In June 2006, The Observer nominated Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne’s cult novel Groupie (1969) as one of ‘the 50 greatest music books ever’. Sarah Boden called it ‘both a zippy page turner and a Technicolor curiosity from the front line of a sexual and cultural maelstrom’.[i] Byrne and Fabian were key players in the hedonistic underground culture of the sixties. Their twilight world consisted of all- night parties at legendary clubs UFO and Middle Earth within an atmosphere of enormous creativity that was built on a backdrop of avant-garde literature, psychedelic drugs and personal liberation. Byrne had been writing consistently since the early sixties when he met Fabian, (then 19) and encouraged her to begin documenting her sexual exploits amongst the rock ‘n’ roll fraternity.[ii] The resultant novel, Groupie, was instantly controversial not only for its sexual explicitness but also for its thinly veiled portraits of real rock stars ranging from Syd Barret to Jimi Hendrix.
Told in a stripped down vernacular, the novel’s first person narrative recounts the adventures of Katie who attempts to ascend the highly competitive groupie hierarchy. These self styled ‘groovers’ consider individual status to be directly equivalent to the level fame occupied by whomever they manage to sleep with.
Although heavily criticised by feminist writers on account of its apparent celebration of male sexuality and female passivity, the raw authenticity of the novel does much to demythologise the world it records. The predominantly male groupie targets are usually revealed to be superficial egomaniacs and the counterculture as a whole is seen to be far from a harmonious brotherhood of cosmic orgasms and unifying, communal love-ins. We are shown instead a series of bleak rooms and hotel beds. Tincture is taken by the spoonful and mornings are spent avoiding eye contact and creeping out in to the street in search of a bus stop.
Following the success of Groupie, Fabian became the subject of relentless publicity. Her second novel A Chemical Romance (1971) written without Byrne reflects on this period and her attempt to deal with excessive exposure. We follow Katie once again through book launches, screenplay meetings and debauched plane journeys until we finally move to Ibiza, (a key location on the ‘hippy trail’ of the late sixties/early seventies) a possible sanctuary away from
London. Soon after this, Fabian, by her own
admission, ‘dropped out’. There were drug problems and she attempted to leave
much of her former life behind. While Byrne cultivated a career in film and
television, Fabian drifted into the countryside to work with horses and then
greyhounds. In 2002, a reunited Fabian and Byrne completed the as yet
unpublished Wasted, an ‘official’ sequel to Groupie.
Whilst she never disappeared into total anonymity, (there’s lots of journalism and sixties commentary[iii]) Fabian has nonetheless remained somewhat mysterious. Her writing style is extremely explicit but also strangely elusive. Momentary details are given in full but there is little description of a wider context or personal background. A website devoted to Groupie gives lots of information about Byrne yet when discussing Fabian it states that her date of birth and current contact details are unknown.[iv] This interview attempts to take a detailed look at all of Fabian’s work, including her new writing. The intention is to compliment what’s already been written about Groupie and the sixties but also to widen the frame and highlight Fabian’s status as an individualistic and often highly defiant writer. We spoke in her
flat which mixes shelves of books with objects presumably collected from
frequent, extensive and varied travel. Fabian was sharp and engaged throughout.
The amount of personal investment in her work was evident because as she spoke,
it occasionally became unclear whether she was referring to her own experiences
or those of her character, Katie. As in her novels the autobiographical and the
fictional frequently blurred.
James Riley: Tell me about your background. How did you get involved in the scenes your work documents?
Jenny Fabian: It was about the mid 60s, I was someone who was always looking not to be straight and[v] Through a school friend of mine I met a poet called Spike Hawkins and through him I met the poet Johnny Byrne with whom I wrote Groupie. I also met Thom Keynes who wrote All Night Stand and Roger Jones who I’m not sure what he was doing at the time. This is just prior to the psychedelic sixties hitting off but they were already smoking dope and taking pills, behaving in a way that looked like fun to me. It was through hanging around with them that I first started going to poetry readings. I was just drawn to those sorts of people.ordinary. It goes back to being difficult at school and being an automatic rebel. Initially this meant being a beatnik as this seemed to me to be the best alternative to someone who worked 9 to 5. I didn't want to be like my parents like so many people don’t want to be. So I started off being a bit of a beatnik and wearing black and hanging around places like The Troubadour, the sort of places were people who all looked slightly alternative were hanging out.
Then I was living in a flat in Queen’s Gardens, Lancaster Gate area working on the Daily Telegraph Magazine and this guy came round who was an acid dealer. We’d all heard about it and, of course, I’d smoked pot by then and listened to my Dylan and there were people living in this flat who were obviously freaks, so I was there on the edge of it all. But then this guy gave me some acid and took me to UFO and that was so extraordinary. I had had seen Pink Floyd before at All Saints Hall, but now, on acid it was a revelation of a deeper dimension…and that was it, I was involved in that scene.
I was quite promiscuous. I was flitting from one to another, the drugs make you quite open in that respect,Sunday Telegraph, especially somebody called Ann Barr, I then started writing the odd thing about this new world. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ thing had already started. I wasn't really so much a part of that because the Swinging Sixties was more sort of mainstream and superficial with boutiques and people jumping on a certain bandwagon. The actual underground was looked on as something subversive and dangerous, not too much fun. There was that amazing headline in The News of the World. They went down to UFO and they said they found people ‘injecting reefers’ and I ended up sort of half living with/having an affair with a guy called Dave Houseman. He went into business with another chap called Paul Walden when UFO closed. They opened Middle Earth. I started working there for Dave and carried on even when the affair broke up. That was my big opening into that scene. With my connections from the
Actually where I come from isn't really that interesting it’s just the way that things fell into place and the way I wanted it to be. Because I was on that scene I was seeing these rock musicians all the time. They were to us a form of ‘god’ in a way. They were like the poets, but they were musical poets so I left the old bohemians behind. Although I was very fond of them I was attracted more to the glitter and fame. It wasn't what we call ‘fame’ now because in those days you were famous for having done something wonderful. It was the notoriety that gave them the edge: the drugs, the way of life and the clothes. It was a small world and we all knew each other. It hadn't fragmented. There was pop and there was underground. But gradually the money guys started jumping on board and that was the start of the underground seeping up into the mainstream.
Riley: How did Groupie come about?
Fabian: When I was going out with these guys and working at Middle Earth I was living part of the time in a flat with Thom, Johnny, Spike. I was ‘one of the boys’, which is an idea I build upon in the new book. I’d be telling Johnny about the stuff I’d done and one day he suddenly said, ‘why don’t we turn this into a book?’ I was hesitant at first, and I said to him that I wouldn't know where to start. I had been trying to work on smaller pieces of writing at the time, but I didn't think I could stay the course of a whole novel. But Byrne said that I should ‘just write it down’, take an evening or whatever and get something down. Initially I found this really difficult so I tried it with a tape recorder. I’d go round to my friend Ann Barr and tell her everything that had happened. I’d be recording our conversation, in order to write it all up afterwards. Two nights I tried this, and once I’d typed it all up I felt that I could just tell it all straight on to the type writer. I was just a case of getting the mind to disengage from speaking and then that was it: I was away.
Riley: How did your writing relationship with Johnny Byrne work? Would you write something and give it to him or would you both work on separate passages?
Fabian: I’d pour it all out onto the typewriter and then he’d take it and cut it down, try and formulate the material into a plot or movement, occasionally add stuff. I’d then get it back again. If I didn't like what he’d done we’d talk it over, (we always talked through everything), and he’d either remove something or we’d work it out. I couldn't have done it without the guiding hand. I couldn't have done the new novel without the same guidance. When I write a book I’m very good at starting but I never really know where I’m going. Byrne is very good at talking me through plot issues. He suggests some kind of narrative model, some structure and then I attach to that the details that I’ve drawn from things that have happened in the past.
Riley: Did you feel that this relationship wouldn't work with A Chemical Romance?
Fabian: Well, there was a bit of a falling out over A Chemical Romance. I ended up writing it on my own because the usual thing happened. She’s the girl, she’s young, she’s pretty she’s done it and said it. What do you need him for? The vultures came in and prized us apart; or at least prised me away from him. Everyone was saying I could do it on my own, it was ‘my voice’ and I didn't need anybody else. At the time I was also getting quite seriously messed-up drug wise because that always happens when you get a lot of money. I was an early casualty then. Now, it’s cool to be a casualty but nobody wanted to be one then, we were trying to keep our own cool.
Now, Johnny and I have got back together all these years later and have written a new book, Wasted. We tried to write it as if A Chemical Romance didn't exist. It looks at what happened to Katie after she became famous and how we all went and lived in this kind of decadent commune. We’ve tried to show that the idealism of the sixties has broken down. Katie falls in love with a guy called Billy and she can’t cope with it, because that feeling contrasts with the idea of ‘free love’, I mean what is it? There is no such thing, like the cliche of a free lunch. The thing was, never to be jealous in those days: what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. But, when Katie actually falls in love, she has a terrible time. We look at what happens to her and how she spirals down into this decadent phase; how she attempts to get through a situation which she isn't really equipped to deal with. She’s been brainwashed by sixties liberation/early feminism, a whole mode of thinking which seemed to be based specifically around not falling in love. You may like to look up what Germaine Greer says about Groupie in The Female Eunuch. She says Katie falls into a classic romantic trap because all she does is worship the man, that sort of trip, rather than being her own person.[vi] Although in Groupie we tried to make it clear in the last paragraph that she was going to be her own person because she rejects the last guy. And also, (this was Johnny’s trip) we put in ‘yes’ as the last word, from Ulysses.
Riley: I liked that, it seemed like a decision, a real affirmation.
Fabian: Yes it was, it was supposed to be an affirmation in that she was enough of a person to exist on her own. It was a very character-forming era. Women didn't have an easy time. It was great for guys because here were all these chicks on birth control, trying to find their own power which meant going out and saying ‘do you want to sleep with me?’ instead of waiting for the guy to say ‘will you sleep with me?’. We didn't wear bras, we didn't wear knickers. But I felt the suggestiveness was quite subtle. Our flesh may have been exposed underneath but it was covered on top. And I often wondered why we wanted to go back in time often, why we all dressed in old fashions? We always reached back to 20s/30s film star clothes. We didn't want to live in the time that we were in. I suppose that’s a sense of rebellion. But it doesn't happen now, and if people look like that they’re just called ‘new age’. Or alternatively the label is ‘postmodern’.
Riley: You’re not happy with that term?
Fabian: Well, what comes after? It does worry me where thinking and criticism is going. Postmodernism has been around for half a century. How long can it go on? Has it ended? You could begin to use other terms like ‘Classic’ or ‘Baroque’ but there again, you’re reaching back, there’s no new term. I understand the ideas: fragmentation, surface, Walter Benjamin and the loss of the ‘aura’, but it worries me that we seem to have come to an end as regard our definitions. Modernism has a lot to answer for because where do you go from there? Well, postmodern, but then it seems to me that you can’t go any further than that. You’ve got to go back again. At least postmodernism rejected some of the classical elitism of modernism: their interest in tradition and a return to high culture.
Riley: And isn't that perhaps a good thing, allowing the possibility of other material to be brought into academic or critical discourse?
Fabian: But then that gives way to another problem, embracing other material on the basis that it’s good because it’s postmodern, it’s good on the basis that the theory has no boundaries. Anyway, when I was writing, we were into breaking boundaries. It’s strange that I never came across writers like Angela Carter. But she didn't really surface until the late seventies and by then I’d gone; I was totally out of it. I lasted until about 1974. Then I had to ‘leave the house’, as it were, and move into a totally different way of life. Acid Dreams? Wonderful book.[vii] I was taking so much of that. I remember looking out of a window one day and thinking ‘well, I could just drop, y’know’. I thought, maybe I shouldn't be taking so much. I didn't stop taking it but I was a bit more careful. I stopped taking it on my own. In the end I was deeply into cocaine and mandrax, which are very self-destructive drugs. And I believe that was what Syd Barret was on, a mixture of acid and mandrax. Otherwise, I would have been dead probably. By then I’d moved to taking vast quantities of very strong ‘sunshine’ acid supplied by The Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Have you read
Riley: Is the new book ready to be published?
Fabian: Well, there have been problems. Three agents didn’t want it and one publisher. I’ve pulled back. I’m not used to that. I know you can have 30 rejections but I thought there must be something wrong. I think perhaps it needs opening out more in the sense that there is a need to explain certain things. What we tried to do is that we tried to write it from that moment in time without any retrospective knowledge. I’m wondering whether that makes it too simplistic. However, just in terms of actually writing the book I found the experience extremely cathartic. I’d had this relationship and I’d always wanted to write about it. It’s a difficult relationship to write about because I still see the guy who is the emotional axis of the book. He’s read it, said he’s got off lightly. I’m hoping that it may also say something socially about why we acted in that way.
Riley: You mentioned writing from a specific ‘moment in time’. That’s something I found very strong in Groupie, the idea of it being set in a single and specific instant. From the first line ‘I realised soon after pulling Nigel Bishop that I’d done something very clever’, there’s an interesting immediacy, the book begins almost in media res…
Fabian: Yes, but its also written in a past tense. I don’t really think about my tense as I write but with Groupie it was strange. I was doing all the things I write about as I was actually in the process of writing the book. There were moments when I would say to Johnny, ‘Where are we going with this?’ and he’s say ‘well, what have you got?’. We’d leave it for a bit and I’d go off and think ‘maybe I could put that in’. When I pulled the guy from The Fugs, I remember thinking at the time ‘this would be really great for the book’, and I was already fragmenting from myself.[viii] That kind of perspective really messes you up. You start thinking who am I? I began to get very confused. I felt myself in one sense to be a writer looking for material and I was using my body to get it, but at the same time I also knew that I liked this person and all the others, because I couldn't do it, couldn't be close and intimate with them if I didn’t like them. So there was a problem.
In actual fact, Larry is two people we turned into one. I mean it’s not all true. It’s not just me going and doing something and us writing it down, we actually have worked on our characters to a certain extent. However, the feeling and the environment is as real as we could make it at the time, as is the way people felt about status.
With this new book, Wasted, I think there must be something missing. We haven’t written it in such an immediate style as Groupie and I don’t know whether we should perhaps turn back to that. I don’t think we’ve quite re-captured what we had with Groupie. It was experienced, written and published all within its specific contextual moment. Wasted is a lot more retrospective; we’re going back 35 years. As such, it was very hard for me to write because I had to completely shut down everything I now know and have learnt since the events described. I had to go back into that time and mindset. Some of the memories were painful. I spent ages reading my old diaries, a few of which I’ve kept. It was like jumping into a pool, a really limited space without having anything to hold onto.
Johnny was very upset that I’d already used the title A Chemical Romance because he felt it work really well for this new book. It really is a chemical romance because these people take so much acid together. Katie sees things one-way and he, Billy, sees things another. Acid does do that, it creates paranoia. You start to think things that you think the other person is thinking
Riley: In both Groupie and A Chemical Romance I found that whilst all the drug passages functioned as accurate descriptions they also seemed to work as literary devices. The scenes reveal interesting insights about the characters and bring significant details in to the narrative.
Fabian: That’s an interesting way of putting it. It’s even more so in this other book because Katie thinks she understands stuff when she perhaps she doesn't at all and it leads her eventually into a relationship with a guy who completely dominates her mind. He has a strong aura, and with that comes a certain degree of power over other people.
Riley: Perhaps of the main critical arguments against Groupie is that Katie is pretty much defined by her relationship to men. She is ‘activated’ by the male characters. However it also seems to me that many of the male characters, particularly the very intimidating Grant, are shown as a result of their relationship with Katie to be just as needy and dependent.[ix] Katie breaks their defenses down, so to speak. Could you then say that Katie is in fact quite a powerful character?
Fabian: Well, in the relationship with Grant, Katie is intelligent enough to see how he wants her to behave and rather than take exception to these demands, she adapts to it. Greer may think this is treacherous on behalf of feminists but its Katie’s way of getting what she wants. Its quite fun being the little woman, you don’t have to be it all the time. Just being it or acting in that way doesn't mean to say that you are that type of person. Looking back at how I wrote that section of the book, I think Katie rather enjoys it. Also, Grant’s demands give her a kind of perspective which shows her how she can behave in the new world she finds herself in. To be told what to do becomes almost reassuring. She’s come from a middle class, suburban, ‘conventional’ background and here she is in a situation which is totally the opposite of how she’s been brought up and how young, bourgeois couples are ‘supposed’ to behave. So within all that confusion Grant’s demands become a kind of signpost, a marker, allowing her to fit in and adapt to her surroundings. It also suits her at the time.
Riley: In addition to Katie finding behavioral parameters quite attractive, would you say that a major theme of Groupie is the search of the individual for a stable group in which to positional themselves? I’m thinking here of the obvious implications suggested by ‘Relation’ the name of the rock group in the book based on the real-life musicians, ‘Family’.
Fabian: You could read that into it, but the decision to place emphasis on that idea was more or less unconscious. Katie’s real family was more the group of artists and writers based around Theo and Jay, etc, rather than the musicians.[x] Theo was based on Thom Keyes who was just such a mad creature and was an example of someone who was making money from various aspects of the underground. It wasn't so much of a family as it was a general social set. Katie wasn't looking to become part of the entourage based around the Relation.
Riley: Groupie is set exclusively amongst the club scene of
London, and the movements within the novel
are between venues such as UFO and Middle Earth. In A Chemical Romance,
there’s a similar kind of relentless movement but internationally, from London, to America,
Germany and then Ibiza. Is that a deliberate comparison, suggesting that
the same type of ‘scene’ exists but just on a wider scale?
Fabian: It’s symptomatic of what happens when you get a bit of money and people want you about the place: your life broadens. If you become famous, you’re asked to go further afield. I’m still asked to go abroad on certain things. I did turn down a feminist conference in
but I had a wonderful time in Italy
talking about rock culture. It was a conference organised by a girl who was
writing a thesis on groupies and so she set up this whole weekend. I read small
paper on Syd Barret and The Velvet Underground. I was there with Pamela Des
Barres and Cynthia Plaster Caster.[xi]
These things still happen.
Riley: The Plaster Casters are interesting in relation to what you said earlier, your uneasiness with collating ‘material’. It seems that in that case of Cynthia Plaster Caster there’s a tremendous amount of premeditation, the determined attempt to collect ‘trophies’.
Fabian: That was a different type of trophy! Johnny maintained that because she wasn't very good looking, she used her ‘trick’ as a way to get close to musicians. But it’s too pre-meditated…. I couldn't imagine doing what she did, I mean, turning up to see someone with all her ‘equipment’ and everything….
I was quite stoned most of the time and basically did whatever came my way, as it were. I wasn't as conniving as the book makes out. But we had to give Katie, the character, a purpose. She wanted to be like Roxanne at the beginning and yet she could also see the dangers of it and that’s what she was trying to avoid at the end, becoming someone who just sat around under the illusion that certain people were going to take her back. Katie wanted to be her own person. Roxanne still traded on the name of the last person she slept with.[xii]
Riley: I found that very interesting, the notion of a groupie hierarchy.
Fabian: There was a hierarchy, very much so. It was interesting once the book came out, I moved up several steps in the hierarchy. There was a launch party, I was in all the newspapers and suddenly became the one swanning in, making an entrance. The boot was on the other foot. I was also having a scene with the manager of the Speakeasy so I was swanning in and out of there as if I owned it and had my own table. It all turned round for me and I started to behave even more badly. And when I went to
with Byrne as it says in A Chemical Romance it was just a case of ‘I’ll
have him, I’ll have him.’ It was just mind-boggling. So you can see that later
on when Katie falls for one guy and says ‘I want him’ and she can’t have him,
there was a big problem…
Riley: In A Chemical Romance there seems to be a constant desire for escape. Katie eventually finds herself in the communal ‘hippy trail’ scene in
Ibiza. Did you intend for this location to represent an
escape for Katie or is there a slightly more critical perception at work. Is an
escape ever achieved?
Fabian: It certainly was an escapist place. The
scene in the late sixties/ early seventies was disintegrating and you had to
maintain a very competitive edge if you wanted to stay afloat in it. The
mainstream was moving in and if you wanted to make a career out of being a
freak, you really had to join the ‘enemy’, in a sense. So a lot of people began
moving out of London.
We moved away from the city and went to Ibiza
and lived the life of nature, up a mountaintop. It was escape as you didn’t
have to think about anything other than your next meal or going to the
beach…and there was loads of dope. You could just sit there and watch the world
move around in front of you. There was definitely a sense of escape happening.
Katie represents this with her butterfly t-shirts. They were meant to be a
symbol of herself and a sign that she’s perhaps never really going to settle
either as an escapee or as a resident of the straight world. She seems to know
less at the end of A Chemical Romance as she does at the end of Groupie.
At the end of Groupie she’s done what she set out to do and feels as if
she has become her own person. At the end of A Chemical Romance she
tries to be this person under the pressures of fame. She’s probably trying to
escape herself at the end of that book.
When you become famous you loose sight of yourself because you confuse your own identity with the way everybody else sees you. And you can’t look at yourself with your own eyes anymore because you suddenly see yourself with the world’s eyes. Fame and celebrity is a difficult thing and in the end I rejected it all. It just struck me as an empty prize. But, would I have felt like that if I hadn't had it? It was the same with men. It was always a case of ‘I want you because I don’t have you but now I’ve got you I don’t want you any again’. I was always repeating myself. However, now it’s different. I’ve been married twice, I’ve had quite a few children but now I don’t want anybody any more. I think that’s perhaps what I was aiming for in the first place. I feel self-sufficient.
Riley: Were you writing A Chemical Romance in
Fabian: No. Although I don’t mention it, the new book describes the period spent writing A Chemical Romance. I didn’t make a big deal of it because it don’t want to upset Johnny. Me writing A Chemical Romance was the big betrayal, stabbing him in the back. So they way we deal with it in the novel is by having a constant discussion about a proposed book between Katie and Jay. It never gets going though, because Katie is too messed up to do anything about it.
Riley: Were you ever involved in the International Times?
Fabian: I was just a groover. I thought all those people rather boring, very serious. They didn’t really know how to have a good time. I’m sure they were having a good time, but that was their trip wasn't it? They were students. I thought students were dreadful people. I never wanted to be a student. There was a life out there to be lived. I could never have worked to get the kind of degree I have now if I attempted to do it back then.[xiii]
Riley: Has doing your degree influenced how you write or how you think about writing?
Fabian: When I first started hanging around with writers and beatniks etc, it wasn't so much the poetry that I was interested in as it was the poets. It’s only now that I’ve actually got into and actively appreciate poetry. Through just doing my degree I feel as if I know how to read poetry. I wrote Wasted before I took the degree so I have to be careful that I don’t allow too much of the academic ideas filter into any re-writing. When I was doing the degree I found myself having to suppress so much of myself as a writer especially when it came to literary theory. I grew up and was writing as Barthes, Derrida and all the rest were developing their ideas but I had no exposure to them. It came as something of a shock to be suddenly told that the author was dead.
I enjoyed the course a lot but I did feel as if I passed and did well because I figured out what they wanted and was able to write in that way. When it came to postmodernism I was deeply tempted to hand in a blank page. Since finishing the course I’ve been writing pieces on the internet to work through a lot of the academic ideas I picked up on.
Riley: Are those pieces submissions to online journals?
Fabian: No, I run an internet page called The Monthly Muse, writing about things that interest me, Henry [xiv] Its wonderful to be able to write and not have to hustle your work, like I did when I was writing for Mojo, ringing up editors and trying to get them to take a piece, and when you’ve written it they want to change it. I can’t be bothered with that.James, Djuna Barnes.
Riley: In addition to Barnes and James, are there any other writers you found to be interesting or influential?
Fabian: Well, I thought Coleridge was wonderful. I did my dissertation on his work. I‘m very fond of those old guys: the old druggies.
Riley: On that note, do you see connections and continuities between what poets such as Blake said about the road to excess and the sixties drug culture? Was his work and perhaps that of somebody like Rimbaud a conscious reference point or have these literary markers been applied to the counterculture in retrospect?
Fabian: We were all reading Blake very much and there was definitely a derangement of the senses, but what amazes me is that in that time when we were all out of our brains, the guys thought they looked or acted like Shelley but nobody was interested in Coleridge. And yet he was going deeper in to hallucinogenic visions that perhaps we realise. I can’t understand how he slipped through the net.
Riley: Coleridge’s work is also linked to the practice of writing…getting into a trance, having a vision and trying not to have that vision interrupted.
Fabian: Yes, but was that a literary device? Because if you look at ‘Kubla Khan’ there are three or even four framing devices before you get to the poem itself. He constructs devices around the poem. Coleridge frequently interrupts much of his poetry and he goes into an explanation of silence a lot and then he pulls back and starts writing again so that you can actually see the device in his poetry. But is he aware of this? Close reading worries me because you can read stuff into anything but was the guy aware of what he was doing?
Riley: Perhaps a way to look at it is thinking not about what texts mean per se but what they do. You can respect that the author has a specific intention linked to certain linguistic functions but also bring out in your reading the additional functions inherent to the devices he or she employs.
Fabian: Henry James is quite cunning about that difference in many of his short stories. The key one is ‘The Figure in The Carpet’. Some young admirer goes to an old writer to find out what his secret is. The old author says it’s like looking for the figure in the carpet: the image, the pattern. That group of short stories, there’re spot on about people always questioning writers about their methods and techniques. I find them better than his novels. I’m reading The Bostonians at the moment because I’m writing a piece about the androgynous imagination that Virginia Woolf speaks about, from Coleridge. I’ve got some stuff from Camille Paglia about James and the power of women. I’ve studied the Sapphists who claim James as one of their own, looking at the elements of his books which are about the power of one woman over another, The Turn of the Screw, Portrait of a Lady and the woman’s movement in The Bostonians. Also, it moves me into how male writers describe lesbians in literature. It’s interesting to see how they talk about them without actually saying there are lesbians. So I’m using that as my link. I want to move eventually into some serious discussion about Djuna Barnes whom I think is a wonderful writer.
Originally published in Redeye 1.1, 2007
[ii] Fabian referred to as ‘snaked hipped’ by Jonathon Green in the first review of Groupie, published in Rolling Stone magazine. Available at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/edw/groupie/review.html .
[iii] See ‘Peter’s Friends’, Harper’s and Queen, (1996): 130-140 and ‘Soul in Exile’, Uncut 17 (1998): 68-70.
[iv] Details visible at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/edw/groupie/authors.htm .
[v] According to Tony Bacon, ‘The Troubadour was a coffee bar in Earl’s Court that became an integral part of the folk scene in the 1960s’. Quoted in Tony Bacon, London Live, (Great Britain: Balafon, 1999), p.42.
[vi] Greer states that ‘even a book as flat and as documentary as Groupie embodies the essential romantic stereotype in Grant, the masterful Lover. He tells Katie when she may call and how long she may stay…. He also commands her to make the bed and she loves it…if female liberation is to happen, if the reservoir of real female love is to be tapped, this sterile self deception must be counteracted.’ In The Female Eunuch (Great Britain: MacGibbon and Kee, 1970), p.188.
[vii] Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD, The CIA, The Sixties and Beyond by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain (Great Britain: Pan, 1992). The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was a Californian organization which manufactured and distributed large quantities of extremely potent LSD.
[viii] The Fugs were a
based avant-garde band very much influenced by the work of the Beat Generation.
Poet Ed Sanders led the group. In 1967 they famously participated in an attempt
to ‘levitate’ the Pentagon. In Groupie they are called The New York
Sound and Touch.
[ix] The character Grant is the manager of the group The Relation (based on the group Family) and is one of Katie’s more significant relationships in the novel.
[x] Whilst Katie is involved with many musicians, in the book she lives for a period with a group of artists and writers based on Byrne, Hawkins and Keyes.
[xi] Pamela Des Barres and Cynthia Plaster Caster are other notorious groupies. Des Barres was associated with Frank Zappa and later wrote I’m with the Band (Great Britain: Helter Skelter, 1997). Cynthia Plaster Caster was known for taking plaster casts of the erect penises of various rock stars. Several exhibitions of these ‘artefacts’ have recently appeared around the world.
[xii] Roxanne is a famous groupie in Fabian’s novel whose ‘success’ Katie initially attempts to emulate.
[xiii] Fabian recently gained a first class degree in English Literature from
London’s . South