Pamela Des Barres, née Pamela Miller, of Reseda, California, grew up to be the most infamous rock ‘n’ roll groupie on the planet. Her 1987 classic I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie gave classic rock voyeurs a peek backstage and between the sheets of life with more than a few notorious lotharios, from Jim Morrison and Keith Moon to Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page. More importantly, everything about Des Barres, from the handpicked flowers in her hair to a spiritual commitment to the music, went on to define our perceptions of rock groupies in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Rumor has it Kate Hudson pored through Des Barres’ diaries while preparing for the role of Penny Lane in Almost Famous.
But even groupies grow up, and Des Barres continued to document her life in multiple follow-up memoirs like Take Another Little Piece of My Heart: A Groupie Grows Up, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon, and Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies. And while music will always be her first love, writing runs a close second. In between book readings and rock tours (for a small price, Miss Pamela will take you on a ride through the secret haunts and havens of that golden-era scene), Des Barres has cultivated a loyal group of female writing students, from other music-obsessed women to award-winning novelists like Emma Cline, all of whom flocked to Des Barres for guidance on how to write “a rockin’ memoir.” In fact, that’s the subject of her latest book, Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir, that came out earlier this month from Penguin Random House.
After devouring the book, we spoke with Des Barres about her tips, to-dos, and tricks of the trade when writing a book about your life, even when life gets ugly. You can trust rock ’n’ roll’s original groupie when it comes to living, remembering, and writing about a life full of musical ecstasy, escape, and excess. And all you’ve got to do, according to one of Des Barres’ most special someones, is to let it bleed. Well, there’s a few other things to keep in mind, too. Read on to find out.
Believe in Your Divinity Miss Pamela, as referred to by her friends and lovers, has always touted rock music as a higher power, especially when it comes to appreciating a live concert. “Even to me,” she recalls over the phone from her current home in Culver City, California, “looking back, it’s kind of mythical. Sitting up on Jimmy [Page’s] amp with Zeppelin, seeing and feeling that crowd of mania, people in transcendence. It’s hard to even describe. I’m really glad that I was able to experience it truthfully in that exact moment.”
As prolific as she is glamorous, Des Barres is at work on yet another book, this time about her spiritual journey in relation to her music-loving soul. Her advice? Open your heart to the music you love and use it as a means to transcend.
According to Des Barres:
It all has to do with self-belief. Believing you’re as good as anyone else, and knowing that. No matter what, where you come from, or where you’ve been, you are equal to the person next to you. We’re all in this together because that’s the thing: we are each other. Yes, I’m a feminist and I’m a woman, but I feel connected to all human beings, whatever their sex is and race and age. You just have to own it. You have to own yourself. Love it. Love yourself. Look in the mirror and say, “God, are you awesome.” You’re a divine being. Own it.
Fangirl Like You Mean It Des Barres may have spent years as a VIP to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who, but her true fangirl loyalty goes to the idols of her youth, like Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney. Her true poetic loves?
For me, it’s [Bob] Dylan always. I never miss him play, so I listen to him, and my heart opens up, and somehow there is a connection. Luckily I have, but whether you ever meet your favorite singer or not, that connection is always there. It’s an exchange of energy, and you will always be in touch whether you meet them or not because it’s through the art.
Always Be a Good Groupie“Nowadays there are so many bands,” Des Barres says:
And so many special unique creations of music being made, [but] people have to hang out with their local bands. That’s how you meet them. You go to your local club. You find a band that you absolutely believe in and love like I used to do with The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, and you help them. You promote them. You do what a good groupie does. You help them become more of who they are. It’s an equal exchange, the groupie rock star exchange. It’s not all about sex by any means. It’s a love exchange by appreciation.
Des Barres continues:
I didn’t follow [anybody.] That puts a connotation of being submissive to someone who I felt was higher than me. I never felt any of that. It wasn’t like that. I was a total feminist back then. I was doing what I wanted to do, which is what feminism is for a woman, I think. There are many ways to look at it, but, for me, it’s just a female doing what a female wants to do. Sometimes against all odds, and that’s what I focused on. Just hanging out with these incredible artists and then becoming an artist myself.
Take the Flack and Own It
“I have been through a lot being an outspoken sexual woman,” states Des Barres with obvious strength. She explains:
I have been through a lot. People giving me so much shit and it continues, though it’s not like 30 years ago. I’m With The Band is 30 years old now, but when it came out, it was much worse than it is now. A lot of women were angry with me. One woman who knew that Don Johnson and I lived together for a while stood up and said to me, “You never really knew Don Johnson. He wouldn’t be seen with you,” blah blah blah, just because I had been with these rock stars and had been proud of my sexuality. She said, “Oh you doctored that [photo.] You don’t know him.” All the way until last year, I was reading out of I’m With The Band in Houston and some guy stood up and said, “You’re a slut. How dare you talk about this, you whore?!” So I still have to experience that. But you have to be calm. I had to keep reading. You have to make light of it. I’ve learned through the years how to do it. But at first, it was really scary, especially on live TV. They hustled [that guy] out, of course, because he was drunk and disorderly, and then after the reading, I said, “Okay, who among you here in the audience has had sex? Raise your hand. Come on. Yeah, I had sex with Mick Jagger, so what? Do you have sex with each other? What’s the difference?” Give me a break. I still deal with it.
Sharing is Fun, But Don’t Give Out Too Much
The details of Des Barres’ infamous sex life are as wild and colorful as her long red hair. But still, she prefers to keep her most special memories to herself.
“Keep a journal,” she advises.
Keep a private journal and don’t blast it. Of course, sharing is fun, but don’t give out too much. And then you have it in your journal. You can go through it all and pick and choose what to divulge. I didn’t use everything in my diaries when I wrote my books. I just chose what resonated and what I thought people would relate to and what meant the most to me as opposed to putting the entire diary out there, and it gives you an opportunity to reflect. Sometimes I think I remain slightly mysterious in my books because you don’t want to divulge certain things.
Remember to Live in the Now, Especially at a ShowAs lovely as it is to reminisce, especially through writing, living in the past can be a trap. Even successful memoirists and rock historians like Des Barres find themselves at odds with the particular struggle to balance the now and the then. “Sometimes I do feel pigeonholed in that era,” she says. “Like I live in the past, which I absolutely do not. I have to balance talking about my past with living in the now.”
She says, “You don’t need to selfie everything, but I get it. People want selfies with me every day, and I do it. I make sure they hold the camera in the right angle so I look okay and all of that.”
But Des Barres understands the impulse:
I know you want to capture that moment, but capture it in your heart. Not on your fucking iPhone. Someday we may not have those phones. Anything can happen in the world the way it is right now, and we may not be able to access the phone or the internet, and you’re gonna need to keep it inside your souls and your hearts, the music and the life and the love you loved, not inside your fucking phones. That’s all.