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Germaine Greer

A Groupie in Women's Lib

By Robert Greenfield

All Images Copyright © 1969 - 2010 Phil Franks, All Rights Reserved.
First published in Rolling Stone January 7th, 1971

[Photos © Phil Franks]

London - On a crazy Sunday afternoon in London, Germaine Greer lolls in the corner of a crowded room with a silver knit flapper's hat pulled low over her ears, playing at the grand role of being an actress. Chrissy Shrimpton, Jean's sister, is over here, drifting through a doorway like some Victorian butterfly, and George Lazenby, ex-James Bond, is out there, somewhere in the basement. Everyone is leaning and inclining, hunched over glasses in their best cocktail party slouches, the women with snakeskin eyes and tie-dyed faces, the men pink and manicured in midnight blue tuxedos or T-shirts and velvet pants. Everyone is stoned, drunk, bored, or in the business. The blue - white film lights bring the room to steam bath temperatures, and the guys shouldering the cameras and sound boxes curse softly as they elbow through the crowd. A film in progress. George Lazenby is a gun runner who gives it all up for flower power. While pursuing the inner light, he meets a hippie chick. Germaine Greer plays her sister.

"George wants to fuck her", Germaine explains sweetly. "She says no. Peace, flowers, love. He asks her for some head. She says no. Well, the whole thing is unreal. She should plate him in the middle of the scene."

During the week, Germaine Greer teaches English literature at Warwick University. She has a PhD from Cambridge (in the comedies of Shakespeare). She's a well-known television and movie person in England; an editor of Suck, the European sex paper, a regular contributor to Oz: and the author of The Female Eunuch, a book liable to become America's very next best-seller about Women's Liberation. She's also a groupie.

[Photos © Phil Franks]

Also she's Australian, six feet tall, and she talks fast when she's nervous. Listen.

"I'm still into converting the straights. That's why I teach. I guess the university doesn't really know about all the things I'm involved in. I don't push it down there. I only make occasional references when a line in a poem is like smoking or taking mescaline."

"Ernest Hemmingway", she says, shifting gears and rounding a corner, "when his cock wouldn't stand up, he blew his head off. He sold himself a line of bullshit and bought it."

Jumping quickly, no transitions, miss the connection and you're gone, she says, "Musicians know their worst shit makes them famous. Jimi'd be playing "Hey Joe," which he didn't like that much to start with. So freaked out of his head that his E-string'd be out of tune and he couldn't fix it. The audience wouldn't know or care. It was just another mass masturbation scene for them all."

Germaine is 31 years old and will remind you that there is a "generation of 31-year-olds, Abbie and Jerry... maybe we had to go further to get here, so we're crazier. But the ride was fine." "Will you be round, Germaine?" a worried looking man asks her, "or are you pushing off?"

After he leaves, she confides, "I think he's in over his head on this one. He doesn't know enough about the whole trip. There are a lot of Marxists on his crew, a Maoist too, and they're accusing him of being ripped off by the hippies."

Although she tends to defy definitions and skirt boundaries, Germaine exists primarily in two worlds - the "I say old chap" very British artsy-literary-academic sphere and the oop-shoop-shangalang-a-jingabop of the music business.

[Photos © Phil Franks]

She'll tell you that Norman Mailer shouldn't be put down as a male chauvinist because he tried to work out his neurotic sexual attitudes in An American Dream and then go on to recall those dear, dead days when "I'd wake up in some Holiday Inn in New York and there'd be bodies all over the floor. One of the musicians in the group would start the day by rolling a teenie-weenie joint. Now, the energy's all gone. you know what those guys (naming a high energy American rock band) asked me for the last time they were over here?".

She pauses. "Heroin... Can you imagine that? That band on smack. Of course, they found some."

Around her, the party is dying. "All the trendy heads are splitting," she notes, "They're so cold."

The Female Eunuch will be published this spring in America. It should make all the very involved people on the East Side of Manhattan hyper-tense (Who is this bitch? Can we get her for Cavett?). The book is carefully researched, calm and logical. It is a scholarly plea for personal freedom, the emancipation of women as total people. It is a revolutionary book for people who still believe in books.

Germaine has taken off her silver hat. It lies on her leg. In a low voice, she says, "What am I supposed to do? They sold the book in Germany and Italy and it was all right. I thought it would make the next one easier to publish. McGraw-Hill paid $29.000 to publish it in America. Then Bantam's paid $135.000 for the paperback rights. What am I supposed to do? When I wrote it, I didn't care if someone bought one copy and everyone read it or if they printed a book as big as Eaton Square and let people walk around it, reading. I won't give that money to taxes. For CS gas. To rule the people. I tried to form a foundation for women, a center where they could come and read about themselves, maybe get a bed if their husband's left them. They called that a tax dodge. I tried to incorporate myself. No good. It was decided that I spend a year out of the country."

She shakes her head, reaches up a long hand to tug at a straying curl. She closes her eyes and says quietly, "But there'll be more money waiting for me when I return."

Saturday afternoon, two weeks later. The sun is out and smiling. The Charles Clore Pavilion of the Regent's Park Zoo is filled with lovers and children, holding hands.

Germaine is an hour late, fresh from lunch with Ken Tynan and Mary McCarthy. They're writers. Germaine is all a-bubble because Tynan is going to name The Female Eunuch "one of the books of the year". She smells nicely of gin.

The Mammal House at the Regent's Park Zoo is always in inky darkness. You can see animals that are awake only at night. They can't see you. "The animals of my native country", Germaine insists, "Marsupials, bush babies...."

Peering into glass cages, making faces at the chinchillas and the spiny mice, she is going on about Mary McCarthy, intellectuals, the New York literary trip.

She will be in New York at Easter for the publication of her book. Her agent wants her to stay at the Algonquin Hotel. Very proper, dark wooden walls in the bar reflect the ghosts of gentler times, James Thurber, Harold Ross, Dorothy Parker, New Yorker magazine. She wants to stay in the Chelsea. Leonard Cohen, Sam Andrew, Nico, and all of Andy's girls, turning tricks and catching licks. "They won't let me fuck my friends in the Algonquin," Germaine wails, "They'll never get past the desk. I'm going to the Chelsea... Oop shoop shangalang-a-jingabop."

"In America, the female liberation movement has two distinct facets," she says, suddenly serious. "There are the women who work on committees and make statements that are read into the Congressional Record. They work within the system, a system that oppresses the people. There are more radical women who band into all-female groups and learn Karate, violence... that's their trip, isn't it? They'll crush us at it. I dig the Redstockings. I think they're into something, real dialogue, allowing women to be true women. As for the others, the ones learning Karate, a high powered rifle does the job best. You have to touch someone to use Karate. If you're going to touch someone, you might as well make love to them."

Which is Germaine's all-purpose solution. If your landlady is hassling you, ball her. Want better care from your doctor? Make it with him. At five o'clock they're closing the Mammal House. Germaine hasn't seen the wombat. She wants to.

"It's closing time," a zoo attendant shouts.

"Where's the wombat?" Germaine asks blithely, pushing past.

"It's closed, lady," the attendant explodes, red in the face. "It's closed. Get out"!

"I bet he hasn't gotten his rocks off in months." Germaine says, turning to go back. "What if I went down on him?"

Someone takes her arm and leads her gently away.

Outside the zoo, Primrose Hill rises over London. The sun is going down in front of it. The hill is gray, green, and misty, the sky shot through with pinks and yellows.

Walking up the hill, Germaine says, "I wrote a book because words are my thing. What we really need is an all-girl rock and roll band that can lay down a riff no one'll be able to forget."

She pantomimes a run on an imaginary guitar. Then she turns and begins walking up the hill with long strides, a very big lady on her way somewhere, just a rock and roll woman about to try her hand at balancing atop that diamond as big as the Ritz.
© Robert Greenfield


This article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author. Robert B. Greenfield has recently published a book, "Dark Star: an Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia". He is currently working on another about Timothy Leary and is involved in several theatre and film projects.

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