In 2000, Cameron Crowe introduced millions of people to Penny Lane, the beautiful young “Band-Aid” in his semi-autobiographical tale, Almost Famous. Penny Lane is painted as mature, sexy and demanding of attention; a muse for the male musicians she tours with; a free spirit in love with a talented man.
Pull back the tattered curtain, though, and what we actually see is a 16 year old girl being taken advantage of by a grown man. Penny Lane tells us very early in the film that she’s 16, and not long after that we learn that she toured with Stillwater the summer before–meaning she was 15 when she had gotten involved with Russell Hammond. Crowe has claimed that Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson, was largely based on real-life groupie extraordinaire, Bebe Buell. However, to me, her story sounds much more similar to the real story of LA child groupie, Lori Maddox.
Lori Maddox and Jimmy Page, 1973
In 1972, at a nightclub in LA, rockstar Jimmy Page laid eyes on Lori Maddox, a 14 year old girl. Maddox’s personal accounts in the unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin, Hammer of the Gods, claim that Page told his tour manager, Richard Cole, to ‘kidnap’ her and take her to the West Hollywood hotel the band was staying in. Maddox admits to being kept under lock-and-key, presumably to keep 29-year-old Page from being imprisoned for child sexual abuse. In Hammer of the Gods, Maddox describes having fallen in love with Page almost instantly. Page and Maddox “dated” for months afterwards, until Page left Maddox for Bebe Buell, who was of legal age at the time.
Lori Maddox’s best friend, Sable Starr, has been linked to many of 1970’s biggest rockstars. In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Ron Asheton of the Stooges remembers Starr fondly:
“We had a gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go when we first moved out there and that’s when we met Sable Starr, who was a really nice girl. First she was Iggy’s groupie, then with me, then would go back to Iggy, then back to me, then would go to my brother and back to me. We would do two sets at the Whiskey and in between sets, Sable would say, ‘Can I suck your dick?’ She was real open about that stuff, that’s what I always liked about her. So in between sets Sable would suck my dick in the upstairs men’s bathroom.”
Johnny Thunders and Sable Starr
Sable Starr was 14 at the time, and Ron Asheton was 25. At 16, Starr left home and moved to New York City with Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Iggy Pop immortalized his own involvement with the child groupie, as well as Thunders’ relationship with Starr, in the song “Look Away“:
I slept with Sable when she was 13,
Her parents were too rich to do anything,
She rocked her way around LA
‘Til a New York Doll carried her away…
Starr quickly became pregnant, and Thunders pressured her to have the child and marry him, but Starr refused and had an abortion. Thunders, a drug addict, was reported to be physically abusive to Starr, and Starr soon moved back to Los Angeles. In Please Kill Me, Starr described her relationship with Johnny Thunders: “He [Thunders] tried to destroy my personality. After I was with him, I just wasn’t Sable Starr anymore. He really destroyed the Sable Starr thing.” Starr also had a sexual relationship with Richard Hell before she even turned 18.
The most famous example of a hugely famous musician entering into a “relationship” with a child began in 1959. Priscilla Beaulieu, who would later be known as Priscilla Presley, was 14 years old when 24 year old Elvis Presley became obsessed with her. For the next 7 years, Priscilla waited for Elvis to marry her, while he had affairs with Nancy Sinatra and Ann Margaret, and that was only the beginning. Priscilla has since spoken about the relationship, saying “I was someone he created. I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”
14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany, 1959
Lori Maddox, Sable Starr and Priscilla Beaulieu are only three of the many, many examples of famous, powerful men preying upon children–and getting away with it. According to a fantastic article on XoJane.com, the list of pervy old rockstars includes Chuck Berry, Ted Nugent, Don Henley, Marvin Gaye, Charles Dickens, Bill Wyman, Sonny Bono, and Roman Polanski. All of these men either “dated” teenage girls or were involved in publicized sexual scandals with teenage victims, some of them as young as 13.
So, why is it that these real stories of child abuse are ignored and then romanticized in movies like Almost Famous? Personally, I blame Cameron Crowe for his sugar-sweet transformation of a horrible story of child abuse, but Lori Maddox was failed decades before Crowe’s film hit the box office.
Let’s consider Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita. While many (far too many) people believe Lolita to be a story of passion and romance, Nabokov purposefully wrote the story entirely from Humbert Humbert’s perspective, never giving Dolores a literary voice. The story is of a narcissistic, self-absorbed man obsessed with the idea of Dolores. Nabokov’s novel perfectly frames the twisted perspective these male predators have of their virginal prey. Humbert Humbert knew that Lolita would not stay a virginal youth forever. He knew that he would eventually become disinterested in her–much like the way Elvis became disinterested in women (girls), including Priscilla, after they were no longer virgins.
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”