Groupie Oral History Dishes The Dirt--And A Ceaseless Cascade Of Clichés
Imagine that you have just started dating someone. In addition, imagine that you have no car. Your new girlfriend (or boyfriend) invites you to a party 30 miles away in his (or her) hometown. You arrive at the party; it is awful. Your date fails to mention that he (or she) is "straight-edge." There is no alcohol, and smoking a cigarette would be a faux pas. You try to make conversation, but everyone is so damn boring and talking about things that happened at the last Earth Crisis show. If these people were any lamer, your face would turn into a dry sandbox sculpture and slide forward onto their dispassionate shoes, but with no vehicle of your own to escape with you're trapped.
Though this scenario would totally suck if it actually happened, it would be a boat load of fun when compared to reading Pamela Des Barres' Let's Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies (Chicago Review Press). The latest book from the author of the groupie memoir I'm With the Band is a collection of confessions from various groupies who find themselves in love or in bed with everyone from Elvis Presley to Iggy Pop. If you've read Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me or Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, you may think Let's Spend the Night Together is right up your alley. Though the formula is similar--a narrator takes you on a behind-the-music journey via the tales of those who were there--the outcome is deflated and pretentious.
In the first few pages Des Barres takes the liberty of comparing herself to Mary Magdalene: "[S]ince I had personally experienced the cosmic closeness that can evolve between a creative genius and an adoring fan, I began to see the Lord's closest companion as the first genuine groupie muse." This whole Da Vinci Code rigmarole continues throughout, as when Marilyn Manson groupie/publicist Lexa Vonn describes Manson and other performers thusly: "when they look at you with those eyes, it's like being with God. I believe music comes from God." This same woman also has a frame in her house that holds a picture of Jesus and Kurt Cobain side by side.
The cheesy aesthetic is further propounded by sappy gems such as "I was tickled hot pink" and "Miss B and I play with the kittens, who've just roused from their naps, and we bemoan the sorrows of drug addiction." It's not necessarily poor narration at every turn--well, not by Spin or Pitchfork standards anyway--it's just that it sounds a little too much like Chicken Soup for the Soul meets Lita Ford.
If you can get past the hurricane of clichés and cookie-cutter narration, you do encounter a few notable moments. According to a "Miss B," Kurt Cobain was not only a cross-dresser onstage but also in the bedroom--wigs, heels, makeup, pantyhose, and all. (So it wasn't all ironic, eh Kurt? It's cool, man, I've been there.) In other androgyny news, Andy Warhol alumnus/musician Cherry Vanilla reveals that David Bowie was perhaps "acting" even in the sack.
The chapter on Cynthia "Plaster" Caster is also one worth checking out. She talks candidly about Jimi Hendrix humping clay and being a good sport, and according to underground Canadian paper Georgia Straight, Caster's mold of Hendrix's unit is considered the "Penis de Milo." Speaking of which, did you know that "Hampton wick" is cockney slang for penis? The image of Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) taking Queen antique shopping is admittedly awesome, and Iggy Pop once saying, "I feel like Richie Cunningham in Happy Days," is hilarious. The funniest line in the book, though--if only because it's hard to believe someone actually said it--is when "Miss B" says, in complete seriousness, "I was wearing a T-shirt the other day that said 'outlaw.' I'm definitely a rebel. I really am the epitome of somebody who is living in the moment."
Unfortunately, these entertaining anecdotes are diffused by the overall poor storytelling. Des Barres' prose reads like wordy traffic that chokes on itself, and her tone resembles the clichéd drool that stems from a culture of mental midgets who take belly-dancing classes to fend off a midlife crisis. If you keep Let's Spend the Night Together next to your toilet and skim through it occasionally, it may work for you, but it doesn't have the juice and excitement found in rock literature like the aforementioned Please Kill Me . No one expects A Farewell to Arms when picking up a book titled Let's Spend the Night Together, but you should expect more than what's offered here.
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