The Ghost of The GTOs

Strange, isn’t it, that there are no male equivalents in the lexicon for the word ‘groupie’, even now? Perhaps groupies aren’t a thing anymore, or simply a more covert concern. Maybe it’s more likely there are more female artists making headway now- and about time,too.

The GTOs fascinate me, simply because they’re a time capsule of a lost world. They seem like a relic, hermetically sealed like paper dresses and burnt US flags in the hippy era of the late 60s/early 70s: symptomatic of pre- gentrified, bland suburban America.

I imagine them running at top speed together down the Sunset Strip, cackling and sharing swigs of Wild Turkey, in hot pursuit of cool musicians. Their teen spirit is carried on the breeze of the warm evening air, a symbol of innocence before the comedowns and pregnancy scares, overdoses, The Manson Family and Altamount.

Frank Zappa put them together as a band and they cut one album only (Permanent Damage) in 1969, but their paradoxical, collective ghost somehow endures. Perhaps it was their theatrical sense of style, all big eyelashes, Victorian antique lace and Afghan coats, or their all-female camaraderie. Or the fact they didn’t regard themselves as groupies in the ‘bad’ sense of the word. Some of them were trained singers, actors and dancers, after all.

Yet there’s an inherent paradox there. They were groupies, no question. Among the men they bedded were Jim Morrison; Led Zeppelin, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Stones. And depending upon your perspective, they were independent women who celebrated female friendship and got what they wanted on their own terms; or wannabes, merely defined by the more famous men they slept with.

Regardless of your stance, they’re forever culturally significant, not just a footnote.

Miss Christine, who inspired Alice Cooper’s horror schtick, appeared on the iconic record cover of Zappa’s second solo album Hot Rats. Pamela Des Barres wrote two exposés on the time, I’m With The Band and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, the latter mostly journalistic pieces with interviews from others. She’s actually a really good, insightful and witty writer. She now teaches creative writing.

Others faded away from the scene, like Miss Lucy, who sadly died of AIDS in 1991, and Miss Sparky, who moved to New York and married an actor. Meanwhile, Miss Cynderella briefly married John Cale, then left him for Kevin Ayers, a fact he bitterly alluded to in his own solo music.

But the most obvious example of these wild women and their influence has to be in Cameron Crowe’s warm, funny and touching Almost Famous. Sure, it sanitises the early seventies with its delightful sunny recall of tour bus shenanigans and acid in the beer, skimping on the more blatantly sleazy side, but it’s as life-affirming as music by The Stooges.

Almost Famous

Penny Lane, performed poignantly by Kate Hudson as an amalgamation of The GTOs, in a role that’s equal parts vulnerable and smart, has a story that’s every bit as important as William Miller (Crowe as a youngster eager to learn his rock journalist credentials ) an endearing, wide-eyed Patrick Fugit, who’s entirely seduced by the scene, in spite of his better judgement.

Let’s not forget my favourite of the Band Aids, as they’re nicknamed. Sapphire is the best. Fairuza Balk, a wild cat with a softer, sweeter side in the role, disdainfully eyes the younger batch of groupies coming up behind them. “Can you believe these new girls? I mean, they never use birth control, and they eat all the steak! They don’t know what it’s like to love a band…or a silly little piece of music.. so much… It hurts”.

She also scathingly takes the band Stillwater, a composite of Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers, to task over the treatment of Penny Lane. Sold to Humble Pie (along with a crate of beer) at a game of poker, then rebuffed by her on/off lover, handsome but selfish guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup) when his wife’s in town, Penny overdoses on Quaaludes. “What do you care?” she snarls to Russell, after the incident. “You used her…She nearly died”.

Above all, the key to understanding The Girls Together Outrageously (or Orally, as it was sometimes alleged) is not the debauched lifestyle, nor the use of the old cliché -‘feminine wiles’. Ultimately, they were all about the music. Man.

Published by loreleiirvine

I'm a freelance arts monkey. Come see my brain vomit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: