks there is something "off" about FYG. "It sounds to me there are some women in there that really are working and they're just being trashed because girls like to trash each other. It's kind of sad to look at some of this."  Dr. Jenn Berman, a marriage, family and child therapist, author of The A To Z Guide To Raising Happy Confident Kids and frequent TV psychological expert shared that sense of sadness after looking at the sites. "It did not make me proud to be a woman," she says. "On all sides of it, I felt bad for the women, for their actions and for how they were exposed and how they were talked about. I felt bad all around."   

Music writer and "semi-retired professional groupie" Cheryl Mullen--who wrote "The Good Groupie's Ten Commandments" agrees. "[It's] vile and pathetic," she says. "I can't believe people actually waste time and money on this crap. I think groupies themselves have evolved over the years, but the idea of the groupie has not. This was why I started writing about groupies in the first place. From my observation, there seem to be two types of groupies, which I referred to in my piece as 'Good Groupies' and 'Bad Groupies.'" 

Bad Groupies, she says, are what people mean when they think of the stereotype of the word. It's "the young female psycho-slut who will bump and grind anything with a cock and a connection to the music industry."  But that character is not the whole story either. Over the years, she's come to think of the diehards who drive across the country to follow artists on tour, who actually care about the music and bands, as Good Groupies. "These people are housewives and career-oriented people, young and old, male and female. They're not out to engage in any sexual escapades with these artists, although I'm sure many of them have thought about it once or twice. They honestly dig what the artists are doing and want to support the artists in whatever way they can. They're almost like a second family to the artists. As far as I'm concerned, these people are groupies, too, and I include myself in this category. But I wouldn't lump any of us in the same category with those who allegedly engage in the behavior described in these blogs. I say 'allegedly' for a reason. The creator of this blog is asking for some serious legal trouble. Anyone appearing on this blog could sue her for libel or defamation of character. If and when that occurs, the onus will be on the blogger to prove that her claims are true. Otherwise, she's in hot water. Even if her claims are true, if she can't prove it in court, she's screwed." 

Mullen says that the primary difference between "good" and "bad" groupies is their motivation. "The 'good' groupie's motivation is support, whereas the 'bad' groupie's motivation is possession," she says. "This is not to say that good groupies never engage in inappropriate behavior, but that the motivation for the behavior is different." 

Though the 'bad' groupie description fits right into the definition of the girls that Fuck Yeah Groupies and the like are talking about. "Let's be honest," says Mullen. "The goal of a bad groupie is to fuck someone famous. So in that sense, I think the [FYG] blogger has defeated her own purpose. Groupies like this go after bands because they want to be known for having sex with them. Stuff like this blog just gives the groupies more incentive. If it were only about getting laid, these tramps could just go to a local dive bar, pretend to be drunk, and go after the first half-decent looking guy they lay their eyes on."  

Whether or not notoriety is actually something that girls who sleep with bands are looking for--and many of them most certainly are not--it's simply a fact in today’s information-sharing world that nothing is secret for long, particularly when it involves a public figure.

“If you sleep with someone whose sex life is a subject of public interest, there's a good chance that your sex life will be made public by association,” says music writer and “semi-retired professional groupie” Cheryl Mullen. “I think that's why [some] groupies do it. Being able to brag that you banged so-and-so is like a badge of honor to these girls.”

But why? Dr. Jenn Berman, a marriage, family and child therapist, says often this desire comes from a lack of a sense of self. “Or [it comes from] a lack of your own accomplishments,” she says. “For some of these people, sleeping with a famous person makes them feel more important and may give them a sense of identity and validation. We live in a society that has increasingly glamorized the celebrity and made every sort of association with a celebrity something that's really positive. In certain ways, it's hard for your average person to fight those messages because they really are so powerful. It takes a lot of insight and a lot of work on yourself not to fall into this trap [of] power by association. When we're in a relationship with someone--and I use that term loosely--that person mirrors back to ourselves who we are. For a lot of these women, when... that rock star looks into their eyes and wants them, that reflection of themselves as being wanted and desirable and needed in that moment can be addictive. It makes them feel important and feel good about themselves."

Sometimes the glow of celebrity can obscure the fact that there is a downside to involving yourself with someone famous. “They only see the glamorous side of fame,” says Mullen. “The star chose public life when he or she decided to pursue a career as an artist. The star knew or should have known that with fame comes the risk of having certain details of your life made public whether you want them to be or not.”

So what is it that compels people to seek out sex with someone simply because they're performing onstage? It's all about talent, says “Theresa,” one of a few young women we asked about what they see in performers. “I love when a guy can swoon me with his words or make my hips sway with his guitar,” she says. “Of course, it doesn't hurt if he's easy on the eyes. [It’s as] simple as that.”

Another young woman who didn't want us to use her real name, “Jessica,” agrees about the nature of a musician's appeal. “It’s attractive when individuals are doing exciting things with their lives, like being on a national or international tour,” she says. “Their creative outlet is opening doors for them, and sometimes women want to be a part of something bigger and better than what is going on in their lives. Being with a band member may be an escape from their own boring reality.”

Another woman close to the topic, “Amy,” pursued a very famous New York City rock band during her youth. She says, “At the base level, confidence is sexy, and you need a certain level of that to get up on stage and perform. I'm fascinated by people who have talents I wish I had. I would probably rather be the rock star, but I suck at songwriting, so it's cool to be around someone who has the superpowers I lack. When I was 19, it was just validating to be accepted by people I found impressive.”

She says things are different now than they were during the golden age of groupiedom-the ’70s and ’80s. “I read [Pamela Des Barres’ book, I’m With The Band: Confessions Of A Groupie] and I actually think women back then were still in the sexual revolution mindset where they'd taken the freedom to fuck at will, but the actual act of fucking was still all about serving the dude,” she says. “They felt like giving [oral sex to] Jimmy Page [of Led Zeppelin] was an honor, which I think is bullshit. I think today there are more girls like me who just go out and fuck like a man to get off. Fucking the lead singer of a band is the same thing as fucking the head cheerleader. The challenge is fun. Like any dude would, I would high-five my friends about it after.”

Theresa agrees that times have changed. In terms of access and gaining a musician's attention, it's far easier than it was during the ’70s. “Back then, it was all about the big-name bands and trying to get that coveted backstage pass,” she says. “These days, bands are more approachable. I'm proud of my nights spent with bands. Why should I be ashamed? Why should anyone?”

Does that mean she considers herself a groupie? “It depends on how you define ‘groupie,’” she says. “I wouldn't consider myself one, only because I’ve never made it my mission to seek out a musician. If it happens, it happens. But other people may perceive me as one.”

Some are able to embrace the designation of “groupie” and see delineation between certain types. Amy, for one, never particularly minded the term because she never considered herself to be part of a certain lower class of groupie. “[Being called a groupie] was just an identifier of the kind of dudes I liked,” she says. “There are two levels of groupie to me: girls who will just fuck any musician, roadie or manager they can get--those usually found on Kid Rock tour buses--and girls who hang around musicians and become attracted to specific individuals and behave like normal human beings about it. It was clear to everyone by my behavior which I was.”

On the other hand, some participants like Jessica still think that groupie is a dirty word. “It implies that they are willing to use their bodies or sex to get what they want,” she says. “Groupie is a code word for ‘fool,’ since the so-called rewards are often short-lived and demeaning. Most girls who are trying to get backstage or on a tour bus are hush-hush about their objectives. They may lie about or downplay what they are willing to do to get attention from the men they desire. They are afraid that society or their friends may judge them as 'users.'”

However, both Jessica and Amy concur that whatever your stance on groupies, the motivation behind blogs like Fuck Yeah Groupies that expose groupies as “users” is suspect. As we revealed in the first installment of this story, “Kate,” the 19-year-old Floridian who started the site says, “Girls have a hard time enough as it is being taken seriously in the music industry. Last thing we want is for someone to automatically think that the reason a girl wants a job as a merch girl or tour manager or band manager or even on Warped Tour is because she wants to sleep around.”

Laura Goldfarb, founder of Red Boot Publicity, finds this explanation hard to swallow. “If this is really about women in the music industry trying to be taken seriously, then I think this blog is counterproductive,” she says. “If you don’t like the fact that some women are trying to be a part of the magic of the industry by exploiting themselves, then why are you trying to be a part of the industry by exploiting them? Why not rely on your own merit? If you deserve to be the merch girl, tour manager, band manager or on Warped Tour, you’ll get there based on your credentials. I would never take someone seriously enough to hire them if they thought using and exploiting the private lives of others was a way of proving themselves. I am a successful professional woman in the music industry. I run my own PR firm and people respect me and take me seriously. I did not get to this level by using anyone. I got here by working my ass off, and respecting and loving those around me.”

Amy says the issue at hand has nothing to do with breaking into the music industry and that it’s simply the way the world works. “Dudes are always going to try to bone chicks, whether you work in a corner office or at a hot dog stand,” she says. “This isn't unique to music, so should we have some asshole website for every profession just to make sure women get taken more seriously?” Amy also questions the personal intentions of the creators of such sites. “How many musicians do you have to fuck to get on the list?” she asks. “Or do you just have to piss her off and she'll put you on the list?”

Jessica agrees. “I don’t sympathize with [the site’s creator] at all,” she says. “The blog is aimed at outing groupies to punish them for their behavior. She’s hoping to alter how these women behave by humiliating them. It seems like an extremely insecure, desperate move--having to put down others to clear your own name.”

Whatever the real reason, it would seem that sites like Fuck Yeah Groupies continues an age-old tradition of scolding women for their promiscuity and pushing one’s own personal morals onto others. “The people who are trying to humiliate these women have got to be pretty misogynistic themselves,” says Dr. Berman. “If you're running a site like this, you're anointing yourself as the sexual police, essentially giving tickets to people who committed violations based on your values.”

In addition to what we’re allowed to talk about in public, the rules on whose sex lives we're allowed to talk about has also shifted recently says Nick Given of Boston metal act BANG CAMARO. “I believe the dynamic used to be fundamentally different,” he says of the difference in interest between a public and a private person's sex life. “For example, we’re allowed to put politicians under such a fine microscope. They’re public citizens. In the past, famous entertainers were the same, and it would be unfair to subject private citizens to the same sort of public scrutiny. Not to mention, no one would care. Now everyone is a public citizen broadcasting their lives to anyone that will listen.” Now that a cell phone is all it takes to be a 24-hour news source, privacy is nearly impossible for anyone to maintain. “It’s no surprise sites like this are popping up,” says Given. “For years, we’ve referred to ours as a voyeuristic culture feeding on the 15 minutes we can all achieve with our important tweets and status updates. Sites like [Fuck Yeah Groupies] are the inevitable consequence: people talking shit about who’s doing what to whom. Sometimes a fuck or two is just a fuck or two, and it’s nobody’s business. Are people so jealous of celebrity that we have to invent our own paparazzi-esque blogs and message boards?”

Steve Five of Brooklyn indie band THE LIBRARY IS ON FIRE says that leveling the playing field between celebrity and fans has affected the essence of the groupie dynamic as well. “If you look at the metamorphosis of the music industry, you can draw parallels. The day of the groupie as a 'celebrity' doesn't come about anymore, but that's because the notion of a 'rock star' has changed. I'm sure it still exists in the way bloated, posturing corporate-rock still exists, but the groupies that pander to these jokers are probably the least interesting of an already uninteresting group.” It’s no surprise then that he finds gossip blogs to be a waste of time.

“Something like this blog is worse than hearing about bad porn from someone else,” he says. “It’s over the line to reveal someone's private business, but if you're a groupie or an artist who runs his or her mouth, it's your own fault. Perhaps the groupie is an exhibitionist. Bad call for the artist. Think with your brain, not your dick, at least long enough to find someone discreet. The old adage 'What happens on tour, stays on tour' has probably saved a lot of marriages and relationships.”

Red Boot's Goldfarb says that maybe the entire argument--whether groupies and sites that call them out on being groupies--goes against the very fabric of rock music in the first place. “Rock ‘n’ roll will always have groupies,” she says. “But it will also always respect any man or woman who has the balls to say, ‘Fuck you,' to whatever anyone thinks or says about them. Let the groupies be who they are, let the fans and musicians do what they wish, and let the men and women who work in this industry stand tall and fight for recognition and respect because they deserve it.”

Using that definition, does that make the people behind these sites rock stars in their own way? After all, people do visit.

“People are always rattling off [that people who create and use the site don’t have] a life, but that person comes to the site, too,” says Kate of FYG. “As long as girls keep sleeping with band guys, I don't see this thing dying anytime soon.”

That, according to Theresa, is likely a safe bet. “As long as there are bands, there will be groupies willing to sleep with them,” she says. “Everyone wants to fuck a rock star. All you need is a pretty face and a set of tits.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a thorough commentary on a much discussed subject.