Evolution of the Groupie

-Allie Hafner

What comes to mind when we hear the term ‘groupie’? Most people think of a girl in the 60s or 70s that hangs around rock bands and sleeps with its members. Realistically, that’s not that far from the truth – but groupies actually did have a substantial impact on rock and roll culture. They were motivated by their love for the music; some inspired famous songs such as “Layla” by Eric Clapton and “Something” by The Beatles. Eventually, people started to question groupie culture, and it came to have a negative connotation. This shift led to the rise of a feminist groupie counter-culture movement, Riot Grrrl. Nowadays, groupies are able to connect through online forums to support and advise each other through new communications media.

When rock music started gaining popularity in the 1960s and 70s, it attracted a mob of young groupies who followed bands on tour. One of the most popular groupies of that time was Pamela Des Barres, who wrote a memoir titled “I’m With the Band” (1987). In her memoir she details her time as Frank Zappa’s nanny and as the lover of both Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger.

Coming into the 1970s, a new kind of groupie culture started emerging – the ‘baby groupie.’ One such groupie was Lori Maddox, who had relations with David Bowie at the age of just 13. As groupies started getting younger and younger, people began to question whether groupie culture should be celebrated. In 1978, groupie Nancy Spungen was found dead in her bathroom at the Hotel Chelsea, where she was staying with her then-boyfriend – Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Spungen had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15, and became known as “Nauseating Nancy” because of her frequent public displays of verbal abuse and violence. After Spungen’s death in 1978, the connotation associated with the word ‘groupie’ took a turn for the worse. Groupie now meant someone who is obsessed with fame and who is a negative influence on music commonly associated with hard drugs and bad behaviour.

The Riot Grrrl movement was initiated in the early 90s by women who felt they didn’t have a space in the culture of punk rock. The movement combined feminism and punk rock. These women felt they were pushed into the roles of ‘girlfriends’ of male rock stars – as the term ‘groupie’ developed a negative connotation, women wanted to stray away from their roles as romantic playthings of rock stars they worshipped. Women began creating their own fanzines, music, and art surrounding rock culture. They used these media to make political statements about issues such as double standards against women, domestic abuse, and female empowerment. This movement came to an end with the rise of the ‘Spice Girls’ era, but the pursuit of a place for women in the music industry is an ongoing movement.

With the rise of information and communications technology, modern groupies have many ways to connect with each other. Online forums allow groupies to warn each other about which musicians to stay away from, and also provide a place for groupies to give each other advice on how to safely and confidently pursue one’s groupie dreams. Tumblr blogs such as rockgroupies.tumblr.com bear the title “Life as A Rock Groupie” and give a brief bio: “Here we try to educate and help others on their way to groupiedom, as well as sharing some stories along the way!” People submit questions about how to initiate romantic flings with musicians as well as how to avoid vulnerability when involved in such flings. These forums give modern groupies access to a community that wasn’t available for groupies in the 60s and 70s. Women like Des Barres and Maddox still faced a lot of public criticism in the days when groupie culture was celebrated. Now, groupies can find refuge in these online forums where they can confide in each other. Before the Riot Grrrl movement, groupies weren’t as supportive of each other, and often fought over rock stars and developed feuds. In this new age of communication, women have more ways to support and encourage each other. This, in turn, fosters a community of women who can guide each other to avoid the concerns groupie lifestyles may present.

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