Groupie. The term itself has many definitions. Applied loosely, it encompasses anyone whose idol worship borders on the obsessive. Baseball players, ballerinas, authors, tennis stars, actors — all have groupies of one ilk or another. Anybody who’s anybody has groupies. But in rock & roll parlance, groupie is not just a synonym for fan. It’s one thing to wait outside the gates of Yankee Stadium hoping to snare an autograph from Reggie Jackson. It’s another altogether to give blow jobs at the backstage door to the local kid who works weekends at the civic center when the big bands come to town.
The ladies of the night: nearly every well-known band has sung of them, and today’s infatuation with the Sixties may make those women seem a whole lot more attractive than they really were. But even the most baked-brain punk would have trouble topping the Plaster Casters, three chubby girls from Chicago who collected hundreds of ceramic models of rock-star phalluses in the Sixties.
Former groupies, many of whom now work as record publicists, music critics and backup singers or are married to musicians, maintain that the world meant something different back then. The atmosphere was different. There was a whole new groundswell of ideas, a cultural revolution that manifested itself in the ethos of free love, communes, hallucinogens and strong anti-war sentiment. Somehow the whole feeling was contained in the radical sounds emanating from the electric weapons wielded by rock & roll musicians. To be a groupie then was to be on the inside of a scene that would change the world. To keep your position on the inner lining. You had to be as cool, bright and exciting as the people and sounds that served as the movement’s icons.
But the innocent rebelliousness of the Sixties gave way to the “me” generation of the Seventies, the “if it feels good, do it” movement. Executives grew long hair, smoked pot and listened to rock & roll and got into group sex. The war ended and a kind of complacency set in. Rock critics disparaged the dearth of anything that resembled the creativity of the Sixties. Underground heavy-metal music — with its strong male appeal — and schlock rock took over, interrupted briefly by quick-burn trends such as glitter rock. Superstars became more abundant than cancer warnings, Farrah Fawcett here, Peter Frampton there — all gone tomorrow and replaced by other instant celebrities. And groupies scurried about dizzily like a family of slugs whose rock had been displaced, looking for something or someone to hang on to. Today, all that’s left of the groupie cult is various mutations: macho groupies such as Richie, who plays out masturbatory fantasies with Deborah Harry (a.k.a. Blondie — her group is also called Blondie), male homosexuals who chase after Tom Robinson, bull dykes who slaver over all-girl bands like the Runaways, and punk groupies into the fashionable antics of S&M. Aspiring rock stars may still get into the business because, as Robbie Robertson said in The Last Waltz, they’ll get “more pussy than Frank Sinatra,” but once their record sales reach the break-even point, they seem untouchable, save for those who have something more interesting than kinky and abundant sex to offer.
Still, groupies are a sign of success, no matter how mutant they might be. Some people, such as Peter Leeds, manager for Blondie, don’t understand that. He fears (perhaps correctly) that any mention of the frustrated men who try to hit on Deborah Harry will somehow link her band to a nominal star status. He forgets that groupies buy records and concert tickets and T-shirts bearing band logos, that groupies are the best advertising there is, even if their infatuation with stardom can be obnoxious. As it is with Richie, who would give anything to meet Deborah Harry.
It was tropical hot in this place, this converted Long Island bowling alley known as My Father’s Place, and Richie, standing not a foot from the stage where in a few minutes he would be able to reach out and touch, actually touch, the woman who inspired his wet dreams, knew it was time to peel off his bleached, sleeveless denim jacket, the one inscribed with “WestyKills” across the back. Of course, the disrobing was all part of the plan: He figured Deborah Harry wouldn’t or couldn’t or just might not mind doing a double take at his giant, hairless chest and the beautiful pectorals he had spent years inflating at a Brooklyn PAL center. He had tried the same ploy the week before, when he followed Blondie and the band to Boston’s Palace Theatre. He thought it would be easy to penetrate the backstage scene there, impress Blondie with his simian muscularity (and his most recent cosmetic acquisition: a tiny, heart-shaped tattoo on his left shoulder, still raw from the pricking), then to ask for a date. But the security was tight — Christ, the bouncer was even bigger than he was. But he knew the layout of this bench-lined rock club: to get backstage he need only walk through the swinging doors at the side of the stage, strut with the self-importance of a roadie and run down the back stairs to where he could talk to Deborah, the most god-awful gorgeous girl in the whole expanding universe. And tonight, feeling the Methedrine-spiked beer coursing through his veins, Richie just knew that Deborah was hyped up for some groupie action.
So off it came, slowly, the bleached denim jacket with the enigmatic message (who is Westy and why does he kill?). Richie could have felt more sensual, more horned-up, as though he were watching Blondie undress in the pale moonlight of his Brooklyn tenement bedroom as he had fantasized on so many nights, except there’s this skinny creep behind him with mousy, blowzy hair, and he’s complaining that Richie’s flexed bicep is blocking his view of that titillating pink thing onstage. And shit, yes, it’s true, there she is: her slightly bulbous thighs parked in a pair of baby-pink flared pants, wearing a matching halter top, platinum-blond bangs tickling her eyebrows, the rest of her flaxen mop pulled back over a swatch of original brunette at the back. And Richie might have turned around and just creamed the little two-bit groupie behind him, just like he popped yay-many fullbacks crossing the chalked territory he used to guard on his high school football field a year ago, but now Deborah Harry is singing, and the band is playing, and Deborah is pogoing like a ‘luded London adolescent. She’s singing “Denis” and that’s Richie’s favorite Blondie song ever, the one he has slammed his hand to countless times.
Richie could barely stand to look at Chris Stein, the man all the fanzines claim is the brains and business behind Deborah Harry. He sits up onstage, so aloof, hardly moving, even though the music is alive and everyone else is sweating. He occasionally scans the crowd of hopeful faces with an arrogant, knowing look that seems to say, “All you guys can cream to Blondie, but she goes home with me.” That’s what pissed off Richie so: that this long-armed musician who was hardly ever seen without sunglasses — for all Richie knew the guy was blind, probably had warts on his fingers, too — could keep such a tight rein on this beautiful young siren while refusing to admit whether he was married to her. It was all part of the hype, Richie figured, all calculated to lead on guys like himself, to let them think they still had a chance. And to sell records.
But the rhythm has slowed and Deborah is fingering the microphone Tina Turner-style, caressing it, stroking it, her painted eyes aflame with feral sexuality. “I can give you some head and shoulders to lie on,” she sings in a husky voice and there’s just enough pause after “head” to let Richie and all the other aspiring starfuckers know that she’s not just talking about shampoo. When the wispy blond glides to the front of the stage, Richie is nearly overcome by the stirring in his loins and there! — there is Blondie reaching out to the crowd. “I can give you some head …” and Richie reaches out, too. He wants this girl, badly, more than he ever wanted the concupiscent young Catholic girls who used to glom onto him after the football games — Richie used to have his groupies, too — but Blondie doesn’t snake his hand, doesn’t even touch it; instead she slaps the limp faggoty paw of the skinny, mousy-haired creep who has reached over Richie’s shoulder and dropped a tiny black capsule on the stage. The creep is ecstatic; Richie sneers. If I were him, Richie thinks, I would have grabbed her and pulled her down to where I could get my fingers into her!
And the band plays on, at least a dozen decibels above the level at which eardrums are shattered. Heads bob up and down like so many hot protons, appendages quiver, and this old bowling alley now looks more like a riotous prison mess hall than a rock club.
At the back of the room sits Peter Leeds, tapping his Adidas to the Blondie tunes he has heard hundreds of times, wondering out loud why the band can’t sell as many records in America as it has in Belgium, a country no larger than Connecticut. The people in France, England, Australia, Japan — they love the band, he says, they buy hundreds of thousands of records. My god, Deborah has done photo sessions with all the big foreign magazines — Paris Vogue, just to name one — and she’s regarded as the quintessential doll of American street chic. Her fans send her love letters, flowers and jewelry in the mail. They buy her records like those funny American hot dogs.
But Leeds doesn’t want Blondie mentioned anywhere near a groupie story. “Are you going to include Grace Slick, Christine McVie, Carly Simon and Linda Ronstadt?” he asks, nervously fingering a button on his lapel that reads BLONDIE IS A GROUP. The question is rhetorical; Leeds knows the answer, but nevertheless bristles at the suggestion that Deborah Harry shouldn’t be mentioned in context with the aforementioned quartet. Those folks travel above the pub-rock circuit; they fly in rarified air so thin it would make a lowly groupie suffocate.
“Then I don’t want Deborah Harry anywhere near that story,” he says.
And that’s the nub of it: whereas a decade ago some managers, agents, promoters and publicity people considered it a regular part of their jobs to provide a healthy variety of groupies at concerts and post-gig parties, now they consider it more important to protect their clients from hangers-on. The stars of the Sixties — now the superstars of the Seventies — aren’t into that scene anymore, unless princesses, socialites, models and the upper-crusty jet set are considered groupies. For many, it was simply a matter of getting one too many doses of the clap. Groupies are now déclassé, no longer thought of as stylish ladies (if they ever were) or as interesting, personable young men who can offer something unusual to a post-gig party, but as deviant social climbers hoping to attach themselves to a band on the way up. To admit you have use for groupies is to say you are nowhere. As Rick Derringer, who has been around long enough to know, says: “You realize at some point that you can’t act like an 18-year-old forever. You got to say, ‘Look, I’m grown up, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife.’ It’s an honest, real business.”
By now Richie is twisting and shaking to the music, his appendages twitching in apoplectic spasms, head fibrillating like a diseased heart in need of a triple bypass. And the music is wide-open now; Blondie’s pink halter top is soaked through, revealing little pointy nipples that seem to stare right at Richie — so inviting, and Richie slips into a familiar fantasy: come backstage with me, you tattooed hunk of a man. Everything you’ve dreamed about me is true, and those questions you ask me in those lewd love letters (you naughty boy!) — how good can I be and what role would I play? Let me show you. All you need do is ask.
And Richie can barely stand it.
Presently the set and the encore are over, and the largely all-male crowd is on its collective feet crying for more, but there is none. So Richie pulls his sleeveless denim jacket over his sweating chest and oh-so-tenderly over that red bleb that passes as a tattoo and heads for the bathroom at the back of the room, where he will hunker down over a toilet seat for the next 10 minutes while the crowd clears out and makes way for the second-show audience. Through the paper-thin walls he can hear the anonymous speaker over the public-address system drone on — “Everyone must clear the room, will you please clear the room” — and when the droning stops, Richie smooths his long hair in the mirror, sucks in a bathroomful of air and leaves to join the gaggle of frizzy-haired record publicists and other important-looking people milling around the side-stage door.
And when they finally make their move, he follows, even though his ripped blue jeans, dirty sneakers and bleached denim jacket label him as a member of a different caste. It’s all so easy: a short trek through what used to be a kitchen, down a flight of stairs and into the celebrity fold. In the corner of this basement room sit two members of another group laying out lines of cocaine on a Formica-topped table. Richie wonders if he could get in on that; after all, rock stars have plenty of drugs, or so he’s heard. It might help to pique the Methedrine, which was fading fast. Richie leans up against a musty concrete wall and notices three chubby girls, not a day over 16, all wearing identical dog collars, all ogling the lines of white crystal on the table. Broken tables and chairs are scattered about the room. A roadie with a beer gut spilling over beltless trousers dispenses various alcoholic beverages. And on a plastic stool, already quick-changed into a short, black velveteen miniskirt, sits Deborah Harry.
Richie can’t believe it: He’s leaning not 10 feet away from the woman whose visage causes his salivary glands to flow like Niagara. But now his mind is blank. All those introductory lines he had thought of, the perfect foolproof come-ons he had concocted, the ploys and gimmicks he had figured on using to meet her — all escaped him. So he just stared, and he watched a pale, short man with closely cropped hair plunk himself down in an empty chair among a group of self-conscious-looking industry types that had gathered around Deborah Harry. Within seconds, he was talking animatedly and — Jesus! — Deborah Harry was listening.
Richie had never thought a guy like this could pose a threat. God, he must be 30-years-old, and he’s got short hair, the kind of all-one-length haircut with a high forehead that pegged him as a faggot. And look at the way he’s dressed: cuffed khaki pants, penny loafers, a madras shirt …
But the shorthaired man spoke confidently. “Pull up close here, I got a great story to tell,” he said. Deborah Harry, sitting a cool six feet away, smiled and nudged her plastic stool a couple of inches closer.
“You know, a couple of years ago, I guess it was five, six years ago, we had this idea to do a rock & roll movie,” said the short-haired man. “We knew it would be a winner, and we wanted to appeal to a certain audience …”
So this guy’s some kind of bigwig, Richie thought. Deborah Harry’s probably listening to him because maybe he can do something for her someday. Make her a superstar, actress, something like that. No sweat. The guy’s an asshole, anybody can see that.
The shorthaired man is rapping a mile a minute now: “We did whole demographic studies, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan …” No one seems to know what he’s talking about, although all eyes are politely focused on his pale face. He weaves in bits of Blondie discography, because this Super-8 movie that he may or may not have made ostensibly has something to do with the band. It also has a lot to do with his stroking Deborah Harry’s ego.
He drones on: “1974, ’75, ’76 …” And while everybody is looking for a punch line or conclusion or just some point to the story, Richie has decided it’s his turn to be part of the fold. If this little nebbish character can talk to her, anybody can, and with a face that looks like pizza, he’s obviously got no chance for a date.
With a quick jerk of his head, Richie tosses his long hair off his forehead, holds his arms out from his sides to reveal the erect deltoids on his shoulders and sidles up to the blond/brunette sitting cross-legged on the tiny plastic stool.
“This guy’s pretty much of an asshole, huh?” Richie whispers — seductively, he thought.
A glacial stare, a frozen face.
“I mean, what the hell is the guy talking about?” Richie says, his mouth twisting into a thin smile.
A slight shrug of the shoulders, bare acknowledgment of the question or his presence.
“I’ll bet you get guys like him hanging around all the time.” Richie knows he’s bombing; Deborah Harry’s face could freeze alcohol. “‘Course it’s easy to understand. You got a great band and,” stepping out on a fractured limb, “you’re really something to look at.”
There, he said it, but her face is an ice cube. Panicky, Richie goes all the way.
“Say, do you think we could go talk someplace? I mean, I know you have to play another set, but afterward, we could meet someplace afterward? For a drink, maybe?”
Given the circumstances, Richie had reason to rejoice: She talked to him. Later, he could tell his friends about their meeting, parlay the entire sequence into a near love affair: “Yeah, I met her, we almost got it on but she had to go out for another show and her old man was hangin’ around, keepin’ an eye on her. But I figure I’ll just call her up next time she’s in town and she’ll get me backstage, you know, I figure she had a thing for me, but the timing wasn’t right.”
Sherri and Lu Anne
This promised to be a big night for Sherri. On most other weekend nights, she would just head for CBGB or Max’s Kansas City, fortresses of New York underground rock, hoping to act cool enough and “in” enough and punk enough to make it with one of the guys who played for a cut of the drink and door money. But tonight she had different plans. The punk-rock movie was in town; everybody was saying you had to see it now because it probably wouldn’t be around again, and if you were in on the scene, this was just one of those things that couldn’t be missed. Besides, you could never tell who might show up, after all, there were some pretty big English names in this Super-8 documentary, and who knows, some of them might be in New York. Sherri had never made it with a limey, and a friend had told her that during the movie’s premiere a month earlier, Billy Idol had shown up. So Sherri had convinced her friend Lu Anne to head for Times Square for the 8 p.m. show. And if things didn’t pan out there — that is, if they couldn’t hook up with a musician or aspiring musician or even somebody way out on the periphery, like a roadie — then they would head for Hurrah’s, a middle-class disco on 62nd Street that was hosting a party to launch a new national magazine from the people who publish High Times, a glossy rag sneered at, by the punks who were invited, as the latest drug bible for New Jersey dope smokers.
Of course, Sherri and Lu Anne weren’t into discos. Nor were they into smoking dope. Both are outlawed within the punk subculture. In fact, discos and pot had a lot to do with both girls dropping out of high school last fall. The “disco assholes,” as Sherri called them, used to make fun of her mutilated haircut, and all the pot smokers used to rat on her when she would slip into the girl’s room with a flask of tequila and a few downs. There was a war going on between the mellowed people who smoked marijuana and the hard-core toughs like Sherri, who used alcohol and pills. Marijuana is part of the “old wave,” Sherri says, a vestige of the hippie generation. Punks try to put a period behind that whole movement.
But Sherri had met a friend on Second Avenue earlier in the day who said the party at Hurrah’s was going to be an event: The organizers of this bash apparently had invited members of the Sendors, the Invaders, Tuff Darts, Sic Fucks, New York Niggers, the Dead Boys and a score of other musicians from punk- and pub-rock bands. Somebody said Divine was going to be there, Annie and the Shirts were going to play, Richard Hell might even show up. And the entree was going to be so easy; Sherri had convinced this guy named Ratty to give her his invitation to the party. Ratty was a dealer. He was also a junkie, but he liked to think he could get it up now and again. Sherri got most of her drugs from Ratty; most of it she would just toss onstage at CBGB — it was a way of meeting the guys. And since she really needed this invite, well, what was a few more minutes getting down with ugly old Ratty. It was all the same, as long as you closed your eyes.
So Sherri and Lu Anne met outside the Embassy Theatre in Times Square shortly before eight and joined the rogues’ gallery of affectedly dressed punk types standing in line for tickets. Sherri fit right in. Her hair was bright as a tropical bird’s — she had just dyed it orange and green that day — and she was wearing her best punk garb for this outing: thigh-high leatherette spike-heel boots pulled over black Levi’s, a Son of Sam T-shirt, replete with bullet holes and bloodstains, narrow dark sunglasses and a single beaded earring that stretched from left earlobe to mid-cheek. Of course it wasn’t implanted in her cheek like the punks do it in England; Sherri just sort of glued it on to make it look that way.
And if the difference between the English and American punk mentality could be reduced to any single representative act, it might be in the daubing of that bit of Duco cement on Sherri’s cheek. For in the States, there is no sign of the vicious edge that characterized the original political statement of English punk rock. Johnny Rotten looks like a cross between a rhesus monkey and a man in a wind tunnel because he feels that way. Sherri and Lu Anne staple together their shirts and defiantly chop their hair because it’s hip to be that way. One, indeed, has “no future,” the other two at least have a choice.
But Sherri and Lu Anne’s choice was to be a part of that whole scene — they are dedicated, even though they had read in some of the straight rock magazines that punk rock as a commercial movement had been arrested in its nascent stage. It didn’t matter to them because what they saw of it was still alive and kicking violently — at CBGB, Max’s, Rock Bottom and a handful of other Manhattan clubs that were into “honest” music. These boys are musicians, too, Sherri says, and they’ve got to get their rocks off to play guitar just like Hendrix did. Of course, Sherri and Lu Anne were still dissecting their Barbie dolls when Hendrix died, but somewhere they had read that he had an incredible sexual appetite, that if he couldn’t make it with at least half a dozen groupies a night, his performance suffered. But maybe they hadn’t read that; maybe it had been told to them.
Anyway, to be dedicated was to get to these boys, to give them what they needed, and the hardest part was just offering it. Even though punk in New York has been relegated to the lowly Bowery circuit — the bums are very hospitable — the competition was still stiff because, after all, what else could today’s groupie hit on? And Sherri knew that some of these girls would do anything to meet the punk stars. She had heard that the Dead Boys, for instance, were really into S&M, that all the punk groupies at Dead Boys concerts would show up with bullwhips and spiked cock rings and sit in the front rows and slash themselves with razor blades — just another way to meet the guys. And she had heard that when the Dead Boys got bored, they would dress up their groupies to look like Annette Funicello in her movies, put a beach blanket and radio on the floor, dress themselves up like Frankie Avalon and take turns balling these girls and beating their asses with bullwhips until the veins stuck out like road maps. Sherri and Lu Anne had a little ploy of their own: When the combination of downers and alcohol was right, they would go to the front of the stage of whatever club they were at and begin scratching, biting and clawing at each other like rabid dogs. It was simply a matter of appealing to the violent punk sensibility. The scheme worked twice, once at CBGB and once at Max’s. But there were certain things Sherri wouldn’t do — razor blades was one of them, getting in bed with a Negro was another. But the S&M business, that sounded pretty interesting, as long as it didn’t sting too much.
Tonight, however, Sherri and Lu Anne had no game plan for making a hit. Plying the movie theaters was definitely out of their bailiwick. It turned out to make no difference anyway, because there were no notable faces — notable, at least, to Sherri — at the movie. The crowd was subdued, comprising mainly those New York intellectual types who have embraced the neo-nihilist, avant-garde message of punk. Sherri had been around them before. She once went to a show put on at a loft called Artist’s Space, and the audience was strictly bohemian. And the musicians were just bearded artsy-fartsy folk who had picked up guitars the day before, figuring that anybody could play punk music.
So while the Super-8 images flashed across the screen at the Embassy Theatre, Sherri sat calmly in her seat, disgusted that there were no real punks in this crowd, irked that the soundtrack couldn’t have been played louder. But Lu Anne got into the movie. She adored the young British girls who wore nothing but panties with the crotch cut out. She cheered as Johnny Rotten slowly dismantled a portable record player. She screamed as the band called Eater bludgeoned a pig’s head onstage with hammers. She clapped wildly as the unknown red-eyed musician slashed his chest again and again with a dull razor, as if he were preparing a steak for marinade. She retched as another began a performance with a hypodermic needle dangling from a ruptured artery in his left arm. Lu Anne thought it all was fantastic; it was so real. But Sherri refused to look at the screen, mumbling that if there were any real punks in the crowd, they would have stormed the projection booth and demanded that the sound be turned up.
After the movie, the girls went to a bar in Times Square, stoked their fires with flaming bulldogs and reds, then walked to Hurrah’s. The crowd outside the disco spilled into the street, a curious admixture of leisure suits, silk dresses and torn Levi’s. Sherri and Lu Anne had no trouble at the door; Ratty apparently had more clout as a dealer than Sherri suspected. Once inside, Sherri and Lu Anne leaned up against the bar and surveyed the scene. French disco music blasted from unseen speakers; strobe lights pulsed out of time. A giant Negro clad in a loincloth danced a single step over and over atop a pedestal at one end of the dance floor, occasionally filling his mouth with lighter fluid and spitting it out in a burst of orange flame. At the other end a short man dressed in black leather and fringed boots was perched, pretending to play a white, arrow-shaped wireless keyboard. About every 16 bars he would press a button at the top of the keyboard and squirt the dancing crowd with shaving cream. Beautiful people dressed in vested suits and long, shiny gowns lounged on overstuffed couches, sucking on balloons filled with laughing gas. The sweet, cloying aroma of marijuana was everywhere.
Sherri could not spot a face that was even remotely familiar. It seemed that most of the people from New York’s rock scene had failed to show or had left after finding out what kind of party this was. Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome was there, but with his old lady. A couple of guys from the Blessed showed up, but left before Sherri arrived. Divine was there, but everyone knew what he was into. That left all the swirling disco-bopping straights who had come to launch this new magazine, which apparently had something to do with the use of pot before civilization, judging by the huge chunks of Styrofoam painted to look like rocks that were strewn about the place and the bevy of leggy girls wearing animal skins and wielding thick, spiked clubs. They all sat in one corner of the room, smoking joints and letting out an occasional Mesozoic howl.
And Sherri was getting disgusted. Her disgust had something to do with the evil combination of downers and alcohol, more to do with the two weaselly looking men next to her with Beatle-bob haircuts and thin mustaches. These two leisure-suited gnomes apparently were connected with the production of this bash and the editorial policy of the new magazine, because they could not stop talking about how pot had changed the world. They were plotting for their big moment — “After the band plays two songs, we’ll get up onstage and ask everyone to hold up their joints” — and Sherri wanted to throw up on them. But suddenly Sherri noticed a tall, thin, pale-faced young man with jet-black hair combed straight back standing in the middle of the room. He was leaning up against a thick steel beam, all alone, and he looked awfully familiar. Sherri was about to yell, “Hey, that’s …” but she couldn’t remember his name or the band he played for. Anyway, if she had said anything it would have tipped off Lu Anne and after all, there was only one of him. Sherri just wasn’t into group sex, particularly when it involved other girls. She had read in the punk zines that asexuality was common among punk musicians, which left the groupies and the old ladies to get it on with themselves. But that was just more of that conceptual stuff. Maybe in England, not in New York. Besides, Sherri had bedded a lot of the local band members, and she’d never noticed any lack of enthusiasm.
Sherri told Lu Anne she was going to the bathroom. She quickly ran her fingers through her chopped hair to make it stick straight up and swaggered over to the black-haired man in middle of the room. On her way over, she ran through a familiar series of questions: Who is he? What could he be like? Who does he play for? Maybe, oh, don’t be ridiculous, maybe he could be in a band that will get hot. And if he likes me, maybe I could travel with, live with, take care of … But Sherri didn’t like to admit that way down deep she really wouldn’t mind having a musician boyfriend. It would be great to travel, to live that kind of life, to spend money on fancy clothes and fine food but, well, these guys weren’t into any kind of steady woman. They were polite, but the Get Lost sign always flashed in the morning.
Sherri sidled up next to the young black-haired man, leaned her head next to his and yelled above the pulsing disco music into his ear. He stepped back, a hint of a smile crossing his boyish face, and looked at her. She put her mouth up to his ear again. He nodded, moved his lips and stepped back again. They stood apart for a minute, then Sherri took his arm and led him back to Lu Anne.
“This is Phil,” Sherri said, and Phil nodded at Lu Anne. By now Sherri had her arm draped loosely around Phil’s waist, her upper lip curling smugly.
“Hi, Phil.” Lu Anne’s eyes widened slightly, then met Sherri’s. “You Leaving?” “Yeah, this sucks,” Sherri glanced at Phil. Maybe he wasn’t ready to go.
“I’ll call you tomorrow.” Sherri nodded and Phil, responding on cue, pointed Sherri toward the door. After a few steps, Sherri stopped and stepped quickly back to the bar.
“He’s French,” Sherri whispered to Lu Anne. Both girls giggled. “This could be wild.”
Chris Boris sat down on a double bed in Swingos, a Cleveland motel in which she had spent a lot of nights over the past decade partying with rock & roll musicians, and lifted her huge designer sunglasses off her powdered face. The gesture was almost symbolic: Chris wouldn’t have done this interview three or four years ago; at that time, her popularity as a rock & roll lady was at its peak and she was jet-setting around with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd. She had her own position and the reputations of her musical friends to preserve. A Cleveland radio station had voted her the city’s number-one attraction among visiting musicians, and if she had let that go to her head, if she had granted all those interviews and gossiped about the stars she had slept with … well, she would have seen her last performer’s guest pass. But now, in her own words, she has nothing to lose, nothing to gain. The only person she ever really fell in love with died in the Skynyrd crash last year. She spends her days working as a receptionist in a law office, her nights watching the Indians lose. The girlish dreams she entertained during her tenure as a rock & roll groupie, of marrying a rock star, becoming a backup singer in a band or working somewhere within the industry, never made it beyond fantasy. Today, she lives in a cozy white suburb of Cleveland with her parents. “I guess I looked at it as something I was going to explore,” said the 28-year-old Chris, hearkening back to her adolescent days in the mid-Sixties, when the excitement of rock & roll was suddenly everywhere. “I was very young, inexperienced — a virgin — and I could sense a whole new evolution taking place. I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in.”
In many ways, Chris was the quintessential all-American groupie. Tall, straw blond, almond-eyed and rebellious, Chris hated her school life at Mid-Park High and ignored the football jocks and prom invitations. She and friends she knew outside of school would spend days on the phone trying to find out which hotel visiting rock stars would be staying in. She would drive around in her car, looking for limousines to follow. She had a date every Sunday night with the television set and Ed Sullivan. She was one of hundreds who jammed the lobby of the Statler hotel in 1965 when the Stones passed through. A year later she got her break when she met Greg, a guitarist in a rising West Coast band, and Bobby, a sax player in a popular R&B band.
“I was 16 and I guess they were about five years older,” she said. “Of course at that time, I tried to make myself look older — I had the fake ID and all that. But I had a strict Catholic upbringing, bizarre attitudes towards sex. I was very terrified the first time — with Greg. And I’m an emotional person. I take things very seriously. I thought I was in love with Greg, and when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, it was kind of shocker.”
The experience of losing her virginity to a rock star who had many such 16-year-olds in different cities naturally jaded Chris, but her desire to establish a steady relationship was unflagging. Chris always wanted to marry a musician and always thought she would — until about two years ago. It was a “pie-in-the-sky thing” for her: traveling to new and exciting places, surrounded by the showbiz atmosphere. And she always had an ideal dream mate locked away in her fantasy consciousness.
“For some reason I’ve always had a very Aryan attitude about it,” she said. “It had to be someone blond. I had a certain picture of this person in my mind. His facial features weren’t defined, but it would be a tall, thin, blond person with dark eyes. I met that person once, two years ago. He was Dean Kilpatrick, the road manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd. There was an almost supernatural form of chemistry between us, a meeting of the minds.”
The psychic attraction also had an element of doom about it. As Chris said, her attraction to Dean was killing her because there was nothing she could do about it. She was traveling with another member of the group and she wasn’t about to pick up and run off with someone else. Their mutual frustration ended up in a fight, which had something to do with Dean taking some Tylenols from Chris’ purse. Reconciliation came shortly after the fight, with apologies on one knee, but Dean died in the fated airplane crash before the tour was over.
Chris’ experiences as an upper-echelon groupie have seen other sorry endings. Her first “total abandonment of any scruples” — at Woodstock — led to her first encounter with violence and ended with a stay in a New York hospital.
“Woodstock was the first time I was away from home with the license to be totally free. I was on the pill and determined to try it out. Bobby had arranged a pass for me, but I didn’t know he wouldn’t be there until the last day. A friend and I drove up right to the Holiday Inn where everybody was staying and we ran into Albert Grossman, Dylan’s and Janis’ manager. We told him the situation, and he found a guest pass for us. So we got to drive back and forth to the concerts in limos. I was very drunk, very high all week — I had smoked some before but had never tried heavier stuff — and I made it with a lot of people. I can’t even remember who. Finally, later in the week, Bobby showed up at a party and took one look at me and figured the three drinks I’d had that night were too much. He got upset. But I was learning, laughing, having a good time. And Dave [another performer at Woodstock] observed the whole thing. He took advantage of the situation and started to treat me like some little pet kitten. It was a juvenile thing I did to piss Bobby off, but I walked off with Dave.”
And regretted it. They drove back to New York City, but by the time they arrived, Chris was sick. The combination of drugs, alcohol and birth-control pills had shattered her metabolism. She also later learned that someone had spiked the punch backstage with acid. When they got to the Chelsea Hotel, Chris wanted to sleep, but Dave had other ideas. She resisted and he beat her badly. She staggered to a city hospital and received treatment for myriad staph infections and bruises. She learned to be more wary after that.
“I’ve been so disillusioned after meeting and talking with a lot of people,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “The bubble burst; these people weren’t all that I thought they were. It was then at Woodstock that I realized there are a lot of underlying emotions that really destroy people. At that time, I didn’t realize it would eventually destroy me.”
She was almost destroyed again when she made the mistake of giving two Sopors to a member of a progressive English group and watched him down them with a quart of tequila. When she and two friends took him back to his hotel, he decided he wanted to get laid and it led to a nasty fight. Chris was so pissed off she called the police. But a year later they met again, laughed about it and he introduced Chris to Paul, the scat-voiced singer for another touring English band.
“I remember the first time I met him. I was at a party and sat down and missed the chair. He helped me up, but his idea of helping up a lady is to grab her by the ankle, run his hand up her leg and lift in the crotch. You get up pretty fast that way.”
Chris didn’t forget Paul’s chivalry. A couple of weeks later she went to Columbus to see the band play, Paul made his move and she went on tour with the band for two weeks. She was actually Paul’s exclusive old lady for two tours, but the relationship ended with the final gig. Paul was married at the time.
Chris has never found her dream lover — that tall, thin, blond man with dark eyes — but she has managed to get even with some of the people who have dealt her some hard knocks. In doing the research for this story, I was told by record publicists as far away as Los Angeles that there is a groupie in Cleveland, and that if a band comes to town and doesn’t make it with this girl, then those band members are “personae non grata for the rest of their careers.” Chris admits that, yes, it’s probably true, she is the groupie who can make life difficult for a visiting band.
“I’m not sure exactly how I’ve done that,” she said. But then her eyes lit up. “But I have done some harm to people when I was into witchcraft. Because of something this one person did to me several years ago” — a matter of Chris getting pregnant and having an abortion — “I wished a lot of evil on him. I totally immersed myself in a meditation-type atmosphere, read a lot of books on ESP, got some out-of-print books from certain scholars, got a photograph of the person and read a few spells. Afterward, I kept it in the back of my mind, but I didn’t think about it. A few years later I saw this person and asked him what he’d been doing. He told me he’d gotten busted three, four times, had spent time in jail, was in a few car wrecks.”
Chris isn’t into witchcraft anymore. Nor does she attend many concerts. She got her look through “the microscope,” as she likes to say, but eventually the lens clouded over.
“It was just something to learn,” she said. “I was trying to evolve. I always had this feeling that my purpose in life would come to light. I always imagined I had some great purpose in life, to fulfill someone’s dreams or help someone or to do some segment of mankind a great deal of good. I was going through it blindly. I thought I would put to great use all my experiences, but I wasn’t sure how. Yes, in a way it was ridiculous. In retrospect it didn’t have much purpose. I just learned a great deal about life.”
Lately, Chris has been thinking about going to college. It might help her snare the attorney she’s been dating at the law office. She didn’t say if he was tall, thin and blond, with dark eyes.