It's true, back in the early 1970s when the concept of the groupie was still fairly new, my then partner and I went just about everywhere with the New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band. The movement was young and we were wild with excitement about women playing rock music as they sang about revolution and, timidly, in one song, about loving other women.
They hung a banner over whatever stage they played on which said something to the effect of: 'Co-opt the man's technology!' Co-opt it they did, with basic electronic skills and a mix of musical abilities. If I recall correctly, the long-haired, straight-faced drummer was new at her job and the sax player, though familiar with other instruments, was new to her sax. There were also a bass and two guitar players and I think there was a keyboard, though I can't recall who played it. The lead singer and the French horn player lived together while the rest lived in collectives.
I lived in a collective with two of the band members; then we grew and split into two collectives, with four band members. I breathed the heady air of feminist rock and roll night and day. The houses tended to smell like fried eggplant, brown rice and chamomile tea. There was a continual murmur of feminist theory and practice, where to get gigs and who was sleeping with whom. And, of course, there were rehearsals. I felt so honored to be connected to the band that the clamor of its practice in the basement never disturbed my fevered writing.
The band played a song called 'Season of the Witch.' It blew me away when, one Halloween, they scored a gig at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven—a radical feminist, quasi-lesbian band warbling against the patriarchy at a Catholic women's college. Those were the days, all right—women's voices railing about 'Under My Thumb' by the musically superior, but infinitely less evolved Rolling Stones.
The mainly, and preferably, female audiences tended to be over-the-top receptive to this gutsy, if sometimes unpolished, group. We danced with an exuberance I haven't experienced since, even in the disco years. Panting from dancing, my lover and I would fetch water, help with sound checks, take pictures. I could see what a phenomenal high it was for the women on stage, blowing or strumming and singing off centuries of oppression, revving up the audience to unimaginable heights of derring-do, which we then went out and derring-did, creating a women's culture and crashing through glass ceilings.
Once, the band was invited to play on a ship in New York Harbor. The occasion was a party for the publication of Sappho Was a Right On Woman by Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love. All the lesbian glitterati were present, including Rita Mae Brown. Of course, I never met any of them—I was only a groupie. Still, it was the best of nights: what didn't the future hold when there we were in the greatest city in the world, power-packed lyrics proclaiming our autonomy, wild dancing women celebrating ourselves right out in the open air, some of us wearing ties. I think that was the night I sailed home through toll booths with revolutionary fervor, refusing to give the man my money, high as a kite on the liebfraumilch I always carried, until a trooper pulled me over and ticketed my quaking, rebellious self while the women in the back seat stashed their grass.
Another time, the band played a dive in Bridgeport, Conn. The bar had long been rumored to be gay, but had such a dismal reputation I'd been afraid to frequent it. That night it was ours. The regular patrons did not know what hit them and I think it was the only place I saw the band perform where very little energy was raised. Pabst, not politics, was the order of the night in that bar.
In 1972, the musicians went up to Rounder Records in Massachusetts to cut a record. Although we groupies hadn't been invited initially, we soon got a call to join the band in the recording studio. They were pretty frustrated with the process and with themselves, but after spilling some of their little hearts out to their enthusiastic supporters, they got their faith and sense of purpose back and finished. Their sessions and some from their sister group, The Chicago Women's Liberation Rock Band, have been remastered and reissued on a CD called Papa, Don't Lay That Shit on Me, after one of their songs.
Once again, those rock and roll revolutionaries have found their groove, claiming a piece of the man's technology.
Makes me proud to have been a rock band groupie.
©2006 by Lee Lynch