Des Barres, Pamela 1948-
Des Barres, Pamela 1948-
(Pamela Ann Miller)
PERSONAL: Born September 9, 1948, in Reseda, CA; married Michael Des Barres (a musician and actor), October, 1977 (divorced); partner of Mike Stinson; children: (with Des Barres) Nicholas. Ethnicity: “Caucasian.” Education: Attended University of California. Politics: Liberal Democrat. Religion: “All.”
CAREER: Member of the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), 1969-71; governess for Frank Zappa’s children, Dweezil and Moon Unit, 1974-77; television actress, 1970s, appeared on television as herself, 2003-06; rock reporter for the Playboy Channel, 1988—, and for the Lifetime Channel, 1989—.
(With Dick St. John and Sandy St. John) The Rock and Roll Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from the Chart Toppers, Hitmakers and Legends of Rock and Roll, General Pub. Group (Santa Monica, CA), 1993.
I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Super groupies, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Music columnist for E! Online, 1999—. Contributor of a story to Carved in Rock, Avalon, 2003. Contributor to periodicals, including Details, New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, Movieline, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Los Angeles, and Interview.
SIDELIGHTS: Pamela Des Barres created a minor furor in 1987 when her controversial, tell-all autobiography I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie appeared on bookstands. In it, Des Barres details her life in the fast lane of rock and roll during the 1960s and 1970s. Des Barres was a friend of musician Frank Zappa and his family, and a member of an all-female rock group produced by Zappa in the late 1960s called the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). The ubiquitous Miss Pamela, as she was known in the scene in those days, kept a journal of all her experiences in London, New York City, and Los Angeles, with a plethora of dynamic rock musicians. In her memoir, Des Barres describes friendships and liaisons with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, drummer Keith Moon of The Who, and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. To some, Des Barres’s book seemed to glorify promiscuity and substance abuse, and she was often criticized for speaking so openly about sex. On the other hand, Des Barres’s story is a tale that speaks volumes about the behind-the-scenes role of women in rock and roll.
In I’m with the Band, Des Barres recounts her childhood and teenage years in the prototypical suburban Los Angeles community of Reseda, and how the exciting new rock music of the early 1960s influenced her growing awareness of the opposite sex. Des Barres became a full-time devotee of the Southern California music scene after graduating from high school. She reminisces in her book about her contacts with influential musicians of the era and her relationships with an array of talented artists, such as Jimi Hendrix’s band-mate Noel Redding. Des Barres also tells of the antics of her close band of daring female friends, including Cynthia Plaster Caster, a woman who made plaster casts of rock star’s erect penises.
Outside of the excitement of the rock-and-roll scene, Des Barres also discusses the warm friendship she shared with the Zappa family, and the impression they made on her as a relatively normal, well-adjusted nuclear family whose breadwinner happened to be an experimental musician. As the 1960s progressed into the next decade, Des Barres herself also metamorphosed into one of the most well-known and respected women on the sidelines of the music world. She became involved with guitarist Page of Led Zeppelin, a band whose excesses were well-documented by the media—throwing furniture out of hotel rooms, incorporating references to black magic in their music, and partaking of the women who relentlessly followed the group. Des Barres’s involvement with Page was fraught with melodrama and heartache; he eventually left her, and Des Barres’s chronicle of the break-up and its emotional effect on her is one of the most moving sections of I’m with the Band.
Des Barres, ever the eternal optimist as the pages of her life attest, bounced back and a short while later met the man of her dreams. Michael Des Barres was not only an up-and-coming musician in the glitter rock scene of the early 1970s, he was also devastatingly handsome and a titled English aristocrat to boot. The two fell madly in love, and I’m with the Band concludes with the heady triumph of the author’s ultimate success in both love and life. The book’s publication in 1987 catapulted Des Barres to the television talk show circuit as she recounted for eager audiences the wild ride she took through the heyday of rock and roll. While she often fielded insensitive and downright rude questions from interviewers about her autobiography and her personal life, most reviews were favorable.
“Miss Pamela represented something honorable and loving about Southern California and the 60’s, about hippies and innocent hedonism,” John Rockwell of the New York Times wrote about Des Barres’s explicit account of life in the fast lane, “and even about the sexual honesty of modern women, that modern-day moralists ignore at their own peril.” Kurt Loder, reviewing for Rolling Stone, called I’m with the Band a “highly personalized, page-turning cultural history” and “terrifically entertaining stuff, not the least because it has about it the viscous, sticky texture of truth.” Loder further noted that Des Barres’s “total love of the music is endearing, and her concept of sex as simple, loving fun is, in this grimly post tumescent era, bracingly subversive.”
The success of I’m with the Band fostered a new career for Des Barres and newfound celebrity status. She began writing articles for magazines like Details and Interview. Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up was published in 1992. In it, Des Barres candidly recounts the downside of her life as a rock wife and the struggles she faced over the years. The volume opens happily with marriage to Michael and the birth of their son, but Des Barres describes the dismal days and nights she spent waiting for her husband to return home from his drug and alcohol binges. Her unflinching support of him, what she terms “co-co-dependence,” could not rescue her husband from his road to self-destruction after his career faltered. She also recounts the shaky financial footing on which their family life stood for many years, and her jobs that ranged from acting in commercials to selling cosmetics. Yet as the book progresses their son—an exceptionally bright and sensitive boy—begins to take center stage in Des Barres’s life. Despite his intelligence, or perhaps because of it, their son grew into a troubled child plagued by inner demons that made him hard to manage.
Eventually Michael Des Barres joined Alcoholics Anonymous and found a new career as an actor, but the couple grew apart and separated. Des Barres found the right professional help for her son and found the strength to enter this new phase of her life from a rich circle of friends. Her journey to self-fulfillment is an integral element of Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, which, like its predecessor, is also filled with the celebrities and anecdotes of life in the fast lane. The Zappa family remains close to Des Barres, and she recounts her friendship and social activities with both former lover Don Johnson and his subsequent wives, Melanie Griffith and Patti D’Arbanville. Her memoir also offers a glimpse of late 1980s Hollywood, which was becoming older, cleaner, more chaste. Des Barres renewed her passion for music with her new love, a musician seventeen years her junior, and eventually put her talents to use as manager of his band. Elyse Gardner, critiquing Des Barres’s second autobiographical book for Rolling Stone and comparing it with her first, contended “the most compelling personality in this book is the author herself; its most compelling feature is her efforts to define herself less by age or physical attributes than by her accomplishments.” Ann Powers of the New York Times, discussing both books, argued that despite the changing face of rock and roll and women’s role in it, “there’s still much to learn from Ms. Des Barres and her kind, about the rock world’s hidden history and its groundings in desire.”
Des Barres told CA: “I hope to unite people with each other and their own souls through my work. Perhaps make them laugh and see another view.” She later described her writing process for CA: “I lose myself, time disappears—I re-write as I write—one or two pages, then I go back and reread. I teach writing classes and I enjoy hearing my students read my new work aloud.”
Des Barres and Dick and Sandy St. John put together The Rock and Roll Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from the Chart Toppers, Hitmakers and Legends of Rock and Roll to raise money for the National Music Foundation. Des Barres then wrote Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, in which she recalls her own experiences and those of rock stars who used and abused drugs, died before their time, and otherwise flirted with disaster. More than two dozen rockers are profiled, including Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Dennis Wilson, Hendrix, Moon, Sam Cooke, and Chuck Berry. Des Barres adds a personal touch to the stories in cases where she has met her subject, or someone close to them, such as Courtney Love, partner of Cobain, and Rick James, who was serving prison time when she interviewed him.
Booklist reviewer Mark Tribby noted that Des Barres adds to what is generally known about each of her subjects and “entertains, informs, and gleefully captures the spirit of the rock world’s underside.”
In Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies, Des Barres profiles other groupies who supported the stars, beginning in the 1960s. They include Tura Satana, who taught a young Elvis Presley his moves, and Cassandra Peterson, who later became known as Elvira. Other groupies Des Barres mentions in Let’s Spend the Night Together are Cherry Vanilla, Bebe Buell, D’Arbanville, Loft Lighting, Catherine James, and Cynthia Plaster Caster. Through interviews with her subjects, Des Barres reveals the stars’ little-known fetishes and perversions, including a cross-dressing Cobain and the scatology-obsessed Berry. She also notes the sexual preferences of such icons as Cat Stevens, Jagger, and Page. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that “the interviews provide the same kind of down-and-dirty details that made Des Barres’ previous work … so raunchily entertaining.”
In an interview with London Independent contributor Sarah Harris, Des Barres described her most memorable experience, which took place at the home of Morrison in Laurel Canyon.
She was seventeen and heard Morrison singing to his own music. She walked in on a shirtless Morrison wearing his trademark leather pants, unzipped, standing in his kitchen. Later that day, she said, they were “making out passionately” on top of her muskrat coat. She recalled thinking, “‘this is the most beautiful man I have ever seen.’ He was so gorgeous, everything about him was just perfect.”
Nerve interviewer Will Doig asked Des Barres if she has any advice for aspiring groupies. Des Barres replied: “I just tell these girls to go have a good time and try not to get their hearts broken. A lot of the girls who can’t get in to meet [the musicians], I tell them to get into the industry somehow. You’ve got to become a DJ, a journalist, a photographer, intern at a record company, something like that, because it’s much harder to meet these people now.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Des Barres, Pamela, I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Des Barres, Pamela, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies, Chicago Review Press (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Des Barres, Pamela, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Des Barres, Pamela, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
Booklist, October 15, 1996, Mark Tribby, review of Rock Bottom, p. 395; May 15, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Let’s Spend the Night Together, p. 12.
Entertainment Weekly, November 1, 1996, Dana Kennedy, review of Rock Bottom, p. 61; June 29, 2007, Alanna Nash, review of Let’s Spend the Night Together, p. 143.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007, review of Let’s Spend the Night Together.
New York Times, August 16, 1987, John Rockwell, review of I’m with the Band; December 20, 1992, Ann Powers, review of Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, p. H30.
Publishers Weekly, May 22, 1987, review of I’m with the Band, p. 61; September 28, 1992, review of Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, p. 60; August 30, 1993, review of The Rock and Roll Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from the Chart Toppers, Hitmakers and Legends of Rock and Roll, p. 92; September 16, 1996, review of Rock Bottom, p. 64; April 30, 2007, review of Let’s Spend the Night Together, p. 146.
Rolling Stone, July 16, 1987, Kurt Loder, review of I’m with the Band, p. 22; March 18, 1993, Elyse Gardner, review of Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, p. 31.
Voice Literary Supplement, July, 1987, review of I’m with the Band, p. 4.
Independent Online (London, England), http://arts.independent.co.uk/ (September 27, 2007), Sarah Harris, “Pamela Des Barres: Her Latest Book Celebrates the Outrageous Unsung Exploits of Her Fellow Band-Aids,” interview.
Laist,http://laist.com/ (July 9, 2007), “Laist Interviews Miss Pamela Des Barres.”
Metro (London, England), http://metro.co.uk/ (October 4, 2007), Andrew Williams “60 Seconds: Pamela Des Barres,” interview.
Nerve,http://www.nerve.com/ (July 9, 2007), Will Doig, “Former Supergroupie Pamela Des Barres Reveals Rock-God Secrets and Tricks of the Trade,” interview.
Pamela Des Barres Home Page,http://www.pameladesbarraes.com (December 16, 2007).
Pamela Des Barres MySpace Page,http://www.myspace.com/therealmisspamela (December 17, 2007).
Times Online (London, England), Pamela Des Barres,“ How I Wish I’d Become Mrs. Jagger.”*