By Will Estell
If you consider yourself a fan of rock music, and particularly a fan of the rock scene that was so prevalent in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you are likely well aware of Bebe Buell and her intricate ties to some of the most well-known among rock’s royalty.
With a trajectory and sphere of influence that far exceeded what some might have inaccurately coined a “groupie,” Bebe fits more appropriately into the “muse” category—a label she not only openly accepts, but one she has also adopted in her larger-than-life rock and roll journey traversing five decades.
On the heels of her newest autobiographical book, Rebel Soul: Musings, Music & Magic, I sat down with Bebe to find out a little more about the life of this small-town Virginia girl turned famous model, songwriter, performer, bestselling author, and American rock culture icon.
Some of my experiences were so personal and outrageous that trying to tell them in a shorter version was somewhat impossible. Hence, a few of the journeys were filled with holes and were left unfinished, to a degree, so I think those same readers will find the new book fills in where the last one left off and tells my stories even better.
It was everything you can imagine and even more. At times, it seemed almost surreal, but it all happened just as I write it. It was a very different time and place, but one that seems to reverberate what the music and entertainment landscape of the ‘70s and ‘80s really were known to be. Living through it wasn’t just fun—it was quite the accomplishment and learning experience too.
There were so many mixed opinions about my first autobiography. People either loved it or hated it. There were no indifferent critiques, and I’ve been told that’s what real art is about. It ignites passion and, in some cases, even hatred. You’ve got to toughen up your skin when you pen an autobiography, as there is always going to be someone who hates the way they’re depicted, and there will often be hurt feelings somewhere.
I was 48 when St. Martin’s Press published Rebel Heart. I remember sitting in the make-up chair, getting ready to do a 20/20 interview with Chris Cuomo, when my editor, Elizabeth Beier, came in to tell me we had hit the top 50 on the Times’ Best Sellers list. We hit number 35 the first week the book was out. Plans were being discussed for me to do a book tour, then tragically 9/11 hit, and the whole world changed for all of us. A book tour was the least important thing then.
You know, Will, I really think all of them are equally important.
I am very much aware of my special place in pop culture, and whether in a book, a song, or spoken words in an interview, the things I have witnessed firsthand are historically relevant to the story I’ve lived, and I pride myself on being an informed storyteller.
I take that very seriously. I always will.
Those were great times, but they were definitely full of adventure and change, in and out of the music and entertainment business. I was self-publishing my music and saw the benefit in holding control and putting out my own work a long time before it became so mainstream to do that—all the way back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. I always liked the indie route, and I am a big fan of many other indie artists.
I came to Nashville in 2012, at the request of the late Eddy Arnold’s grandson, Shannon Pollard, who was putting together a tribute album to honor his grandfather. Until that trip, I hadn’t been to Nashville in a decade or more, when I had toured and played shows here at times. I always thought the world of Eddy, and Shannon was a fan of my music and wanted to do a little something different, so I was honored to be a part of the record. I did “I’ll Hold You in My Heart.”
During that one trip, I fell absolutely in love with Nashville, and I just felt a calling that I was supposed to live here. I called Jimmy up and said, “I want to move to Nashville.” He asked, “Do I get to see it first?” I was like, “I guess, if you need to.”
We sold our house where we were in New Jersey, and bought a great place that was just being built about two miles from downtown. We later sold that house and broke ground on a new home in Franklin, which we built during the pandemic. That was definitely an experience, but we love it here.
We first started going to 30A about ten years ago, right after moving to Nashville. It’s just so easy to get to and, as you know, so many of our Nashville friends go there. We started out going to Grayton Beach and actually stayed right across the street from Red Bar in an apartment above Zoo Gallery. Later, we started going to Seacrest Beach, Seagrove, and Seaside and exploring the entire area. We love it there, and I think your beaches are the best anywhere in the US. I grew up near Virginia Beach and have always loved the beach. I’d really like to have a house there in time. Actually, I would love a place there and one in Asbury Park.
She hasn’t been, though that is something I really dream of getting to do with her and my grandchildren.
I’d love to get a house in Alys Beach, Rosemary, Seaside, or Seagrove and just spend a week with all of them there. I’d love to introduce them to your area and have them experience just why Jimmy and I love it so much.
During the COVID break, I realized that now is the time to tell the real story of my life, including things I’ve never talked about before. We’ve been shooting the documentary for over a year and hope to have it out on the film festival circuit by 2025.
I’m working with Director Gabby Bryan to bring it to fruition. I’ve known Gabby for many years, and like me, she came up in the world of rock, as she’s the daughter of David Bryan, the keyboardist for Bon Jovi. Gabby is not only young, but she is brilliantly creative and has a fierce work ethic and vision. I’m really excited about the whole project, and I think people will really love the finished product.
I love to decorate. I help my friends and family decorate their homes. I like to design clothes. I actually enjoy organizing things. That was one aspect that I got really involved in with the coming new book. There were hundreds and hundreds of old photos to go through—many even black-and-white pictures—to have considered among the many that would make the pages of Rebel Soul. I really enjoyed seeing them all again and taking that pictorial ride back in time. I’m also a big animal-lover and love spending time with our two dogs. And, of course, I love my three grandchildren and spending time together when we can. They’re 18, 8, and 7, so I’ve been a grandmother for a while now. It’s certainly not what the stereotypical grandmother figure used to be, but I adore all three of them, just as I do Liv.