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That’s Not What I Meant by Rock’n Roll High School

Written by on April 15, 2021

Photo of Lori Mattix (Right) and Sable Starr (Left) with Dave Hill of Slade by Michael Ochs Archives from Getty Images

After the release of Leaving Neverland and Surviving R. Kelly, the downfall of Burger Records and affiliated bands, and most recently Marilyn Manson getting dropped from his label, it appears sexual abuse is finally starting to get taken seriously in the music industry (Schatz, Graves, 2020). However, we still neglect to trace this abusive behavior back to these musicians’ predecessors. Statuary rape was rampant in rock culture of the 1960s and 1970s and many women publicly recalled their sexual experiences as teenagers with rock stars in adulthood. How should we hold these older stars accountable?

Lori Mattix, Sable Starr, and Julia Holcomb are just a few of the “baby” groupies of this era. In her Thrillist interview, Mattix recounts losing her virginity in a threesome with David Bowie and Starr, who was also under eighteen and “dating” Iggy Pop at the time (Mattix, 2015 paras. 7-11). Starr and Pop’s relationship is mentioned in Pop’s song “Look Away” as well. Mattix was only fourteen, and in the same year was whisked away by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and deposited into Jimmy Page’s hotel room. She likens the experience to being kidnaped, but describes how she “fell in love instantly”(Mattix, 2015 para. 17). Page kept Mattix hidden in hotel rooms, sometimes described as keeping her “under lock and key” to avoid legal trouble (Powers, 2015 para. 9). 

Holcomb, the girlfriend of Steven Tyler, is one of the few teenage groupies to identify as a victim. Holocomb became Tyler’s ward so she could travel across state lines with him. Her mother was unaware of that motive. Tyler told her he needed guardianship to enroll Holcomb in Boston schools (Holcomb, 2011, para. 10). After moving in with Tyler, Holcomb describes discussions of marriage and children. She describes Tyler’s happiness when she told him of her pregnancy. While Tyler toured, Holocomb was left “alone and pregnant in the apartment with no money, no education, no prenatal care, no driver’s license and little food” (Holcomb, 2011, paras 13-16). After surviving an apartment fire, and Tyler pressured her to have an abortion, on the grounds of the baby’s health. Holocomb claims doctors assured her the baby would be fine and had a steady heartbeat. Tyler allegedly was also informed, but still used the potential damage to the child’s health as his argument for abortion. Holcomb caved after Tyler told her keeping the baby meant going back to her mother (Holcomb, 2011, para. 27). Stars beyond those previously listed were also involved with teenagers, including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ted Nugent (Powers, 2015, paras. 5-6). 

It is easy to write this behavior off as an indication of a different time. These sexual incidents are from decades prior and are accompanied by little condemning proof with few willing to press charges. Some of these stars, like Bowie, are no longer even with us to face up to past abuse. But Tyler, Pop, Page, and other perpetrators are still alive and worshiped. Their net worths of hundreds of millions make “cancelling” their music feel fruitless, and their fan bases – a large percentage of men of the same era – do not seem like the type to care about these past offences. Some offenders seem to be turning a new leaf by making efforts to help abused women. Tyler created Janie’s Fund, which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to shelters for abused women and girls (O’Kane, 2019). While this is a step in the right direction, his failure to acknowledge his past abuse of the demographic he now protects and supports is jarring and disappointing. 

It feels like these men are untouchable, but maybe they can use that to their advantage. It would be easy for them to acknowledge their abuse without completely ruining their legacies or jeopardizing their wealthy lifestyles. At the same time, like Tyler, they could harness the rock star power they once exploited to curb present and future abuse. This small ask is a necessary step in setting a precedent to end sexual misconduct with minors and to ensure stars no longer benefit from the ambiguity and excuses bestowed to their predecessors.

References 

Holcomb, J. (2011, December 31). The Steven Tyler and Julia Holcomb Story. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/the-light-of-the-world-the-steve-tyler-and-julia-holcomb-story

Mattix, L. (2015, November 2). I Lost My Virginity to David Bowie. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/i-lost-my-virginity-to-david-bowie

O’Kane, C. (2019, February 05). Steven Tyler Opens “Janie’s House,” a Home for Abused Girls Named After Aerosmith Song. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/steven-tyler-opens-janies-house-a-home-for-abused-girls-in-memphis-named-after-aerosmith-song/

Powers, A. (2015, July 15). The Cruel Truth About Rock And Roll. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/07/15/422964981/the-cruel-truth-about-rock-and-roll

Schatz, L., & Graves, W. (2020, July 28). Burger Records employees, artists accused of rampant sexual misconduct. Retrieved January 28, 2021, from https://consequenceofsound.net/2020/07/burger-record-artists-sexual-misconduct/

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