Pamela Des Barres | If These Walls Could Play Power Chords
“I was just doing what felt natural to me,” Pamela Des Barres tells me in her living room. She appears to be rather comfortable, placing her black ballet flats on the coffee table as she sinks further into her sofa. The wall across from her is covered floor-to-ceiling in Elvis memorabilia, along with a framed poster of a very young version of herself wearing silk and posing with her all-girls group, the GTOs (an acronym for “Girls Together Outrageously”). “I wanted to meet the bands because I loved their music. Then the word ‘groupie’ came along. I said, ‘Wow okay, there’s a word for what I do,’ and it was no big deal. Then it quickly became a negative connotation...you know, jealousy. Or they were uptight sexually or whatever.”
Pamela Des Barres is often remembered as the world’s most distinguished groupie; a woman known for putting herself in some sensational situations—at least that’s how I’d describe sitting on stage with Zeppelin atop Jimmy Page’s amp and learning of country music from Gram Parsons himself. She describes a groupie as more than a fan, clarifying, “a fan is content to sit in an audience and go home and swoon, but a groupie wants to meet that person right away. Groupies were also uplifters, promotors, encouragers, and inspirers. We helped these guys with their music because we loved it. And it wasn’t like we sat down and wrote a song with them, it was encouragement and reminding them how great the stuff that they were doing was, how important it was.” For Des Barres, it all started with the man staring back at us. It was the passion that Elvis’ music inspired in her that made her want to go out and meet the people responsible for the sounds she loved.
She refers to the mid ’60s and early ’70s as a magical time, when making it with Mick Jagger wasn’t just a pipedream but a palpable reality (I wish I could say the same). But it’s important to note that she speaks without nostalgia, or an ounce of regret. For a while, she avoided the “groupie” title, but her eventful life and best-selling works documenting such have allowed her to proudly reclaim the title.
Her first memoir, I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, tells the story of a young woman’s life unfolding on the Sunset Strip, providing decadent details from encounters with rock’s most iconic figures. Following her 1987 New York Times best-seller are four books, Let’s Spend the Night Together; Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up; Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon; and Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir. She’s been writing it all down for quite some time, keeping diaries throughout her journey, and has held on to nearly all 30 of them. Now she’s sharing her lifetime of knowledge, teaching writing classes across the country and abroad. She considers her writing workshops as the best thing she’s ever done. “I’m allowing people to express themselves in a safe place, that’s what it is. They can reveal things about themselves they oftentimes never put into words.” She has been organizing a Vegas weekend around writing, connecting, and avoiding The Strip at all costs for her first annual Doll-Con, taking place April 26-28.
Alongside the two online columns she contributes to on punk culture blog PleaseKillMe and Tidal, she is currently working on her sixth novel, Blinded by the Light: Sex, God, and Rock ‘n Roll, with a release date set for next summer. This time, Des Barres intertwines her spiritual and musical journeys. She grew up surrounded by Jesus, whose visage appears throughout her home in various religious paraphernalia. His name is even tattooed on her back. “I remember I was 14 in church, and the pastor said that dancing was a sin. And I just thought, what? That doesn’t sound right. So I went through a whole search and discovery with the Bible and what that meant, and it’s nowhere in the Bible. I found that out. So I started seeking spirituality from other sources, lots of them,” she tells me. “I went through all the different kinds of gurus, schools, and churches you could imagine—like Shirley MacLaine!” she says, jokingly. “I’m going out on a limb, because, you know what? I turned 70 and who cares if people think I’m nuts.”
Pamela Des Barres is many things: a writer, teacher, former actress, groupie. Yet it is her strong presence as a determined woman who isn’t afraid to go after what she wants, regardless of what other people think (she still blocks people on Facebook who comment “slut” on 50-year-old photos), that sets her apart from the rest. At her core, she’s someone who thrives off of watching musicians do what they were meant to do—she hasn’t missed a single Dylan show since ’65. “I have such good taste in music,” she laughs.