The decline of the rock ‘n’ roll muse

Thanks to feminism and Instagram, girls don’t want to be groupies anymore

Features

19 Jun 2017

With the death of Anita Pallenberg, the world’s shimmering supply of Modern Muses was considerably reduced. Of course, there have always been demi-mondaines – women who lived outside conventional sexual codes – but the grande horizontales of the distant past had a slightly sombre look to them, as though they were well aware of what the wages of sin were, even if they had decided to tot them up at a later date when there wasn’t so much disrobing and dallying to be done.

Pallenberg, though, always seemed to be laughing in photographs – with her strong savage eyes and teeth gleaming with sex and sedition, she made being bad look like the best fun you could have. ‘It’s better to marry than to burn’ became ‘Don’t die wondering!’ because of bold broads like her.

But muses have been a dying breed for a long time. It could be said that a thing ceases to be intriguing when the professional pong-merchants name a perfume after it – Opium, Chastity, Decadence, Delicious Closet Queen – and thus do Estee Lauder define their scent Modern Muse…

‘Modern Muse was inspired by the complexity of a modern woman, with the same dynamic contrasts as her life and her personality. Her creative energy and magnetic femininity are captured by its multi-faceted, sparkling floralcy. Her sleek style, strength and sensuality by its sleek woods. Who is a Modern Muse? She’s confident and independent, soft and strong, feminine yet dynamic. Stylish and original, she inspires everyone she meets—without saying a word.’

Because, of course, muses should be seen and not heard – ironically, Pallenberg even had her voice dubbed by the English actress Joan Greenwood in her most mainstream project, Barbarella – especially in the supremely sexist music business. Even the cultured ones such as Pallenberg and her shattered-Meissen sidekick Marianne Faithfull cannot really be re-appraised as *strong* women, no matter what the conventions of today which prefer to portray every last Nervous Nellie as *strong*. (Personally, I’d only use it about a woman in a travelling show who can rip a Yellow Pages in two with her teeth.)

Yes, Faithfull and Pallenberg may have opened up the callowly blinking eyes of Jagger and Richards to a panoply of pan-European pleasures, from reading Russian novels (Faithfull/Jagger) to dressing up in SS uniforms (Pallenberg /Richards), but their position was inherently a weak one. Women of substance don’t abandon their own careers in order to follow addled balladeers around, which paradoxically had the effect of making them less appealing to their beaux.

Muses are of course much older than rock ‘n’ roll – artists have always had them. From poor Lizzie Siddons getting exhumed by Rossetti so he could have his love poems back to Lee Miller who gave as good as she got. An actor’s muse would be a curious idea – there wouldn’t be room in the mirror. Though James Jones’ heroine Lucky Vivendi described herself as an ‘author-fucker’, there is something inherently comic about about someone who has the hots for writers, dreaming of slamming like tasered alley cats with the likes of Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. There’s something about the mobility of musicians – the troubled troubador, all on his lonesome (except for his bandmates, backing singers, roadies, drug dealer and manager) which lends itself to the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em scenario in a way that more stationary and solitary artistic pursuits do not.

And,  of course, for every muse there are a thousand groupies who dream of being the girl in the song rather than the girl in the van. The 60s saw the rise of what might be called the Destination Groupie – the underage California girls of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Discotheque, Connie Hamzy of Little Rock, Arkansas, the scary-sounding Plaster Casters of Chicago. Some girls moved easily between being muses (when their hearts and brains were engaged) and groupies (when they weren’t); Bebe Buell, for example, was beyond beautiful and a successful model, but you don’t go from Todd Rundgren to Stiv Bators – the sublime to the ridiculous – stopping halfway to have a baby with Steve Tyler and a dalliance with Rod Stewart if you’re not drawn by the fact they were all musicians.

When a muse came up against a groupie, fur could fly; Rosanna Arquette once recalled her time with Peter Gabriel as being somewhat marred by floozies in fishnets forever seeking to leap on him in lifts: ‘”Would you like a blowjob?” Come on – what guy wouldn’t?’

Though they added greatly to the gaiety of nations, surely only an ocean-going seat-sniffer would mourn the decline of both the musical muse and the groupie, alike; they were parasites who thought they were outlaws, and self-deception is never a good look. Because of the vivifying effect of can-do feminism, girls today want to be something in their own right – even if that thing is having lots of followers on Instagram or being weird about food or having a vast ass.

Kim Kardashian would once just have been some legendary beauty there to inspire men but now is one of the media’s most astute businesswomen, who as Forbes magazine put it ‘has monetised fame better than any other.’ As a dirty-minded teenybopper I thrilled to Jenny Fabian’s autobiographical novel Groupie in which her 19-year-old self gets off with such demi-gods as Ric Grech from Family and the pre-police Andy Summers – be still, my beating heart! – but it’s very hard to believe that a spirited, articulate journalist these days would boast that having sex with a long list of D-listers was her pride and joy. Fabian’s sappy reflections as to why she became a groupie (‘Gratitude… even if one ended up with a lesser god, he was still a kind of god’) and full-on fingering of her Sixties sisters in swinging (‘Angela Carter said “Women should fuck their way into history’’’) actually make building one’s empire on a sex-tape look like the dignified option.

Then there is also the grim example of even the most successful muses to dissuade any young hopeful; it’s been said that a pretty face is a passport but it’s not – it’s a visa, and it runs out. For every Linda McCartney who makes the transition from sex-pest to Mother Courage and keeps hold of her muso by making herself emotionally as well as sexually indispensable to him, there are scores of aged hotties still wondering what went wrong while shamelessly bearing the name of the man who discarded them decades ago.

On a more practical note, the muse who moves from being taboo love object to Her Indoors will see a drastic diminution in the tribute she is paid – see the case of Patti Boyd, who went from being the alluringly off-limits vixen of Layla to the designated driver of a baffled inebriate in Wonderful Tonight. They warn you at school about drink and drugs – but they don’t warn you about the destructive qualities of fame by association.

The selfie culture is easy to decry, but it indicates a generation of girls who are pleased to be their own pin-ups; females who pose for the female gaze – their own and their friends – more than the male. A good thing too. It’s one thing to be the broad who inspired some of the best songs by the Beatles and the Stones – but surely the unfortunate chick who kick-started the keenings of Ed Sheeran would not lightly be forgiven by history.


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