When reviewing my life and all the stupid things I did as a young woman, (yeah, that’s what I do in my spare time….) I realise there are a lot of things that are specific to the female experience. Things that most men would simply not have bothered wasting their time on. They do other stupid stuff admittedly (like dealing drugs, or drag-car racing) but one of the fads exclusive to us women is the groupie experience. What is it about men on stage, no matter how geeky or skinny or unattractive, that makes them irresistible to us women? Is it the lights, the makeup? The hair?
And there we are, before we know it, age 13, screaming our virginal little tonsils out at Dave from Depeche Mode (in my case). Fast forward two years give or take and you’re sitting on a pile of cables and cinches in the back of a rusty van in transit between Chester and Liverpool with Dr.Phibes and the House of Wax Equations, with nothing but a packet of biscuits and a 2-litre bottle of cider between you and the call of fame.
But instead of being groupies, why aren’t hordes of women picking up the guitar and learning to rock it themselves if they are all so interested in the limelight and the glory? Why don’t we covet fame for ourselves? We have women like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Joan Jett and Patti Smith as role models thank god, but in general, why does it seem preferable to most women to be close to a famous man, rather than seeking the limelight ourselves? Speaking for myself, I would honestly rather hike once around the world wearing a onesie than stand on stage in front of an audience and perform anything. And the most musical bone in my body is definitely my funny bone, (interesting fact: in German the selfsame bone is called the “Musikantenknochen”, the musician’s bone) but despite all that, I was always drawn to flats and squats that also contained lots of hairy men making music.
Almost Famous: Like this but less well dressed.
Yes, more like that….The Senseless Things
It was never a conscious choice, But in all my years sharing flats and squats I always lived with musical people. In Liverpool I had an enormous ancient wooden double bed (hate to think how many people were born and died in that thing!) that hosted many an impromptu sleepover. But I was a pretty crap groupie. What other young blonde long-legged thing can claim to having shared beds platonically with at least a dozen band members without actually shagging any of them? (Women, howl in derision all you like, it just didn’t come up.) I wasn’t even that keen on concerts either. I never quite understood how anyone could get THAT excited over a bridge. A Witnesss, the La’s and the Boo Radleys, along with a bunch of other bands, had their practice room in our squat in Liverpool. Dr. Phibes lived there half the time.
To be honest, the muso guys were actually the best flat mates you could have wished for, because they were all really girly, always up for a good long chinwag about who said what and why. They were always appreciative of good home-cooked food, and tended to wander in at 4am with a rolie or joint at the ready.
In Berlin, after breaking up with the drummer of some medieval punk band (yes that’s a musical genre in Germany) with an unspeakable name (The Inchtabokatables, well you did ask), I moved in with half of what was just becoming Rammstein. It was perfect because they were just as erratic and nocturnal as I was, but when we were all there, there was always sparkling wine for breakfast and no one hassled about money, disappeared food or washing up.
I remember one of the guitarists asking me to translate one of his lyrics (something about a black crow) into English. After I’d finished I said I thought it would be much more powerful if he left it in German….I like to think they took my advice, leading directly to their stellar fame, even though I suppose it reflects rather badly on me that I did such a shit job of my first-every translation.
So, after my vast experience as crappest groupie ever, all I have to show for it are a few pearls of wisdom to pass on:
1. Shared bathroom facilities in the kitchen are the greatest leveller of all (yes, the shower and only sink were in the kitchen).
2. The guys crooning about love up there on stage? They are usually singing love songs to themselves.
3. And if there is one thing they’re going to get passionate about? It ain’t you, babe, it’s the music.
4. If you act famous and rich, and have a modicum of talent, you may well end up famous and rich.
5. If you have sparkling wine for breakfast, the rest of the day usually turns out just grand.
6. If you really want to be a groupie, make sure you have a good book with you at all times because there is A LOT of downtime.
7. Anyone can play that bass line. Even your dog.
8. That sexy eyeliner they’re wearing? It belongs to their ex-girlfriend.
Gimme back my eyeliner!
Let’s face it, most women of my generation have a story or two to tell about nights spent in a transit van, or in a backstage room, and every woman “almost” failed her ‘A’ levels because of some dickhead with a guitar. Which is kind of annoying. So I am hopeful that the next generation, in that respect at least, are “doing it for themselves”. Thank god the young women I know (my daughter included) concentrate on serious self-created fun, education and having good friends, and if they are crazy for a band, it’s because they really dig the music.
I recently bumped into the Rammstein keyboarder again, with his daughter, and he asked “Hey, still doing translations?” and I said “Yep, still translating. And you? Still making music?” Apparently, yes, he is. But the really good news? So is his daughter.
Cups of tea made: 1324
Bowls of tuna salad shared: 42
Hours spent waiting in draughty corridors after gigs: 213
Nights spent in stinky backstage rooms with roadies: 11
Nights spent in vans in transit: 9