Imagine having Mick Jagger serenade you from a street corner, or jetting off to Europe with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.
That's the life Bebe Buell lived during the '70s, as girlfriend and "muse" — don't call her a groupie — to some of the biggest stars in rock 'n' roll.
Her other beaux included Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Todd Rundgren and Elvis Costello. But none of them stuck around, something Buell admits was painful.
"I realized that there is no fairy tale," she told 20/20 Downtown's Chris Cuomo in an interview airing tonight. "Never being able to get it right — the love, the failures."
Now 48, Buell has a fiancé, a successful book out, and a new house — a gift from one star who has stayed in her life: her daughter, actress Liv Tyler.
Buell came to New York in 1972 with a contract from a prestigious uptown modeling agency. She found work as a model — she was Playboy's Miss November in 1974 — but she found her true home downtown, mixing with rockers at cutting-edge music clubs like CBGB's.
She soon moved in with Todd Rundgren, beginning a parade of rock-world lovers. Then one day, Mick Jagger showed up outside Rundgren's townhouse at 4 a.m. Like something out of Romeo and Juliet, he called her name from the street, "Bebe, Bebe, … I've got yogurt."
"I guess I was pretty hot," she remembers now.
Buell would later date Jagger and many others. Her love life was so complicated that 20/20 Downtown made a chart to help her sort it out. Looking at the chart, Buell said it made her feel fortunate: "What a lucky girl I am to know so many wonderful, exciting, brilliant people. They represent different changes and different phases of my growth."
Each rock star brought new experiences to her life, Buell said. "Todd introduced me to the world I always dreamed of being a part of … Mick introduced me to culture, food, designers, good shoes … Rod Stewart … helped me to realize what I didn't want in a boyfriend. Steven gave me my beautiful daughter."
Never a Mere Groupie
Director Cameron Crowe, who met Buell in 1975, used her as a model for the groupie Penny Lane in his film Almost Famous. Buell said she cried throughout Crowe's movie, "because he finally painted a positive portrait of the woman that's not holding the guitar."
Like Buell, Penny Lane was insulted by the term "groupie" and saw herself as a creative inspiration for the rock stars she dated. Buell calls herself a "muse," and says there were so many songs written about her that she jokes she could release a box set.
Among the songs inspired by her romances, Buell writes in Rebel Heart: An American Rock 'n' Roll Journey, are Rundgren's "Can We Still Be Friends?" and Elvis Costello's "I Want You."
Raising a Daughter
But Bell says she would not want her daughter to have the same life she had. Liv Tyler was conceived when Buell ran off to Europe with Steven Tyler in the summer of 1976. "We had, like, that animal attraction," Buell said of the Aerosmith singer. "I guess we were meant to have a child together."
Her daughter was born the next year, but Buell decided that Tyler was so addicted to drugs there was no way he could be a father. So she went to her longtime beau, Rundgren, who agreed to act as Liv's father.
They kept their secret until Liv was 11, when they went to an Aerosmith concert. The little girl was struck by her physical similarities to the singer on stage. "There was a very dramatic moment and she said, 'Mom, that's my daddy, isn't it?'" Buell remembers. She then told Liv the truth.
Buell tried to keep Liv from the fast lane, raising her in Maine. But Liv eventually decided to try show business. Not wanting to see her daughter taken advantage of, Buell — who had seen the business from the inside — took on the role of manager, publicist, agent and guide.
With her mother's help, Liv became a huge success. Buell negotiated her first million-dollar deal, but then, Buell says, just like all the rock stars, Liv left her behind, dumping her as her manager.
Buell was devastated. She saw her daughter's move as a desertion and a continuation of all the other abandonments she had suffered before.
But now, after therapy and antidepressants, she is back on track. She has reconciled with her daughter, and is singing regularly with her band, the Bebe Buell Band. She is engaged to the guitarist, Jim Wallerstein, who is 13 years younger — and says she has finally found her man.