ROCK-N-ROLL IN HER DNA
Talking with Rock Goddess BEBE BUELL
By Lori Zimmer
Bebe Buell is one of those people that makes it so you can’t help but smile when you have the luck to be in her company–and I’m not talking about her amazing rock-n-roll making, rock star dating, Liv Tyler parenting, Playboy modeling past. So incredibly grounded and humble, her lust and passion for rock music has made her a rock-n-roll missionary–the exact opposite of the groupie stereotype that the media has consistently pegged her as.
At first, I didn’t even want to mention the word “groupie,” as if its utterance would give it some sort of validation, but it is relevant since Bebe has been accused of being one for much of her life. Contrary to the “groupie” stereotype, Bebe’s life-long obsession has not been with rock stars, but with the music itself, with rock-n-roll. Yet the stigma has stuck, which after only a few moments with her, I found totally infuriating, and unfair. She speaks of her musical experiences with excitement and fervor, inviting others to join her enthusiasm rather than alienating them with elitism. She’s the kind of person you want to be around, first to hear her fascinating stories, but then because she just makes you somehow feel included in them.
Her involvement in rock-n-roll over the last forty-plus years was founded on a deep connection to music–even now she lives and breathes rock-n-roll with every breath. Her relationship with husband Jim Wallerstein is heavily steeped in music, the pair have been steadily making it together for over ten years, partnering in both love and art. The Bebe Buell Band continues to thrive; their latest album, Hard Love, kicked off with a video for the track “Devil You Know.” The track features Bebe’s signature raspy voice fused with powerful rock and an appearance by the Power Animals that climb and claw throughout the vid. The band continues to play the New York area, and headlined the CBGB’s fest at High Line Ballroom this summer.
The face that launched a thousand rock-n-roll ships, Bebe’s influence has helped inspire and shape friends and lovers like Todd Rundgren, Stiv Bators, Steven Tyler, Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop, John Taylor, Rod Stewart, amongst dozens of other rock-n-rollers that her life has touched. Her commitment to rock has been a force in its longevity, glamour and appeal. Rock-n-roll will never die as long as Bebe Buell is at the helm.
Lori Zimmer: You’ve been called a groupie, but anyone that really knows of you knows that even muse is an understatement, that you’re more of a rock-n-roll catalyst. Does this negative connotation of women who influence musicians bother you?
Bebe Buell: It has gone on since the beginning of time. I’ve just chosen to voice my distaste for labeling another person for their personal life experience. I’m more like Forrest Gump with a high IQ than a vixen. I don’t like getting called names period! The term “groupie” is not a job discription–it’s more of a taste description. But sadly it has gotten tarnished by those that drive the pop culture bus. It went from being something kind of cool and innocent to being something focusing on sexual exploits. I’m not very sexual–I’m more cerebral. I have sexual energy as an entertainer, but it comes from the music. I move the way the music makes me feel.
LZ: Being a musician yourself, do you think it is an unfair double standard?
BB: Again, that’s gone on since the beginning of time–but I have never let my sex get in the way of my dreams. I’ve had to work harder, prove myself a little more, but in the end, I am doing what I want to do. I’m the lead singer in a rock band. Double standards will always exist–it’s how you let it affect you that matters.
LZ: I don’t want to dwell too much on the past, but your life and experience with some of the world’s most iconic musicians is hard to entirely gloss over. When looking back, what spurred your heavy involvement in the rock-n-roll scene?
BB: Basically I’ve always just followed my heart, and my heart beats for music–all kinds of music. But rock-n-roll is in my DNA; I have a connection to that kind of music. I’ve kept the bloodline alive with the birth of my rock-n-roll love child. Birds of a feather flock together. In my life, I am ruled by chemistry. I go where I’m comfortable and where I belong. I feel blessed to have known so many talented, interesting people, and to still meet people every day that fascinate and elate me.
LZ: When did you realize that you’d made it beyond the average fan and into the inner circle?
BB: Probably around the same time anyone who comes to NYC at 17/18 years old and is accepted into the inner circle. I felt like I belonged almost instantly after getting here. I imagined all of it, visualized all of it, starting at around 10 years old. When I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, I just knew those were my people, HA! We are rock people!
LZ: Do you remember when you first met Patrick McMullan?
BB: I could never pin down the day because I feel like he has been a constant in my life for the last four decades. He’s one of those people who has been an important part of the entertainment scene in NYC since the 60s. No one like him. I adore the guy!
LZ: How has raising a daughter changed your interaction with the music world / fame monster?
BB: I could never measure it because I was so young when Liv was born. She has always been part of my life and career. She’s in it. And I in her’s. It’s a legacy, a family business at this point. Look at my mother, she’s our matriarch.
LZ: In a world of egos, the impression you give off is a down to earth, breath of fresh air. Taking that ego into consideration for a moment, how have you managed to not only keep it at bay, but to encompass the humble yet confident way of life that you live?
BB: Spiritual practice–keeping myself in check with a higher power. Never letting pain stop you from loving. I try not to give haters power.
LZ: Your new video just debuted earlier this summer–how did you come up with the concept and working with the Power Animals?
BB: I saw them around NYC and in a clip somewhere. I knew I wanted to have them in there in some capacity. Aren’t they fabulous?!
LZ: You’ve been married to a musician (and collaborator) for the past ten years. Do you work together as a couple in the studio, or do you leave your love out of the workplace?
BB: It becomes second nature. Jim plays in my band, co-writes my music, produces me, helps get the bands together. He’s my musical partner. We have date nights and go on vacations to keep the romance alive, but basically music is our lives. Full-time. All the time.
LZ: You kicked off summer with a show honoring CBGBs, with your new music in tow, can we expect more shows this fall, or a tour?
BB: Touring is costly and of course we want to tour. We are seeking sponsorship as we speak. But we do play regionally and will play in NYC again before the end of 2012. As soon as the new Cutting Room opens, we will be doing a residency there. It’s been a long wait for this state-of-the-art new place, but it will be worth it in the end. The place is gorgeous and the stage is heavenly! Can’t wait to grace it. I’m also working on a one woman show. I will always consider NYC my home, the place I unveil my projects. I can’t wait to do a run here, a weekly thing. That’s what I’m working towards right now…so stay tuned…
Bebe Buell is an American fashion model and rock star, not to mention Playboy magazine’s November 1974 Playmate of the Month.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Style by Delvin Lugo
Stylist Assistance by Rasaan Wyzard
Male Modelling by Dan Morris
Design by Marie Havens
Look 1: (pie)
Look 3: (on the bar)
Same as above
Pumps by Christian Louboutin
Look 4: (at the door)
Knit Bolero Jacket by Cheng
Pants by Zara