Thursday, September 15, 2011

Confessions of a "Groupie" - Author Backstory

For anyone who knows me even remotely, especially my work within some celebrity fan circles, you really don't have to wonder what prompted me to write the romantic, sexy, fantasy-filled backstage romp I affectionately and appropriately named "GROUPIE."

Truthfully, this is a book that has been in the making since roughly 1979, when I first had my first celebrity crush. I was about nine years old when Cupid’s arrow hit from a console television set. That was when one of the local stations in Abilene, Texas fortuitously began playing reruns of The Monkees.

Of course, I didn’t understand the concept of a rerun back then. I wasn’t even convinced that singers weren’t actually showing up in the radio station to sing songs throughout the day. All I knew was that the guys in the band were cute and made me laugh.

One in particular looked especially young, and in my nine year old brain that meant he was accessible. (I've always had lofty aspirations.) He had a baby face and deep, brown eyes and an accent completely foreign to my West Texas ears.

I had fallen like a brick for Davy Jones.

Imagine my devastation when I learned that he was actually about twenty years older than I originally thought. This, in my mind, meant he was no longer accessible. Not that he was a celebrity, not that he wasn’t anywhere remotely close to Texas, but that he was twenty years older and married.

These were hard and fast rules when I was nine years old. Needless to say, I was crushed.

Eventually I would move on thanks to a timely Christmas gift from my parents. My Bert & Ernie AM/FM radio allowed me the freedom to discover my own music. Because my nearest sibling was a decade older than I was, I spent most of my childhood as an “only child” – one that would have to come up with creative ways to pass the time.

Most of this I did in my bedroom, where the burgeoning storyteller began to take shape courtesy of my Fisher Price Little People and my growing population of Barbie dolls. My constant companion was my radio, and 1979 was probably my favorite year in music. It was new, it was exciting and most of all it was completely different than the Country & Western stuff my parents loved.

I sold my soul to rock and roll.

One of my favorite songs that year was a tune called “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” by Journey. I loved the more primal beat, even though I was much too young to understand the overtones of the lyrics. It took me a good decade to understand the barrage of “nah nah nah nah nahs” at the end of the track were virtually the singer saying, “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah” to a cheating ex.

At the time I just loved the beat of the song and the pure vocal of the lead singer. I would belt it out with vigor every time it played on the radio.

A couple of years later I was staying up late waiting for my mom to come home from work, and much to my surprise (and delight) I found out Journey would perform said hit on a rerun of “The Midnight Special.” I perched in front of the TV in my jammies and waited with bated breath.

When I first laid eyes on the lead singer, I didn’t know quite what to think. He had long dark hair, something I wasn’t used to seeing around my military town. He had a prominent profile and a face full of character, an ethnicity I found exotic and strange. From the way he dressed to how he sang, I really didn’t know what to make of him. Then he went down into the first row of the crowd and sang directly to one of the girls, which tattooed itself immediately onto my 11-year-old brain and even eventually made its way into “Groupie.”

I still loved the song and couldn’t really get the lead singer out of my head, even though my initial response wasn’t the starry eyed infatuation I felt for Davy Jones.

I continued as a fan of the music mostly, but nothing could prepare me for that one summer night in 1983 when I would fall completely and hopelessly in love with a man I’d never met.

Back in the early 80s my mom was raising me as a single parent, and as such didn’t see much need for things like cable. I may have wanted my MTV like any other self-respecting teen of the decade, but I settled for Friday Night Videos.

When I saw that a Journey video for “Faithfully” was coming on, I remembered with a bit of a rush about the last time I had seen the band perform. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the lead singer’s hair was shorter and he now sported a mustache.

I never cared for mustaches for traumatic personal reasons, so I found the new look a bit jarring. Eventually he ditched the 'stache during the course of the video, and I found myself heave a sigh of relief that he looked more like the guy I remembered.

I listened as he sang about an undying, faithful love and after the second verse he turned to face the camera as he sang. A breeze lifted a tendril of his dark hair away from his face and his potent eyes stared deep into my soul as he sang, “I’m forever yours, faithfully.”

I was a goner. My heart fell down somewhere near my feet and I think for a brief second there I forgot to breathe. Forget getting struck by Cupid’s arrow – I had been leveled by a bolt of lightning. Within a week I had the Frontiers album in my hand and I showed my mom the man I knew I was going to marry.

These were big words for a thirteen year old. Like I said... lofty aspirations.

Over the course of my teen years Steve Perry would come to define my ideal. I was kissing a lot of frogs in those days, so it was just easier to put all my hopelessly romantic fantasies onto a person safely at arm’s length.

He was a safe outlet to love until I met my first husband and fell in love “for real” when I was about 18.

But I can still feel my heart soar whenever I hear Steve sing, and I know down deep that this celebrity crush actually helped get me through some very painful and difficult years as an outcast, with nowhere to belong and no one to choose me.

I’m still a fan, although I’ve given up on the marrying part. (Those who know me did tease me about my second husband being a “Steve” though.)

(Steve did, however, heavily influence a short story/novella called San Francisco Serenade. I guess I still have those lofty aspirations, I just leave them to my fictional characters these days.)

Many years later I would meet another celebrity who would have the same sort of impact in a more significant way. It started rather innocently while watching VH1 in 2002, when I caught a series that featured various celebrities waxing nostalgic about the 1980s. Some of the celebrities I knew, but one in particular, the one that stood out the most, I had never seen before.

To my surprise, I found his comments were the funniest. It seemed like my best friend of 20-something years and my second husband were all rolled up into one cute, comedic - dare I say - accessible package.

I found myself looking forward to comments from actor/comedian Hal Sparks the most, and over the course of the next few years (and several “I Love the” series) I became sort of what you would call a semi-fan. I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up in Spider-man 2, and I never purposely sought out "Dude, Where's My Car" or "Queer as Folk." But it was undeniable... each time I saw him I liked him a little bit more. It took me a year or so to get on the computer and find information about him. At this time I was still fairly content to keep celebrities behind the velvet rope. In 1998 I had attempted to meet a couple of my teen idols and was treated very poorly by one of the members of a band I had loved throughout my adolescent years. This rejection was directly due to my larger size, and this individual made sure I knew that he wanted nothing to do with me because of it.

When my friend tried to get a picture of me and this person, he made sure he grabbed a random stranger passing by to put right in the middle of us so he wouldn’t have stand next to me. (Look for me to get even with this individual in the next book. I think I shall name him.... NEAL.*)

(*Edited 2012 to clarify, I ended up naming him Leo. He's a dickhead based on a douche bag with absolutely no redeeming value. Kind of like the fucko who inspired him. But I'm not bitter. *Anymore.* Muahaha.)

Needless to say I was ready to keep all the celebrities I *really* liked under glass so I wouldn’t risk this type of painful rejection in the future. I never went to see Davy Jones in concert, I didn't stalk Steve Perry (much) and I was content just to catch Hal's appearances on random VH1 specials.

The more I read about Hal, however, the more I thought about going to one of his comedy shows. Everyone who had gone to see him had nothing but glowing comments about how wonderfully he treated his fans. Still, I was unsure and stayed mainly on the fringe of the fandom. I didn’t even get involved with individuals on the message boards because whenever I tried that in the past it always ended poorly.

I had yet to learn that some groupies and fans are a breed all their own.

So I missed out on things like Hal’s Sparksvision, where about 80 of his fans convened on Los Angeles to enjoy a movie premiere, a comedy show and a chance to see his band play live.

I was way too gun-shy to even think about participating in such an event in September of 2004.

But a mere few months later I would get another big surprise. In November, just days before my birthday, I opened up my email inbox to find an email from Hal himself. Initially I thought it was an auto-reply to let me know I had successfully joined the mailing list for his website. But when I opened it, it read, “A little birdy, and by little birdy I mean that big birdy you’re married to, said that it was your birthday!” He wished me a happy birthday and a great year and I sat thunderstruck at my computer desk that this person I hadn’t even tried to meet could reach out to contact me, this (figuratively speaking) little nobody from small town Texas.

I would come later to learn that was just the kind of guy Hal was. Even at his Sparksvision event he would go seek out those fans too shy to meet him so he could connect with them in some way.

I met Hal for the first time eight months later, when I made sort of a pilgrimage to see one of his comedy shows in San Francisco. I was still nervous that I would be rejected, especially since Hal is a good looking guy who makes no bones about appreciating good looking women. This is an equation that has NEVER really worked out in my favor. So I even shied away from going up to meet him in between the two comedy shows because I thought just seeing him perform in person was enough to make me happy.

Eventually, thanks mostly to the two-drink minimum (times 2,) I was able to go up and meet him for the first time. When he looked at me I didn’t feel rejected, if anything I felt completely “seen” for the first time ever. He has these dark, soulful eyes that reach right down into your core and immediately put you at ease. I nervously teased that I had driven through a tornado to meet him (true story) and therefore I deserved a hug. He gave me one freely, and not one of those wimpy side hugs but a full body head-to-toe hug.

Then he pulled me close for a picture, where he smiled big as though he were happy to do it, and made sure to give me another hug before I left.

I was hooked from that moment on. He didn't just treat me well as a fan, he made me feel valued as a person. There is NO ONE I've ever seen that has this much consideration for his fans, who will stand in line for two hours straight and still be as genuine with the last of the group as he was with the first.

This affirmation came at a point when I didn't feel that from a lot of people, particularly men, and helped me grow in confidence and self-esteem. It even gave me the courage to chase after yet another idol who had the same kind of impact on me that Steve Perry once did, turning me into a screaming teenager whenever he looked into the camera.

If anyone knew me from those days, you probably get a good idea who inspired Vanni – right down to the similar-sounding nickname.


Imagine that kind of swagger and intensity and you have Vanni, except he's Italian instead of Greek. (And of course Vanni likes those fat bottomed girls, which makes us love him even more. ;) )

Because of how well Hal had treated me I jumped headlong into promoting him and even getting involved in the fandom, which were filled with more normal people than I had found in fandoms previously. I figured that like attracts like, and the people that Hal attracted were just at a more evolved state as human beings.

Of course they weren’t ALL that way, and over the years I’ve spent in Hal’s group of fans I’ve seen quite a cast of characters come through.

And it is through all of these experiences that I finally decided to write a story from the fan point of view of that fantasy relationship with her favorite rock star.

I think this is a common fantasy that many of the women I’ve known have had a time or two. It was fascinating to write it from the perspective as the groupie who gets the star because I myself have never experienced this phenomenon, nor do I think I ever would even if I were single. The fantasy is a fantasy because real life can never creep in with all its disappointments and heartbreak.

The groupie experience from what I’ve seen is quite similar to the experiences I’ve had as the “fat girl,” who had the good looking guy give her attention behind closed doors but never had the opportunity to be the gal on his arm, and it is that emotional integrity I brought to the book.

There may be those who think that this book is about any one person in particular, but this is not the case. Vanni is a mix of what attracted me to my idols, with my own spin on what I would have wanted from them if I had pursued anything. The groupies, including Andy herself, were more a combination of the people I’ve met and known throughout the years, but most of the people present were basically enhanced for effect within the story. This includes Talia, the stalker-groupie, who encompasses all the negative things I’ve seen regarding some of the more aggressive (and questionably unhinged) folks who didn’t quite recognize or understand boundaries.

Essentially I took everything I’ve seen and learned and turned it up to “11.”

Hence the dedication of the book, for anyone who sees themselves in these characters and thinks that I have used them or their likenesses for the story. There are only three people in the book based on real people, and those people were acknowledged with special thanks for all their help both with the story and with research.

That means if I didn’t specifically tell you a character was based on you, it wasn’t. This book wasn’t a tell-all vindictive piece. It was a book of fiction based on fantasy, with a plot crafted for effect.

(But I’m willing to wager I’ll still be on several people’s shit list regardless of this disclaimer, which kind of makes this fantasy world within my book so much fun to twist around for my own purposes. ;) )

Now, for you readers who want to throttle me right now because of how the book ends, all I can say is hold off burning me in effigy until after the trilogy is complete with “Rock Star” and "Mogul." The “journey” is far from over, and could not be summed up in one book.

There’s more sex, love, angst and scandal to come, and then I'll do another blog to tell you what inspired the ultimate direction of this saga. Until then, enjoy the fantasy. I know I sure did.

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