What separates Pamela Des Barres, in her own words, from any other “rock historian” is the appeal of being "the person who was able to sit between Jimmy Page and Robert Plant while they were doing the set list for Led Zeppelin II.”
But she’s more than a simple artifact of music’s golden era, of course. She just happens to be a former member of one of the first (and, to knowledge, only) groupie bands. She's also a rock journalist and author of several successful books, including her memoir I’m With The Band. And might we add, she’s a former BUST contributor.
When we meet she’s decked out like a hippie aunt with her tangerine hair, red lipstick, brown cowboy boots, and velveteen dress. I’m naturally a nervous wreck, who left my cell phone back in Williamsburg. The entire thing is such a modern “Almost Famous” experience that my head is spinning.
I read I’m With the Band when I was a scrawny adolescent masquerading as a groupie in the Jersey show scene. My life was full of teens trying too hard to be Kurt Cobain, scene kids in ball-crushing skinny jeans and one proto-Skrillex type who was (still is) half the electronica projects in New Jersey. But that’s not her story. That’s my imagined I’m With the Band: 2008, probably with a screenplay by Lena Dunham. Her book, and subsequently the screenplay she’s finally penning for on it, is a lot richer, and probably a lot more exciting.
Miss Pamela as a flower child teen
The book crowned Miss Pamela as the Queen of the Groupies, which is a controversial title in itself. Miss Pamela is quick to clarify that a fan is content with being 30 rows away from a rock star, but a groupie “has to get a little sweat on them.”
And hey, who could blame her for making out with Jim Morrison? Who wouldn’t? Salacious thoughts aside, she insists that her drive to be with be with the band had more to do with an exchange of ideas.
“You want to see where that stuff comes from, it opens the solar plexus wide, you want to see more of that genesis,” she says dreamily.
And it wasn’t enough to be surrounded by famous people - Miss Pamela wanted it for her own. Another early claim to fame was her part in her own little pre-riot grrrl collective, the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). She insists it was all Frank Zappa’s plan to start the first groupie girl band, but the GTOs quickly latched onto the idea. Together they were performance artists before the term even existed, dancing, singing, working to entertain people, whether it was “to make them smile or piss them off.”
Chilling with the GTOs.
But these are tales already told, and she’s since moved onto other projects. Specifically she’s in the pre-launch stages of her own fashion line, “Groupie Couture,” which features quality replicas of her own clothing from her GTOs days. She’s working on funding it so each garment can look “so exquisite.” The line is also going to include other special “vintage frockery.”
Although she originally punctuated her style with 1920's and 30's nightgowns and lace-tablecloths-turned-minidresses, her love affair with fashion actually originated when her mother would buy her clothes from the Salvation Army as a child.
“And I was the best dressed kid in school,” she insists. Naturally.
Miss Pamela is in between writers workshops, making this interview possible. Exclusive to Los Angeles for seven years, she’s now branched out to major cities all over the world, including our fair New York.
The rules of her writing class are simple: no qualifying, no editing, and write whatever comes into your head; whatever you write is right. It’s an all-women environment free of judgment and full of expression, the perfect place to exorcise your emotions. The power of words compels you.
The "Foxy Lady" Dress to be recreated for Groupie Couture.
And while she’s working to inspire women – her “dolls” – around the nation, she makes no secret about who the most influential artist is to her: Bob Dylan.
“He transformed what rock and roll meant…Dylan came along and made it intelligent and important, lyrics started to count for something.” While she praises Dylan for staying the same throughout the years and not upping his ticket price to ridiculous heights like some of his contemporaries (Paul McCartney tickets nearly gave me a heart attack recently), she acknowledges that the music industry has changed overall. Today's rock musicians - with the exception of maybe Jack White, we decide - have lost their power in this world.
“We need a modern [Bob] Dylan. We need someone to come along, and shake it all up." But there are modern musicians she still believes in - among them are Todd Snyder, Lucinda Williams, Rhett Miller and specifically Nightmare and the Cat, fronted by Django James.
“Django has that magic stuff. That THING, he SHOULD be a fantastic star.” She says emphatically.
And I trust her judgement. Her (ahem) passion for seeking out talent is unparalleled.
But again, her legacy isn't about the shameless pursuit for new talent or glorifying celebrities, it's about the power of inspiration. And she's served to inspire people to share their stories, even if your only claim to fame is getting with that proto-Skrillex type instead of Jimmy Page. The generational difference is vast, the prestige isn't there, but the same feelings resonate. She's found a way to translate her experiences in a way any woman can relate to, and that means we all have a story to tell. I mean, hers is the one that's going to be made into a movie, but that's beyond the point.
Queen of the Groupies? Please. She's become a rock star in her own right. And as far as I can tell, Miss Pamela’s story is far from over.
Images via PamelaDesBarres.net and DangerousMinds.com.