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'Rock Wives': Happy Endings Amid The Dirt

February 02, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

"The hard lives and good times of the wives, girlfriends and groupies of rock and roll ."

That cover blurb makes Victoria Balfour's "Rock Wives" sound like a pretty trashy book--and there is plenty of dirt inside.

Keith Richards' longtime companion Anita Pallenberg tells us that Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones guitarist who was found dead in a swimming pool in 1969, was a "terrible person . . . a tortured personality."

Patricia Kennealy reveals that she and Jim Morrison were wed, sort of, in a witch ceremony in 1970, but that he turned "really cold" when Kennealy became pregnant--maybe, she speculates, because he had "20 paternity suits pending against him."

Jo Howard, wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, discloses that Mick Jagger and Richards used to flirt with her as part of what she eventually realized were "tests" to see if she was faithful to Wood.

Vera Ramone, wife of bassist Dee Dee Ramone, admits that her husband has been going to a drug treatment center since 1981 and takes the train from their home in Queens to Manhattan every day to see a psychiatrist.

Myra Lewis, the teen-age bride of Jerry Lee Lewis, informs us that her hell-raising ex-husband looked at her as such a symbol of Southern womanhood that he didn't even allow anyone to say "damn" around her. "If you came to our house with a drink, you sat out in your car and finished it and then came into the house," she is quoted. "I never set foot in a liquor store until I was 26."

If this all sounds pretty strange, it's the picture of life around rock stars that you get from much of "Rock Wives" (Beech Tree Books: $12.95).

Explained Balfour in an interview: "Everyone seems to think of the rock life as so glamorous. But the more I saw of that world, the more I began to see the wives as victims."

Balfour, 31, is a New York writer who has worked as a researcher for the New York Times Magazine and Rolling Stone. She had been intrigued by the women around rock stars ever since her "Beatlemaniac" days as a child. As she got older, however, she started seeing the darker side of what once seemed like a Cinderella existence.

Her curiosity was heightened in 1979 by a widely published photo of Anita Pallenberg, who had been involved for years with Brian Jones and, especially, Keith Richards. The photo--taken as Pallenberg left a courtroom after a hearing involving a shooting at Richards' Upstate New York residence--was, in Balfour's words, "shocking."

In the book's introduction, she explains, "Where only a few years before, Anita had been lithe and beautiful, now, only in her early 30s, she looked like a frumpy, vastly overweight woman in her late 40s. . . . It seemed to me that life with a rock star could really take its toll on a woman."

Balfour began work on "Rock Wives" early in 1984, drafting a list of 72 women who have lived or still live with rock stars. She ended up speaking to about two dozen of them, though only 18 of the interviews were used in the book. (Actually, only 17 women are featured in the book. To see what it's like to be the male companion of a rock star, Balfour interviewed David Wolff, manager of singer Cyndi Lauper.)

The biggest disappointment for Balfour was that none of the Beatles wives or girlfriends agreed to talk. Her biggest coup: Susan Rotolo, who was Bob Dylan's girlfriend during the early '60s, when he went from from a folk-scene hopeful in Greenwich Village to a cultural hero.

Rotolo, who was pictured with Dylan on the cover of his "Freewheelin' " album in 1963, has eluded the many Dylan biographers over the years, though her sister, Carla, spoke to Anthony Scaduto for his celebrated 1971 book on Dylan.

Balfour said she was having dinner with friends who are such Dylan fanatics they even have a tape of one of his phone conversations. When she mentioned the book project, they told her that Susan's sister was in the phone directory. Following up on the long shot, Balfour stated her case so impressively that Carla gave her Susan's unlisted number.

"Susan was very sweet, and the one (of all the women interviewed) that I have kept in closest touch with," Balfour said. "She's very shy, but she apparently felt it was time to talk about (the relationship with Dylan) now because it is history. It happened 20 years ago and she has some perspective on it."

Rotolo, a book illustrator who is married to someone outside the music business, speaks affectionately about her early days with Dylan, describing a "clowniness, a funniness about him. He used to clown around on stage tuning his guitar. He didn't cut the strings, so he'd say, 'This guitar needs a haircut.' . . . He had an impish kind of personality, like Harpo Marx."

She contrasts this early, carefree manner with a gradual absorption with career.

"There was a period when I was part of his possessions . . .," she is quoted as saying.

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