The troubling life of Lori Maddox, the “baby groupie” of the stars

“I think you know exactly what I’m trying to get at, The way you move yourself should be against the law, It’s up to you, Teenage, backstage, sex and outrage.” – Motorhead

Sneaking into the nightclub past the brawny doormen, giggling all the way in their teenage mirth, turning heads with their bold fashion choice, making their way to the front through the sloshed crowd, cheering and dancing away the carefree night, ending up arm in arm with their idols — that is what life meant for the “baby groupies”. Though used in a derogatory sense, the term shines the spotlight on a group of teenage babes who managed to merge into the smokes and shadows of semi-lit, buzzing clubs, become magnets for the dazzling young rock stars, and the culture these young ladies represented. Hence, the story of Lori Maddox or Lory Lightning is part of a cultural narrative and should be read as one.

Born when the fever of the impending cultural revolution was high and excitement was bubbling among the youth, Lori Mattix grew up in the vibrant and liberal environment of the swinging sixties in Los Angeles. Entering the most anticipated teenage phase, she found herself drawn to the popular group in school — a group led by the infamous groupie Sable Starr. Recalling how she was sucked into this audacious practice, Maddox said, “Sable lived to fuck rock stars. She was so glamorous, totally one-of-a-kind, wearing scarves for shirts and going topless without hesitation. My junior high school friend Queenie became friends with Sable and introduced me. I was 14. Sable was the same age. I felt completely in awe of her.”

Soon a part of the “cool gang”, Maddox walked, talked and acted like the rest, slipping out of the house on weekends and frequenting nightclubs on the Sunset Strip. In no time, she started attracting the gaze of the rock ‘n’ rollers performing on stage and, by flirting and tempting them endlessly, landed in most of their hotel bedrooms. Maddox’s name got entangled with that of David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, all of whom were regulars on the Strip. Distracted by the glamour of the entertainment world, Maddox described what went through her mind after she received the proposal of a one-night stand with the Thin White Duke which was also her first: “Next time Bowie was in town, though, maybe five months later, I got a call at home from his bodyguard, a huge black guy named Stuey. He told me that David wanted to take me to dinner. Obviously, I had no homework that night. Fuck homework. I wasn’t spending a lot of time at school anyway.”

The unease of the more aware and mature audience of modern-day reading this account is justified. However, before we get judgmental and plunge into a scathing criticism, we need to understand how and why all of this was the unspoken norm of that time. One of the counterculture movement tenets that shook the West in the 1960s and ’70s was sexual liberation. This was a vital move for women, as it recognised female desire and gave a free pass to embrace it, breaking free from the clutches of the conservative, patriarchal society. Maddox’s mother’s exclamation, “My daughter is like Priscilla [Presley],” approving her relationship with Page, further proves the point. Besides, the very idea of being a rock star was deeply rooted in the problematic concepts of masculinity that promoted drugs and illegal sex.

Although the context allows us to review the entire groupie culture in a more considerate light, it nonetheless points at the huge grey area that lies between the monochromatic domain of right and wrong. Maddox’s own speech is full of contradictions that question the idea of consent and its limitations. During her famous 2015 interview with the Thrillist, Maddox repeatedly emphasised how these encounters were consensual and not a violation as people tend to see them: “I was protected rather than exploited…I felt alive.” She even went on to justify the acts by saying: “But you need to understand that I didn’t think of myself as underage. I was a model. I was in love. That time of my life was so much fun. It was a period in which everything seemed possible… Who cares what people said about me? Am I going to regret this? No.”

But there is a huge gulf between not thinking of oneself as underage and being underage. It is essentially a leap of faith from the land of reality to the land of fantasy. Clearly, Maddox was not aware of the power imbalances that made these relationships complex and controversial. Interestingly, her subconscious mind records these disparities and expresses them in a language that shows how these relationships with the larger than life figures operated on the ideas of dominance and submission.

Maddox describes her first encounter with Bowie, a narrative which is full of inconsistencies and devoid of any factual proof, “I had not yet turned 15 and he wanted to take me to his hotel room. I was still a virgin and terrified… I had probably kissed boys by that point, but I wasn’t ready for David Bowie.” The more disturbing part comes when she says, “I remember him looking like God and having me over a table.” This idolisation finds expression in Maddox’s obsession with the “magic fingers” Jimmy page too, when she says: “I put him on a pedestal.” Hence, this constant but unintentional reference to their god-like stature raises red flags.

Similarly, while describing her long-term relationship with the Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, she circles around paradoxes, saying: “That night we all wound up at the Rainbow, where I got approached by Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant… I felt like I was being kidnapped. I got taken into a room, and there was Jimmy Page. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and held a cane. It was perfect. He mesmerised me. I fell in love instantly.” One cannot help but notice the abrupt change from feeling terrified about being “kidnapped” to being mesmerised and “in love.” In fact, the line between lust and love blurs time and again, confusing the audience and, perhaps, confusing Maddox too.

But what about the rock stars? How did they perceive the likes of Maddox? More importantly, did they own up to their actions? The answer, of course, is no.

As stated before, the problem lies in the concept of a rock star and the theory which went hand in hand with it — “They could get whatever they wanted.” Thus, young girls were expected to throw themselves at these “deserving” men, who would then indulge in the paradoxical act of consensual violation. Being the adults, should they have known better? Hell yes! The fact that they dodged the media’s attention and escaped the law by locking up the girls in their hotel rooms with security at the door and by carefully planning their public appearances is proof enough that they saw through the consent part and manipulated the word as a safety net.

In all probability, they didn’t distinguish between the groupies and the sex workers, who survived on different ideologies and needs. Most of the songs about groupies, especially the ones written and performed by male artists or bands, are derogatory and offensive. They never pained themselves to know or remember the names of the girls and objectified them as a prototype. On rare occasions like that of Page’s, when they “generously” picked up the name of a girl, they made it quite clear that they were disposable and replaceable. Despite committing to Maddox, in his best understanding of the term, Page guiltlessly exchanged their relationship for Blue Belle, a close friend of Maddox and a fellow groupie.

Maddox’s debatable interview with the Thrillist naturally became an important topic of discussion in the sweeping #MeToo movement, shifting the focus from the film industry to the music industry. But did it alter her perspective? When asked the question, Maddox answered: “I think that’s what made me start seeing it from a different perspective” – the operative word here being “made me” which is synonymous with “forced me.”

Her conflicted view offers a cautionary tale on one hand, which states: “I don’t think underage girls should sleep with guys… I wouldn’t want this for anybody’s daughter. My perspective is changing as I get older and more cynical.” But on the other hand, it is steeped in a lot of ifs, buts and maybes that make her confessions half-hearted: “I never thought there was anything wrong with it, but maybe there was. I used to get letters telling me he was a paedophile, but I’d never think of him like that. He never abused me, ever.”

Over time, our wants and expectations from the celebrated icons of the modern world have gone through a drastic change. Now we root for celebrities who have not treaded the muddy lands and whose hands are kept clean. Our admirations are conscious. Admirations that come with the unbreakable clause of “hope they haven’t done anything wrong.” But Maddox’s story puts us in a difficult position where we can’t fully condemn what happened. While it’s unfair to equip the #MeToo hegemony with the power of erasing the individual dissenting narratives, it is also inequitable to grant these monologues complete autonomy. Generalisation and normalisation of this independent account would grossly overlook the potential mass injury it can cause — as it has caused in the past if left unchecked and uncriticised.

Perhaps, the primary step towards this repair work should start with re-defining the rock star persona.

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