We’re over the moon to announce that we’ve just agreed a deal for a forthcoming Russian edition of this cult classic that’s been on our list for twenty years now – although the original edition dates back to 1969. More news on the Russian pub date when we have it.
I’m often asked to compare the contemporary groupie scene with the one described in the book. The whole ethos is different now. Celebrity has spawned a voracious media culture that has nothing to do with what we called the ‘hip spirit’ of the Sixties. When we wrote Groupie the word was taken to mean the girls who followed the underground groups, it had not acquired its present currency in that now you can be any kind of groupie to any kind of walk of life, political, thespian, literary, and so on, perhaps footballers taking over as the ‘new rock stars’ to be led astray by the siren call of the acquisitive groupie. Johnny Byrne and I wrote Groupie for fun, it was a phenomenon of its time that grew out of the underground scene in Sixties London, which was a small, tightly knit community. Music was the unifying factor – rock’n’roll was the music of the revolution, the music of acid consciousness that provided a soundtrack to the lives for those of us who took the drugs, wore the freaky clothes, and rejected the grey, nine-to-five existence of our parents. Rock musicians were just like the rest of us, embarking on a journey into the unknown, there was no stage door security, no corporate hospitality, just a dingy dressing room backstage where the future rock gods were accessible if you chose to take your chances and pay homage to the guys who moved your soul with their words and music.
In judgemental terms, the word groupie soon took on a pejorative meaning, however hard those of us who acquired the label denied that we conformed to that particular interpretation conjured up by disapproving ‘straights’. One could say linguistically that groupie is a diminutive of the word ‘group’, thus relegating the female outside the bastion of male privilege. As the nascent counter-culture of rock’n’roll gathered pace so did the status quo of the musicians, soon to be known as rock stars. Backstage became harder to access, only the chosen few were allowed into the inner sanctum of the dressing room, and ‘chosen’ was the operative word, in the sense that a groupie was like a commodity; we bartered our flesh for the chance to touch, be touched, by the aura of our heroes. On the other hand, you could turn this round and say the rock star was the commodity, the scalp, the notch on the belt, the status that rubbed off on you. As the decades have passed fuck and tell has become big business, de rigueur for some, culminating in the backlash of privacy injunctions.
Was a groupie a brain-washed victim or an independent woman making her own choices? Was she free to do as she pleased or condemned to please men in the name of free love? We are still debating these points. The sexual revolution of the Sixties could be seen as strictly a male indulgence. For all the liberty the pill bestowed on us, it let the men off the hook as well. Men seemed to have a false image of women hardwired into their brains. We were called ‘chicks’, expected to sit around looking dreamy in flowing pre-Raphaelite clothing, rolling joints, cooking the brown rice, and the ultimate criterion, be a good fuck. And jealousy was so uncool. If you were in a relationship, you were known as so-and-so’s ‘old lady’, a new moniker for the same old housewife, and not particularly complimentary. There was a tension between the appearance and the reality, but at the time it seemed the way to go, and for all the chauvinism the Sixties gave feminism a new impetus, although all groupies must have been anathema to the feminists. Arch-feminist Germaine Greer took exception to the way we portrayed Katie as someone perpetuating the patriarchal myth. In The Female Eunuch she states that Groupie ‘represents the essential romantic stereotype in Grant, the masterful Lover. He tells Katie when she may call and how long she may stay…He also commands her to make the bed and she loves it…if female liberation is to happen, if the reservoir of real female love is to be tapped, this sterile self deception must be counteracted.’ I understand where Germaine is coming from, yes, Katie is totally dominated by Grant, but this is a reaction to the abandonment of the parameters she was brought up with. It is easy to feel lost when there are no boundaries, and suddenly with Grant Katie knows where she is: back in a subservient role. Katie wouldn’t admit this to herself, she justifies what she was doing in order to keep her man, but at the same time it was almost a relief to capitulate to male authority. Free love may be liberating, but it is also confusing.
The Sixties was a time of new expression and experimentation that was very exciting and great fun. We would pay for it later. Some of us never got to later, victims of our own excesses. Janis Joplin, who in the Kris Kristofferson song Me and Bobby McGee sings ‘Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose’, was a casualty. I remember seeing her in the Speakeasy, sitting at a table in the restaurant with her band, and I thought, well done, you’ve make the breakthrough, because girl singers were in a minority on the rock scene then, which was staunchly male orientated. But a year later she was dead, with her whole future left to lose.
Groupies are everywhere now, in a kind of celebrity feeding frenzy. But groupies in the way we know them in the Sixties, even in the early Seventies, can no longer exist as we did. As George Harrison sang, All Things Must Pass.
— Jenny Fabian, 2017.