THE PERFECT GROUPIE
May 1973, 10:30 pm. I’m waiting under the covers with all my clothes on until my parents turn off their bedroom light. Kneeling on my desk, I take the screen out of the window and jump. It’s a ranch house so I don’t have far to fall. I land in the rhododendrons, right myself and walk, wobbling a little in my stilettos, along the driveway, down the middle of the cul-de-sac, across a lawn, through a backyard, past the mosquito abatement facility, and out to the boulevard. A passing car honks and some guys yell in Spanish. I’m at the railroad tracks where the street gets busier. Stepping behind a dumpster, I reach under my short vinyl skirt, unhook the garters that hold up my fishnet stockings, step out of my underpants and throw them in the bushes. Carrie said she never wears underpants. I rehook my garters, step to the curb and lift my thumb. A truck stops. My heart pounds as I step in. I’m free. Carrie and I are going to Hollywood.
The trucker drops me off at Carrie’s. She lives in a nicer part of the Valley than the seedy industrial area where I live. She lives in a whole guesthouse behind her mother’s sprawling ranch house. On my block, kids share bedrooms or have their own tiny room in a tiny house.
Led Zeppelin’s new album Houses of the Holy is on her record player when I walk in. “Carrie?” I call. She emerges from the bathroom naked except for 6” platform shoes with a half-circle cut out of the heel, called “sabots,” lots of jangly bracelets and dog collars. I check out her interestingly shaped body: very long and skinny through the middle and short legs that appear shorter atop the platforms. Her breasts are round and pretty, a B-cup next to my double-As. She has a small dark mole near her nipple that reminds me to draw a beauty mark above my lip. Her makeup is heavy and her blonde shag blow-dried in perfect scallops.
“Hi! I slept all night in my sabots and I haven’t eaten in two days,” she announces with a quick laugh that shows her chipped front tooth (which I think is cool). I come up with a lie in the easy way I lie in those days, “I haven’t eaten since yesterday,” I tell her. She uh-huhs me while outlining her lips in red. I fish in my purse for my eyeliner pencil and draw a dark black dot above my lip. I tell Carrie that this is called a mouche in Jean Rhys novels. She looks at me blankly. I change the subject, “So why don’t you eat?” I ask. “Because you don’t want to get fat!” she answers shrilly. She and I are bone thin.
“I love this song!” Carrie says as she launches into a jerky dance and sings the “oh oh oh oh oh oh” intro to Led Zeppelin’s D’yer Maker. “Come on.” She pulls me in front of the full-length mirror. “Dance.” She presses her body against me, and blows a kiss toward our image. I don’t know what to do with my hands since she’s naked so I hang them at my sides. We look good together. We’re the same height and have perfect shag haircuts and the same makeup—heavy on the mascara, eye shadow, and red lipstick. I smell alcohol on her breath, Jean Nate cologne, and hairspray. I’m aroused and excited by the newness of it all and self-conscious and I blow kisses too.
Carrie dances her arrhythmic dance and I try to follow but my moves are honed from Soul Train and The Real Don Steele Show. I’m a good dancer but this is more like posing and it looks like what the girls do in Star Magazine, the new groupie rag. Carrie lifts her arm in the air, throws back her head as sings along with Robert Plant, “Ooo baby I love ya, oh!” I laugh and dance-pose along with her for the rest of D’yer Maker, then she kisses me on the lips, but just slightly so not to mess up our lipstick, pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels and pours it into two Disneyland shot glasses.
We drink the booze in one gulp. Before I left home, I gagged down a glass of milk because I heard it coats your stomach. I hate milk. Carrie eyes me up and down and says, “Let me clock your drag... we have to look good together.” With her hands on her skinny hips she scrutinizes my look from stilettos to shag. “Where’d you get your shoes?” she asks. “Stole ’em,” I answer with a jaunty smile. She clamps a hand over her mouth and laughs; “That’s SO cool!” “And I made my skirt,” I brag. “I can make one for you.” “Fab!” she exclaims.
Groupies groom groupies. Groupies hang out in cliques. You can’t just wander onto the scene by yourself. These things I know from Star Magazine. Carrie pulls on an outfit that works with mine—a tight silver lame skirt and a tube top. She lights a cigarette in a long black holder and declares that we’re ready to leave.
Carrie and I are 15-year-olds. We’re in 10th grade at different high schools. I met her earlier this week at Orange Julius after school. I was eating a chili dog and she came in wearing hot pants and wedgies. That’s what I was wearing too. We stared at one another like little kids do when they’re sizing up a potential playmate. Then she flashed me a smile. I smiled back. It could have gone either way. Girls can be such bitches. She came over and asked me if I hitchhiked—I did—and did I want to go to Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Yes. We exchanged phone numbers. She called that night. We talked about makeup, clothes, and which groups we liked. She told me about Rodney’s and the rock stars she had seen hanging out there.
My life is about to change and for the rest of the week I have an air of fuck-you confidence. I flagrantly skip classes; steal makeup; and don’t try to appease my mother by eating dinner with her, my stepfather the lecher, and my half-sister. In the diary I kept fleetingly since I was 9 years old, I turn to the first blank page and write in big block letters, “HOLLYWOOD!” and then never again write in that diary.
Hollywood will get me out of this suburban ennui. I totally do not belong in the Valley. In my school, kids say I’m a slut. It’s partly because of the way I dress—in hot pants, short skirts, fishnets, wedgies and lots of makeup. Mostly I don’t care because I’m so much cooler than they are but sometimes I do care like when a teacher gives me a dirty look and I really like the class and want to learn or when I see groups of girls eating lunch together and I feel so far away from that experience of simple friendship.
I have a reputation for sleeping around. I don’t like sleeping with boys, but it just happens. The first time I had sex with a boy I was 14. Guy, who was 16, asked me to the drive-in movie. I was excited because I thought it was a real date, but he blew the horn for me in my parents’ driveway instead of coming to the door, and as I got in the car he picked up a napkin from the floor and harshly wiped off my red lipstick. He said he didn’t like lipstick. I sat in stunned silence, humiliated, and when we got to the drive-in he parked in the way back and raped me. Before that it was only my stepfather who had sex with me.
I learned early in life that sex is what’s most valuable about me. This is what men and boys want from me. As long as they are quick, I’m willing to give a blow job or get fucked if there’s something in it for me, like drugs or clothes or money. But now I’m bored of giving it to Valley guys. It’s going nowhere and I want something better in return. So when I heard about groupie girls fucking rock stars, the sex is not what turned me on—that’s just the means to the end—it’s that sex gets you into Hollywood rock and roll parties and backstage at concerts. That’s cool.
Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco is a dive extraordinaire: a tiny firetrap, long and narrow, with a dance floor at the back surrounded by mirrors, a DJ booth, no bar, a couple of pay phones, and skuzzy bathrooms. Rock stars sit in an old red naugahyde “VIP” booth lifted from a diner, elevated on a platform. You have to be invited up there by Rodney—an anxious, bespectacled man the size of a 12-year-old boy, in towering platforms who is either giggling or has the demeanor of a bookkeeper. He is the uber-groupie.
Carrie and I walk in the door past the bouncer and the woman collecting money. I pause for a moment, but then understand that being part of the scene means acting like the scene is waiting for your arrival. The place is packed and stiflingly hot. The Jack Daniels we’re sipping from a flask makes me flush. As Carrie pulls me through the crowd toward the dance floor the outside world melts away and this feels like nirvana. I’ve arrived. I feel bold, important in this milieu; I’m wearing a happening outfit, I have the right attitude.
Young teenaged girls and a few boys crowd the dance floor. Carrie whispers wildly that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page just sat down in the VIP booth. They’re with Sable, Lori, and Queenie, groupies I recognize from Star Magazine. Star groupies and rock stars. I watch them but pretend I’m not because being blasé is the prevailing attitude. I lift my head arrogantly and sashay in front of the VIP booth to the dance floor. Plant and Page are checking us out so Carrie and I put on a show, laughing and falling into one another. She throws her arms around me, plays with my hair, and we kiss, careful to not mess up our lipstick. I feel really awkward but act nonchalant as if we do this all the time, not like we met three days ago and this is the first time a girl’s kissed me.
Carrie introduces me to Lance Loud from the American Family documentary. He appeared on a recent episode in lipstick and now he’s a campy folk hero at Rodney’s. He’s hanging out with Chuck E. Starr, a teen DJ in silver lame hot pants whose incredibly high platform shoes are spewing glitter all over dance floor. Rodney is enthralled with Lance and moves around him like a happy elf, worrying his hands and offering Lance a critique of his family’s television show. But I’m more interested in Chuck E. because he looks like my stepfather’s teenaged son (from a former marriage) whom I’m forced to hang out with on weekend family jaunts. He’s thickly built, the beginnings of too much body hair, masculine features, husky post-puberty voice, bushy eyebrows—but he’s wearing makeup and a boa and tiny satin hot pants and a woman’s blouse tied over his hairy chest. I’ve never seen such a queer creature in my life. Something about the dissonance, the high school football player masculinity with a pin-up girl veneer thrills me.
We move like a swarm around the dance floor, posing and talking over the music. Carrie is asking around for Led Zeppelin’s room numbers at the “Riot House” (Hyatt House hotel on Sunset Boulevard). Rodney plays the Sweet’s new song, “Ballroom Blitz” and girls scream and jostle to get the best position in front of the mirrors. The Sweet sing, “OOOOOH YEAH!” and the beehive of girls sing along and flash their tits in unison like a drunken teenaged chorus line. The guys in the VIP booth hoot and lift their beers.
I have my eye on Sable Starr, the main groupie. I watch her intently. She’s relaxed and unselfconscious. She’s pretty and cocky and loud and demands attention. Her clothes are fabulous and set the trend for the rest of us; she’s not too trashed but just fucked up enough; she has a lot of control. She’s the perfect groupie. She has sexual power over the rock stars. They want her and she keeps a cool distance, not being too engaged with any one guy, so everyone thinks they have a chance with her. She chooses them; they don’t choose her. I like that.
Iggy Pop is on the dance floor. He’s standing in the middle—shirtless, skinny and muscular with skintight pants so low his pubes show. He’s wasted but still coherent. I dance over to him; I’m curious, and I stare at him directly, with what I hope is a seductive look. He puffs out his chest and with a pouting mouth and his bleached blonde hair falling in his eyes, says, “I wanna be your dog.” Those words could be a betrothal I’m so thrilled, even if I don’t know what it means. I dance in front of him putting my hands on his shoulders. I’m drunk and bold. He stands there too fucked up to move, smiling at me with a crazy grin that’s a cross between a too-tan surfer and a denture-wearing geriatric. He says, “What’s your name, baaaaby?” I tell him and he repeats it, “Rah-bin” with a Michigan accent and stares at me, unblinkingly, smiling that white-toothy smile. “Where are you from?” he asks. Shyness creeps over me. He’s nice, friendly in a personable way that feels unfamiliar amidst the decadence and posturing, and I’m caught off guard and for a moment I feel like just a girl. Then Sable swoops down and takes him by the elbow and leads him away. I’m pissed. She’s not going to do that to me again.
I watch her walk him back to the VIP booth. One of Led Zeppelin’s entourage catches my eye and raises his beer bottle to me. He’s a cute roadie with the same curly mane and tight leather pants as Plant and Page. The Sweet sing “Oooooh yeah!” and I lift my tube top, flashing the roadie and blowing kisses. He hoots. I’m ready to give the VIP booth a show and turn the attention to me, not Sable or Lori or Queenie, when someone grabs me—a man I hadn’t seen before—and yanks me off the dance floor like some pissed-off dad. I try to pull away but he grips me tighter and pushes me roughly into the back area of the club where the bathrooms are. “What the fuck are you doing?!” I scream, trying to pull my arm from his grip. He shows me his badge; he’s a plainclothes cop. “I could arrest you for indecent exposure,” he says.
The alcohol rises in a burning swirl in my chest. He shoves me into the bathroom and shuts the door. “Get on your knees and blow me and I’ll let you go,” he commands. I do what he says. I get on my knees on the filthy cold tile floor. I feel sick but I’ll blow him because I want to get back out there and find Iggy and I don’t want Carrie going to the Rainbow without me.
I stare at his cheap beige polyester bell-bottom pants like my stepfather wears. He’s grunting as he struggles to move his gun holster and walkie-talkie and unbuckle his belt and pull down his zipper. I take this in while my mind goes blank and spins all at once and the bile rises in my throat. The music goes off in the club and I hear a girl on the pay phone asking her mother for a ride home. I wish I could call my mother too and have her come and get me but that would never happen. She doesn’t care enough.
“Suck this!” he says. I’m about to do it but his walkie-talkie goes off and someone pounds on the door and the cop puts his dick in his pants and walks out. I stagger to my feet and lean against the wall and try not to throw up.
The lights are on and the music is off when I walk back into the club. The cops are ushering everyone out. The one from the bathroom says to me, “Wait for me outside.” He’s got to be kidding.
Outside I see Carrie talking to a very tall skinny man with a square Frankenstein-like head who’s leaning on a convertible Cadillac. It’s Kim Fowley, Hollywood impresario and later founder of the Runaways. He reaches his long arms out like a vampire wingspan and says, “It’s all happening.” My mind is foggy from drinking and being on my knees in front of the cop. I don’t want the cop to see me again but I can’t pull my head together to figure out what to do. I want to be in my bed.
Iggy Pop walks over and calls me by name. He remembered my name. I look around to see who heard. He asks where I’m going. Following him is Stan who goes to my school and is in a band. I tell Stan I need a ride to the Valley. Iggy says, “I wanna go too.” I take Iggy’s arm and wave goodbye to Carrie who is in Kim Fowley’s car. She makes an excited face because she thinks I’m going with Iggy. I will be soon enough. Stan is blown away that he’s giving Iggy a ride. I ride shotgun and Iggy promptly passes out in the backseat.
As we approach my street I tell Stan to let me off on the corner. He wants me to wake up Iggy. “I can’t bring Iggy Pop home, my parents are there!” I tell him. “Well my parents are home too!” he says. “Sorry, Stan.” I get out quickly, take off my stilettos and run home. I climb in the window, strip down, put on my pajamas and get into bed. I’m shaking. I’m scared and exhilarated. I grab my doll and think about what I’m going to wear tomorrow night when I go back to Rodney’s. I start to fall asleep but then reach over and put my stilettos on the bed so I can tell Carrie I slept in them.
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