When 21-year-old Cynthia Albritton met Jimi Hendrix on a cold Chicago night in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in 1968, she asked if she could plaster cast his penis. She was so nervous that she stuttered, but Jimi said he’d heard about her in the cosmos and invited her up to his room. The Jimi Hendrix Experience had just played a show at the Civic Opera House, and Cynthia and her casting mates had followed the band’s limousine after the set. They were in Dianne’s car, trying to catch the band’s attention by waving their official suitcase with the Plaster Casters of Chicago logo (that Cynthia designed) through the window. It worked. They accompanied the band to Room #1628, casted two of the three band members, and Cynthia had sex with her favorite bassist. Cynthia told me, “That was an unbelievable evening.”
Her horoscope for that day told her that she was about to get what she most wanted. In one skillfully playful swoop, she deftly integrated music, art, and sex.
Growing up in Chicago, Cynthia loved to draw. She was a fan of The Beatles, whose music made her want to have sex, even if she didn’t really know what that exactly meant. In 1964, high school chums Kathy Barnett and Cynthia figured out how to meet rock bands: when The Rolling Stones rolled into town, the gal pals hung around their hotel. Sometimes, Cynthia climbed a hotel’s fire escape to catch a glimpse of a band she loved. If security guards turned her away from the hotel, she dodged them through the stairwells.
“It’s all a mad, rock ‘n’ roll blur,” Cynthia said in a video clip about her plaster casting life from 2012’s “Rock Scene Magazine,” her hair and make-up reminiscent of sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (platinum hair, creamy white eye shadow, black eyeliner and peachy lips). “I wanted to keep on meeting more cute mop-top boys because this exciting life was the life for me.” She’d been a “shy, fledgling, virginal goofy girl that wanted to get laid by cute British boys with long hair and tight pants. But I wasn’t experienced or seductive….” so, she believed that the “only way I could go about getting the zippers down” was a goofy, funny way. When Cynthia and I talked on the phone in 2012, she said, “I wasn’t girly. I was a tomboy and the boys in my high school looked down at me because I was very irreverent. But I wasn’t friendless. I had enough pals.”
It was the excitement and newness of the 60s’s music that drew her to casting. “I felt more popular when I got into the British Invasion. Because there were like-minded people that I met…People noticed me more because I was odd.” Liberated by the British Invasion and the nascent Second Wave feminism of the 1960’s, Cynthia attended the University of Illinois (where she studied with Roland Ginzel), while living with her mom. She studied art. When an art class assignment asked her to plaster cast something solid that could retain its shape, Cynthia immediately thought, “I know the perfect object.”
“I’d heard through the grapevine that penises got solid, although I had yet to see that happen,” she said. Paul Revere & the Raiders were in town, and she thought that “maybe they would like to help me with my homework.” Her art instructor’s suggestion of sand and water to make a mold did not work, but sex did. After a romantic conversation with dreamy lead singer, Mark Lindsay, about her art goals as they sat together on the fire escape of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in 1966 – “like something out of the musical, ‘West Side Story’” – she gave her virginity to him, and that weekend, the Plaster Casters of Chicago was born. “The only way I could feel comfortable in anything as serious as sex was by having a good laugh, not at the lover’s expense. Both of us having a laugh…” Plus, it was important to her that her first sexual experience was with a man whose music was on the charts. She realized the “road to getting laid was paved in plaster.” Her entre to sex, and to rock star’s beds, was “this absurd thing where I crafted an official looking suitcase, with an official looking logo, and tools with which I would experiment… a ruler, clay, an apron, some notes.” She hung out with rock and pop stars two years before she even made a plaster cast, simply because of the growing legend around her name – and that official looking suitcase she created.
Cynthia was born on May 24, 1947, in Chicago, on the Day of the Magnifier and in the sign of quick-thinking Gemini. Her parents were first- generation American; her mother’s parents came from Lithuania and her father’s parents from England. An only child, she and her parents lived their entire lives in Chicago. Her mom worked as a secretary and her dad worked as a postal clerk. She was around 6 when her parents divorced, and her dad got sober when she was about 16. “I never asked too many questions about my family’s history. It was better that way. My mother would flip her lid. I didn’t see much of my father until I was a teenager. He was a major alcoholic when I was younger.” It was “scary and then he went off the sauce… just in time for me to have a parent that I liked and really could be close with when my mother was really starting to get nutty and possessive with me. I could talk to him.”
As Cynthia grew from a teen into a young woman, her mom made her nervous by acting angry and weird, and by being negative and domineering. “I didn’t know why she had become this way,” but then “I found out that she was reading my diaries and knew who I was.” Cynthia walked in on her mom reading one of her diaries. “She was knee deep and she couldn’t put it down when I walked in the door. And yep, my life was getting pretty juicy then.” Her mom found out Cynthia wasn’t a virgin anymore and grounded her for a month, a month during which Cynthia gained forty pounds. “She was angry that my father turned out to be the way he was and didn’t take care of her. She was angry because I was becoming my own person.”
“She felt that she had the right to turn me into what she wanted me to be and in order for her to do that she had to keep an eye on what I was doing.”
Cynthia referred to her mom as The Warden. “I think she was a narcissist that wanted me to be an extension of herself and that was the problem.” But she also told me her mom was a struggling single mother. And Cynthia talked with her mom almost every day, and joined her for weekly Sunday dinners until her mom died at age 92, in 2011. Her father died in his 70s.
In art school, Cynthia felt compelled to draw rock stars in the style of Realism as a way to “vent my love.” Homework never felt like work; “I just couldn’t control myself. I had to do them.” She sent pictures of her drawings to me after our first interview: Mark Lindsay; Ringo Starr; Paul McCartney; and Brian Jones. She made cartoons, too. There’s one cartoon of two girls in hippie regalia seated next to each other with thought bubble captions above their heads: one thought bubble is filled with hearts, the other, with penises. The hippie girl dreaming of penises is the one who looks happy.
After college-student Cynthia caught her mother reading her diaries, it “convinced me that I had to leave ASAP. So, I left our home…Dropped out of college, which I loved. Had to find a job, which I’d never done before and had no experience in and find a roommate. I did it all in a week.”
She wanted to go back to art school. “I think I tried it for a little while but by that time, I was so into being free — being able to stay out as late as I wanted to and talk to whoever I wanted to on the phone. I wasn’t able to concentrate on studying anymore and I was becoming a full-blown Plaster Caster.”
Ellen Sander joined the Plaster Casters to see the casting firsthand. Alas, the casting of the Steve Miller Band was interrupted by competing sexual desires and in-fighting, but Ellen wrote about the entire experience for her article, “The Case of the Cock-Sure Groupies,” published in 1968 by The Realist. Ellen quotes the Plasters Casters: when Dianne said she was afraid plaster casting might prevent a serious relationship with a man, Cynthia replied: “Nothing’s perfect. Everyone can’t like you. You’ve got to make up your mind that you’re a pioneer.”
In the 1970 “Groupies” documentary, one of Cynthia’s platers, Harlow, says she thinks casting is funny and campy, but that Cynthia is “dead serious about it.”
After reading Cynthia’s diaries (with Cynthia’s permission), Pamela Des Barres found out about the secrets of the Plaster Caster trade. Pamela described the plaster casting process in her best-selling memoir, 1987’s “I’m with the Band.” “For Cynthia it was a science, her true calling in life, the thing she was born to do.”
Ellen Sander told me she admires Cynthia Plaster Caster. Ellen said, “She’s as important an artist as Mapplethorpe.” Last year, I e-mailed Ellen about Cynthia. She wrote back, “We rock and roll chickadees gotta stick together.”
With cohort Barbara, Cynthia went hotel to hotel, the Plaster Casters suitcase in hand, cultivating their professional traveling saleswomen personae. Their suitcase was filled with the casting materials, including plaster; alginates; measuring scoops; lubricant; knife (spatula); and various sized mixing containers.
I was so curious about the plaster casting that I asked Cynthia about her whole plaster process. She told me that when she goes to a concert, she checks out the guys’ frontispiece, and his left hand for a wedding ring – that’s what she called her “groupie reaction.” She lived near a rock ‘n’ roll hotel (and was definitely hesitant to tell me the name of it) and knew that many of the bands who play Chicago stay there.
She said it’s important to mix the alginates slowly with your hands, monitor the water temperature, and get rid of air bubbles. Also, to be careful with opening the cans! She cut herself while attempting a mold on the Monkees’s Peter Tork. The golden hour for casting used to be 3 or 4 am, she said, but she’s older now, and doesn’t work that late, and isn’t adroit enough to be both plater (getting the man erect) and caster. She was more selective about whom she casted, too. “I really don’t like it when guys tell me I should do them…I cannot be commissioned. If I could be commissioned, I would never be broke again.” When she casted, she wore her father’s post office shirt. She never washed it. One night, when she was experimenting with melting wax on The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, she told him she needed an apron and he right away ripped off the pant leg of his bell-bottomed jeans and handed it to her. “Here, have an apron!” he enthused. She sewed it to her father’s post office shirt, and never washed that, either.
Elegantly casual photographs by Baron Wolman show her with her sculptures and with Dianne, both dressed casually and with long, straight dark hair. I love that the casts are showcased on a Neoclassical pedestal. The Doric columns were her idea, the entasis it evokes a slight curvature that reminds me of the Greek admiration of the male form and Rome’s allegiance to the group, two traits I recognize in Cynthia’s aesthetic philosophy.
There have been pretenders to the plaster throne – people who claim to be the Plaster Casters. But Cynthia said her reputation as a Plaster Caster got her beyond all the “groupie groveling.” She’s allowed immediate access to the band.
In the beginning she practiced on “civilians” to get ready for rock stars, usually her art school classmates. “A blow-job was the great motivator,” said Joel, one of her first castees, in the 2001 documentary about her, “Plaster Caster: The Rock & Roll Adventures of Super-Groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster.” Finding the band took clever thinking, I realized, and I asked her about her thought process. “They had to sleep somewhere and that would be a hotel…but the guts… I hadn’t gotten those quite yet… We let the calling cards do the talking.”
Cynthia’s calling cards – her business cards – read:
“Plaster Casters of Chicago
Life-like models of Hampton wicks.”
“Hampton wick is cockney rhyming slang for dick. We used cockney rhyming slang because we wanted to have a secret code language with which to speak to rock stars for what we had in mind,” she explained. Word spread soon after they formed in 1966; by 1969, the Plaster Casters of Chicago were featured in the Rolling Stone cult-classic issue dedicated to groupies.
Roadies recognized the suitcase Cynthia carried, and the Plaster Casters were brought immediately to the best seats in the house. Her good friend, Iva Turner, told me, “It was like the Red Sea parting in the Ten Commandments” as the crowd opened to let them through, the Plaster Caster suitcase leading the way. “When we walked up with the casting kit people were whispering, “It’s the Plaster Casters!””
Cynthia said, “We got this reputation. It was really weird…The rock stars started talking about us and the media even jumped on it.” For example, when they tried to meet The Monkees by hanging around outside the hotel where the band was staying, a roadie saw them with their suitcase and invited them in.
The Plaster Casters learned by trial and error, experimenting with wax, aluminum foil, oatmeal, and clay. A tip from an insurance agent told them that the best way to concoct the mixing paste was with alginate. What eventually worked was pink dental mold, with its alginate base.
At first, Barbara, also known as Pest, was the plater. By the time the Plaster Casters met Jimi, Dianne was the plater, Marilyn the note-taker, and Cynthia the mold and plaster mixer. Noel Redding, her beloved bassist for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, talks about it in the documentary about her: “And then they came to my room. I found it all amusing. These three ladies, right, one was timing the stuff, one was mixing the stuff, and the other one was performing fellatio on me, and at some point, I was supposed to plunge, as they say, in this stuff, right, but there was a knock on my door, so suddenly it was all interrupted. I remember the band just saying we had to go to the gig. Which was quite funny because I was really enjoying it, actually.” PlasterCastermixus interruptus. Noel’s rig softened at the interruption, twisting in the mix, and the resulting cast curves in on itself.
Over time, Cynthia learned to cover the floor with newspaper, the smell and dust of plaster in the air. Sometimes her post office shirt was open, revealing her bra, and her legs and feet might be bare, instead of stockinged. From the beginning, Cynthia kept scrupulous records of her artistic process. In the documentary about her, a page from her notebook is shown: “PLASTER CASTING A RIG,” reads the heading, and “PROCEDURE.” Precise details are noted.
Around 1968, when she and Dianne went to Cream’s hotel to cast Eric Clapton, the guitarist known as a god introduced her to musician and music producer, Frank Zappa. “We all met up at the hotel the next day and actually no one wanted to be casted, in particular, but Frank wanted to talk to us about what we were doing for an article he was writing for a magazine. We gave him the interview and he thought about it, and he really liked the idea…And I did drawings that he liked.” Most importantly, Frank told her “that what I was doing was art.” Frank Zappa was bowled over by Cynthia Plaster Caster, and soon sponsored the 21-year-old, flying her to Los Angeles with the promise of opening a museum in her honor. After she landed in LA, he gave her an apartment and an allowance. It amazed Cynthia that Frank was her patron. “A normal girl like me, a plain girl, key punch operator, moving to Hollywood, thanks to Frank Zappa. Unbelievable.” I asked her what plain girl means. “Ordinary.” People tell her she’s an icon, but she calls herself a “goofy groupie.”
Cynthia appears on the one and only album by the Frank Zappa-produced cult band, GTOs, 1969’s Permanent Damage. The GTOs were in the Los Angeles “Freak Scene,” so named because adherents dressed and acted wildly, dancing in the streets in garbage garb and thrift store couture. The album includes Cynthia’s phone conversation with GTO, Miss Christine, and her first meeting with GTO, Miss Pamela. “Frank had told me that he knew someone in L.A. that I should meet, and it was Pamela GTO because Pamela and I both had a crush on Noel Redding.” (This was before Cynthia met, bedded, and plaster casted him.) Frank “told me that he felt that he should introduce us and then he called me up long-distance, which was a big deal back then to get a long-distance call. I think the operator still had to place it. Put her on the phone and unbeknownst to me he was taping it.”
On the album, Miss Christine compliments and then advises Cynthia. But the conversation with Miss Pamela is energized by their mutual love of musicians, their interest in each other, and comparing notes. It’s deadly serious underneath the laughter – how many more times were you with him? What was it like? Tell me everything. (I asked Cynthia to tell me everything, too.)
As they met over the phone in 1968 during the conversation which Frank Zappa recorded and later excerpted on the GTOs album, they had such a shivery connection that they decided to bring in the new year together, and so Pamela flew from sunny Los Angeles to snowy Chicago where they shared Cynthia’s frilly bed for two weeks. They wrote a song together called, “1969,” went to a Fleetwood Mac concert, and dreamed about meeting Led Zeppelin. For many hours, they mooned over Noel Redding.
Cynthia and Pamela were like sisters. Their song proclaimed their Groupie Queendom! “I’m the Queen of Chicago/And she is the Queen of L.A./(What did the Queen of Alice in Wonderland say?).” (Many heartfelt thanks to her good friend, John Kaminski, for sending a picture of the lyrics to me!)
Around 1971 – 1972, after Cynthia’s home was robbed and she had a car accident, Cynthia decided to leave LA. She left her casts with Frank’s business manager, Herb Cohen, who safeguarded her sculptures for a little over eighteen years. During that time, he had them bronzed. When Cynthia asked Herb to return them, he refused. So, Cynthia sued Herb in 1991. The case changed how Cynthia felt about herself; people supported her, and her art. For example, legal help was pro bono, and Pamela flew to Cynthia’s side, serving as a character witness. Their friendship was characterized as sexual by the opposition – lesbianism as condemnation. Pamela recently texted me: “I was her character witness when she was trying to retrieve her dicks from the ogre herb Cohen. They tried to make us out into lovers as if that was something bad, but we weren’t. They were just reading our letters to each other aloud and they were so gushing and so full of love that they wanted the judge to think we’ve been lovers and I was biased.”
The trial took a few days. Cynthia was awarded the casts in 1994, and twelve thousand dollars. Cynthia retrieved all the bronzes and most of the originals; Herb said he didn’t know where some of the originals were. She never saw those again.
Many of her casts were created in the 1960s. “Back then, during the sexual revolution…you had a social obligation to dip your dick into something new and different. We had something different for dipping,” Cynthia told “Rock Scene Magazine.” She didn’t really like a lot of the music of the 1970s, and the LA scene wasn’t as conducive to casting as the Chicago scene. Her day job as a typesetter meant early hours. She worked “straight jobs for about thirty years” because she had to “even though I felt like I compromised my personality. I had to put on a certain straight face for the job,” she told me, adding that some of her employers knew about her plaster casting and didn’t like it.
But Cynthia casted musicians ever since then, and began casting women in 2000. She chose to cast breasts (instead of vulvas) because of their bouncy goofiness. For her 66th birthday, Cynthia plaster casted her own breasts.
She created and sold limited editions of her plaster casts of musicians’s penises and breasts, many of which were 3rd generation. She’d hire a mold-maker to make latex molds of the casts, and those were used to make copies.
Plaster was her favorite medium because it gave a virginal and feminine quality that turned her on. For years she displayed the casts on a shelf above her bed, and later in her living room. Limited editions were custom-made to order. The base of the cast was signed and hand-labeled with the castee’s name, date s/he was casted, serial number of the casting event and edition number – the same labeling system she’d been using since 1968. Included with the cast is a Certificate of Authenticity and a color print of her original journal entry detailing the process – both suitable for framing. Editions were available in semi-gloss and matte. The glossy coat, “Crystal Clear” by Krylon, brought out the details more, giving the cast some dimension. The matte is classic, looking the way her casts looked from the start before she put any protective coating on them at all. Matte looks more “plasterly” and flat. As I decided to purchase a cast of Jimi Hendrix’s penis and a cast of Cynthia’s breasts, I pondered glossy or matte. She said she poured the plaster into the mold, let it harden overnight, then put it on her “sunny windowsill to bake for almost a week.” Then, she coated the cast with veneer and labeled the base. “Either way you go, it will look DELICIOUS!”
I asked her if her art or being a groupie are feminist. “I wasn’t looking at it that way…it’s turning out that way… I’m still thinking about it in the world of Andy Warhol. Repetition, and variations on themes.” The guys are vulnerable, and she puts herself in their place. “Once they’re submerged in that mold, they…are kind of numb… I feel for them, and I’m very hopeful that they come out looking their prettiest.”
I commented that museums and galleries might not honor her because she is a woman artist. She said it’s the fear of a life-like penis. I knew she was right; movies hardly ever show the penis. The film strips like a woman but not a man, unless it’s pornography. Corporate sponsorship is afraid of the penis, Cynthia explained, saying that the people with the most money are usually conservative. Rolling Stone was the second paper to write up the Plaster Casters, but now they don’t mention them, she pointed out. Not long ago Rolling Stone did ask for some Jimi Hendrix Plaster Cast photos, but then they changed their minds. Was her name too incendiary for the sadly tamed music publication? Jimi wasn’t afraid of her experience.
If she were a male artist, Cynthia’s plaster casts of rock star genitals would have sold for outrageous amounts. But the penis is taboo in our culture. Which is ironic because we are a patriarchy. So, her art is radical.
In 2010, the R & R Gallery in downtown Los Angeles exhibited an art show about groupies. Cynthia flew in from Chicago, joining local SuperGroupies Pamela Des Barres, Catherine James, Lori “Lightning” Mattix, and Miss Mercy. It was then and there that I began my Groupie Archives, beginning with purchases of prints of photographs by Baron Wolman of Cynthia and Dianne Plaster Caster with their casts, and by Ed Caraeff of the GTOs. I dearly craved a Raeann Rubenstein of the plaster casting materials, but alas, it’s the print that got away.
It was two years later that I decided to purchase art from Cynthia – a big thing for someone like me, on a low income – and I felt so good about the investments. When the art arrived, I felt the exciting weight of music history. Her handwriting on the packages that she sent told me so much about her, and the way she packed her art told me a lot about her as an artist. Her lettering was all black print in capitals that was easy to read. Her addressing felt respectful, serious, and fun, all at once. Her packaging assured a safe and sound arrival, revealing the mind of an archivist and the soul of an artist, with its layers of bubble wrap, careful taping and labeling, and sheets of protective cardboard. Everything fit so neatly together. I feel as though her packaging is art, too, as are the photos of the various casts that she sent to me as I made my decisions about what to purchase. Every move she made and e-mail she sent to me as we moved through the process of my investing in her art integrated the professional with the playful. When I see her casting notes, there is that same careful letting in a thick-tipped pen.
Her correspondence was sweet and soon, with humorous and precise language as she took care of business. She told me that the drying casts in the sun “look so lovely among the flowers.” During our interviews, her voice sounded deep orange. She was warm and funny and politically aware. She knew a lot about the current Chicago music scene and told me that bands stay at her apartment when they are playing in town. Her voice is so energetic when she talks about the music.
There are questions I really wanted to ask Cynthia but hesitated. I prefaced my question seeking permission, and asked Cynthia about the disturbing rumors I’ve heard– that she was thrown into a pool and that her clothes were torn off, and not in a fun or sexy way. That she was lured by a very famous rock star into a situation that degraded her. That her casting mate, Harlow, had welt marks on her back from the time they spent with the band they’d previously admired, the band’s posters on their bedroom walls, the band’s vinyl on their turntables. There is a story I’ve promised not to repeat, a story that tells how Cynthia was mistreated by two rock stars and their road manager. One of the rock stars later apologized.
Ethnomusicologist, Dr. Fredara Mareva Hadley, told me that by the time boys are teenagers, they understand that “we live in a society where they are more important, or endowed with more power, than women are, and that they have the right to engage women at will.” She said about groupies and fans with musicians, “Who is there to…stop something if it goes awry?”
“We’re talking about the physical space that they’re in, there’s a very vulnerable position, if you’re backstage or if you’re in someone’s dressing room or hotel room, all of the personnel that is around, is there in service of the band that you’re there to see. Not you. None of them are there for you.”
Cynthia learned from her bad experiences. “It made me more apprehensive and cautious about going to a strange man’s hotel room, which I needed to learn. And then I saw the human side, too, how fucked up a lot of them are.” Those who stay out of the limelight or retire early or who have a support group are the ones who are sane. Superstardom, she said, is a crazy life. All the fawning. Being fucked up is the norm for the superstars, and she was not talking about drugs or alcohol. I was shocked because I’ve always thought being rich and famous would be so fulfilling and believed all my self-esteem issues would be solved if I could just be loved so grandly, and so publicly, and paid for my own creative talents so excessively. If only thousands of hot guys wanted to sleep with me, I’ve oftentimes thought. But Cynthia believed it made some people more demanding, making them feel more entitled. So, you have some compassion for rock stars who crossed some boundaries with you, I observed. She replied, “Their human flaws make them kind of attractive. But you have to keep some of those flaws at a distance. I was shocked and delighted to find that they were as insecure as I was. That kind of made me see them in a different light…They’re the same as us.”
Most of her castees were “real sweethearts, real dolls…so sweet and supportive.” They get that it’s play, which is the crux of art. “A guy named Keith Webb, who’s the drummer for Terry Reid’s band, he’s just a doll. Real sweet and supportive,” she said. She mentioned Jon Langford, drummer and guitarist for the Mekons, “a real resonant guy.” She’d met him after a Mekons gig, and “popped the question” after a secret show the next day. But it was three years later, in 1988, after Mary Byker (aka Ian) of Gaye Bikers on Acid told Jon about being casted, when Jon agreed. By then they were pals and the Mekons would crash at her place. “It was eccentric and innocent as an experience. It was like an art project, really,” Jon said when we talked. “It’s more of a science experiment…There was nothing erotic about it. She was concentrating on the science. My girlfriend was concentrating on trying to have me not fuck up. I didn’t want to be Noel Redding,” referring to the notorious twisting cast.
But the casting of Danny Doll Rod in 2000, filmed for the documentary about Cynthia, seemed quite erotic, as her science and her art merged with his fantasies about groupies and the legend of the room in which they did the deed: The Conrad Hilton Hotel, in the same room she’d casted Jimi, #1628. She sings in front of the hotel as she re-enacts her conversation with Jimi for Danny and the filmmakers, like the musicals she loved. As they completed the casting, Cynthia threw back her head and laughed. She kissed Danny’s penis after the impression was made, expressing such truly happy abandonment and joy.
Cynthia told me that “…it’s the one that gets the joke involved, they’re the ones that are batting in my corner and actually tend to make the kind of music I like. They don’t take themselves too seriously.”
The Animals’ singer, Eric Burdon, whose cast she attempted, said in the documentary that her plaster casting was such a “rock ‘n’ roll thing to do.” Eric said, “It was really a brave thing to do.”
How many men had similar bravery, to be casted? “Not enough.” Would she cast anyone besides musicians? Yes. She’d cast some politicians, too, because she goes for talent. “I’m a Talent Queen. I’m not a Size Queen or… even a Looks Queen. They are in the collection because of their extraordinary talent, preferably in a creative way.” Iva Turner told me about the time she and Cynthia casted Broadway superstar, Anthony Newley. Iva adored the art Cynthia was making. But what’s the appeal, I asked Iva. There’s the sexual aspect of the musical performance, and Cynthia was casting musicians’ bodies. But also: “We’re talking about lots of history regarding the human body as art. If you think that the body is art, then what’s better art than an actual cast of a body? It couldn’t be better. I mean, Michelangelo can sculpt David all day long, but it’s not the same thing as casting him.” How does the art relate to politics, I asked. “Sex is always an issue in politics. It’s certainly a political act for a woman to be casting a man’s dick. And to be casting breasts, too.”
Cynthia said that “a tit wing in my collection was long overdue since I liked a lot of female musicians. I met a girl named Journey in Chicago who self-taught herself how to cast cocks, which she did for hire. She also figured out how to cast her own boobs and passed along her knowledge to me. Soon after, L7 came to town, at the same time “Plaster Caster” the cockumentary was being filmed. Why not cast my first ever boob casts and have them be Suzi’s if she was willing? And she was! She didn’t mind being filmed, either. Couldn’t believe how beautiful the first attempt came out! It’s one of the outtakes in the film.“
Cynthia called her casts “sweet babies” and refers to herself as their mama. She said she had no favorites; her democratizing of her artful casts reflects the egalitarian and experimental zeitgeist of the times in which she first had the idea to cast rock stars’ penises. The individual experience of crafting each one was equally exciting and weird and unique. She was hands-on even after the cast was made, too. Jimi’s cast broke in three places, so she glued it back together. And she defended the casts, explaining why some are so much shorter than others, or twirling into itself, like Noel Redding’s.
Cynthia estimated 55-60 successful casts, with attempts at about 70. She charmingly confessed to failing on a few groovy people. I mentioned the KISS song about her, 1977’s “Plaster Caster.”
Cynthia revealed that KISS members were never plaster casted. She said that it would have been cool if the band had just asked her first, before they wrote a song about her. Ironically, a line from the song is, “Just ask her.” Was she wondering about that line in the song? I wish I’d just asked her. The song proves to me what I have long suspected: Groupies cement reputation.
I asked Cynthia her favorite song about groupies, and she told me it’s 1969’s “The Plaster Song,” by Ed Sanders. I asked what’s her favorite song in general, too. “My all-time favorite song is “Spanish Flea” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It makes me happy.”
Coincidentally, a rare exhibition of her art was shown in my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky, as I worked with Cynthia on an article about her for my mixtape zine, “The Groupie Gospels,” in 2013. The show was bankrolled by a former high school classmate whom I haven’t seen or talked to since 1984, Paul Catlett from the band, Languid and Flaccid, some of whose members would later form Slint, a band with a cult following. I was living in Los Angeles at the time so I couldn’t go to the art show, but my mom went. Afterwards my mom said to me, “I didn’t recognize any of the casts.” A groupie at heart.
Cynthia Plaster Caster is not an unsung heroine – a few highlights include the following: she ran for mayor of Chicago in 2011 under The Hard Party banner (one button proclaims: “Erect Cynthia Plaster Caster”). There is the KISS song, which Evan Dando & The Lemonheads covered. Jim Croce’s song “Five Short Minutes” is about her. Le Tigre mentions her in their song “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo.” There are more songs about her, and an album cover that refers to her. Cynthia was invited to be interviewed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” for an episode about groupies and rock stars that aired in 1987 (but she declined because of shyness, according to Pamela’s 1992 memoir, “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart”). She has an entire documentary about her, “Plaster Caster: The Rock & Roll Adventures of Super-Groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster” (2001). She was featured in magazines and newspapers in the early days of the Plaster Casters, and there have been articles about her and her art ever since. The 2002 movie, “The Banger Sisters,” and the TV series, “Good Girls Revolt” (2015-2016), seem to draw from her life.
Cynthia Plaster Caster and Pamela Des Barres together attended the premiere of “The Banger Sisters,” a film whose main characters seem based on the two living legends. They wore colors as bright as their dyed hair and as their smiles, their arms around each other. I searched the film’s credits but did not see Cynthia Plaster Caster or Pamela Des Barres’s names. It would have been equitable and honorable for them to get some credit (and money) for being muses–or for their life rights. Film credits are the equivalent of an album’s liner notes and exist as permanent and historical affirmations.
Cynthia Plaster Caster did not receive the vast sums of money and respect she deserved. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum approached her, they acted as though they were doing her a favor and didn’t offer her any money, so she turned them down. “Get this: several “sex museums” have approached me in the past, but refused to pay any artist’s fees. These were profit businesses too. Forget them – I’m not a sex museum kind of girl. Sex is only a minor factor of my work, anyway.” I believe that if she were a man, she would have been granted several more singular art shows and a living retrospective (and at major museums) by now–or at least have made enough money from her art to not have to work other jobs or worry about paying bills.
I asked Cynthia what she cherished, and she said her friends, who are “like my jewels. My precious, precious jewels.”
“Most of my friends are gay men that laugh at the same things that I do. I go to a movie salon regularly. That’s my main form of recreation. Watching old movies, old obscure movies with my friend” who has a “small apartment with a gigantic movie screen.” They voted on which films to watch. “I just love old films period. Just about anything.”
John Connors was her dear friend who hosted the weekly movie salons. “I met Cynthia about 20 years ago. My relationship with her was different than most people because I really didn’t know much about her when we met. And I wasn’t a big rock fan, so the names of her casts besides Hendrix were really pretty unknown to me.”
“But we did bond on our love of musicals and TV variety shows…We’d watch old episodes of the Andy Williams Show or a Bea Arthur special” or black and white movies, or film noir. “Cynthia never missed it.”
“Cynthia loved musicals. And we shared that love. Although she was a rock and roll girl, her heart was really on Broadway and the old MGM musicals.” Her favorite food was Chinese fried rice with chicken, and she’d bring Milano cookies from Trader Joe’s to share. She’d also share stories about the bands on the variety shows! “She had a story about nearly every band. Who was a druggie, who she had tried to cast, who she had a brief fling with. Sometimes it would shock everyone!”
“One year on my birthday she gifted me with a prized possession. A cast of Anthony Newley!
I still have the blue ribbon she tied on it.”
I asked Cynthia about being fat. Along with her art, it’s what drew me to her. Because it’s usually thin people celebrated in the rock arena. She said rock stars treated her differently because of the weight. “Well, I gained 40 pounds in 30 days, and that’s when The Plaster Casters were starting to get more renowned, and there are photos of me, like 40 or 50 pounds overweight for my height. I’m only 5’4”. And when I moved out to L.A., I was still overweight. And L.A. is not a kind city. You know it’s very body-ish out there.” She wasn’t happy with how she looked in the “Groupies” documentary from 1970. But now she appreciates that documentary.
Back then, Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band said the Casters weren’t groovy, that they were sick and trashy. Lisa Rhodes wrote in her book, “Electric Ladyland: Women and Rock Culture”: “It is notable that Miller, bona fide member of the counterculture, employs the normative values of the mental health industry, conventional feminine beauty, and class consciousness in the framing of his disapproval.”
Once she got skinny, rock stars liked her again. That angered her because she was still the same person. One rocker who had rejected her decided to like her when she got thinner. But she turned him down. I told her I’ve long struggled with my weight and accepting my body. She replied: “You have to learn you might not have the perfect body…The most important thing for me was to have the most healthy body.” And to learn how to breathe.
Her voice was deep, attentive, and present. It felt like she was holding my hand when we talked about weight, and self-perception. I told her about the things I most regret, and she reassured me that perspective has helped me be a better person. As it sounded like it has with her own experiences as a groupie, and as an artist.
She died on April 21, 2022. According to the New York Times, it was from cerebrovascular disease. I remember her telling me about the physical pain she was in, and about her unhappiness with President Trump, and soon after that, how badly the pandemic had affected her. We commiserated. And music always nourished her. She loved being in the lights, sounds, and energy of live music venues. Her health in the last few years was such that she wasn’t sure if she could go to concerts, but before the pandemic, she wrote to me that “I made it out to L7’s show, and they were predictably mind-blowing. Hearing the roar of adulation at their concerts makes me happy – and a little less neuropathic for a little while. It was great to catch up with Suzi afterward. Yes, I’m very honored to have her breasts in my collection, especially being the FiRST ones to be captured! I think I’ll go watch the outtake in “Plaster Caster”, of her actual casting.” Cynthia loved music, she loved making art, and she knew how to extrapolate sustainment from them. And she knew how to have friends.
Cynthia’s longtime friend, Chris Kellner, told me that there are “so many things I want to say…I guess the one thing I have learned is how wonderful her friends are. She lived in 3rd floor walk up and her mobility and fixed income weighed heavily on her mind. I thought I was the only one helping her buy groceries and taking out her trash until all the friends started talking to each other recently. Turns out she had specific tasks for each friend. I only bought prune juice, strawberries and almond milk. I could never stray from the brands she wanted. When I mentioned that to another friend of hers it turns out he had a different list of specific items. We found a few more friends that she had enlisted in her covert operation. We all had a good laugh and were glad to do it. We thought how sweet it was of her to not burden any one of us with the whole list of big bag of groceries to walk up three flights of stairs.”
John Connors said that “during Covid we did have one last night. She was pretty frail then and I picked her up and we ate outside and then watched the Betty Grable movie “Pin-up Girl.”
I didn’t know as I put her in an Uber to get her home that it would be our last night. And she asked if we could do these again, but soon the pandemic got much worse and it never happened, but I’m glad we ended on a bright and shiny note.”
When I bought Plaster Caster tank tops from her, she said she was happy to be on my “beautiful body.” When I wear them, I hear her words in my head and feel better about myself.
Her friend about town, Steven Krakow, said, “I’d say the best thing about Cynthia’s vibe is that is was clear she was a light-emitting local legend, but she was also just a regular, down to earth lady with a great sense of Midwestern self-deprecating humor. She’d just off-the-cuff introduce me to luminaries like Pamela Des Barres at a clothing shop, or all of Throbbing Gristle outside of a venue, like I didn’t know who they were! She was like the cool older sister you never had, Chicago accent and all. She never put on airs, but she floated above all of us with an infectious smile –she was just a sincere music lover her whole life.”
Musician, Babette Suegra Novak, was her close friend and caregiver. “Cynthia was an effervescent spirit. She had so much love and enthusiasm for music and the arts, while being a talented artist herself. Her laugh was a mischievous cackle at times, and she would get this delighted look on her face. It was as if she surprised herself by being amused. I conjured up jokes just to see that transformation. I miss her laugh and that infectious smile more than anything.”
When she signed off her correspondences, she’d write “Love and plaster,” “Love and Hampton Wicks,” “Plasterly yours,” “Tha Plasterly Loves You,” “Za Plaster,” and “May the Plaster Be With You,” among her variously fun references to her plaster-casting. I like thinking about her perfectly manicured nails, too; they were painted so beautifully and creatively in unusual colors. She colored her hair in stripes before it was popular.
John said, “She was one of a kind and I’ll miss her forever.”
I am so grateful I got to know her.
It took about seven years for me to conduct an interview with Cynthia Plaster Caster for my mixtape zine, and it was more than worth then wait. Plus, she let me interview her twice, and after that, we corresponded through social media, emails, and phone conversations. She means so much to me. Her voice was so gentle, her humor so zany, that her essential creative focus and ambitious resolve might’ve been missed by many, I think. Her longtime friend, Gabrielle Karras, told me on my Facebook wall that Cynthia had a spine of steel, explaining via Messenger that “while Cynthia was a sweetheart and soft spoken (over and over people have said this and it is true), she was also a survivor and a woman with loads of determination.”
Cynthia was a visionary and truly original artist whose plaster practice was as focused and ambitious as the repeatedly celebrated (and usually male) artists in the art history canon. Her drawings and cartoons of musicians and groupies show her range and her theme. When I taught art history for ten years at an online school, I surreptitiously added her to every syllabus provided by the school, rewriting each syllabus on the sly to include her, as well as more women artists.
Lisa Rhodes and Ellen Sander wrote with great observation about Cynthia’s artistry, Lisa in her book “Electric Ladyland: Women and Rock Culture, 1965-1975” (2005), and Ellen in her article, “The Case of the Cock Sure Groupies” (1968).
In my forthcoming book, “The Golden Era of Groupies: 1965-1978,” Cynthia Plaster Caster has her own chapter, and hers is the sample chapter I provided in my book proposal.
Some of her cherished friends are working on publishing her memoir, “Plaster of Paradise.”
I asked Pamela what memories are most prevalent for her since Cynthia’s death. Pamela said she keeps remembering when “we were on a groupie panel in Palermo, Italy, in the ancient ancient city where everyone slept from 12 noon to 3 PM, and we spent a lot of time giggling in our bed just reliving our crazy wild history.”
And, of course, when they met over the phone, and wrote letters to each other for months after that, and the first time they met in person. “It was New Year’s Eve and we went to see Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, when they were great, and we both had a blast.”
I asked Chris what he was remembering. He wrote: “I saw her in the lobby of Metro before a show. I offered to buy her a ticket and she said, “Oh no, doll, I am waiting for someone to let me in. I am still a groupie, har,har”. When the main act came on, Cynthia was in the VIP section with the fold out fan to attract the attention of the one she wanted. This was about 4-5 years ago, so about that time she was a spry 69 years old.“ He explained that Cynthia liked “fold out fans to keep you cool in a hot concert but she told me she used the movement of it to catch the musician’s eye, usually the drummer.”
Groupies emerged in the 1960s on the cusp of Second Wave feminism as the avant-garde of the sexual revolution. They lived their lives as though they could equal rock stars in creative and sexual freedom. Music allowed races to mix; Cynthia’s plaster cast of music legend and guitar god Jimi Hendrix’s penis is known as the Penis de Milo, after a renowned sculpture from ancient Greece, the Venus de Milo. But corporate interests, the double standard, and fear of freedom impeded women’s liberation and racial equality, so groupies were often dismissed as playthings in the power ballad of rock ‘n’ roll (and music) history.
Think about this: Cynthia began plaster-casting when husbands could legally rape wives, and when abortions were illegal. She was fat in a fatphobic culture. When The Animals performed on “Hullaballoo” in 1965, dancing women were part of the set design: their heads poked through frames hanging on the wall, like trophy animals. The words to the song the band sang? “It’s my life/and I’ll do what I want.” Cynthia took those words to heart.
Some people have wondered if Cynthia Plaster Caster is a myth, and some have doubted if her plaster casts are real. Intrigue has intensified her artistic and Super Groupie legacy in the quintessentially American (and masculine) arena of rock ‘n’ roll. Casting about for an identity, individual artistic and sexual freedom are harder for women to sculpt. But Cynthia Plaster Caster did just that.
Rest in Plaster, Cynthia.
List of her castees, notes, and instructions sent to me by the artist herself in 2012. If I’m missing any since then, please let me know. It’s crucial for the record.
Underlined items are the missing casts.
BOYS I’VE DONE
#00002, Joel Coplon, 2/16/68 (Friend)
#00003, Al Hernandez, 2/18/68 (Friend)
#00004, Jimi Hendrix, 2/25/68 (Guitarist)
#00005, Noel Redding, 3/30/68 (Bass Player—Jimi Hendrix Experience) #00006, Don Ogilvie, 5/5/68 (Road Manager—Mandala)
#00007, Bob Pridden, 8/1/68 (Road Manager—Who)
#00009, Richard Cole, 11/26/68 (Tour Manager—Led Zeppelin)
#00010, Dennis Thompson, 2/26/69 (Drummer—MC5)
#00011, Wayne Kramer, 2/26/69 (Guitarist—MC5)
#00012, Frank Cook, 3/31/69 (Drummer—Pacific, Gas & Electric)
#00013, Fritz Richmond, 5/12/69 (Jug Bass Player—Jim Kweskin Jug Band) #00014, Michael Vestey, 5/30/69 (Record Producer)
#00015, Bob Grant, 6/5/69, (Right-Wing Radio D.J.)
#00016, Anthony Newley, 6/7/69 (Singer/Songwriter)
#00017, Danay West, 6/11/69 (Manager—Iron Butterfly)
#00018, Eddie Brigati, 6/23/69 (Singer—Young Rascals)
#00019, Barry Bono, 6/23/69 (Road Manager—Young Rascals)
#00020, Harvey Mandel, 7/10/69 (Guitarist)
#00021, Lee Mallory, 7/22/69 (Singer/Songwriter)
#00023, John Barr, 7/30/69 (Bass Player—Churls)
#00024, Tony Stevens, 9/7/69 (Bass Player—Savoy Brown)
#00026, Keith Webb, 9/9/69 (Drummer—Terry Reid)
#00027, Bob Henrit, 4/3/70 (Drummer—Argent/Kinks)
#00028, Zal Yanovsky, 7/14/70 (Lovin’ Spoonful)
#00032, Aynsley Dunbar, 9/3/70 (Drummer—Mothers of Invention/Journey) #00033, Ricky Fataar, 10/28/71 (Drummer—Beach Boys/Bonnie Raitt; Rutles) #00035, John Smothers, 11/29/80 (Bodyguard—Frank Zappa)
#00036, Ivan Karamazov, 6/11/81 (Juggler—Flying Karamazov Brothers) #00038, Mary Byker, 4/16/88 (Gaye Bykers On Acid)
#00039, Jon Langford, 6/29/88 (Singer/Guitarist—Mekons, Three Johns)
#00040, Chris Connelley, 9/8/88 (Singer—Revolting Cocks)
#00043, Clint Poppie, 9/30/89 (Singer—Pop Will Eat Itself)
#00045, Brian St. Clair, 2/19/91 (Drummer—Rites of the Accused, Triple Fast Action) #00047, Jello Biafra, 4/29/91 (Singer—Dead Kennedys)
#00049, Bart Flores, 8/9/93 (Drummer—Wreck, Pigface)
#00050, Ronnie Barnett, 8/19/93 (Bass Player—Muffs)
#00051, Richard Lloyd, 5/11/94 (Guitarist—Television, Matthew Sweet) #00053, Mike Diana, 3/4/95 (Cartoonist)
#00054, Martin Atkins, 2/21/97 (Drummer—PIL, Killing Joke, Pigface) #00057, Russ Forster, 9/29/97 (Independent Filmmaker and ‘Zine Editor) #00061, Momus, 2/14/98 (Singer/Songwriter)
#00062, Jake Shillingford, 12/18/99 (Singer—My Life Story)
#00067, Bill Dolan, 4/2/00 (Lead Guitarist—5 Style)
#00065, Danny Doll Rod, 3/15/00 (Lead Guitarist-Demolition Doll Rods) #00069, David Yow, 8/6/00 (Lead Singer-Jesus Lizard)
#00071, Bobby Conn, 1/18/01 (Singer)
#00073 & 00074, Lawrence Barraclough, 9/26/04 (Filmmaker)
#00075, Ariel Pink, 2/19/06 (Singer/Songwriter)
(Underscored = Casts never returned to me by Herb Cohen)
GIRLS I’VE DONE
#00001 & 00002, Suzi Gardner, 5/28/00 (Lead Guitarist & Singer—L7)
#00003 & 00004, Christine Doll Rod, 8/26/00 (Drummer—Demolition Doll Rods)
#00005 & 00006, Margaret Doll Rod, 8/26/00 (Guitarist/Singer—Demolition Doll Rods) #00007 & 00008, Monica BouBou, 1/18/01 (Violinist with Bobby Conn)
#00009 & 00010, Laetitia Sadier, 1/28/01 (Singer & Keyboards, etc.-Stereolab)
#00011 & 00012, Peaches, 5/9/01 (Singer)
#00013 & 00014, Sally Timms, 5/30/01 (Singer—Mekons)
#00019 & 00020, Sally Timms, 7/22/01 (Singer—Mekons)
#00023 & 00024, Stephanie Barber, 2/9/02 (Singer—Competitorr)
#00027 & 00028, Karen*O, 5/1/03 (Singer—Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs)
#00029 and 00030; 00031 and 00032, Cynthia Plaster Caster, 5/26/13 (Artist, Fan, Collector)
—PEOPLE I’VE TRIED TO DO (but fucked up their molds)—
#00008, Eric Burdon, 9/3/68 (Singer—Animals)
#00022, Doug Dillard, 7/27/69 (Banjo Player—Dillards)
#00025, Keef Hartley, 9/8/69 (Drummer—Keef Hartley Band) #00034, Smutty Smiff, 10/12/80 (Bass Player—Rockats) #00048, Pete Shelley, 11/10/91 (Singer/Songwriter—Buzzcocks)
A chapter about the Plaster Casters in 1969’s “Groupies and Other Girls: A Rolling Stone Special Report” includes excerpts from Cynthia’s diaries, and a definition of the terms the Plaster Casters used to entice the bands in code:
rig – penis
plating – fellatio plater – fellater
banking – masturbation Barclay’s Bank- masturbator
Materials: plaster; alginates; alginates and water measuring scoops; baggies; Vaseline; knife (spatula); container (vase); container (plastic cup); container (coffee can) 1/4 – 1/3filled with water; water thermometer (“unless you trust your hand”).
28:28 ratio works; baby oil helps lift up any pubic hairs caught in the mold.
When she told me the original casts and bronze copies were stored in a bank, I found it so fitting, because of the secret code she used to promote her talents – banking meant masturbating.
Basic method of Plaster Casting rigs: lubricate the rig and the vase; measure the powdered alginates into the vase; add water; thrust erect rig into the mixture; remove softened rig; remove mold from vase; add powdered plaster to the coffee can of water; pour mixed plaster into mold. Remove plaster penis or breast from mold and wrap mold in the baggie for future casts. Clean everything, and do not dispose anything in toilet or drains. Chiseling the sculpture is sometimes necessary.
Her Kickstarter clip really conveys her personality! Her artistic sense, and her sense of humor.