Dressed in blue jeans and a tight black top, Bebe Buell is in the dressing room last Saturday at the Middle East downstairs, applying make-up and massaging her bare feet. One ankle is wrapped — a stage injury, she says. She’s fretting a little because as her backing group, the Rudds, are about to play, there’s only a small crowd out there. “It’s so early, so early. I’m not worried about me. I’ve played to every size crowd. I give it my all. I like the rock.”
As a rocker, the 53-year-old Buell is not a known quantity. She made one real album, Retrosexual, in 1995; before that she’d released a batch of singles and EPs including a Ric Ocasek–produced effort, Covers Girl, in 1981. She plans to record a live album at the Cutting Room (owned by actor Chris Noth) in New York and has written songs for a subsequent studio album. “My think piece. My Broken English.”
Buell is best known to the world as the mother of Liv Tyler and an erstwhile starfucker (Todd Rundgren, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Steven Tyler, etc.) She was a fashion model before she became Playboy’s Miss November 1974, back, she notes, “when people had pubic hair.” She’s been married to Jim Wallerstein, who plays guitar in Twin Engines and with her, for seven years. She lives with him and two Chihuahuas, Pancho and Chiquita, in Portland, Maine.
Her fans, she says, are both young and . . . not. “The young audience, a lot of them, come out of curiosity, to see if Liv’s mom has her daddy’s cojones.” Pause. “I kick their asses. I like playing for people who’ve never seen me, who are waiting for one of my ex-boyfriends to materialize out of my boot.”
She may not quite be at her model weight, but she is funny, smart, and sassy. Or, she yells, “I’m modest, demure, and quiet!”
When Buell and the returning Rudds take the stage, she does some ass kicking with the Lemmy Kilmister-penned “I’ll Be Your Sister,” (“He gave it to me ’cause I was the only woman he thought could sing it”), the Ramones’ “I Wanna Live,” Iggy’s “Funtime,” the Leon Russell–penned, Carpenters-identified “Superstar,” and some of her own tunes. One guy in the front waves her Playboy centerfold. She mock-threatens him.
Backstage after the set, Buell is happy, loose. And when the word “starfucker” is floated, she says, “I laugh at terms like that ’cause the men are doing it too.” Absolutely right.