Pamela Des Barres and the misunderstood term “Groupie” have become so fused in the public consciousness, I’m surprised her photograph doesn’t appear next to the word at Dictionary.com. As the spokeschick for the most sexually liberated generation of females in history, Pamela exemplifies the exuberance of the 1960s hippie subculture.
Rebel doll with a righteous cause, she has always bulldozed the road less traveled, finding original ways to express her irrepressible spirit. For better or worse, Ms. Des Barres’ name is often used instead of the misunderstood ‘G’ word. On the popular TV show The Gilmore Girls, when Lorelai fancies a young musician, her daughter Emily asks, “Who are you? Pamela Des Barres?” Google the term “groupie,”and reams of photos of her from various eras appear before you, along with countless bloggers and journalists yammering about her extraordinary life. Thousands upon thousands of shots of her endlessly pop up on Tumblr, some she has never seen before.
Like it or not, no matter what other creative shenanigans she gets up to, Pamela is most well-known for her adoration of rock & roll music and the men who make it. When her seminal book, “I’m With the Band” was published, she was described by Bryant Gumbel on the Today Show as ‘Queen of the Groupies,” and that mixed moniker has stuck to her persona like crazy glue.
Des Barres created quite a furor in 1987 when her controversial, tell-all autobiography, “I’m With the Band – Confessions of a Groupie,” appeared on bookstands. The first-time author detailed her life in the fast lane of rock and roll during the 60s and early 70s. Des Barres was a friend and governess for the legendary cult musician Frank Zappa and his family, as well as a member of one of the first all-girl rock groups, produced by Zappa, the GTOs – Girls Together Outrageously. Their album, “Permanent Damage” has long been considered a classic and a very collectible hunk of vinyl. The ubiquitous Miss Pamela, as she was known on the scene in those days, hung out in London and New York, but mainly dancing around in her hometown of Los Angeles, with a plethora of revolutionary musicians, keeping kept a journal of all her madcap shenanigans. In her memoir, Des Barres describes friendships and romantic liaisons with Mick Jagger, The Who’s Keith Moon, Waylon Jennings and Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page among significant others. To some, “I’m With the Band,” seemed to glorify promiscuity and substance abuse, and “Miss P” was often criticized for speaking so openly about sex. Yet, on the other hand, Des Barres’ story is a tale that speaks volumes about the often-misunderstood role of women in rock. The music scene is notorious for the legions of females who line up backstage to catch a glimpse, or better yet, the eye, of their favorite artist. Although swooning fans offering themselves up sexually have been around since the days of early eighteenth-century Romantic poets, (and well before) the modern versions of these women ~ “groupies,” are often vilified ~ but they are also envied.
The reviews were stellar. “Miss Pamela represented something honorable and loving about Southern California and the 60s, about hippies and hedonism,” John Rockwell of the New York Times wrote about Des Barres’ explicit, heartfelt account of life in the brisk lane, “…and even about the sexual honesty of contemporary women, that modern-day moralists ignore at their own peril.” Kurt Loder’s Rolling Stone rave deemed it a “highly personalized, page-turning cultural history, calling it “terrifically entertaining stuff, not the least because it has about it the viscous, sticky texture of truth.” Loder further noted that her “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 quickly became a journalist, writing colorful articles for Details, Interview and Cosmopolitan, to name just a few. MTV and VH-1 came calling and included her insights in several documentaries and bios on rock personalities. She was a frequent guest on National talk shows, Larry King, the Today Show, Oprah, Jenny Jones, Geraldo, etc. etc.
In ’92, Des Barres shared the next phase of her life in “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up,” a revealing, candid look at the rise and demise of a rock marriage, the reality of losing a parent, and raising a gifted, troubled child. The book concludes with her yummy relationship with a rocker twenty years her junior.
“Rock Bottom – Dark Moments in Music Babylon,” published in ’97, chronicles 25 tragic tales of rock and roll excess. The book was billed as a compendium of “horror stories” about overindulgence in the rock world, with tales about everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain. A review in the New York Times stated “Reading these accounts is like eating potato chips: You can’t stop with just one.”
Des Barres continued to write for several publications including, Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, Details, the New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Spin and Playgirl among many others, landing cover stories with rockers — from Iggy Pop (Details) to Beck (Bust) — and wrote the weekly Music Scoop column for E! Online for several years. She interviewed a wide range of musicians and reviewed a plethora of new releases, and of course, she is still very active in the modern pop scene. A few years ago, Des Barres was featured in her own E! True Hollywood Story, so popular that it was repeated hundreds of times. She was also interviewed for “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” a revealing, historical rockdoc, as well as “The Plaster-Caster,” and “Sunset Strip – The Movie,” a new documentary being shown now on Showtime.
Des Barres’ work has been showcased in several compilation books, including an outrageous interview with Courtney Love in “Rock She Wrote.” Recently her short story “The James Dean Diaries” was included in “Carved In Rock,” along with tales by rockers such as Pete Townshend, Ray Davies and Kinky Friedman.
Summer of 2003, “I’m With the Band” was republished in the UK, and the response was so overwhelming, it was as if the groupie memoir had just been written. Almost immediately it went into a second (and third, fourth…) printing. Every major music publication reviewed it (very favorably) and took the opportunity to hook up with Des Barres. In 2005, Chicago Review Press re-released “Band,” and has printed several renditions of this classic memoir. Des Barres has recorded all of her book for Audible, and has just completed a screenplay, which was recently picked up by a major producer. Des Barres will co-produce, and they are now scouting locations and searching for the lucky actress who will portray ‘Miss Pamela.’
Des Barres does monthly personalized rock & roll tours of her old Hollywood stomping grounds, teaches women’s creative writing workshops around the U.S. and as an ordained minister, performs rock & roll weddings.
Her most recent tome, “Let’s Spend the Night Together –Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies,” now in large format paperback, features the ribald tales of 25 groupies/muses who speak candidly about the wild–ride rock & roll lifestyle and their thrilling rock star encounters. In 2011, Des Barres co-produced a 90-minute VH1 special, based on her book, traipsing all over the country seeking out these most fascinating women.
“The articulate Des Barres, who was part of a pack of Los Angeles groupies that Frank Zappa dubbed the GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously), continues to be a VH1/BBC talking head and a mine of information about the 1960s scene, when rockstars were revolutionaries and eminently desirable. Brighter than many of her hairy bed-partners, she turned her experiences into three hilarious best-selling books.” The Guardian, London.
“In casual defiance of the fact that a certain birthday looms large, Pamela Des Barres positively radiates rude good health and an undeniably disarming beauty that is disconcertingly childlike. With her lush mane of fiery red shoulder length curls, a porcelain complexion that belies her Sunset-Strip-hopping Valley Girl salad days, a pair of intimidating, ice-cool, emotion-veiling Lolita shades, a ready laugh – infectious in its rolling filthiness – and a decidedly elfin prettiness that is reminiscent of the nascent Shirley Maclaine, she is clearly a woman who is still way more capable of turning heads. And once upon a time, she turned some of the most famous iconic heads in rock history.” Classic Rock Magazine
In the well-reviewed book “20,000 Thousand Roads – Women, Movement and the West,” author & history professor Virginia Scharff devotes an entire chapter to Des Barres. “Pamela Des Barres is the Lewis and Clark of wanton women, who prowled the world anew from sea to shining sea.”
Pamela received a quarter million hits on her website the first week it was launched, (www.pameladesbarres.com) and she enjoys a worldwide fan base. Her books have been published in Germany, the UK, France, Brazil, Italy, Croatia, Estonia, Portugal, Hungary, Japan, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, etc. etc.
Pamela’s fans span the ages, from teenagers obsessed with classic rock, groupie fashion and Sunset Strip history, to current music lovers and young groupies, to peers who want to recapture their youth, serious rock historians, and beach-readers who simply love sharing her life stories. She lived in a world, and still does, that captivates people all over the world.