If there was a competition for the most offensive yet depressing t-shirt on sale in the high street in recent times, I think I found the winner in a well known Irish chain store a while ago. I was on an ultimately fruitless quest for a plain black camisole and had been in what seemed like every single shop in town that might possibly have a black vest in a size 8. Seriously, why is it so hard to find a plain black vest in a fairly standard size? Isn’t it a kind of basic garment? So I wasn’t in a very good mood anyway, and that mood was worsened by the sight of a (fucking hideous, I might add) t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Groupies Looking For Guitarists”.
Oh, man. Where to begin? With the fact that some poor girl will buy this awful item? That it perpetuates the idea that men make music and women, well, give male musicians blow jobs? That men make art and women inspire it and then reward it with sexual favours? The idea that women should advertise their accessibility to said musicians on a hideous t-shirt?
Pamela des Barres’s insanely entertaining memoir of late ’60s hipster-groupie life I’m With the Band was one of my favourite books when I was younger. But even when I was 17, I knew that Miss Pamela and her groupie gang the GTOs (who made one of the most deranged albums ever with Frank Zappa – yes, I tracked down my own copy many years ago, no easy task in a pre-internet-shopping age, and no, it wasn’t really worth it) were hardly feminist pioneers. They devoted their entire youths to pampering the egos (and the genitalia) of a bunch of men whose egos (and, in some cases, genitalia) were pretty huge to begin with. They were treated quite badly by a lot of those entitled boys. When they tried to create art themselves, it was all kind of a joke, Zappa’s hilarious new project. On the plus side, of course, they had amazing clothes and awesome names, and one or two of the boys they bedded were indeed pretty attractive. But it hardly balances out.
It’s not like there’s anything wrong with going out with a musician. It would be incredibly hypocritical of me to claim that there is, because every single person I’ve gone out with since I was 15 has been in a band. That said, so was I. Sometimes the same band. And there’s nothing wrong with fancying someone because they’re a musician. There’s something undeniably hot about someone who’s making music and doing it well – most people are probably going to be a lot more attractive if they’re playing a guitar. However, this totally goes for women as well. If you’re up on a stage and you’re half way competent and look like you know what you’re doing, people will fancy you. It’s just the way it is.
But fancying someone who happens in a band – or even because he or she is in a band – isn’t the same thing as being a groupie. Although Miss Pamela and her chums might have thought they were rocking the system, they were just giving the system blow jobs. Being a groupie doesn’t mean being someone’s partner, it means being someone else’s cheerleader. Being a groupie is depressing. Being a groupie just means tagging along after a bunch of people who get to do all the fun, exciting, creative stuff. It means being an afterthought. It means being a perpetual audience rather than having an audience of your own. It means sitting through other people’s band practices (the most boring experience on earth, which no one sane would do voluntarily more than once). It means being pathetic.
If that t-shirt was still aimed at women and said “Guitarists Seeking Groupies”, well, then it might be possible to claim that, while tacky and stupid, it had a certain subversive power. Although as any girl who’s ever been in a band can tell you, the nearest thing you ever get to groupies tends to be over-earnest boys who want to talk about effects pedals. But still.