Cynthia Albritton, a Chicago native and South Side resident better known as “Cynthia Plaster Caster,” has lived the dream of teenage girls around the world. A self-titled “recovering groupie,” she has been making plaster casts of rock stars’ naughty bits since 1968. It all started in her college art class, where she was given the assignment to “plaster cast something solid that could retain its shape.” The Dick Clark Caravan of Stars happened to be in town that weekend, so Cynthia and her friend Pest decided to approach band members at the event in search of willing castees. While the weekend ended without a cast, she ended up losing her virginity to a member of Paul Revere and the Raiders–and, as she says on her website, “‘The Plaster Casters of Chicago’ were thus born.”
Cynthia is currently working on her autobiography. A complete list of her castees, a scrapbook of totally safe-for-work photos (she doesn’t publish photos of her “sweet babies” online), and a list of “Upcumming Events” are available on her website.
I called Cynthia five minutes before the scheduled time for our interview and she insisted I call her back; she was not kidding when she told me a few days before that she has been incredibly busy. Her voice boomed with assertiveness and I was almost too terrified to go through with the interview, but when she answered again, she was engaging and warm. She even spent our last few minutes asking me questions–the highest of honors coming from someone who, at my age, plucked Jimi Hendrix’s pubic hair one by one from an un-lubricated plaster mold. For a woman who’s seen more in her life than any teen girl (on the outside or inside) could ever hope to see, Cynthia “Plaster Caster” has maintained a giggly humility. Her life is a shining example for those hoping to find something they love and run with it–or dip it in dental alginate.
So, I guess my first question has to be…how’s the autobiography coming?
Yeah, that’s my big baby. I call my plaster casts my sweet babies, but my storybook is my big baby. I’m hoping to finish it by the end of this year.
I read an earlier interview that said your parents never found out about what you do. Is your mother still in the dark? Even with the autobiography coming out?
Well my mother passed away a few years ago. She never found out. It would’ve been perhaps less scary if my father found out. He would probably think it was funny. I realized that too late. But my mother would never understand. Never, ever, ever understand. I’d need to hire a bodyguard if she ever found out.
You were a young woman alone (or semi-alone) with celebrities in hotel rooms; was it ever scary? Did you ever feel unsafe?
Umm, yeah I mean I was and still am a shy girl and well, you know, I found it to be…I realized later it was kind of dangerous to be alone with anybody in a confined area without anybody around, but I was initially pretty tongue-tied being in the awesome presence of these so-called “rock gods” in or out of hotel rooms. It was overwhelming, unbelievable that they were actually talking to me. It’s dangerous, and I had a bad experience with Led Zeppelin–but that’s all I’m going to tell you about that.
Right, I’ve read that you’re going to include that in the autobiography.
Yeah. Never go to a guy’s room unattended unless you’ve checked out their background carefully. Interviews especially–the way they talk, the way they answer questions. If you do enough research you can get a sense of how wild they are.
Do you feel that Chicago’s music scene was the best for what you were doing back then? I know you moved to LA for a little while, but did you ever consider going to other cities?
Yeah, I dreamed about moving to London. But I didn’t have the money to move anywhere so I just stayed in Chicago, not really knowing how I’d get out of here until Frank Zappa came along. He was the one who thought I should move to LA, because he wanted to help finance this idea I had for a Plaster Caster museum. He said “LA is where the rock stars roam,” so that’s why I moved to LA.
How was the Chicago scene then compared to now?
Back then it was mainly a blues scene in Chicago, and there were some garage bands. They were modeled along the lines of the British Invasion and later that name applied. I didn’t really care for Chicago garage bands–the best were elsewhere. The music scene really sucked, except for the blues. And I was only interested in mop-top boys. But some of my favorite music now comes from Chicago.
Right now I like a guy called Ezra Furman, originally from Evanston. And I liked The Redwalls when they were still around. I think Wilco is pretty great. Gosh, there’s quite a few. I’m not really a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins, but I think they got the ball rolling in terms of Chicago being a good place to live and make music. I tend to like bands that are relatively unknown, so I can say I saw them first, and hopefully they’ll be willing to pose for me.
Does anything bother you about today’s music scene, their groupies, etc.?
Groupies still are like groupies…but I think it was more exciting back in the ’60s because it was new and we were creating the formula as we went along. It was more of a challenge and there were more interesting personalities amongst just regular girls that became fans because of their love of music, and maybe other reasons. And now the only groupies that I know of with any notoriety are movie stars or musicians, like Courtney Love or Winona Ryder. I recommend it as a lifestyle to check out. Well maybe not a lifestyle, but an experience to have. It really taught me about who I am and who I was not.
Who was your most recent subject?
Unfortunately I haven’t cast anyone in a couple of years. The last one was Ariel Pink. I’d never heard of him. I think it was a Saturday night. My friend was going to the show and insisted I go with him, and by 1am Ariel Pink was in my apartment. I was so impressed with his music. We didn’t have a fluffer because he didn’t know anyone in Chicago…that person usually is–preferably–a wife or girlfriend of the subject. He had to take care of things himself. He wasn’t representing his full “capability” [laughs]. The dental mold is like a camera; it takes a picture of a moment in time and space. And he’s always welcome for a return, because he has way more “capability” than has been shown.
Have you ever gotten any stern rejections when you’ve asked to cast someone?
Well I’m very careful about reading people beforehand, because I don’t want to be rejected. I realized I had to research them before being alone with them. I’m a big analyst–I guess that’s the Gemini in me. I watch them onstage, watch their body language, see what’ll happen if I get backstage…I also don’t just flatly go up to them and hand them my calling card, as I used to. I like to take some time to get to know them, and them to know me, hopefully without telling them who I am. And if they seem like they have a heart of plaster, I’ll pop the question!
Would you ever cast someone because they were particularly famous?
Well, now not because they’re famous but because they’ve done something extraordinary–make my life better, make me happy. I’ve fantasized about casting Barack Obama. A lot of fantasies I might have, about someone who happens to be well known. That kind of person, especially a politician, is likely not to do it. It might not be good for their career, and it’s always a crapshoot how they’re gonna come out in the mold. Wayne Kramer, if people didn’t know better–it looks like he has no penis at all, just because of the way the mold looked that night. I’m not a fame queen and I’m not a size queen, I’m just a talent queen.
Have you gone out of your way (travelling-wise) to cast a particular celebrity/normal person? Or do you always let them come to you?
No. I mean I have travelled. I did travel to see MC5 and I had my kit with me. I was actually coming from New York and I had a stopover. I was planning on coming straight to Chicago but someone told me to stop in Detroit. But no; at this point, I’ve never gone out of my way to travel just to cast someone. It’s sort of a spontaneous thing.
Which makes it better, I guess.
Yeah, because they might change their mind if they think about it too long!
Where, besides New York and San Francisco, have you exhibited your work?
The Jimi Hendrix cast was very briefly displayed in Boston, but it was banned because the owner of the gallery was afraid that the parents of some kids would get mad at him because there was also a restaurant next to this gallery and the kids might ask some difficult questions about this sort-of lifelike cast. That’s the reason he gave; who knows. I’m hoping to have more exhibits after I finish my book.
Will you be exhibiting your work in the Chicago area anytime soon?
I’d like to, since I’m born and bred here, but it has to be the right gallery. There isn’t that great of a choice of galleries in Chicago, compared to the rest of the world.
You ran for mayor in 2010. How was that?
Yeah, it came about suddenly over a couple of margaritas, and Daley was stepping down, and I knew there would never be an election like this again. The race was up for grabs and I had to throw my hat in. I know very little about politics and I’m still just learning. I don’t think it’s important. The mayor should bring people together and have more forums and town hall meetings, discussions about what people want and need. And also, all these political speeches are very boring–so boring that you can’t listen to them long enough to get the platforms. The whole process needs to be less boring. Change the language. I thought Rahm Emanuel would be good at that, but he’s not. Where’s the potty mouth?!
I may run again. I’m thinking about it. I’ll be more prepared–I was really taken by surprise the first time, people talked me into it. I didn’t get registered as a write-in, and I’ll make sure next time I will be.