BY ANA AMMANN with ANN LASOCKI // “I was discovered by a musician at one of the first concerts I went to, Three Dog Night with Steppenwolf"
In 1967 the question on everyone’s mind was, “Who is Penny Lane?" The song by the Beatles still rings in everyone’s ears, but as most people know now, it wasn’t about a girl; it was about a street in the band’s hometown of Liverpool, England, where McCartney and Lennon would meet to catch a bus to the Center of the city. Fast forward to 2000, that same question would be on everyone’s minds again thanks to filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but this time, the question was about a girl - the “Band-Aid” at the center of a film that took Crowe ten years to create, garnering him two Golden Globes and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay – the real Pennie Lane.
"Almost Famous" is the film; a coming of age story told through the eyes of William Miller in 1973 San Diego. William, a shy 15 year old, sits on the fringe of teen society. To compensate for a lack of community, he turns to writing and rock and roll landing a plum assignment covering an up and coming band. William ends up on the tour bus to get his story, guided through his adventure by the lovely Penny Lane, a groupie and leader of the “Band-Aids.” Like the character William, Crowe himself was shy and highly intelligent, finishing high school early at the age of 15 in 1972. He wrote music reviews for an underground publication based in San Diego, corresponded with rock journalist Lester Bangs and worked for Ben Fong-Torres at Rolling Stone before turning his attentions to screenwriting.
The storyline could be referring to William Miller, the boy whose coming of age is at the heart of “Almost Famous,” or it could be a page out of the life of the film’s creator Cameron Crowe. Like his young protagonist, Crowe had gotten his start as a rock journalist at the age of 15. In 1973, when he was just 16, he joined the staff of Rolling Stone magazine, where he eventually became an associate editor. While still in his teens, the young writer and avid music fan profiled many of the era’s most influential artists. The experience had a profound effect on Crowe, and over the years, as he turned from journalism to filmmaking, he attempted to bring the essence of that story to the screen.
So who is she? While a number of women were quick to take the credit publicly and cash in on their kiss and tell caché, the character in the film is an amalgamation of several women, but according to Crowe’s personal website, there is just one woman credited as the inspiration for the muse you see on screen portrayed perfectly by Kate Hudson – Portland native, Pennie Trumbull, and her story has never been told.
“Penny Lane is based on many groupies or “band aids” that Cameron got to know during the ’70s, but the main inspiration is a Pennie Trumble. You can check out her official site here.”
The only child of a loving, middle-class couple in their late 40’s, Trumbull was born in Portland in 1954 and given the name Pennie because of her copper red hair. She grew up in North Portland where she learned the values of a hard day’s work and the importance of an education through the love of dedicated, albeit older parents, products of the Dustbowl and Depression eras. While attending Roosevelt High School, Trumbull spent her time helping her parents maintain several rental properties around Portland. “I learned to do it all, the maintenance, sheet rocking, plumbing, you name it - and when I wasn’t working, you would find me out at the barn with my two horses or showing them in a competition every weekend,” Trumbull shares with a small group of women this idyllic summer afternoon on her Sauvie Island refuge. “In the barn, I had the AM radio playing all the time. My love of music and horses went hand in hand. Those two things were all I cared about and that suited me fine since I never really fit the high school mold. “One of the first things I learned about guys in high school was that it didn’t matter how beautiful you were, incredible girls would get trashed by the guys they slept with. There was no respect, the guys would tell all their friends and the girls would feel used. I wasn’t exactly the cheerleader type, so I didn’t spend much time dating high school boys. “I was discovered by a musician at one of the first concerts I went to, Three Dog Night with Steppenwolf. I was walking through the parking lot of the Memorial Coliseum after the show when he approached me. At 5’10” with long red hair, I was easy to notice.” And that is where her story begins… A hard worker in all that she pursued academically and athletically, Trumbull was a good daughter and had earned the trust of her parents. So when it came time to spread her wings a bit and travel outside Portland to follow her musical passion to attend concerts, she had an easy alibi in her horses. “When I turned 16 my parents gave me the keys to their car and said they never wanted to go to another horse show again. That was how I was able to get away for the weekend and hop on a private plane at such a young age without them knowing. I did that until I was 18. “Once I turned 18, I could no longer compete in equestrian events as an amateur, so I turned pro. When I didn’t make the Olympic tryouts, I was frustrated and sold all of my gear. All those years I had worked so hard, all I wanted was to stand on that podium, but I decided I needed to cut my losses and move on, so I moved to LA. “What I really wanted was to lose my virginity!” “There is a lot of misinformation about me on Wikipedia and groupie sites. The first musician I fell in love with and lived with was multi-instrumentalist and session player Hugh O’Sullivan (The Irish Phantom) from Toronto, Canada who was on the Steppenwolf RIP tour. “Hugh was amazing. He was of Irish descent and I had long red hair. He was respectful; didn’t know I was a virgin, and once he found out I was, didn’t want to touch me with a ten foot pole! I showed up on his doorstep with my yearbook from high school and said ‘I’m here!’ " Spending time on the road with a band, Trumbull soon saw that in general, the men she was exposed to weren’t that different from those boys at Roosevelt. “They talked about groupies the way high school boys would talk about girls. Hugh told me that if I was going to be part of this rock and roll world, I couldn’t sleep with the promoters or the guys in the band. I needed to respect myself first and then everyone else would respect me too.” When Trumbull returned to Portland she decided that she would introduce herself to the key concert promoters and set herself apart from all the other girls in town that wanted to meet bands. “So I came back to Portland, made appointments with the three big promoters and said, 'Let’s just be honest here. There are lots of girls that will sleep with you or blow you to get into a concert, but this isn’t about that. I am bringing something different to you. Girls who won’t step on any of the cords, get in your way, pass out or throw up and most importantly, won’t kiss and tell. Think of us as Ambassadors. We represent Oregon and we ARE the Beaver State!' Of course we were all under age; no one ever said anything about that.”
Once upon a time in Portland, Oregon there lived five girls. They were all from different social, ethnic, financial and geographic backgrounds. Normally, they would have never met or become friends. But they all shared an interest in going to concerts and celebrating rock and roll. The girls met and became friends. They formed an alliance to meet bands and became known as The Flying Garter Girls. Their names: Marvelous Meg, Sexy Sandy, the Real Camille, Miss Julia and Pennie Lane.
“I knew by this time that men had different tastes in women and that I couldn’t be everything to everyone, so to be able to appeal to their broad tastes, I went on a scouting mission to meet a cross section of different kinds of girls. It worked. One of us would get picked by the band to go backstage and meet them. And where one of us went, we all went. We wouldn’t get on a plane with a band unless they took all five of us; we looked after each other. “We were the ‘Ultimate in Entertainment for Entertainers.’ If you wanted fame, fortune or marriage, you couldn’t be a Flying Garter Girl; you had to love music, stay in school, get good grades and have an outside career goal." Band introductions to The Flying Garter Girls happened through promoters or through a clandestine process. “We had gold satin matchbooks with The Flying Garter Girls embossed on them. They became a collector’s item for musicians, but it was ultimately how we would get introduced to bands. Band members who received a matchbook while visiting Portland would then pass the matchbook on to their friends in other bands they would meet on the road who would be coming to town. Those with the matchbooks knew how to get in touch with us. And since we only gave them out to the good guys, the ones who were respectful, they would usually send first class people for us to meet."
“Musicians liked me from the get go, there was none of that high school b.s. They were so grateful to be touring, no one was pissy and complaining back then. Remember, at that time there were only vinyl LPs and concerts. There was no MTV, iTunes or Internet radio; record companies had to keep bands moving all the time. “It was after Woodstock and before punk rock – there was a lull. It was the last age of innocence in rock and roll and it was a beautiful time. And there to take part were millions of girls, normal girls, not like today where the musicians are flanked by actresses, porn stars or wannabe reality TV socialites. “Every time I introduced myself to a musician, they would instinctively start to sing, ‘Pennie Lane is in my ears, and in my eyes…’ so pretty soon, everyone just started calling me Pennie Lane. My dad had always called me that too. “I loved it when the British musicians would come into town. They had beautiful accents and held their guitars suggestively low [laughter], with their tight velvet pants and platform shoes. And they had a great self-deprecating sense of humor that I love. We called the English ‘English Muffins’ and we called Germans ‘German Sausages.’ All the girls had little names for the bands for wherever they came from. We loved them and they liked us. I think they found us a refreshing change from the typical groupies they met on the road, we were different. “We would go into their hotel room and bring a nice, pink light bulb to soften the lighting; or we’d bring them Soccer magazine asking, ‘Have you seen the soccer scores?’ and they were happy. Treating them like we we’d treat a guest in our home. We did nice things. “It wasn’t quite the same with American bands, particularly ones from Portland. The thing about the American bands is that, I’d go to a club in Portland and I’d like the band a lot, but there would be a girlfriend or a wife, and then there’d be five more people—her friends—standing by. You could never get close to the band. So I just had to think big. This was another lesson I learned: just go bigger. Just jump over that whole level and you go from the C List to the A List. And you’re fine, because you can relate to the A List. When you’re at that caliber, around the people that are on the top, what they appreciate the most is that authentic interaction."
Trumbull gave herself three years to live the dream with rock stars. When that time was up, true to her plan, she moved to San Diego, obtained her Bachelors and a Masters Degree in Business and Marketing and became a sought after Marketing Professional and wife. “All the Flying garter girls knew we never wanted to marry musicians, my god, it’s rock and roll, we know what they do, it’s the culture. I wanted someone that would be home every night. But I admit, it was pretty hard to go from a rock star to a banker.” Shortly after her marriage ended, Trumbull decided to return to her Oregon home to care for her then ailing mother and began a new life on the family’s Sauvie Island farm. Time flew quickly by.
Nearly 27 years had passed since her rock and roll journey, a hazy memory of a past life that few knew about, so when her cell phone rang on a typical afternoon in 2000, Trumbull had no idea that her past would be thrust into her present. “I was out in the field with the sheep when I got a call on my cell phone. The person on the other line said, ‘Hi Pennie, This is Cameron Crowe…' " “We talked for hours catching up and he told me about this film he was working on and I said, ‘You know, I don’t think anyone is going to go see that. Do you think there is enough there? You’re not going to use Led Zeppelin, so what do you have in mind for music and musicians? You can’t use actors to play musicians.’ Then he told me about the role Peter Frampton would have teaching and mentoring the non-musicians, and his then wife Nancy Wilson writing the score. They held rock camp every night after filming and the actors learned to play."
"Rock Stars? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention."
- Pennie Lane
Pennie Lane is probably the most authentic and inspiring among a group of women of who call themselves groupies. “There are much bigger groupies, in fact if you were to list the top groupies in the world, I wouldn’t even make in on it. I was small and focused. I was in niche marketing before niche marketing was cool.” Trumbull is a private person who greatly respects the privacy of others. Crowe says she is a “very noble, true spirit, who never has exploited her relationships or her experiences in any way.” It was out of respect for her father who was still living when the movie came out that she wanted to avoid the radar of the media who would certainly seek out the “real” Penny Lane. So Trumbull implemented a few measures that would protect her identity allow her to remain somewhat anonymous in her current life as a marketing professional and daughter, sharing her rock and roll secrets only with those she chose to. Among her tactics, references to her name were misspelled - Penny Trumble. Trumbull is often asked to recount what parts of the film are based in reality and which are not, to which she usually responds, “Remember, this is a feature film, not a documentary. Above all else this is Cameron’s story, you’ll have to ask him.” “I know he liked the name Penny Lane and I had a very special relationship with Cameron early on. I have rock star radar (not everybody does) and I said, ‘Cameron, you are going to be huge. You have the aura and I can tell.’ And I totally believed in him. He was 16 at the time. “There was a lot of dialogue that came from my lips, he remembered and he wrote it down. But I was never that thin, and I never took that many Quaaludes!” speaking of the scene where Hudson’s character overdoses. “I remember Cameron asking me, ‘What do you think of Kate Hudson?’ When we first had a talk, I said, ‘Kate Hudson? I don’t think so. I mean, she’s not like me at all.’ When I flew down to California for a private screening with Frances McDormand and others, I was sitting there; my heart was starting to race. I’ve been terrified many times, but I’d never gotten what’s called a panic attack until that day. I was hyperventilating, and gripping onto the seat like this [demonstrates], and thought, ‘Oh my god, this really is a movie and it’s a big deal!’ “The velvet curtains pulled back and then the music came on - Alvin and the Chipmunks [sighs]. That’s Cameron. I was immediately put at ease. Alvin and the Chipmunks was my first album and right then I knew everything was gonna be ok. "With me were the two people that had known me the longest, one of The Flying Garter Girls, and a Flying Garter Boy, and they would keep elbowing me, going: 'You always said that!' "And that’s why they call it acting, because now I can’t imagine anybody else BUT Kate playing me."
“Kate was a revelation,” Crowe states. “She possesses this great combination of sexiness, charm, great confidence, and even greater vulnerability, which could just as easily describe Penny Lane. And just like Penny, Kate lights up a room just by entering it. As a director, you put the camera on her and you never want to cut away. You just want to watch her.”
“Bands are writing books now and you’ll find us mentioned in discrete terms. We didn’t want anything from these artists, we were not going to make names for ourselves by writing about them, wouldn’t steal mementos from their life, we didn’t want anything from them, because they had already given us their greatest gift, their music. In retrospect, it was the simplest marketing concept because it was pure, it was innocent, and it was true. “We each had our favorite songs, our favorite bands and we’d all go and experience it and they treated us with respect. And if they didn’t, we wouldn’t stick around. We had nothing to lose. We respected ourselves, so they respected us. “I consider myself fortunate. I realized that I had a fair amount of intelligence, solid family grounding and I probably could just as easily have gone the other route, but I figured, I’ve got a brain, I might as well try using it first, I can always revert back to the body and work that angle, but fortunately the brain worked! The Flying Garter Girls retired and never looked back, all going their own ways and all of them maintaining anonymity. “Some started businesses, others had families, and we didn’t get together again as a group until our 20 year reunion. Special friends like The Doors manager flew in to join us, bands sent telegrams, champagne and gifts. It was a three day celebration. If it hadn’t been for the other girls I don’t think I would have had the inspiration to create The Flying Garter Girls. They gave me strength. You feel powerful in a group of girls, we were a force."
These days Trumbull continues to work her farm on Sauvie Island, has a private wine label “Swallows” and supports local growers and the economy of the island and state through her political and professional connections. She would love to parlay her marketing expertise and knowledge of the music industry and make the Coachella valley the music capital of the United States. “I’d love it if they asked me to be Mayor of Coachella!” She raises organic lamb, is known for hosting some of Portland’s most fabulous parties on her "Rock and Roll Ranch" and maintains an active involvement in the local music scene. Bands touring through Portland will often stop and visit either before or after their shows to take in the beauty of the island and the nurturing spirit of their hostess. “I like the balance I have here because it’s city and country. I had never lived on a farm before coming here in 1998 and what I noticed is [wind chime chimes] that this farm is blessed. It is a sacred space. The nature, the sun coming in, the sound of the trees, the hawks, and it just, it sensitizes you…I can see the corn growing before my eyes when I ride my bike down the street every day.”
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On Friday, September 28th, Pennie will be the guest of honor at the San Diego Film Festival’s “Almost Famous” block party being held in the Gas Lamp district. Festival planners are saying “…if we are lucky, maybe even a cameo from filmmaker Cameron Crowe.” The evening includes a screening of the film, a Battle of the Bands hosted by The House of Blues and judged by the real Pennie Lane. “I was thrilled to be invited by the San Diego Film Festival, it’s really an honor, because I lived there for 25 years. I think I made a small contribution in helping San Diego become the city it is through my work with top developers and civic projects with the mayor. As part of a team we did a lot of great things there; we built the ARCO Olympic Training Center, Horton Plaza, as well as projects in the inner city. Going back there will be like homecoming." Fellow Portlander and close friend, filmmaker Gus Van Sant will also be traveling to San Diego to attend a tribute and retrospective in his honor. As a result of both Van Sant and Trumbull’s participation in the festival, there is a large contingent of Portlanders that will be headed south to partake in the festivities. In what will be her first official public appearance, the real Pennie Lane will stand up. There is a little "Penny Lane" in everyone, share your most memorable music moment in the Comments section below! For more information, visit the San Diego Film Festival website.