Since the success of Pamela Des Barres' "I'm With the Band", there has been a plethora of books written by and about the "groupies" of the 60's and 70's - the girls who dated, lived with, married, and followed around on the road the famous rock stars of those days. I have read many of these books as I'm interested in the lives and styles of these ladies, who are now in their 50's or 60's (except for those who sadly passed away), and how they ended up going around with musicians, and what happened to them as a result. Catherine James is one that you don't hear too much about compared to the aforementioned Miss Pamela and others such as Bebe Buell, and after reading her book the reason for this is clear: simply that having relationships with rock stars was only a small part of Catherine's life, and was more or less over and done by her mid-twenties, after which she dated a succession of lesser-known men. Unlike some of her peers (i.e. Pamela and Bebe), Catherine didn't seek to be a famous star herself. Also unlike some more of her peers (i.e. Bebe, Cyrinda Foxe) Catherine doesn't seem to have spent a lot of time trying to cadge money for child support or otherwise out of her rock star exes, nor does she seem to have sought out a particularly glamorous or exciting lifestyle. She worked as a Wilhelmina model, but only to pay the bills when she was slightly over the hill to be starting a modeling career (as the book notes); she also worked in such unglamorous jobs as photo double, stand-in, and even cashier.
Catherine's book doesn't go into much detail or dish much dirt on the musicians, with the possible exception of Denny Laine of Wings, with whom she lived for some time in England and had a child. Miss Pamela mentions in her book that Catherine was Jimmy Page's first beautiful American girlfriend in the early days of Led Zeppelin, and that Jimmy dumped Catherine to go with her. However, the portion of Catherine's book dealing with Jimmy Page is just a couple of pages at most. (I couldn't help but wonder if Catherine had left out details so as not to upset Jimmy - it appeared later on in the book that they renewed their friendship and that she might still have some feelings for him, while his relations with Miss Pamela appear strained in both women's books and in other press.) Bottom line is, this is not a "rock star tell-all" book, trashy or otherwise, and if you're looking for that, you're probably going to be disappointed. If, however, you are interested in a good story about the adventures of a beautiful girl from an eccentric (that's putting it mildly) showbiz family who survives many ups and downs and finally manages to achieve a stable, independent life, with a nice family of her own, you'll enjoy this book.
The basic story is this: Catherine is born to two gorgeous but unstable Hollywood high school kids (think "Rebel Without a Cause" on steroids) and is abused as a child by her beautiful mother, Diana. She seeks rescue from various members of the family, including her equally beautiful maternal grandmother, Mimi, and her also beautiful aunt Claire James, a former Miss California who was married to Busby Berkeley. Her car-racing father drops out of her life for decades, only to resurface much later as a transwoman (in a very bad drag). Catherine finally runs away, landing first in youth detention centers, then escaping to Hollywood, then to New York City, with the help of a lot of nice folks who seem to demand little or nothing in return for their niceness - or if they do put the moves on Catherine, she's always able to get away quickly before anything bad happens. Along the way she meets and has serious relationships with Denny Laine and Jackson Browne, as well as dalliances with Pagey, Mick and a few other famous fellows. She ends up raising Denny's child alone in a cabin in rural Connecticut. She spends the rest of the book shuttling between New York and California, trying to eke out a living while dealing with family drama as various lesser-known boyfriends and husbands abuse her, cheat on her, OD, etc. while all of her rich and weird relatives die off one by one, leaving the family fortunes in a tangled state. This has all the makings of a bad melodrama, but because the writer's tone is not the least bit obnoxious or entitled (unlike Bebe's or Cyrinda's books), it's a pleasant story to read, especially since you know it has a happy ending. It's also an interesting and somewhat condensed read, and you can get through it in a weekend.
On the minus side, you don't get the details or sense of humor and fun that Miss Pamela's book conveyed, although it's true that Catherine didn't have a very fun life in many ways. The rock n' roll part of the book is over quite early, so you're left reading about our heroine's affairs with a lot of no-name guys. And, as reviewers have noted, some of the details look a bit questionable, especially if you read closely. At one point Catherine mentions showing around a draft of her first book chapter, yet in another section she says she is terrible at creative writing and takes hours to write a Post-It note. And yet she wrote a whole book? Also, while I don't doubt that she was abused by her mother Diana (the self-effacing tone of the whole book fairly screams "abused child"), there is a story of her face being burned by hot grease that supposely took off the skin and left black charred scabs all over her face. Given that she received no medical treatment for what sounds like major third-degree burns, how did she avoid being scarred for life? Didn't anybody notice this kid with a burned face during the time it took to heal up? Diana's behavior is never put into any sort of context, nor is any motive ever suggested for her actions, which seem all the weirder given that Diana's parents, Al and Mimi, are presented as the nicest people in the world and Catherine considers grandma Mimi her savior and guiding light. Diana goes on to have and abuse three more children and one grandchild, and when the adult Catherine, who by now has a child of her own, comes back and finds this going on, her reaction is to just cut off contact with her mother. You would think that Catherine, being a mother herself, would have alerted authorities or done something to try to stop her mother from harming more children. It is possible that she was simply still too afraid of her mom to take that step, but still. Why didn't anybody do anything?
There is also an aura of Catherine surviving, like some sort of Blanche DuBois, through the kindness of strangers who help her at every turn. This makes for a nice story but I think that a teenage runaway surviving on the streets of Hollywood and New York City would have been exposed to some grittier and seamier sides of life, little of which makes it into the book. By the end of the story, when Catherine is in the process of losing most of her late father's estate through the machinations of shady lawyers, she's starting to sound a bit like a perpetual victim, but the book is almost over by then so it doesn't detract too much from an overall interesting, if short, story, whether it's all the ungilded truth or not.