History’s rife with tales of women who enduring lifetimes of indignity in support of famous men, so much so that some have become famous in their own right. This week, television adds some new names to that roll of honour thanks to Rock Star’s Wives, a sixty-minute tribute to some of the most reckless matrimonial decision makers since Eva Braun.
The first of these unsung heroines to face the small screen spotlight is Victoria Clarke. Victoria’s claim to spousal fame (and perhaps some kind of medal) is that she spent 19 years of her life hitched to Shane McGowan. If one was seeking to prove the adage that love is blind then the scenes of Victoria (demure, attractive, sane-looking) entwined with Shane (toothless, top-hatted, pale as paper and hissing like a stabbed snake) provide compelling evidence. But women are not driven to relationships characterised by absenteeism, infidelity and long-term intoxication by looks alone. “There’s a price to pay,” reveals Victoria, but there are perks as well. Money, fame and even love have a part to play. “Shane has a soft side and an impossible side,” Victoria explains. And that’s just when he’s sleeping.
The range of women compelled to rock and roll matrimony is as diverse as the performers themselves, and this show does an excellent job of bringing them together. Some, like Angie Bowie, are terrifying to behold. As egotistical and demented as any musician you can name, hers is one of the few testimonies, “I threw myself down the stairs to get his attention,” that will leave your sympathies with the husband. At the other end of the scale is Jenny Boyd, former wife of Mick Fleetwood, who appears arranging flowers in a country kitchen and looking as though she might be happier editing the parish magazine and making jam than sharing anecdotes about taking LSD with The Grateful Dead. Of the elder stateswomen on display the most compelling testimony is that of Janis Gaye, former wife of Marvin. Such was the extent of their mutual narcotic dysfunction that, she says “we used to have to argue just to calm down.”
Representing the younger end of the stage struck sisterhood is Pearl Lowe, other half of the drummer from Supergrass. One need not have read many tabloids this year to know that the path of rock and roll love has seldom run smooth for these two. But they’re a likable pair and it’s clear that their eccentric lifestyle is underwritten by genuine affection. Less reassuring are the scenes involving Brett Scallion, lead singer of American band ‘Fuel.’ In an effort to keep up, his wife Abbie has formed her own band called ‘Slunt.’ Clearly as inspired when it comes to relationships as she is at naming bands, Abbie has calculated that if both of them are away from home all the time the relationship will be twice as likely to succeed. I wish her well, but I wouldn’t want her as my accountant.
No description of this world would be complete without a word from every rock wife’s nemesis, the groupie, and here on their behalf are two of the most famous exponents of backstage goodwill, Pamela Des Barres and BeBe Buell. If you were in a successful rock band between 1960 and 1975 and didn’t sleep with either of these women then you were probably the drummer. Though they both ended up marrying musicians, each considers rock matrimony to be a naïve occupation. In the end, says Buell, rock star’s wives are “ asking for it.” Maybe so, but that has to better than wanting it and doing nothing at all.