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I Am Not a Groupie

There's a big distinction between music journalists and groupies. Isn't there?

- October 8, 2003

It's true that a Grammy-winning musician once flew me from Montreal to Ibiza for a week of parties and champagne. Sure, one blurry night in a New York dive I challenged Jamiroquai's Jay Kay to a tequila drinking contest—and, I think, even won. And, yes, I do possess a collection of discretely passed mobile phone numbers any gossip columnist would kill for. But, despite what it might seem, I'm not a groupie. I'm a music journalist, and I have been for almost a decade. In order to preserve my reputation, I probably shouldn't be indulging my urge to confess, but fear not, dear musicians, the best stories won't be coming out of the vault until long after my stiletto heels have been replaced with orthopedic shoes.

Those aren't my only shenanigans, but it's only now, since my career has expanded to include other types of writing, that I can admit that maybe—just maybe—my journalistic motivations weren't purely literary. This realization is a tough pill to swallow. A writer virtually since birth, I like to think I chose this path for its creativity, respectability, and, yes, coolness. I feel a little betrayed by my ego for neglecting to mention, until now, that perhaps my selection of profession was nothing more than a thinly disguised strategy for having lots of fun, meeting mysterious men, and at times, waging war against banality. Maybe my anecdotes reveal more than just a sense of humor and a lucky streak; maybe—dare I say it—groupies and music journalists have more in common than the more dignified members of our congregation would like to admit.

Self-respecting journalists worldwide, I'm sure, will now freak out and flood magazines with a barrage of self-affirming prose. But, before they do that, let's consider the possibility that this comparison might not be so tragic. Despite the groupie's lowly status among pretentious intellectual and hipster circles, both the groupie and the music journalist in truth share many traits, chief among them an insatiable, intoxicating fascination with musicians and the otherworldly nature of music itself. This passion inspires creativity and is therefore an essential ingredient of both trades.

Further, both categories have been critical to rock mythology. Let's look first at journalists. Without boring you with a history lesson, part of our legacy is the bonds we have inevitably forged with musicians we've written about. Contrary to popular stereotype, not all of us are yellow-toothed, dirty-haired hermits, superficial, two-faced liars, or bitter, failed musicians. Some of us are actually kind of cool. And, often, we connect with our subjects. As is the case with groupies, at least the good ones, they see something special in us; we see something special in them. Sometimes, it's a way to feel close to that elusive higher truth accessed through art, sex, drugs, meditation, love, and other out-of-body experiences. Other times, it's a way to descend to the parallel universe of rock 'n' roll decadence. Despite the fleeting, artificial nature of the interview scenario, journalist-musician exchanges can be strangely intimate and instantly familiar. Respective roles don't need to be spelled out. But unlike groupies, who fall into the muse zone, good writers are artists in their own right. It's understood that we're not there to nurture but to feed our own creative fires. As with all intimate encounters, the best leave everybody satisfied.

Groupies, too, have played an essential, if ever-evolving, role in music. From Shakespeare's noble muses to John and Yoko—even through the dirty shagging and backstage blowjobs that defined the 1970s—groupies have traditionally inspired, hung out with, and taken care of their objects of obsession, also leaving all parties satisfied. Again sparing you the history lesson, suffice it to say that their contributions, however X-rated, went so far as to be legitimized by "famous" groupies like Pamela Des Barres, whose 1987 tell-all book I'm With the Band became a bestseller, while films like Almost Famous cemented the groupie's credibility within pop culture.

But how things have changed. Long gone are the days—and nights—of the respectable muse. Today's groupie is more obsessed with celebrity as a concept than with the celebrities themselves. Some examples of modern-day star worship are easy to understand: the teenage girl who tiptoes into a heartthrob's hotel room; the impressionable fan who dresses like his favorite singer; the screamers who congregate at stage doors in hopes of catching glimpses of their idols. For a culture in which reality TV has erased the already-fuzzy line between truth and fiction, celebrities are the new gods. We're so enamored by the mythical personas of our stars that we strive to become cheap knock-offs of designer heroes, recreating ourselves in their manufactured images. Why be yourself when you can be someone better? (The epitome of such self-effacing reverence is an atrocious MTV show called Becoming, in which giddy teens are transformed into clones of their icons then recreate their latest chart-topping music video. How original.)

Other cases, like my own, are a little more complicated. Like the groupie, I'm fascinated by the supposed glamour of the entertainment industry and by the musicians who create its substance. But, I admit, I've also always liked the bad boy, ever since I snuck out my bedroom window at the age of 15 to meet a tall, gangly troublemaker in the neighborhood park. He would quote Jimi Hendrix, and I would go weak. (Don't laugh; I'm serious.) Although I now realize the faraway look in his eyes was caused not by artistic torment but by a simple hangover, I still have a soft spot for bad boys—particularly tortured, tattooed musicians with help-me eyes and hearts of gold. Why? There's something irresistible about raw, raging angst; a definite appeal to aching, brooding eyes; and a perverse mystique to slow self-destruction. Connecting to that unpeeled essence of cigarettes, leather, and sweat reminds us that the passion of the human spirit still exists in our increasingly artificial, automated, and surreal world.

Thankfully, I no longer possess the patience and low self-esteem required to endure the narcissistic, immature, and sometimes cruel tendencies that can accompany lost, brooding artists. (The stable ones are usually in stable relationships.) This description by no means applies to every musician, or even to most. But music journalists do encounter many such specimens. At least, I do.

And therein lies the real motive behind my madness—and, perhaps, behind the groupie's: the thrill of living vicariously. Although it was probably a mistake, we have collectively granted these people a license to be bad, to act without consideration for the emotions of others, to be immune to the consequences of their actions, and to dramatically exist within the vacuums of their egos—everything regular people (especially women) couldn't ever do within the confines of normal morality, and probably wouldn't want to. Fortunately, normal morality doesn't apply to rock 'n' roll. I certainly wouldn't want to inhabit this parallel universe. But by visiting on occasion, I can hold on to my own adolescent recklessness and irresponsibility—and the glorious freedom that accompanies them. Compared to the restrictions of real life, permission to be bad translates into a sense of perpetual discovery, like you're flying for the first time and never have to hit the ground.

So you see, I'm not a groupie. And even if I was, what are you gonna do about it?

Simona Rabinovich is a Montreal-based freelancer for The Globe & Mail, Nylon, and Paper, among others. This article was originally published in the Italian magazine Label.

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