May 11, 2009

Question to musicians: How does the groupie thing happen exactly?

There was a time during my musically busy days in my early 20’s when I was hoping to meet girls by being in Rock bands. Everyone knows the myth that Rock musicians are supposed to attract groupies, yet this never seemed to happen easily to me or my friends.


 I spoke at some length about this one time to Larry Carr of The Snails during a break at a Fraternity party at San Diego State (this was 1982, and we played Punk and British Invasion). He told me that before he was in a band he used to stand in the audience and think, “Man, when I get in a band, I can’t wait to meet some girls”. Then he explained, “Now that I’m in a band, I often think ‘Man, some night when I’m not up here playing, I’m going to go down there and meet some girls…”


This story really got me going that night. It sounded like me. “We’ve just been making excuses, we’re really suburban white guys who were raised too properly to have any fun”, I thought to myself. “I’m going to get over it and work up the guts to just meet some girls.”


And there they were: two beautiful blondes who were watching us play every song at this party. They were watching us pretty closely, and I knew this was it, I better make my move. So I put my Sax down after the set and went right over and introduced myself.


They were nervous and so was I. I had to get over it, and I felt it was my job to make them comfortable if I could. I didn’t let the silences last long, I tried to be cool but not give up. We had another gig at the beach later that evening, would they like to come? You don’t have a car? No problem, I can drive you of course. I can have you home by such-and-such a time, it’s going to be great.


They were very shy about it, but I knew I was a safe bet and wanted them to get over it. I kept at it, (my friends will remember enthusiasm was my entire personality that year), and finally they couldn’t say no. So we piled into my van, but they couldn’t relax, they were way too nervous. Too young (possibly Freshmen in College) and probably as inexperienced as I, they had never done this sort of thing before.


We dropped by my house in Hillcrest to grab my friend Jim Bradley, which rounded out the four of us, and then one of the girls, the one who would be with Jim got sick. They disappeared into the bathroom and the girl was in there flushing a lot. They came out and said they were sorry but they had to go home, she was really sick, and we knew she wasn’t faking. But Jim and I couldn’t help but blame ourselves. Jim was sure the girl had gotten ill when she saw he was her date. He went into a comedic tailspin over it, but nothing I could say would convince him otherwise.


 But I also felt I must have been pushing too hard once I saw where it was going. We were super nice and really quick to help them get home properly, but no phone numbers were exchanged; the situation was over.


Carmen’s sister Mary Borgia was visiting that month and she joined Jim and I at the last second.  I went wild on a very large stage playing sax like there was no tomorrow, and I remember Jim having a good time also, probably because we were both relieved the pressure was off.


          Two funny things happened after this. The first really mortified me: the girl I had made such a play for had been at the Frat gig to see and be with the drummer in our band, and they were so new and she was so shy that she didn’t say a word when I chatted her up. The drummer himself told me this later and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t come right over and make this clear as it was happening. Weird.


Then the other girl, the one who got sick turned out to be the sister of my sister Laurie’s first husband. I only realized this at her wedding, and I thought “Holy s***! This ghost from my past is now my sister-in-law!” Lucky for me (and for Laurie as well, she would agree), this marriage didn’t work out; there was a quick annulment in the first 6 months. I kind of figured it was a sign that this was not in the stars somehow, for anyone.


          So I soon learned not to push it when it came to girls, the experiment had been another self-defining experience, (and things went much better after that).


cynthia cummins said...

And yet "faint heart never won fair maiden." You must have pushed, just a little...

cynthia cummins said...

Ok, forgive me, now I'm commenting twice, looking closer at the "how does the groupie thing happen exactly" question. I can tell you that in my career as a would-be groupie, I learned that most band members or baseball players or what have you were slow on the uptake. I remember following a softball team around. After their games, they'd gather around a picnic table in the park for some beers and I would join them, uninvited, unaffiliated, never having been introduced. Did any of them understand what I was there for? Did any of them make a move? No, not on your life. I practically had to club one fellow over the head to get his attention. Maybe if I were a blonde it would have worked better...;--))

mother of 3 boys ?! said...

i thought you were my boyfriend at tthat time?

Ed Ford Summerfield said...

MO3B: Nope, this happened right before we met... now that you mention it, things did get better when I relaxed and played it cool. :-)

Carmen Borgia said...

I suspect this will be a no-win issue for me. I'm just going to lead with the cynical slant for the moment.

Basic groupie magnets:
• Extreme fame.
• Wealth.
• Limo.
• "Free" drugs.
• Entourage.
• Large hotel suite with hot tub, pool, room service, etc.
• Record company expense account.
• Tour bus (downscale).
• Private jet (upscale).
• Mansion.
• Ability to write and perform songs.

Things our bands had back then:
• Ability to write and perform songs.
• Poverty.
• Michael's or Ed's van.
• Jerry Herrera's phone number.

This tended to narrow down the groupie pool to those who had less fame and wealth driven interest in the artistes. Not to imply that I would have turned my nose up at a hotel room full of groupies, but we didn't end up with a bad deal.

I agree with Cynthia that groups of guys hanging out in guy mode tend to be oblivious of women in the house. I don't know if her interest in the softball team was romantic or more...utilitarian. I think of a groupie as the opposite of a girlfriend. Referring to a girlfriend as a groupie could be a risky act back in the day.

Generalizing on gender is generally useless, but it seems that some things that boys cultivate and obsess over as girl magnets generally aren't, or at least aren't in the way we want them to be. I used to think that if I had a cool enough stereo, girls would want to come over just to listen to it...

L said...

Wow -- you’ve awoken some long-dormant memory cells. That old "I'd meet girls if only I was in the band; no, I mean if only I was in the crowd" was quite the Catch-22! But you're right -- it was mostly an excuse for shyness, and I think we knew that. A few observations:

Can't speak for softball players specifically, but seems athletes are on a much different wavelength when it comes to ‘groupies.’ The games, the competition? Who knows – it’s just different. On the other hand, virtually all musicians I've ever gigged with were very aware of those watching -- just like in your story. As John Lennon once quipped [paraphrasing] "You don't join a rock and roll band for the card games."

While we had our groupie 'connections' over the years, they were far less frequent than those of, say, Gene Simmons. In hindsight, that was probably a good thing! Seems the eggshell ego and instant-paralysis-around-hot-chicks-syndrome (please explain that one) were common demons among many guys -- me included. Combine that with any slightly nervous, inebriated, and/or 'star-struck' gal and the result is, um, less than optimal.

You're also right that just relaxing made things much better -- but that's a Herculean feat for most 20-somethings. Anyway, it was all fairly innocent fun, if not pretty comical. Ah, if I only knew then what I know now!