Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Groupies: Let's Spend the Night Together by Pamela Des Barres

Let's Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies by Pamela Des Barres

Throughout Let's Spend the Night Together, there's a tone of sadness and nostalgia for a lost time. The groupies, past and present, that Des Barres interviews for the book lament that there are no longer "famous" groupies, that rock stars date models and movie stars, not fans, and that perhaps, the golden age of the groupie is over.

Between Des Barres previous memoirs and Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, there's a case to be made that the groupies of the 60s and 70s were not garden variety skanks, so much as rock courtesans, vulnerable to a great deal of heartbreak and abuse, but also not utterly disposable.

The book is organized semi-chronologically, beginning with interviews with groupie greats like Cherry Vanilla, Catherine James, and Cynthia Plaster Caster. Then Des Barres moves into the considerably darker 70s, populated by the underage set like Lori Maddix and Sable Starr, and the aging groupies who fell into drug addiction and domestic abuse. After reading Maddix's chapter, you will never look at David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Jimmy Page the same way again -- they should all be in jail.

As the book goes on, things get even less romantic and more depressing, and it becomes very apparent how far the groupie has fallen. Whatever one may think of the choices these women made, it's understandable how one could take some sort of pride in being able to say, "I slept with Jimi Hendrix," or "I slept with Keith Moon." It is, in any case, more impressive than saying, "I slept with the drummer from Slipknot."

Some of the women interviewed are very sympathetic, and some have great stories to tell. Tura Satana, Cynthia Plaster Caster, and Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira) are particularly interesting. Also fun are the interviews with the women who got out relatively unscathed and relate their groupie pasts with a shrug and a smile. These tend to be the ones who always had something creative or meaningful going on the side, and are now quite successful in their careers and personal lives.

But even the most well-adjusted among them has a horror story or two to tell. Pat Travers is a jerk, Tom Jones is a monster, and Led Zeppelin were full-out evil. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons comes out rather the gentleman.

However, one of the most train wreck draws of the book is the narration of Des Barres herself. Obviously an intelligent, funny, and sweet woman, she is also clueless, and happily unaware of exactly how clueless she is. Gail Zappa, a woman who essentially stayed married to Frank by playing perpetual hostess, taking care of the house, and waiting on him hand and foot, is set forth as the lucky woman who "became what we all wanted to be."

And Des Barres interviews the decidedly unglamorous Connie Hamzy (immortalized in Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band" and in the Spin article "Oldest Living Confederate Groupie Tells All") with a scarcely veiled contempt. Despite the fact that Hamzy shared a great many of Des Barres's conquests, Miss Pamela is anxious to distance herself from Sweet Connie's Arkansas drawl and willingness to service everyone from rock stars to roadies. When it serves her purposes, Des Barres sells herself as a wild child, but when it doesn't, she emphasizes her long-term relationships with rockers, and characterizes herself as a young girl who had her heart broken. Maybe both sides of the story are true, but geez, to be able to turn it on and off like a tap....

In any case, the anecdotal evidence this book offers about the groupie's decline heartens me, and I say, let the groupies of the 60s and 70s have their wacky stories and write memoirs about them, and let the misogynist nu metal bands have their girls gone wild.

And let the rest of us go about our business, periodically stopping to gawk at them.

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