Rebel Heart: An American Rock 'n' Roll Journey
Ah, yes, the Groupie Memoir, a fascinating subgenre of the rock and roll book --- right up there with Embittered Former Bandmember Tells All or The Junkie Genius Who Recovers. Of course, Buell never stoops to referring to herself as the "g" word, preferring to see herself as a "muse" for the various musical men in her life. And though her own career has evolved from high fashion model and Playboy centerfold to talent agent and occasional rock singer, Buell is still inevitably defined either by her associations with high profile lovers of the '70s and '80s or as the mother of actress Liv Tyler.
At least she didn't limit herself to one genre in her romances. Buell's bed partners have crossed the musical spectrum from classic rock giants (Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler, Rod Stewart) to punks (Iggy Pop, Stiv Bators) to new wavers (Elvis Costello), to eccentric singer/songwriters (Todd Rundgren), and the occasional movie star (Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty). She writes about them all, and at least one of those pairings intersected in a bizarre way: although Liv is Buell's child by Steven Tyler, she was raised to believe that Rundgren was her father, something Buell also told the outside world, as Tyler's heavy drug use at the time hardly made him a fit parent. And though she writes of Rundgren's "controlling" nature and their mutually accepted infidelities, he does get points in their years-long relationship for providing for mother and daughter even after the truth was revealed. But it is Costello for whom she carried --- and apparently still does --- the brightest torch, spending more pages dissecting and evaluating their troubled relationship than any other. However, she comes off seeming desperate, even disingenuous in complaining that she inspired "seven good albums" of his material, hinting that she should receive royalties for her contributions!
Throughout REBEL HEART there are plenty of juicy stories about her lovers and social circles, often shedding a comic light on pop culture icons. We learn that the effeminate yet heterosexually insatiable Jagger knew "more about cosmetics" than any woman Buell has known, that Tyler thoroughly enjoyed delivering oral testimony, and that Rundgren could have literally fronted Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
The writing is breezy and definitely in Buell's voice, but at some point the romantic cycle of flirtation/sheer lust/screaming arguments/operatic transatlantic crying phonecalls/passionate hotel makeup sex simply becomes repetitive. She paints herself too often as someone with the purest of intentions who innocently stumbled into the strange and complex worlds of the Rock Star, but it doesn't ring true. Another weakness is Buell's own constant trumpeting of herself. Admittedly possessing an "ego the size of Asia," she constantly reminds us how smart, funny and vivacious she is, and how everyone around her thinks so too. Her recollections of people's words (which she puts in quotation marks) read as carefully constructed and suspect. In the '90s, Buell concentrates on instigating and guiding Liv's career --- only to be fired by her daughter, leading to a rocky relationship, distress, and psychosomatic illnesses. Today, mother and daughter have repaired their relationship, and Buell has resurrected a nightclub singing career.
"People always wanted to have sex with me instead of wondering what I thought or felt. That was painful," Buell writes early in REBEL HEART. And while this may smack of false naivete, she does resurrect the valid argument of the sexual double standard in the rock world: If he's a stud, why am I a slut? REBEL HEART rightfully takes its place in the holy troika of Groupie Memoirs, which also includes Pamela Des Barres's I'M WITH THE BAND and Angela Bowie's BACKSTAGE PASSES. And despite its faults, it's also the most entertaining of the three --- though an appendix with Mick's makeup tips might have been a bonus for the Backstage Bebes of today.
Reviewed by Bob Ruggiero on August 13, 2001