THE CONQUERING HEROINE: Bebe Buell

Her first four dates on moving to New York were Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Todd Rundgren. It was the early 1970s: free love reigned, and the singer, muse and model Bebe Buell was queen.

Bebe Buell poses for a portrait wearing a Creem Magazine T-shirt in Los Angeles, 1980 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

If destiny has a poster child, there’s a fair chance her name is Bebe Buell. As far as conservative towns go, the naval enclave of Portsmouth, Virginia is as starched as they come. As far as conservative eras go, the early 1950s was one of buttoned-down traditionalism not long out of war. And as far as conservative parents go, the navy pilot commander Harold Buell chose as his happily-ever-after Dorothea Johnson, a woman so steeped in niceties and tradition that she would go on to establish the etiquette-based Protocol School of Washington.

From the get-go, their baby Beverle was something of a firecracker. Her rather matronly appellation certainly didn’t fit, and the nickname ‘Bebe’ stuck. It’s unclear when she heard her first rock chords, but what’s certain is that they struck like thunderbolts. This was a world and sound that beckoned to the child on levels so primal she could barely understand it herself. “As early as five I’d stick my leg out in a rock stance for family pictures. I was obsessed with Mick Jagger. I’d stand in front of the mirror and copy him, and I’d put a sock down my pants so I had a nice bulge. I didn’t know what that was. I just thought it was part of the uniform,” she told Rolling Stone on the eve of the release of her 2018 album, Baring It All: Greetings From Nashbury Park.

Contributor

David Smiedt

Published

December 2020

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