Even Divas Get the Groupie Chills

So I’m flipping through a book Bette Midler wrote about her first world tour in 1980. In it there is a page entitled “Dear Diary,” in which she discusses her initial discomfort with her groupies (in this case, a pair of young sisters from Idaho) and ultimately her realization that the relationship is a symbiotic one, one that is necessary for her as a performer and a person:

“I guess it’s always troubling to be faced with that kind of devotion. Like most performers, I deal with intense adulation from the multitudes, but as soon as it comes from a focused source…well, that’s another matter altogether. Maybe that’s why so many performer friends of mine refuse to have any dealings with even their most ardent fans…But in some strange way, they give–to me–meaning. I always feel more solid, more real when they’re around. They make me think that maybe there is more to me than I know.”


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Resurrecting the Groupie: A Quick Note on the Reviled “G Word”

One of my first childhood memories is dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” in front of the living room TV with my older sister. As he did most people on the planet, he rocked me. I suppose other things about being a four-year-old got me going, like baby dolls and birthday cake and my mommy, but even then I knew there was something special about the relationship I had with this music man; my baby cheeks flushed at his voice, my feet moved with his pulse. I studied his 1991 album Dangerous faithfully; I ran my fingers over the glossy liner pages daily and developed my reading skills in order to discern the lyrics. By the time I was five or six and had learned a thing or two from Disney movies about romance, I was certain Michael was my boyfriend and any day now he would come knocking on my door to marry me. It’s probably best that dream didn’t come true, but it opened the door to a long and beautiful relationship with the power of music and the people who make it.

It wasn’t until I purposefully heard Abbey Road for the first time, sprawled on the floor of my 14-year-old bedroom, that I made the transition into full-blown music obsessive. I listened to every Beatles song, read every book, watched every video countless times. Their emotional language electrified me beyond reason. I poured my devotion into studying everything about them and their cultural impact. While other kids in my high school entertained future career ideas like nurse or chef, I saw myself as a rock ‘n roll historian. Or Paul McCartney’s next wife.


High school era Sass. I carried that book everywhere for about two years.

At that point in my adolescence it wasn’t just pictures of the classic rock gods that decorated the walls of my bedroom and my heart, but also their goddesses. I became fascinated by the glamorous women by their sides, the muses who, for better and for worse, inspired the most beautiful, aching, electrifying pieces of sound of the day. I worshipped women like Patti Boyd, wife of George Harrison and then Eric Clapton, whose demure beauty galvanized some of the most evocative love songs in history (“Something,” “Layla,” “Wonderful Tonight”). Soon I discovered the bold, business-minded women like Cherry Vanilla and Chris O’Dell who held invaluable inner-circle music careers while getting whatever and whomever they wanted. Those women to me were the ultimate groupies.

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Cherry Vanilla with Mick Ronson. As David Bowie’s PR queen she helped make him one of the most enigmatic personas in rock. You think he did that shit on his own? Puh-lease

The word “groupie” evokes intense responses. It brings to mind sinful women who will do anything to be near someone famous or passionless socialites who use their musical conquests as social leverage. The riotous days of ‘80s metal and salacious stories of basic bitches blowing roadies for backstage passes doesn’t help things, but that is just one aspect of a music culture whose roots lie in sexual expression. It’s not the only way.

I hold the idea of a sacred relationship between those who create art and those who receive it, who religiously dance, laugh, cry, and scream to the tune of their truth. A super-groupie is a super-fan, one who has a spiritual and/or primal desire to reflect, celebrate, and nurture the source of the art. At its core, the creator(-trix) of the music and the one who truly loves it burn as twin flames.

That relationship still exists, though it looks different now that major artists are harder to access and too many independent artists are too exhausted creating, distributing, and marketing themselves to connect intimately with their fans. A new generation of groupies is growing, so let them back in. With modern skills, discernible taste, and hearts on fire, they won’t stay in the dark much longer anyway.

Bonus: they’re a really good indicator of whether your band rocks or sucks. Weeee