Of all the columns Iíve written for the Museís Muse, none has generated as much attention as the one I wrote about groupies (GROUPIES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE NAUSEATING). More than three years after I originally posted it, it is still generating responses. And the responses have come from as high up as ESPN and as far away as the London Sunday Mirror. Just donít go looking for me in either of those places. I didnít see the ESPN query in time for the columnistís deadline, and the London Sunday Mirrorís piece was put on the permanent back burner. But they did contact meóhonest! It seems as though the subject of groupies and their behavior has touched a nerve. And I figured after three years, it was high time I wrote a follow-up.
As I mentioned in my original piece, there seem to be two definitions to the word ďgroupieĒ. One is that of a very enthusiastic follower who tries his/her best to support the Artist in whatever way possible. (Yes, guys can be groupies tooóalthough it seems to be predominantly a female thing.) The other is probably the more stereotypical definitionóthat of the bimbo who will do anything (and I do mean anything) to get close to the Artist. Both types of groupies exist, so I think itís important to recognize the two and make a distinction between them.
I refer to the two types as Good Groupies and Bad Groupies. This doesnít necessarily mean that Good Groupies never misbehave, or that Bad Groupies donít serve a useful purpose in the music world (although I canít imagine what that is, and I have to admit I have very little patience or respect for these psychosluts). The difference lies in what motivates a groupie to follow an Artist. A Good Groupieís motivation is support. (How many concerts can I see? How many of my friends can I drag along with me? How many promo posters can I plaster all over my town? How many radio stations can I pester to play the Artistís music? How many photos/reviews can I post on MySpace?) A Bad Groupieís motivation is possession. (How can I score front-row seats so the Artist sees me? How much cleavage can I flash? How much time can I get him to spend chatting with me afterwards? How can I keep him away from other groupies? How can I get into the green room? Into the hotel room? Into his pants? Whereís his place? How soon can I get over there and drop in? Or break in?)
Iíd like to think that I fall into the Good Groupie category. Iíd also like to think that Iíve spent enough time as a groupie that I can offer some advice to any potential groupies who want to make sure they fall into the Good category and not the Bad. I therefore offer up to you the Good Groupieís Ten Commandments. Artists meet so many people in their professional lives that itís very difficult for them to remember every single person who crosses their path. But if you live by these guidelines, itís a safe bet that if youíre remembered, youíll be remembered well.
1) Thou shalt treat the Artist as a human being. Not a god. Not a sex object, either. Some people think that being an entertainer is glamorous, and in many ways it is. But every coin has its flip side. Imagine if you couldnít walk into a room without people screaming at you. Imagine that you couldnít step outside without being mobbed. Imagine if people you were meeting for the first time constantly tried to kiss you (or worse). And imagine that any attempt to strike up a conversation with someone new resulted in that person giggling and babbling incoherently.
You want to make a good impression on an Artist? Then DONíT contribute to any of the behavior I just mentioned. If youíre waiting in line to get your CD signed and the only thing that you can think of to say to the Artist is ďOmigod you ROCK!Ē, then save it, because youíre not saying anything the Artist hasnít heard a million times before. And donít grope the Artist either, no matter how tempted you may be. While some guys may claim that theyíd enjoy that kind of attention, take it from anyone who rides the NYC subway on a daily basis: Being groped by a total stranger isnít sexy, itís FREAKY.
Iíll let you in on a little secret: The way I try to make a good impression on Artists is by not talking to them. Thatís right, NOT talking to themóunless I have something specific to say. Iím on cordial speaking terms with several NYC artists, and Iíd estimate that in 90% of the cases it happened because they came to me first. Generally theyíd have time to kill before the gig, theyíd see a familiar face (mine) sitting alone, and since I wasnít someone who bugged the crap out of them before and after every gig, they felt comfortable walking up to me and starting a conversation. Artists are approached by so many people that itís a relief when they can do the approaching. Itís amazing what you can accomplish with a little reverse psychology tempered with a good dose of civility.
2) Thou shalt not monopolize the Artist's time. Yes, you came all the way out to the venue just to see the Artist. Well, so did hundreds of other people. Part of the Artist's job is to make a connection with their audience. They can't do that if you're hogging all their time at the meet-and-greet. Besides, if you're a true groupie, there will be other shows and other opportunities to talk with the Artist. So be gracious and keep your face time short and sweet. For some people, a show (and the subsequent opportunity to chat) may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Don't be the one who spoils it for those people.
3) Thou shalt not enter the green room uninvited. Or anywhere backstage. Or the bus, the hotel room, or the home. ESPECIALLY not the home. It would be lovely if after every concert the Artist had unlimited time to spend signing autographs, posing for pictures, and chatting with concertgoers. However, this isnít always possible. Sometimes the venue has restrictions on how long the Artistís crew can occupy the building. Sometimes the Artist has someplace to be immediately after the show. Or maybe the Artist is tired or sick and just doesnít have the energy to deal with you on this particular night. In any case, the Artist needs private space just to relax and breathe and be sheltered from the public. Invading that space is something no Good Groupie ever does. Of course, if youíre invited to enter that space, thatís something completely different. How do you know if youíre invited? Hereís a hint: If getting into the space involves sneaking past security and/or breaking in, either you werenít invited or the invitation wasnít genuine.
4) Thou shalt not take any shit from the Artist. As I've said, the Artist is a human being. All human beings are capable of having both good days and bad days. If youíve had the unfortunate experience of being treated rudely by an Artist, itís generally a good idea to give the benefit of the doubt and assume that there were extenuating circumstances involved that you didnít know about. But if an Artist is consistently hostile or ungracious towards you, and youíre quite certain that you havenít been engaging in any Bad Groupie behavior, then that Artist isnít worth your time or your money. To borrow from sex columnist Dan Savage, DTMFA.
5) Thou shalt not take any shit from fellow groupies, either. As I mentioned in my previous groupie piece, being a groupie is a lot like being in high school. Itís just more expensive and there are fewer guys to fight over. As any survivor of high school knows, it can be a jungle out there, fraught with catty people who will either torment you or shun you for any reason or no reason, as well as people who will be nice to your face yet skewer you the minute your back is turned. And so it is in Groupieland.
If youíre an established Groupie, be wary of people who are WAY too nice to you upfront. They may be Bad Groupies in the making who want to use you to gain access to the Artist. I hate to sound cynical by suggesting that you take any friendly overture with a grain of salt, but this kind of stuff DOES happen. Iíve seen and experienced it myself.
Iíve also seen groupies treat each other like garbage. I once attended a show on a college campus. The concert was in one building, but the meet-and-greet was in another building across campus, and getting to it required some walking. As I was proceeding to the other building I noticed a group of girls ahead of me. One of them was obviously having shoe trouble, as one of her sandals was unbuckled and she was limping. As we got nearer to the building I heard one girl say that theyíd better hurry if they wanted a good place in line. The group then took off running towards the building, leaving the shoe-troubled girl to limp along slowly by herself.
People, this is disgusting. On behalf of all Good Groupies everywhere, Iím telling you not to perpetuate or tolerate this kind of crap. Artists may come and go, but friends are forever. And if your ďfriendsĒ treat you badly (especially if they do it for the sake of the Artist), theyíre not your friends and theyíre not worth your time.
6) Thou shalt welcome new groupies into the flock. Unless they turn out to be Bad Groupies. In which case, f**k 'em. (Not literally.) Continuing with the groupie-high school analogyÖIf you were lucky growing up, not everyone in high school was out to get you. Some of those people ended up becoming your friends. The same is true in Groupieland. See that person standing in the ticket line next to you? S/heís there for the same reason you areóto see an Artist s/he loves. Strike up a conversationóyou might make a new friend, and maybe even a show buddy who will go with you to the next concert. If the person is a first-time concertgoer, share your knowledge but donít flaunt it. Nobody likes a know-it-all, but if there are little habits/rituals that the Artist does at every concert, enlighten your new friend so s/heís not left in the dark. Remember, a Good Groupie is all about supporting the Artist. Anything you can do to encourage fledgling supporters is a good thing. Just remember Commandment #5 and proceed with caution.
7) Thou shalt respect the Artistís family. No matter how close of a relationship you think you have with the Artist, the family has an even closer relationship. If you say or do anything to annoy the family, you can be sure that the Artist will hear about it eventually. And if an Artist is forced to choose between you and family, the odds are good that you arenít going to be on the winning end of that decision.
ďFamilyĒ includes spouses/significant others. Sex appeal may be a major part of an Artistís persona, and many Artists milk that element during a performance. But thereís a difference between what happens onstage and what happens offstage. Sometimes the performance is just thatóa performance. Onstage, the Artist may sing sexually suggestive lyrics while wearing a muscle shirt that nicely shows off his ripped biceps to the delighted screams of the crowd, yet offstage may have a spouse and family to whom he tries his best to be faithful.
Unfortunately for us Groupies, sometimes the line between fantasy and reality gets blurred. I wouldnít discourage someone from pursuing a relationship with an Artist if a) youíre both single, b) you see each other often, and c) you live in the same area and the Artist isnít someone you see only when thereís a tour going on in your town. After all, Artists are people too. But if any of the above donít apply, donít kid yourself--especially if the Artist is married or otherwise committed. A little light flirtation is fine, it goes with the territory. But pulling outrageous sexual moves (verbal or otherwise) when the Artistís sweetie may be standing mere feet away from you is only going to cause trouble. This is Bad Groupie behavior in one of its lowest forms, and you donít want to go there. And if you do, why are you reading this?
8) Thou shalt respect the venue's rules regarding electronic devices. Note that I said respect, not necessarily obey. Most venues have some sort of policy restricting photography, video, and/or audio recording; and some venues enforce their policies more strictly than others. Despite this, nearly every groupie I know has smuggled a camera or some other recording device into a venue. While I canít condone violating a venueís policy (at least not officially, anyway ;) ), at least be smart about what youíre doing. If an announcement is made at the beginning of the show saying that photography of any kind is absolutely prohibited, and minutes later you whip out your camera and pop the flash, then youíre just being stupid. And if you end up being ejected from the event, you havenít made a very good impression on the Artist, have you?
Word to the wise: Whenever possible, try to learn the venueís policy before going to the concert. That way at least youíll know what the rules are and whether itís worth the risk to break them. If the venueís rules say ďno video recordingĒ and you arrive with what is obviously a camera bag, youíre asking for trouble. Recently I attended a concert at a mid-size NYC venue. The person in line in front of me was a college student from France who was visiting the city on summer vacation. Like many NYC tourists, he happened to be carrying a camera. When security checked his bag at the entrance and found the camera, the poor kid was hauled off to a back-corner office and forced to relinquish it temporarily. Thatís a major hassle for someone who probably wasnít even planning to take pictures at the concert.
One more word about flash photography: The venueís rules aside, try not to overdo it. While occasional flashes can be tolerated, incessant flash-popping is distracting to both the Artist and the audience and is highly annoying. Even if youíre the Artistís manager, that doesnít make it any less annoying.
9) Thou shalt not break thy neck to get to a show (unless it's for a very good reason). Sometimes, there can be a compelling reason why you REALLY want to attend a concert thatís somewhat inconvenient for you because of distance, cost, your schedule, etc. Maybe the band is breaking up and itís their final performance. Maybe itís a band whoís reuniting for a once-in-a-lifetime event. Maybe theyíre co-gigging with someone equally awesome and the combination is just too mind-blowing to resist. But unless this is the case, donít do anything thatís going to stress you out just for the sake of attending a show. Concerts are supposed to be FUN. Thatís why groupies go to so many of them. And if youíre not having fun, itís just not worth it. Donít exhaust yourself. Unless itís something really special, there will be other opportunities. Wait for one that works out better for you.
10) Thou shalt not spend beyond thy means. Not on a concert ticket, not on what you're going to wear, not on gifts for the Artists, not on anything. Being a groupie can be an expensive hobby. If you find yourself choosing between paying for concert tickets and paying your bills, then youíre in way too deep and you need to take a break. If your fellow groupies are pressuring you to do things you canít afford at the moment, you need to speak up and let them know that. If theyíre truly your friends, they will understand. If they continue to pressure you or try to make you feel bad for missing out on something you canít afford, then you know what kind of groupies they are.
The same rule applies to gifts for the Artists. Gifts might seem like a nice way to show your appreciation for the Artist, but you need to keep in mind that for every concert there may be dozens of groupies who are thinking exactly the same thing. Multiply that by the number of shows an Artist does every year, and you can see how it adds up. Artists can be inundated with stuff, and while they know you mean well, sometimes they just canít handle it all.
Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to drop a wad of money you canít afford to spend on a gift. Several years ago I attended a concert where one of the band members happened to be a huge Beatles fan. At the meet and greet afterwards, a fellow groupie I knew walked up to the table and handed the band member the recently-released Beatles Anthology. This had to have set the groupie back more than $100, and she wasnít particularly wealthy. While Iím sure the band member was glad to score the CDs, do you think he even remembers that groupieís name now? Spending excessively doesnít necessarily ingratiate yourself to the Artist. It can even make you look pathetic.
To sum up, these Ten Commandments can be boiled down to three basic rules: 1) Respect the Artist. 2) Respect your fellow groupies. And most importantly, 3) Respect yourself.