Interview by Lisa LeeKing & Tanya Richardson
Bebe Buell Many of you probably know Bebe Buell as mother to Liv, 70s supermodel, Playboy centerfold and girlfriend of Iggy, Mick, Rod, Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren, uh...etc. We invited Bebe to the New York Press offices to talk about her new CD and the memoir due out next year, and ended up getting to know Bebe the artist, the feminist and the babe who could still do Playboy, but wishes instead she could grace a High Times cover "smoking a big, fat doobie."
You know, I don't care anymore. Whoever gets it, gets it. I've been singing in rock 'n' roll bands longer than I've modeled, longer than the relationships.
Lisa LeeKing: What were the first two bands you were in?
The B-Sides and then the Gargoyles. Joey Ramone would put us on a lot of shows, and that's why I moved back to New York City in '89.
TR: I read an interview with your daughter [Liv Tyler] where she said that, when you became pregnant, you decided it would be best to move back to Maine, which was why you left the city for so long.
She was three years old before we started to live there again. There were many reasons for it. I had been through so much emotionally. It wasn't as fashionable as it is now to have a child out of wedlock, date pop stars and be a model?all those things people take for granted today. I just considered myself a women who did what I wanted and I didn't see any reason why I couldn't.
TR: If you think about it, Courtney Love...
I could eat her for breakfast. She's a wimp.
TR: She was hanging out in the rock scene, started a band, married a musician and had a baby. It's the same thing you did.
But she wrote "slut" and "whore" on her arms. I think it was brave of her to say, Fuck you, I am not going to be called names because I wanna date pop stars or be in a band.
LL: Tell us why you posed for Playboy and who convinced you to do it.
Patti Smith was my friend at the time and I used to bounce everything off of her. She proceeded to tell me about all the cool women who modeled in Playboy, like Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress. She thought it was really liberating and soda pop/Andy Warhol/real American. I didn't have any idea what it was going to do to my life.
TR: Because that picture is always out there.
People have made flags out of the centerfold. When I played Los Angeles, a bunch of the kids that came made flags and were waving them. I cracked up.
LL: Is that something you want to see again, or do you care?
I'm not ashamed of anything I've ever done.
LL: I recently found out that my grandmother modeled for Ford cars. I was like, "Grandma, you were beautiful! Why didn't you ever tell me?"
When I did Playboy it was a lot more clean-cut and conservative. I look at my pictures now and they don't look like pictures you'd see in Vogue or Harper's. Nobody had fake boobies and nobody shaved their poontangs down to nothing.
TR: Tell us about your relationships with the women in rock.
My relationships with women, like my girlfriends Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith and Debbie Harry, have always been extremely important to me. That's why I think my daughter [Liv] is so cool and adjusted, because she got all that kind of energy from me.
LL: Growing up, what kind of female artists did you respect or idolize?
I don't idolize anybody. I liked Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee and Dusty Springfield. I loved Janis Joplin because she was really the only female-male rock star. Patti Smith was more like an energy than anything else. She and I used to practice singing into a hairbrush together.
TR: Were you worried about your daughter becoming a public figure?
I wouldn't want her to be taken advantage of and hurt like I was. I thought everything was Mick Jagger, rock 'n' roll and moonbeams. We have a thing called "the radar." She can detect a bullshit artist from 15 miles away.
TR: How does it feel to be a woman in your 40s playing rock 'n' roll?
Rock 'n' roll is ageless. You do everything better as you get older. You fuck better, you deal with people better and if you have a craft you get better at it.
LL: You claim to listen to rock 'n' roll every day at loud volumes.
I still get in front of a mirror, ham it up and practice my shit.
LL: So tell us about your band and who's playing with you.
David Matos is on guitar, Tommy Furar's our new bass player and our drummer is Gregg Carey. When I write music it's usually with David, although Gregg wrote the music for "Cool." I hope Tommy will do some writing, too, because I like writing with people. But what I'm trying to do now is get this book finished. I got a book deal with St. Martin's Press a year ago and this time next year the book will be out. I started working with Victor Bockris. I don't know if we're going to call it an autobiography or memoir, because it starts in '72.
LL: Bockris did Keith Richards' and Debbie Harry's books, right?
Yes. He did Patti Smith, Blondie, William Burroughs, Keith Richards, Muhammad Ali and John Cale. The book is basically about a girl who dreamt a certain dream and made it come true. I wanted to be involved with rock 'n' roll, fly across the pages of Vogue and hang out with Andy Warhol. And I did. I knew I would meet Mick Jagger. I'm not writing the book as a vendetta?I just want to tell everybody what I saw. Not so much the personal stuff, but as an observer I was part of the 60s, 70s, 80s and the 90s. I've lived through the Beatles. I've lived through punk rock, the horrible 80s and Nirvana. I want people to laugh when they read this book, and I want everybody from my past to be happy with the way they're depicted. There will be one or two people who will be confused and unhappy by the way I remember them. But they're not rock 'n' roll people. They're evil squares who hurt me.
TR: Do you think your looks have hurt you? Has it made it harder with your musical career?
I don't look upon being attractive as a curse. It's taken me 20 years to get acknowledged for my musical aspirations. Now I'm finally going to get a record deal, but you know what? I had to put my time in like everybody else.
LL: Is there anything from the book you want to reveal?
The book isn't going to be a relationship memoir.
TR: What I'm most intrigued about with the book is your being a single mom, dropping out for a while and raising your daughter.
I heard Jackie Kennedy say that if you do a shitty job raising your kids, you might as well pack it in, because you're going to feel like shit the rest of your life. The Gargoyles were about to take off during '91. Then the whole paternity thing with Liv happened. I knew if I chose to go on the road, didn't become a full-time parent and help her through the transition, especially after the controversy of being Steven Tyler's child, she could have all kinds of problems.
TR: I read somewhere that Patti Smith dropped out to be a wife.
Yes, but she dropped out with a husband and a very loving situation. I dropped out alone, I was 22 and pregnant, having just lost the big love of my life?Elvis Costello. Well, at least he got a lot of material out of it.
LL: Didn't he write Imperial Bedroom for you?
That's a difficult record for me to listen to, even today, because it's all about his wife and me. But I don't get all huffy that it's taken me 20 years to get respected as a musician. I mean it all came at once?the divorce, Liv moving out and all the cats dying! But then I realized something?that I'm totally free! That's why my book's called Rebel Heart and my CD is called Free to Rock.
LL: What advice, as both a mother and a rocker, would you give women?
Wait before you have children. Not that I regret it, though. I tell everyone to go slow. And if someone hands you a great opportunity, don't take it for granted. I also wouldn't waste my money changing my looks. I'd use my money to buy myself a house and do as much as I could for the women's movement. Although it's getting better out there. Look at Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell?those girls are corporations! It's almost like, the wilder you are, the more fabulous you are! Just look at Halle Berry or Jennifer Lopez. Neither one of them would still have their careers if they pulled those stunts in the 70s. Now, I don't credit myself. I think Keith Richards is responsible.
TR: And he's got the blood changes to prove it. George Tabb said to ask about your new baby...
I thought he would understand when I said "baby," I meant my puppy. Because he showed me a picture of his baby [Tabb's dog].
TR: He dresses that thing in a fucking yellow slicker and matching galoshes.
LL: Well, one thing I wanted to tell you, Bebe, is that you sure know how to befriend a mic stand.
I know that. One of my best shows was the New York Press [Rock in New York] gig. My first show was at the Ritz opening for Rick Derringer. My band had been together for like two months! Now I have 75 songs. The album is going to be like Marianne Faithfull meets AC/DC. There's also a song called "Voodoo Doll" about my ex-husband.
LL: What was Richard Hell like in the 70s?
I never had enough courage to talk to him. I think it was my radar protecting me. I don't think God wanted me and Richard Hell to meet. There'd be a Mrs. Hell and I'd probably have a son named Maynard Hell.
TR: Hell was someone who probably wasn't on the forefront of the women's rights movement. My mom had a pin back then, "67 cents on the dollar," or whatever the fuck we'd worked up to.
The message we're sending with the fact that the only profession where women get paid more than men do is in modeling isn't good. As much as we might wish that Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and all these girls weren't popular, it's great that they're making money and trying to be good people. I kinda like Britney!
TR: That will be the title: "I kinda like Britney."
You know that song "Oops!...I Did It Again"? I turned it into a Bob Dylan song [sings in Dylan accent]: "I'm not that innocent..."
TR: In some areas we've come so far but...
That's the kind of emphasis we need to put on the next presidential era, and that's why I hope Hillary Clinton wins the Senate race because...
TR: Oooh! (puts hand over mouth and looks around) You said it in Russ' office! Well, I have problems with her personally, about being married to a man who's a serial sexual harasser. But she's the best bet for women, politically.
You know what, though, I bet she rouses his ass good! Or she might not give a shit.
LL: I've also heard she's into women...so, pfft?
I went a whole year without having sex before I met [my boyfriend] Jim. I was going, "I have sex every night with the audience! I don't need to have sex." But then I was like, "Yes I do!"
Bebe Buell plays this Wednesday, June 21, at Don Hill's, 511 Greenwich St. (Spring St.), 219-2850.