Bebe Buell has been famous as a Playboy Playmate, the first lady of 1970s groupies and Liv Tyler’s mom. Now, at age 56, she wants to be Tina Turner—a big star who succeeded against all the odds. But first she had to convince the audience gathered in a nightclub in the basement of the Maritime Hotel, that her act can move downloads.
“I’m about to rock your fucking head off,” she snarled into the mic in a husky baritone, before she and a six-piece backing group launch into her single, “Air Kisses for the Masses.”
Harnessing all the rock ethos she picked dating such rock gods such as Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler and Elvis Costello, her songs reference punk, arena rock and power-pop. Dedicating the song “Black Angel” to Joey Ramone, she did a California love-child twirl.
A lot has changed since the glory days of the 1970s. A platoon of paparazzi in the VIP area was more intent on getting a good shot of Liv, wearing cat-eye glasses and sipping champagne, than shooting the show. But some of the old gang was still around. Bob Gruen and Mick Rock, two photographers who practically invented punk and glam’s respective images, were hanging out. Rock, standing up near the stage, snapped pics of Bebe with a digital camera. His eyes hidden behind Ray-Bans, Rock tells me, “I don’t know if she played music in the early days, but she’s had time to mature into it.” Rock’s best boy, Dean Holtermann, added cleverly, “Bebe rocked the rockers—she’s the epitome of ‘you’re never too old to rock.’”
Actor, gadabout and, apparently, musician Liam McMullen and his fiancée Aesha Waks opened for Buell with some plaintive electric folk. Liam told me: “I just picked up the guitar six months ago.” He added, “Bebe told me she had a dream that I opened for her.”
I lost Bebe in the maelstrom around her daughter, but she called me the next day. “I’m sorry, I had to protect my daughter, you know?” Asked if the nightclub show would be the beginning of the stadium career she hoped for, a world-weary knowledge of the industry flashed. She answered, “I’m sure it’s already been decided.”