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Published: 2005/05/09
by Holly Isbister

Featured ColumnNote For Note: Dudes In The Front Row

It doesn't seem that long ago that I watched the infamous scene in Bittersweet Motel, in which Trey Anastasio sings a little improvised ditty about the beloved chicks in the front row. The relationship between rock star and groupie is decades old. From the tall tales about Led Zeppelin’s "shark" incident to the Hollywood films, Almost Famous and The Banger Sisters, the groupie is a mythic, tragic character commonly misunderstood (or so she would claim) who at best, serves as a muse for creative male musicians, and at worst, subjugates herself through sex to feed her need for the attention of the famous star she idolizes.

The word groupie has terrible connotations to the majority of music fans for a number of reasons. The first assumption is that a groupie isn’t really at the show for the music – she’s there to make out with a band member and brag about it later to her friends. A second assumption is that the groupie is a slut – willing to do anything and everything to sexually please the star. And lastly, the groupie is commonly associated with indulgence. In the 80’s indulgence was cool, but with Indie rockers like Radiohead and Wilco and even jamband musicians like Phish and The Dead, there’s a sense of subtlety and a desire to be taken seriously as musicians – not just pigeon holed as decadent rock stars. In this respect, the groupie is a stigma to your credibility. It’s like certain illicit substances – it’s not kosher to flaunt it, but it’s there nonetheless.

As a female fan, the term groupie causes a bit of a conundrum. No female music fan I have ever met would enjoy being called a groupie, because of the connotations cited above. But put yourself in the front row, in a cute outfit, and start shakin’ it, and somehow that insecurity creeps up. Can you do that without being perceived as a groupie? Can you love the music and want to see every second of that man’s finger movement on his fret board and not be seen as an overzealous ho wanting to rip his pants off? Can you love music and not the musician? Well yes, of course. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe a groupie isn’t all of these things. Maybe a better connotation for the term groupie, is someone who feels complete and total adoration for the music that some individual creates and, it follows, they feel complete and total adoration for the musician.

The ironic thing about it, if you go to any sort of show, is that you don’t see many chicks in the front row. Nine times out of ten, the front through fifth rows are almost all guys. There’s a chick or two in there, but the area is undeniably dominated by males. There could be a number of explanations for this; women aren’t as into music (in a general sense) as men are and the ratio of women to men always favors men; women aren’t as likely to be as zealous and fight for the front row spots; women simply get pushed out of the way due to their smaller physiology. Or maybe, just maybe, the male fans are the actual groupies. Perhaps women fans have been ill portrayed all along, and it is in fact the male fans that are most guilty of shameless idol worship (of whatever form you might choose). Why should the fact that women have sex with rock stars stigmatize them from their equally front row, ho-esque male counterparts? It’s my belief that most men, were they female, would want to hump the living brains out of their rock star idols.

I’m not condoning groupie behavior, in the same way I wouldn’t condone one of my male friends taking home a stripper from a bachelor party. But I am a bit peeved that women fans face a certain stigma when in fact their male counterparts are guilty in their own right and never seem to get called out for it. Perhaps for the same reason, rock critics have credibility, when we’re just as shameless, overzealous, and obsessive about music and musicians as the rest of the lot.

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