Nerve Classics

Groupie: I Was With the Band

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This was in Austin, Texas, about seven years ago, the night when the all-women Swedish heavy metal band came to town. Some friends of mine had been hired as their opening act, and I went along to check out the show. The Swedish women didn’t get on stage until about one a.m. and the place had pretty much emptied out. But the band was incredible. They really knew how to rock. Their music was very loud and they stomped around the stage in high platform boots, shaking their wild metal hair like banshees. They even had a set of high-powered fans to keep their long locks flying in the wind. It was quite a thrill to watch. Because of my association with the opening act, I was able to view the show from backstage.

Unfortunately, the band only got about three or four songs into their set before a tussle broke out in the crowd. In some ways, this made sense, because the sight of these women rocking out was more than most of us guys could take. It unleashed the kind of aggression you often see late at night in male-dominated bars. It was pretty standard for a Texas metal show, but during the melee someone set off a canister of pepper spray. This got sucked into those wind machines, and suddenly everyone around the stage went blind and started to cough. I inhaled a lungful of the stuff and nearly barfed.

I stumbled for the side door and opened it up. I was about to leave the building when I saw that no one was helping the band. One of the guitarists was rubbing her eyes and seemed like she might fall off the stage. So I went over there and helped her out the door. The drummer and singer joined us in the fresh air, and when we caught our breath, they thanked me in their sexy Swedish accents.

“You are very nice to do that,” said the guitar player.

“It was no problem,” I said.

I felt like a real hero. We drank some beer while the cops cleared the place out and handcuffed somebody for causing the stir. The Swedes seemed to be under the impression that I was in the band which had opened for them, which was okay by me since it gave me a little more legitimacy in their eyes. I imagined they got approached by a lot of male fans while on tour. We talked about life on the road and the rock-and-roll lifestyle, and then it was time for them to go back onstage. The singer was pretty mad about the whole thing and kept taunting the crowd and giving them the finger. The club had really thinned out at this point, and the show was sort of a bust. A couple of times I noticed that the guitarist looked over at me and smiled and this kind of gave me goosebumps.

When the show ended, I hung around and tried to catch her eye, but the band went off into some back room without talking to anybody. I figured my chance at heavy metal love was lost. I left the club and joined my friends at another nearby bar. After a few drinks I was filled with newfound courage and made my way back to the club. A big tour bus was parked out front. What a great life, I thought, four Swedish babes rocking across America.

The door to the bus opened. It was the singer, still angry about the broken-up show. She saw me and said, “Oh, it’s you.”

Then she stuck her head back in the bus and said, “Eva, your friend is here.”

I was about to correct her and say I wasn’t really her friend, that we’d just met, but then Eva showed up, slightly tipsy, holding a lit cigar. She said, “Come on in.”

I followed her up into the tour bus, a darkened smoke-filled chamber crowded with black-clad rock-and-rollers. We went to the back, where a small group was drinking aquavit, a very strong Swedish liquor. I had a few sips and felt dizzy. Eva sat next to me but almost immediately began talking to another man, in Swedish. I felt pretty out of place.

Slowly the bus began to clear out, and Eva turned her attention to me. I don’t remember what we discussed, but I think I asked her about Sweden and she said Americans were dumb, or funny, something like that. At some point she figured out that I wasn’t a musician, that I was just a fan, but at that point this didn’t seem to bother her. Then the bus engine started, and I sat up.

“We’re moving,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s time to go.”

“Okay,” I said, getting up to leave.

“No, no,” she laughed. “You will stay here.”

“Stay here?”

“You come with us.”

We’d been talking for about ten minutes, and I wasn’t even sure where this bus was going, but it seemed like a fine idea to me. Eva had been so confident in her invitation, as if it was understood I would say yes. I felt flattered, really, that she had chosen me to stay. I sat back on the plush cushion, very satisfied with myself. I was on a tour bus with an all-women Swedish heavy metal band. Excellent.

I thought perhaps we were headed somewhere in town, another club, or possibly a hotel, but the bus turned onto the highway and I realized then that we were traveling to the next town, wherever that was.

Shortly after we hit the highway, the various band members got into their bunks and closed the curtains. The drummer and her boyfriend, another Swede, took the big bed in the back. Eva and I sat on a couch up front and made out for a while. She was an aggressive, wet kisser, and her mouth tasted a bit like a cigar, but I enjoyed this moment very much. Eventually,though, something about the motion of the bus, the cigar taste, the aquavit and the big bus driver sitting three feet away made me queasy.

Eva offered to share her bunk with me, so we clambered up there into this little compartment. I was hoping we could continue our make-out session up there, but things were pretty cramped and not conducive to romance. I tried to sleep, but it felt like there was something sticking in my back. Later I realized it was her guitar. She slept with it in her bunk. After a while, I moved onto the couch up by the driver and fell asleep there. As I drifted off, I remember thinking, “This is so cool. I am now dating a guitarist for a Swedish metal band.” I had nifty thoughts about our future, how I might join them on a tour of Europe, or at least how she would call me up when they were in town again.

I woke up in bright sunshine at a gas station in West Texas. Everyone was hungover and in a foul mood. Eva didn’t even want to get out of bed. I went to a diner with the drummer and her boyfriend and we ate steak and eggs, which tasted very good. The boyfriend didn’t speak English so well. The night before, I had thought he was Swedish, but now I thought maybe he was German and it wasn’t clear if he was even her boyfriend. Anyway, they both seemed to feel sorry for me. I was trying to figure out what town we were in, or at least what direction we’d been driving. Eventually I learned we were near El Paso.

The band had to do a promotional event at a record store in town that afternoon. Eva, who had looked so stunning and friendly just a few hours ago, now seemed sort of scary. I was afraid to talk to her, afraid she might not know who I was. But before she went into the record store she walked by me and pinched my ass. I was very happy that she did that. I spent the rest of the day with Rutger, the drummer’s boyfriend. We got drunk in a bar. Although our conversations were limited by his halting English, he did say one thing which stuck in my head. He called me a “groupie.”

It may seem strange that I was surprised to be called a groupie at that point, but the truth was I hadn’t thought of myself like that. I thought groupies were scantily clad women who gave blowjobs backstage. Somehow this situation seemed different to me because I was a man. Most women, after all, could pick up strange men without having to be in a band. I thought I had won Eva’s heart by saving her from the pepper spray and then charming her on the bus. But then I looked at Rutger and the crew of other desperate scraggily young men hanging around, and I realized I was no different. We were just like those girls you see up front at rock shows in tight clothing, proudly displaying their hard-earned backstage passes. Even if we weren’t getting laid, we were happy just to be “with the band.”

That night I went to the show and watched from backstage. The band was great again. The front row was packed with wide-eyed guys hooting and hollering. I had gotten over my groupie realization and felt very proud to be associated with this band in any way I could. After the show they had to sign some CDs and talk to someone from their record company. Rutger went to sleep on the bus, but I didn’t feel qualified to do that. Instead, I hung around like a loser, waiting for some kind of attention from the band. I was even happy when the roadies acknowledged me.

When I finally saw Eva, she once again pinched my ass, and once again I was happy. But then I saw her do the same thing to another guy, and I wondered if perhaps I should just leave. I stuck it out, though, having no better options, and eventually made it onto the bus, where I was able to talk to Eva for about five minutes. I gave her my phone number, and she asked if I wanted to keep going with them to Phoenix, but I wasn’t sure if she really wanted me to, or what that meant. I still had this fantasy that we’d start dating, and I figured the best move at this point was to play it cool and act like I had things to get back to in Austin.

So I got off the bus and went to the Greyhound station, where I slept on a bench until six a.m., when the next bus to Austin left town. I made it home in a daze, and for the next few days my heart jumped whenever the phone rang. But Eva never did call me up. When I told the story to my friends, I thought they would think I was very cool. But most of them said, “You’re a groupie.” One friend even suggested that Eva had used me.

But I didn’t see it like that. Even though she’d pinched my ass and forgotten my name before the band reached Phoenix, I didn’t feel used by Eva. In a sense, there was a simple sweetness to the way all of us followed those rock-and-roll women around. We wanted them to need us for something, and maybe they did, even if it wasn’t sex, as we had hoped. I wonder if those girls who followed Motley Crue in the ’80s didn’t feel the same sense of noble purpose, like they had somehow helped the band rock America.

About a year after that show in Austin, I saw that the Swedish band was playing at Ozzfest down in San Antonio. Although I hadn’t heard from Eva since we parted ways, I still got a ticket and went down there. There they were, tearing it up on the side stage, looking great, with a bunch of young metalheads shaking their fists to the beat. I went around back to the V.I.P. gate and was met by a large security guard.

“I’m friends with the band,” I said.

“Sure you are,” he said, shaking his head.

“No really,” I said, my voice trailing off, “I am . . . ”


This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.