The Accidental Groupie
by Taylor Orci
In my early 20s I got a journalism internship in DC. It was really great, I got to do a lot of things, and one of the things I got to do was interview this band. I’m not gonna say the name, but it’s probably in your top 10 indie bands of all time. Especially if you’re a guy who likes button down plaid shirts with pearl snaps and words like “eclectic.” If you like that, this is your favorite alt country band. I, however, didn’t like their music. I thought it was slow and twangy.
I should say, though, that I didn’t have much of a taste in music at this point. Not like I have an impeccable taste in music now, but at the time I had only started liking “cool” music about two years earlier. And by “cool” I mean anything that wasn’t derivative of the Indigo Girls or Gene Krupa. If you don’t know who Gene Krupa is, ask your grandparents.
But it didn’t matter if I liked the music or not. I was excited to interview a real band!
The guys in the band were really nice. There was this one guy in particular who was being REALLY nice, and after the interview gave me a backstage pass to the show they were playing that night. And after the show, he cornered me and kissed me. No one had ever cornered me and kissed me before. And after Mr. Band kissed me — let’s call him John — after John kissed me, he said, “I just wanna say I think you’re really beautiful, and you should come to Cleveland with us tonight.” I knew what could happen in Cleveland — I’d seen Almost Famous. Cleveland was where I could run down the hallway of some fancy hotel in my well-planned flirty underwear holding a bottle of REAL champagne, exclaiming, “It’s all happening!”
But I told him no, because I took my unpaid internship seriously. And because I realized I had a serious lack of cool underwear.
Eventually my internship ended and John and I stayed in touch. He wrote me postcards — he wrote me two postcards — but the postcards said things like, “I miss you,” and “I’m in the birthplace of Brigitte Bardot, she’s got nothing on you.” And I’d think, “Oh my God, I’m dating someone famous!” I had never really DATED anyone before and now I wasn’t just dating a guy, I was dating a MAN! A Famous Man! Man, did I feel important.
But after a few casual emails, phone calls and post cards, everything stopped. But that wasn’t any reason in my mind to think we weren’t still dating. In fact, the less we talked, the more I filled in the blanks with my own imagination. I thought, “Maybe he’s not texting me because he’s too busy planting secret messages to me in his live shows” — I REALLY thought this. So I’d find the band’s live performances online and listen for any secret references (there weren’t any … by the way). I downloaded the bands entire discography AND John’s solo projects to try to get a glimpse into this guy’s brain. I joined all the message boards for this band, and there are a lot of fans and a lot of message boards and I joined all of them — maybe not all but I joined A LOT. And I had a copy of the tour schedule so after the show I’d go online and I’d go on these message boards and see if anybody said something mean about the performance — so I could be a defender of this Man I was dating.
This took up HOURS of my day. And I’m pretty sure that the textbook definition of an obsession is when you do something SO much it interferes with your everyday life, but that didn’t occur to me. All I was thinking was, “I’m in love! Or… a famous guy compared me to Brigitte Bardot! Same thing! Who cares! Whatever!”
So for months I hear nothing, THEN one day, I get a phone call out of the blue and it’s John, and he says “Hey” — really casual, “Hey, I’m gonna be playing Coachella tomorrow, you should come down and be my date.”
So, I drove six hours to go to Coachella. Casually, of course. And when I got to the festival, I called him and he was like, “I’m busy.” So I wandered around alone for a few hours — I got one of those Drumstick ice cream cones and tried not to think about how I was basically at the beck and call of some guy I knew nothing about short of his page on Wikipedia. And in the process it started to dawn on me that MAYBE I was getting used. But then I saw a group of hot girls wearing the band’s t-shirt and that made me forget about feeling used and remember how SPECIAL I was. After all, he wasn’t with them, he had chosen me.
Eventually he allowed me backstage to watch the band play — it felt so special to watch a band play from backstage in front of thousands of fans. Then I heard someone in back of me go, “Where did all these groupies come from?” And I thought, what groupies? I don’t see any groupies. Me, who wasn’t there for the music but for the eye contact of John as he was wailing away on his Moog. I fought off the idea that the groupies he was referring to could have included me. Instead, I just kept dancing to attract attention to myself, vying for more eye contact.
And after the show, even though during the drive over I kept telling myself, “I’m not gonna sleep with this guy, I’m not gonna sleep with this guy,” we sleep together, mostly cause I thought with all the special treatment I was getting, to not have sex with him would have just been rude. But after we had sex — and I don’t know if this was because he was drunk or what — but he kind of curled up and just started crying, saying how lonely he was, how he had fought off depression. And went off on this long rant about his battles with suicide and about loneliness, and it seemed so weird to me how someone in this iconic band felt so alone. But instead I stroked his hair and said things like, “It’s just because you’re so creative!” And, “No one understands you!” Cause I understood him. Right?
Then we passed out, and in the morning the phone rang, and I picked it up, and the woman on the other line said, “Mrs. (the guy’s last name), this is your wake up call.” And this was a wake-up call in more ways that one. Because the morning was very awkward, and the vulnerable guy I had seen the night before was gone. We went down to eat in the lobby, where we ate our Froot Loops in silence. I looked around me and the hotel restaurant was full of similar scenes going on: lots of older rocker-looking men with younger-looking girls picking at cold omelettes and stale muffins and not talking to each other — including the other members of the band, all of whom had wives and girlfriends back home. That’s when it sank in that I had become an accidental groupie to a band I hadn’t really liked in the first place.
And I get it now, they’re a good band. And my bad experience with one of the guys doesn’t negate their artistry or whatever. After Kobe Bryant was accused of statutory rape, Nutella didn’t drop his endorsement, because he’s awesome at basketball. When a person’s abilities are exceptional, we see the artist apart from his humanity. We put aside their character flaws for the sake of society’s cultural enrichment. Slow clap for us.
Looking back on it, I’d like to think that John wasn’t just trying to use me for sex, that the postcards meant something, maybe he really did like me at first but over the course of knowing me, discovered I was too young and giggly — which I was. I mean, as I realized just how famous this guy’s band was, I kind of lost my shit. Maybe that’s why he felt so lonely, because chicks like me couldn’t see past his fame. That might be true, but that’s STILL no excuse to be a dick!
So before you think alt country rockers don’t have groupies and instead sit around all day talking about their feelings while canning their own fruit preserves, you should really think again. Show business is show business, no matter how much shaggy hair and vintage flannel you try to throw on it.
(A version of this story also ran on the podcast StoryWorthy.)
Previously: The Pee Test.
Taylor Orci is a comedy writer and performer living in Los Angeles. She’s been a producer for the likes of NPR, WNYC and KCRW, and has contributed to the likes of BUST Magazine, Slate.com, and IFC’s The Grid. She blogs about funny things and tiny animals here, and then tweets about them here.