BY MICHAEL WORKMAN
Cynthia Plastercaster, nee Cynthia Albritton, has earned a place for herself among the world’s most famous groupies, if not THE most famous groupie. A product of the sexual revolution, she began making plaster casts of famous rock stars’ penises in the mid-1960’s, counting Jimi Hendrix and Jello Biafra among her collection of “babies.” An iconic and legendary figure in Chicago, she has never told the story of her intimate encounters with the rock gods who populate her collection…until now. She recently began a Kickstarter campaign to buy herself some time to finish the writing, and “True Stories” sat down with her to get the skinny.
You’re working on writing your autobiography, finally, after all these years.
After a certain point in my life I couldn’t help but notice I’d led a really interesting life, unlike any that I’d heard of and I thought it would make a good story. I’ve kept journals since I learned about Samuel Pepy’s diary about the plague. I’ve also been into documents and that actually made me a really great file clerk.
When were you a file clerk?
Starting when I was 19, I was a file clerk. Documentation was always in my blood somehow, taking down notes and keeping records and I think that’s one of the reasons I was a big diary keeper and a journal keeper. I keep notes of every single casting I do, very neatly written out, try to be clinical and unemotional. So I had all that and I’ve been aching to write a story but have never had the time because I’ve been working straight jobs all these years and you should time the writing of a book to when you have free time in your mind and some kind of an income to take care of yourself. I’d been laid off from this job I’d had for a long time so I had some unemployment coming to me and I started writing it in the mid 90’s, at this point where I got laid off. So, I had 6 months of unemployment and I got down as much as I could and then I had to go back to work again. Then I went back to work awhile, then I had a documentary made about me, started up a not-for-profit and when all that was over I had some free time again. Not really much money, but some time so I tried to start writing again, got a publishing deal with a publisher who I can’t name because they don’t want to be named until I finish the book…but I was broke all the time and I just couldn’t concentrate on writing because I had to concentrate on making some money. Then I heard about this thing called Kickstarter through Ezra Furman who I’m a big fan of, and it worked for him. That’s how I became aware of it, and I saw some other people whose work I really respect had good luck being Kickstarter campaigners, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I think it’s the best invention I’ve heard of in a long time: an online funder to help creative people and especially creative people who can’t get money through the normal routes like government grants because they’re too controversial like me.
I think a lot of people are interested in hearing your story. There’s so many amazing people you’ve known and worked with to make your art. Who do you think people want to hear about the most?
Oh, Jimi Hendrix. If you’re talking about cast-ees, Jimi Hendrix. Even the Noel Redding one. People certainly have questions about why certain penises came out twisted.
Ha ha, yes, I bet they would.
Ha! Did you say “wood?” There should be an emphasis in your enunciation there. Oh, let’s see…Jello Biafra. I’m trying to think about who the juiciest stories were. I think they all were. Every story, every situation was different and believe me I tried really hard to be a real straight reporter and not put in my own stuff, you know, not talk too much about my own crush on the person when I was casting them or how I even thought about them at all. Though naturally, I was casting them because I loved their music or their art.
You’ve talked about this before, you only cast people who you’ve sort of fallen in love with.
Whose music I’ve fallen in love with. Most of the time I might not have the hots for them, I have the hots for other musicians who would never pose for me or they’re just good guys who make average music. It’s all about talent. And it’s not about size. You know that too. Only the amount of talent that we’re looking for here.
So can you say a little bit more about how you go about selecting a musician for a cast? How do you go about it?
It might be the night of the show when I first see them. I might have heard of them already or I might not have until that night. You know, for instance, Ariel Pink, my most recent cast-ee, the night when I went to see Ariel Pink, I’d heard of him at 9 o’clock at night from a friend who was on his way down to hear him play at Schuba’s and by 1 o’clock in the morning Ariel Pink was in my apartment getting ready to pose for me because he was so brilliant and amazing I just had to have him and he was all for it. Other times, I might have acquired a CD of theirs and loved it and had time to research them to see if they might be “plaster-friendly” just by the kind of voice they had in their interviews.
Do you find that most of these people have heard of you already?
A lot more than they used to, and happily they like the idea and usually say yes. Off the top of my head I can’t really tell you who hasn’t, but I actually haven’t asked that many people. Now that I think about it, the few people I’ve asked lately have said yes. The most recent one I‘ve asked that I have yet to cast ironically, is a member of Ariel Pink’s band. His name is John Maus. And he was interested but he had to leave town right away. He said when he came back to Chicago he’d want to do it. But that can sometimes be a problem because sometimes when they’ve had enough time to think about it, they change their minds.
You’ve got to get in there quick.
Yeah. You’ve got to get them into the back room as soon as you see them. Can’t let them leave town without leaving something behind.
Have you mostly been casting people who come through Chicago on tour?
Yeah. I’m interested in people who are from Chicago too. They’re Chicago musicians. You know, I’ve wanted to cast Ezra Furman of Evanston but that has yet to work out. Not too many people lately. I’m not casting at the same rate that I was in the ‘60’s. I know the times have changed, people just aren’t out there looking for some new place to dip their dicks anymore. It’s not like the sexual revolution, not novelty anymore. I go to bed early too, and the best time to do it is in the middle of the night. So all the circumstances have not been in place all the time.
So, it sounds like the casting has slowed down some. When did you do your last cast, how many in the last year?
None in the last year. Ariel Pink was the last cast I made, and that was a few years ago. That was my most recent penis or breast cast.
Yes. You started doing the breast casts how long ago? Ten years?
Probably about ten years ago. Yeah. I’d wanted to learn how to cast breasts and wasn’t sure how that was going to work out and I encountered this woman named Journey who is in my documentary, she was also was a Plaster Caster. I don’t know what she’s doing now or if she even still lives in Chicago. But they would pay her to cast them and she also knew how to cast breasts. So I changed my method of mixing alginates according to how she did it was good for breasts and actually better for penises. So I had a way to do it, and that was luckily with the camera rolling in the making of the documentary and they were able to capture the very first breast cast which was of Suzi Gardner of L7. I now have about twelve pairs or so of breast casts and penises I have about 55 or 60. I’m not sure about the exact number.
You’ve shown this work in galleries before. How else do you get it out there?
Galleries were what me and Frank Zappa had in mind. I dreamt of having a Plaster Cast museum and Frank loved that idea. I would name it the Frank Zappa museum if it ever happened. He was such an important influence and friend and patron in my life that I think about him every day. I miss him. I haven’t shown in Chicago yet.
I find that pretty astounding that you’ve shown in New York and everywhere, but have never shown in Chicago where you make your home.
Yeah. I don’t know if Intuit would have me. I like Judy Saslow too, but you know how people in America just aren’t that open-minded in America about the live, realistic-looking cock. I’ve found.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I know President Bush had a little bit to do with that. Because things have changed since Robert Mapplethorpe was around, back when you could still get a grant for that sort of stuff. But things change. Janet Jackson was a sign of the times. But it may be coming back in the cycle again to the way things were during the sexual revolution. Not that anything would be new, but people might be more open minded, less uptight.
Why do you think that might be the case?
Well, it’s the way things work in the world. It goes through cycles. Some people say the cycles are thirty years. You know, politically and artistically when people get all the way to the uptight end of the spectrum back to the very open-minded. It seems like, historically when you look back, it seems to be the way it works.
So basically you’re going to bed early these days. Does that mean you’re not seeing as much music?
Yeah. Yes, it does. And I need to stay home and work on my book anyway. It’s almost half written, somewhere around the halfway mark. Maybe a wee bit less. Two-fifths. If I didn’t have to think about money everyday like I do, I’d get larger chunks done. Not only would I have more time, but my brain would function better. There’d be more room to think about just that.
Right. Well, you mention how people are kind of uptight, and yet on the other hand well-renowned people like art critic Jerry Saltz, who we talked about, says that your autobiography would be in his top five that he’d like to read. So it’s funny that you’re on people’s minds and yet you’re also kind of in this position where the art you make is difficult for society in some sense.
Americans are funny. I’m reaching out, saying “Here I am, folks!” And yet there’s also people who think I’m just a legend, that I wasn’t actually real. That they wished it was true. But I don’t have a publicist right now. I’ve known this for awhile, that my story is the best I have to offer. My babies are my sweet babies, but this is my big baby. It really is, I have so much fun writing, it makes me really happy to see what I can come up with and laugh in disbelief that I was able to cough it out.
Well, you’ve had a lot of supporters over the years. You mentioned Frank Zappa. Didn’t you mention Iggy Pop to me once too?
No, I’ve never met Iggy. I love the Stooges but I don’t do drugs…anymore. And all I ever was was a big pot head. But I never liked to be around the bands that did hard drugs. Yeah. People have written songs about me without ever having met me. KISS. Jim Croce. Le Tigre, who I have met. A band called the Sundowners. The KISS one sure was weird. I never really wanted to cast members of KISS. I felt like Gene Simmons wrote it as a not very subtle nod. Like, “Cynthia, I’m over here. I’m waiting. To be the Master, while you can be the Caster.”
Did you cast him?
Oh, please. No way. No way. I’ve never even liked that song until Evan Dando covered it. Then I actually met KISS. Finally, some years later a radio station brought us together and I told him that was the version I liked better. They were not happy to hear that.
That’s pretty funny. Do you have many imitators out there?
I don’t think so. I have girls contacting me who want to learn. And I really think it’s getting time for me to pass the gauntlet. I’d love to train other girls. I don’t think there’s any pseudo-casters. There was some Plaster Casters of Boston. But not lately, not too many imitators. But I would welcome them, there’s enough room for more Plaster Casters.
You’re kind of at the top of the pantheon of famous groupies. Are there any famous groupie types out there you’ve seen as a colleagues, if you will, in the realms of fandom?
Well, Pamela Des Barres is kind of my sister. We’re both only children and kind of the sibling that the other never had because we both share this weird experience. I hate to be a braggart, but we’re like fans who have fans. That’s a role reversal I’d have never dreamed of. Because, you know, I was doing this to get laid by rock stars I was too shy to seduce. When the media started writing about us, my friends and I just thought it was hilarious. We couldn’t believe they were treating us like serious news. The biggest joke on South Bennett on the South Side of Chicago.
What’s your favorite music spot right now in Chicago?
Always the Hideout. It’s like my second home. I keep coming back to the Hideout. I like seeing a show with few people around in a small space like that. I don’t like the larger theaters, even the Chicago Theater. Too fancy, and the sound isn’t that much more wonderful I think than the Hideout.
I’d have to say The Sometimes Family. They’re in Chicago.
Okay. So, getting back to one question now about the casts: what do you do with the casts once you’ve made them? Is there a certain number you make?
I have a mold-maker make latex molds for me because I don’t have the heating equipment to do that properly. I have latex molds of all of them except Ariel Pink. I still only have him in the original form. But when I’m done, the latex molds are used to make copies for traveling, to have shows out of town or to sell. Mostly limited editions of 30. Most of them are available and the prices differ. I like to display them at home on plaster white pedestals, all one big white unit which gives them more of a virginal look. I’m such a wholesome girl that way. I also have a website, but I want people to know that the not-for-profit isn’t active recently at all, and some of the prices on there haven’t been updated. They’ll have to contact me directly.
Forty years worth of penises. It has to have been a ton of fun.
Yeah. It’s been a wonderful way to learn about life, being a groupie. And a Plaster Caster. Who you are and who you aren’t.
What advice would you have for other young groupies on the way up?
Oh, I’d say never go into a strange man’s hotel room alone. At least not without researching them thoroughly, you know. Get a police blotter on them. Read their interviews. In fact, even then I wouldn’t go alone into their hotel rooms without a sidekick.
Has something bad happened to you in a hotel room?
Not alone, but I had a bad experience with Led Zeppelin, which will be in the book. With people there. Also: don’t be a star fucker. Don’t just fuck for the sake of glory. Even though I went through a phase like that briefly, you should do it for the love of the music. Or if the man is really sexy, which rock stars can be frequently. But don’t just do it to impress your friends. That’s not a good reason.
Final question: who was the best in bed?
Ahhh…well, it wasn’t a rock star, it was a civilian here in Chicago. You know, the rock stars I met didn’t have enough time to hang around town for a decent fuck. But there were a few.
Among rock stars?
I’d have to think about all the ones I’ve fucked. Noel Redding was good. Oh…Gary Brooker. Yes. He’s definitely one of them.
Why? What made him great?
The rhythm. Heh. Plain and simple. Rhythm and blues.
For more information on Cynthia Plastercaster and her history, visit her website. Her Kickstarter campaign is up through December 21, 2011.
Tags: ariel pink, artrock gallery, chicago art, cynthia plastercaster, evan dando, ezra furman, frank zappa, gary brooklyn, gene simmons, iggy pop, intuit, janet jackson, jello biafra, jimi hendrix, john maus, judy saslow, kickstarter, kiss, led zeppelinb, noel redding, pamela des barres, robert mapplethorpe, schuba's, sexual revolution, suzi gardner, the hideout, the sometimes family, the stooges