It’s easy to paint Bebe Buell as some talentless pretty face who slept her way to whatever modicum of stardom she has right now. There are Facebook groups dedicated to saying she’s an Uruk-Hai (those are the bad guys in Lord of the Rings). Would you celebrate having been Cameron Crowe’s model for Penny Lane in Almost Famous?
But Bebe makes no apologies for her dalliances with Mick Jagger or Todd Rundgren or Rod Stewart. She’s proud of having been the first well-known fashion model to grace the pages of Playboy (November 1974, if you want to look it up — it’s also got an interview with Hunter S. Thompson. Maybe they have it in the newly refurbished library?). And she still considers herself a rock and roll singer — perhaps first and foremost.
She comes to town next week to headline a gig at the Port City Music Hall (with Loverless and Twisted Roots) and she brings with her a brand-new album, Sugar, that’s already available on iTunes and will get a hard-copy release, complete with limited-edition pink vinyl, on June 14. Backed by hubby Jim Wallerstein (Das Damen, Vacationland) and drummer Bobbie Rae, who plays in Twin Engines with Wallerstein, Bebe certainly doesn’t show her age, traveling in contemporary ’80s-flavored dance numbers as often as full-throated rockers. Maybe her voice is showing some wear, but her sensibilities remain pure: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What else is there for a girl who used to hang with Bowie at Max’s Kansas City, right?
People need to know that she paid her dues in this town, though. Man, if only I hadn’t been a pre-teen when she was fronting bands at the Downtown Lounge. I dragged up this week a 45 she released with the Gargoyles on Route One Records in 1987, with “Jacuzzi Jungle” as the A side. Who’s on drums? None other than Mike Dank, currently with Isobell, and having been with Harpswell Sound, Lars Vegas, the Clown School Dropouts, and Poor Valley Preservation Society, just off the top of my head.
I love to think that Dank has backed both Bebe Buell and Hannah Tarkinson, roughly 25 years apart.
There’s a little bit, too, of the Who playing the Super Bowl on Sugar, too. There’s that feeling that, sure, they can still rock out, but why? Isn’t that the music of the young? On tunes here like the dance-anthem title track or the Simple Minds-flavored “When We Were Godhead” it can all feel more than a little manufactured, a show. There are times when her voice has so much edge it becomes desiccated and harsh. She’s not a natural big-voiced singer by any means, but I don’t think she bills herself as a top-notch vocalist. She’s a rock and roller, both at heart and by experience, and there’s something to be said for delivery and attitude, of which Bebe’s got plenty.