Confession: I had never heard Elton John’s schmaltzy ode to the groupies of the seventies until Cameron Crowe’s similarly hammy cinematic love song, Almost Famous. The film, in case you didn’t know, tells the story of fictional rock band Stillwater, “a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom”. But it’s really about girls. Girls who give blow jobs and inspire songs. Girls who wear crochet bra tops, fur coats, and whimsical hats. Girls, without whom no cornball rock ballads would ever have existed.
The film made a star of Kate Hudson, who, in my opinion, failed to fulfill the promise she showed as groupie Penny Lane. She went on to make a million bad rom coms no one cared about, but as Penny (a hybrid of legit sixties band aid Pamela Des Barres, and narcissist, Bebe Buell who prefers the label “goddess” to "groupie") she completely embodied the ethereal enigma that is yesterday’s rock chick. Upon wrapping the film, Kate immediately married Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, making me wild with jealousy, as I’d spent many an adolescent hour crying hysterically to my cassingle of She Talks to Angels and making up interpretive dances.
Kate was so beloved as Penny Lane that even her mum, Goldie Hawn had a go, starring in the shithouse movie The Banger Sisters, where she and Susan Sarandon play has-been groupies in the throws of their mid-life crisis’. That was bloody terrible, and I saw it twice.
All because of a song.
Elton John’s Tiny Dancer was the most enduring star to emerge from Almost Famous. After taking acid at a high school party in Topeka, Russell, the singer of Stillwater, proclaims himself a “golden god” and leaps from the roof into the pool, teenagers in tow. Back on the tour bus, the band is pissed at him. But then Tiny Dancer comes on the radio and they all start earnestly singing, bonding, and remembering why they’re in this crazy game to start with.
“Blue jean baby,
Seamstress for the band…”
Oh my God. How I yearned to be the girl in Elton’s homage to the selfless rock muse who inspires her man, while quietly darning his socks, and hemming his bellbottoms. She who has no discernable life, apart from going from limo to concert. She who displays the epic stamina to endure an identical set list night after night, digging the music with the same devotion as if it were the first time.
Written in 1970, when Elton was cool and hanging in LA, lyricist Bernie Taupin wanted to capture the essence of the girls of the Sunset Strip, who all wanted to mother him, fuck him and sew stuff on his jeans. It was, said Taupin, the perfect Oedipal complex.
Although my year five teacher, Ms. Kusabs, inserted the topic of sexism into every aspect of our education and effectively made feminists of the entire class, as a young woman I still bent and molded myself to whatever ideal I imagined my man du jour favored. It sounds pathetic and it was, but I was in glamorous company. Jane Fonda dyed her hair blonde and appeared nude in Barbarella for Roger Vadim, emulating his first wife, Bridget Bardot. Nico dyed her iconic blonde hair red hoping to snare Jim Morrison, as did writer Eve Babitz. Both were desperate to usurp Pamela Courson as Morrison’s “cosmic twin”, but neither achieved it.
The first time I heard Tiny Dancer I was living London with a satanic tattoo artist. We shared a basement flat in Camden, where we’d watch people’s behinds wiggle by our bedroom window in the frigid winter. In between enduring hours of excruciating pain under the needle, I was subjected to lethal amounts of nerve-shattering Norwegian black metal. My boyfriend wore corpse paint and had a giant Baphomet tattooed on his back, as well as numerous swastikas and pentagrams. 1970s California it was not. But that didn’t stop me from wishing and planning in the vaguest of capacities for a future where I’d “marry a music man”, and look on as he thrilled adoring crowds, knowing that later, alone with him, he would “lay me down in sheets of linen”.
Examples of corpse paint
It was hard being a peace-loving vegetarian when my man was a misanthrope who genuinely wanted to spread terror and torch churches. My sunny outlook bemused him, but I always wore black, and after taking notes from Almost Famous I was able to really dedicate myself to supporting his artistic life. This translated to hour upon hour of watching him tattoo. He was never happier than when he was brutalizing someone’s limb with a fourteen needle round.
His pleasure was mine. I learnt patience. I learnt to be admiring. I encouraged, I was benevolent. I also learnt that the maximum amount of time I could sit under the gun was two hours, and my tolerance for endless tattoo conversation was boundless, because by sacrificing my own enjoyment, I was an indispensible, mothering woman-girl, at the ready to mop her man’s brow and provide a soft place for him when he needed to shut out the world.
It was what I now think of as my Absurdist period. And like Jane Fonda before, I eventually did snap out of it. Ultimately, Tiny Dancer became satirical in my mind. While it was relaxing to have no desire beyond observing the greatness of someone else, in reality, I was bored. I wanted my life to have as much significance.
Fifteen years later, my very literal dream has weirdly come true. I moved to California to write and explore, and fell in love with a music man. I’m not a seamstress for the band, but the other day I did spend an entire afternoon mending his denim shirt. I did it gladly, because it’s a Levis original from the seventies. All that desperate dreaming wasn’t in vain – it was simply the beginnings of a destiny manifesting itself.
Tiny Dancer failed to gain traction when it was first released in 1971, due to the lack of a strong hook. Like the song, I was initially a non-starter. Today though, we are both doing swell. Upon realizing men aren’t to be idolized, I forged a path broader than I could’ve imagined in my early twenties. And Tiny Dancer is now a classic, a fixture on all adult contemporary stations.