A proto-anthropology of the rock n’ roll groupie scene

The Groupies is a remarkable record. The 1969 LP features nothing but interviews with ‘super groupies’ who discuss the culture of sleeping around the 60’s rock n’ roll scene.

It was made by, and featured, an 18 year-old version of the future Dr Cleo Odzer who shows her early interest in both sex and culture – both of which she’d study in her career as an anthropologist.

The girls talk about taking drugs, hanging out with bands, getting the clap and ‘making piggies’ – which is quite possibly both the cutest and oddest euphemism I’ve ever heard for having sex.

By the time she made The Groupies she had already been featured in Time magazine and broken off an engagement to Keith Emerson – of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame. That’s them together on the left, by the way.

Odzer went on to become a journalist, then a drug runner, then an addict, then an ex-addict, and then, an anthropologist – eventually completing her PhD in the subject at the New School for Social Research in New York by studying prostitution in Thailand.

This was the first of Odzer’s areas of interest as an anthropologist. The second was the hippy scene in Goa, India, and the third was on sexual activity on the internet – then rather boldly called ‘cybersex’.

It’s worth saying that Odzer was never the most objective of investigators, tending to get overly involved in most things she researched. Or at least, that’s how it seemed. It’s just as possible she decided to research the things that she was already overly-involved with.

You can see this in her work. While her academic work included a more cutting analysis, her published books tended to be as much about her as the culture.

Her 1997 ‘cybersex’ book Virtual Spaces: Sex and the Cyber Citizen was largely thought a curiosity but, looking back, it was quite revolutionary.

While the academic world had just discovered this weird new phenomenon, and mostly viewed it with eyes-over-spectacles disproving glances, Odzer wrote what amounted to a cross between a Lonely Planet travel guide and the Joy of Sex – but for the newly connected internet user.

Odzer died at the age of 50, in Goa, after returning there from New York. Accounts vary. Possibly she died peacefully in her adopted home, possibly she finally succumbed to a lonely death with AIDS.

But when you listen to The Groupies LP, and the full audio is online, you can see the beginnings of a common thread that ran through her work.

It touches on a genuinely interesting social area which most people would have dismissed as seedy but which has a clear culture emerging from it. The analysis is slightly chaotic but genuinely insightful in places. It captures the excitement but in retrospect, it took something from her.

Link to page with audio of The Groupies.
Link to Wikipedia page on Cleo Odzer.

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