IT HAPPENED TO ME: Meeting the Rock Star of My Dreams Made Me Grow Up Overnight

He taught me an important lesson, but not the one I'd hoped for.
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Ulrika Campbell
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He taught me an important lesson, but not the one I'd hoped for.

I discovered The Cult just before I started high school and fell in love with the band immediately. I wallpapered my room with Ian Astbury's face like some creepy teenage serial obsessive. It was the early '90s, and I wore my Dr. Martens with everything, impatient for them to look worn-in to the point of falling apart. I skipped school to break in new T-shirts while watching taped episodes of MTV's 120 Minutes

I couldn't take the school subjects seriously. The two things that were important to me were music and boys. I dedicated math class to figuring out a formula that would allow me to focus on my interests full-time. Since I lacked any discernible talent for music or the muscles to become a roadie, my only option was to marry a rock star. I suppose it isn't a job in the traditional sense, but if you're married to a rock star, you don't need a job. I decided to become a groupie and a rock star's wife by extension. 

How hard could it be? I already shared a brain with my idols, I thought. All we had to do was to meet in real life. 

The Cult had a concert coming up. If I played my cards right, I could skip the rest of high school and join the band. Ian would understand me on a visceral level, and we'd never be apart. This beautiful creature from Heswall, Cheshire, would rescue me like a Disney princess.

Princess Dreamtime

Princess Dreamtime

I felt nostalgic for a time I hadn't lived through and romanticized the lives of the beautiful and dead, fascinated by their tragic lives. I wanted to experience David Bowie's early-'70s Ziggy Stardust persona. I wanted to be Ann Margaret in Viva Las Vegas and dance with Elvis to "C'mon Everybody" in a crop top, tights, and heels. I wanted to be Pamela Courson but to prevent Jim Morrison from spiraling into addiction and death. I read about Andy Warhol's Candy Darling, listened to songs about heroin, shiny boots of leather, and transsexuals — Lou Reed's New York. Hopefully, my talent, if I ever found out what it was, would allow me to join these people who made fabulous sartorial choices and knew how to pull off animal prints and fur trimmed coats. I wanted to be Edie Sedgwick, the ultimate muse, before she died. I wanted to get drunk with talented people who had a purpose in life.

I wanted to be in the audience of a Cult concert in 1985 when Ian Astbury made jersey trousers sexy in the "She Sells Sanctuary" video. By the time the Ceremony tour was announced, I wanted to be more than just in the audience. I wanted to cling onto Ian and never let go.

I arrived early to the concert. No one I knew shared my love for the band, so I went to the show alone, necking vodka from a Coke bottle. I wanted to get the best possible spot right up front, jammed up to the fence in front of the guitarist, Billy Duffy. Looking behind me into the crowd, I spotted a girl sitting on her boyfriend's shoulders, pointing and fist-pumping the air, waiting to be seen. Why would you want to bring your boyfriend to a concert when you want to fuck the singer? I thought. Why give yourself more problems than you already had?

I chatted with some girls next to me. Girl One was sipping a beer she had sneaked in with her backpack while Girl Two was wasting film on the support band.

"Here you go, love." A roadie handed me a sticker.

The girls were given some as well. It took me a few seconds to realize that they were backstage passes for the after-party. We were in!

I've got it, I thought, and couldn't wait for the concert to start and finish so that I could make plans for my future life with Ian Astbury.

When they started playing "Edie (Ciao Baby)," I was pretty sure Ian made eye contact while standing in front of me, but I couldn't fully believe it until he kneeled down and grabbed my outstretched hand. He held it as he sang for what felt like an eternity. It was like running into the arms of a friendly tiger. This was my chance, my defining moment. To be seen by someone I loved who had no idea who I was.

"Don't you know paradise takes time," Ian sang and looked me straight in the eye.

I couldn't wait to knock back tequila with him and find out if the reasons behind his fascination with Edie Sedgwick were the same as mine.

"I'm with the band," I said to no one in particular as I entered through the door to the backstage area. I needed a drink. The vodka buzz had worn off from working out in the mosh pit.

The backstage area seemed a bit lacklustre. The only people drinking beer were the girls I'd met in the audience. They still had some cans left in their backpacks. On the table were crudité and fruit platters, a few bottles of Perrier, but no alcohol. 

My hopes were sinking. I was getting nervous. This was not the hedonistic lifestyle I had hoped to find.

Ian had a towel over his shoulders; he was chatting to a male fan with a tattoo of the band to prove his devotion. Overhearing their conversation about football, I wondered if this really was the pinnacle of mankind — a rock star sports fan?

OK, fine, perfection can get boring. We all have our dark sides. I was willing to forgive his. A song can be perfect, but people never are, I reasoned as I stood staring, hoping for Ian to create a miracle.

I don't know if it was the lack of alcohol or the shock of being in the same room as an international superstar on whom I had projected all my dreams and wishes for the last few years, but I didn't know what to say.

I spotted Billy heading in my direction.

"You're very quiet," he said.

What could I possibly contribute that wouldn't sound trivial or banal? They were citizens of the world. Rock gods. They knew what it was like to be adored and to have millions of people loving them. I had no talent. What could I possibly say?

"Yeah," I said.

Unless I had the mind of Patti Smith and the beauty of Edie Sedgwick, I wouldn't be good enough. It left me dumbstruck.

The girls let me have one of their half-empty cans of beers. It was mostly saliva, but I was grateful anyway. We were rivals, but we were also sister-groupies in the same sinking ship of fandom.

Billy included me in the counting of heads that were invited to accompany the band on the tour bus. Girl One and Girl Two came as well. I was grateful for second chances and tried to act cool. Wherever we were going, I hoped there would be drinks and that I could finally fire this party up. I was moved by Billy's gesture; Kindness really can be more debilitating than hostility. I climbed on the bus and continued to not say a word.

Everything that mattered to me was on that bus. I wondered if there was a space in the tour bus where I could hide and never get off. I wanted to be Ian's Priscilla Presley, but of legal age and taller.

"I need to pee," Girl One said. There was a toilet on the bus, but to use it would be admitting that groupies had bodily functions. I sympathized.

Getting off the tour bus outside their hotel was one of those awkward moments where you don't know where you stand or what you should do. Girl One, Girl Two and I pretended to hold a conversation as we waited around by the bus to hear about the after-party, trying not to look desperate. I was refusing to lose hope even though my gut was sending me a different message. 

"Are you OK? What are you guys waiting for?" Ian said.

"Well..." I said.

How could it not be obvious? What is normally the reason that girls get on a tour bus? Had he completely forgotten our shared moment of intensity when he held my hand on stage? Did he not see the epic possibilities this could lead to?

I was confused as I held Ian's eye contact for the last time. My eyes said it all: I'm waiting for the after-party. I'm waiting for you to notice me so I can feel special. I'm waiting to get wasted; I can be quite entertaining a few drinks in. I'm waiting to make out with you; not necessarily penetration, but dry humping until dawn would be nice. Just hold me. In the morning, we'll order room service, and it will be like the breakfast scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts eats pancakes and you'll be rescuing me from my tragic existence. We'll move to California and live happily ever after. I'm waiting for you to let me wear your leather trousers. You look like you have 30-inch hips just like me; I'm skinny, but they tell me I have childbearing hips. I'm man-sized. I'm strong. I'm waiting for you to take me on tour with you. I'm ready; no packing needed. I'm waiting for the opportunity to spend days on end just staring at your perfect face and your perfectly imperfect teeth. I'm waiting to be your muse standing in front of the stage every night and for you to hold my hand and sing straight to my heart, just like tonight. Your voice makes me cry. I want to be your "dynamite lover, scorpion child'"with an "alligator smile." Your "little angel." I'm waiting for you to write songs about me and of our profound love. I'm waiting to be in your videos. THAT'S what I'm waiting for.

"The concert was amazing," I said.

"Thank you, baby," Ian said.

His voice was so beautiful, I struggled not to cry. Thanking me for a compliment when I had his whole life's work to thank him for. His performance, invitation, and attention were everything.

The simplicity of such a small kindness was profound.

Billy said, "We're grabbing a burger. The night is over, guys. Thanks for coming to the show."

I cursed the wasted opportunities as I watched Ian walking down the street towards the glowing arches of McDonald's.

I was starting to lose faith in my career abilities. I couldn't even be a groupie properly.

On the other side of the bus, I found Girl One squatting on the street in incoming traffic so as not to be seen by the last people of the entourage emptying the bus. At least I had a new friend, one who made me look a little bit better by comparison.

The post-show low was kicking in before I lost sight of Ian and Billy on the streets of Stockholm. That's when I knew. I had to get out of there. I needed to get a life and stop projecting fantasies on people and stop hoping for someone else to serve a life to me. It was time to grow the fuck up.