Good time girl

Su­per groupie Pamela Des Bar­res had the giants of rock’n’roll in the palm of her hand. As her can­did mem­oir is reis­sued, she tells Craig McLean how she lived to tell the tale

The Observer Magazine - - NATURAL NAVIGATION -

Barely 30 sec­onds in and Pamela Des Bar­res has not so much name-dropped as chucked her di­ary on the ta­ble. I com­pli­ment the author of I’m With the Band – one of the all­time clas­sic rock’n’roll mem­oirs – on her or­nate neck­lace, and she says it used to be­long to Psy­cho ac­tor Janet Leigh. When I ask if she still has the jew­ellery gifted to her by Led Zep­pelin gui­tarist Jimmy Page, she replies, bereft: “No, it was stolen, by a klep­to­ma­niac mar­ried to one of the Beach Boys.”

Then, as we scan the menu in the rapidly busy­ing Fri­day night din­ing room of an in-crowd Hol­ly­wood ho­tel, I idly en­quire as to her di­etary habits. “I haven’t eaten red meat for 45 years. I went with Don Johnson, one of my dudes,” she says of the then-fu­ture star of Mi­ami Vice, “to the first veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant in LA. And I saw on the back of the menu how we get the red meat. And I was so ap­palled that I stopped that day.”

I’m With the Band, the clas­sic con­fes­sional of Des Bar­res’s sex­ual and ro­man­tic es­capades with a cacophony of rock stars, is re­pub­lished in a 30th an­niver­sary edi­tion this month. In brac­ing de­tail, the woman born Pamela Miller in Reseda, Cal­i­for­nia, de­tails her high jinks on the Sun­set Strip of late-60s and early-70s Los Angeles.

Led Zep, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Buffalo Spring­field, the Byrds, Cap­tain Beef­heart, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the Who… These were many of the great­est acts of the cul­tural revo­lu­tion, and Pamela – who turned 20 in 1968 – knew them all. She al­chemised ado­les­cent Bea­tles fan­dom into a new type of ar­dour: that of the groupie.

“A groupie is some­one who loves the mu­sic so much she wants to be around the peo­ple who make it,” she ex­plains. “A fan is con­tent with an au­to­graph or a look from the stage, or a selfie. A groupie takes the next step. And that takes a lot of courage. But they do so to­tally will­ingly, some­times hop­ing for a ro­mance, or a one-night stand – or some­times hop­ing to marry them,” Des Bar­res hoots.

If groupie be­hav­iour was judged then – the loose morals of silly girls, ex­ploited by lascivious rock stars – it can ap­pear even less savoury to­day. But be­fore we get into that – and the still-no-holds-barred Des Bar­res, now 69, will hap­pily get into that – let’s view a high­lights reel.

As de­picted in the book, the gate­way crush for the teenager who Robert Plant and Mick Jag­ger would come to call “Miss Pamela” was the singer with San Diego band Iron But­ter­fly. But her re­la­tion­ship with Who drum­mer Keith Moon was con­sid­er­ably more im­por­tant, even though she was si­mul­ta­ne­ously see­ing rene­gade coun­try singer Way­lon Jen­nings. “I was Keith’s LA girl, and there was no doubt about it. I knew that when­ever he came to town he’d call no one but me,” Des Bar­res re­calls, wist­ful even now for the tragic Moon the Loon, who died in 1978 aged 32.

“He was such a needy soul… I was a sta­bil­is­ing thing for him. When he’d wake up scream­ing about be­ing a mur­der­ing fuck [Moon ac­ci­den­tally killed his chauf­feur with his Bent­ley] I could calm him. It was my duty as a muse to take care of this bril­liant ge­nius who in­spired so many.

“I was the muse,” she adds, “and I don’t care what peo­ple say about that. Groupies en­hanced these peo­ple’s lives in a huge way. And if it weren’t for us, they would not be who they are.” Page was more mean­ing­ful still. “I was in love with Jimmy and I was gonna be true to him. At this point I had only slept with four peo­ple; peo­ple think I was this wild in­sane ma­niac!” But then along came Jag­ger, whom she’d lusted af­ter since her school days. “Mick was num­ber five. He con­vinced me that Jimmy wasn’t be­ing true to me on the road. So I de­cided, ‘OK, I’ve wanted this guy for­ever, I might as well do it.’ And we had this long-term fling that was re­ally awe­some.”

Her love of English rock stars even­tu­ally pro­pelled Des Bar­res to Chelsea, in the heart of Swing­ing Lon­don. When two Amer­i­can tourists mis­took her for Jag­ger’s girl­friend she thought she’d at­tained some kind of nir­vana. “Fuck­ing Mick on his pil­lows in the mid­dle of his liv­ing room, lis­ten­ing to Dy­lan,” Des Bar­res sighs now, wist­ful once more. “There was noth­ing bet­ter on earth.”

What was Jag­ger’s re­ac­tion when I’m With The Band was orig­i­nally pub­lished? “He was asked once in Rolling Stone what he thought of the book. He said: ‘I was there.’ It made me feel good. He had no prob­lem with it, in other words. No one has.” So no one tried to sue her? “Ab­so­lutely not. Be­cause I was telling the truth, in a sweet way. I was telling my truth.”

Of course, there’s truth then, and there’s per­cep­tion now. We dis­cuss her friend and fel­low groupie Lori Mad­dox. She’s been dragged into so­cial me­dia “de­bates” in the #MeToo era from those who de­cry her los­ing her vir­gin­ity to David Bowie at the age of 15. “I’m very proud of Lori for the way she’s han­dled this whole thing. She’s very proud of her his­tory. She has no re­grets at all. A lot of peo­ple have come af­ter her and she just doesn’t rise to it.”

Do they come af­ter her be­cause, as she was 15 she was, by definition, abused? “She was not abused,” is Des Bar­res’s firm con­vic­tion. “Be­cause that’s what she wanted. Yeah, she was young. And nowa­days 15 is not what it used to be. And prior to that era, 15 was not what it be­came. It was just a pe­riod in time when things like that hap­pened and it was OK! It was a short pe­riod in time. But it was our re­al­ity, and ev­ery­one was OK with it.”

In 1977, Pamela mar­ried English rock star Michael Des Bar­res. He was a rag­ing co­caine addict so she vowed, on the spot, to give up drugs. They had a son to­gether, but di­vorced in 1991. She’s had a few re­la­tion­ships since then, but is cur­rently sin­gle. To­day she finds strength in her faith, some­thing that has deep­ened over the years. As to how she squares her sex­ual es­capades with Chris­tian moral­ity, she ac­knowl­edges that, “I fought with it. Un­til I fi­nally re­alised that the or­gasm – la petite mort – is godly. The or­gasm is when you ac­tu­ally for­get ev­ery­thing else but that. So you are ac­tu­ally one with all that is. And when the or­gasms con­tin­ued, I came to re­alise that sex is so good, so im­por­tant, so con­nect­ing with the divine.”

Putting her CV where her soul is, she’s also an or­dained min­is­ter. Pamela Des Bar­res can of­fi­ci­ate your wed­ding and throw in, too, eye-pop­ping anec­dotes about Jim Morrison get­ting her off go­rilla anaes­thetic Tri­mar, and why she only went to third base with the Kinks’ Ray Davies.

Of course, a switched-on woman whose num­ber plate reads “GROUPIE” can’t be ig­no­rant of how cul­ture has shifted on its axis in the months since Har­vey We­in­stein was ex­posed. “I’m con­cerned that my amaz­ing life will be lumped in with some of that [be­hav­iour]. But it was a whole other uni­verse. And I hope that peo­ple will see my life as the choice for free­dom. The choice for al­low­ing sex to be a gor­geous, ex­quis­ite part of your life as op­posed to some­thing scary. And to tell those fuck­ers, ‘FUCK YOU!’ if they come near you when you don’t want ’em.”

As she con­sid­ers the new edi­tion of her book, I ask if she has any re­grets? She ad­mits, laugh­ing, that she wishes she’d slept with Hendrix when he of­fered. More sober­ingly, she men­tions Al­ta­mont, the 1969 Stones show at which a fan was mur­dered by Hells An­gels. And she re­calls a “dev­as­tated” Jag­ger in a ho­tel room af­ter­wards, say­ing he was “quit­ting” and beg­ging her to stay. “He only wanted com­fort af­ter that hor­rific, trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. But I as­sumed he wanted a three-way with [the Ma­mas and the Pa­pas’] Michelle Phillips – I was never into three-ways – and I was com­pletely wrong. To this day I feel bad about that.”

These days, Des Bar­res still lives for the mu­sic. She throws gigs in her back­yard, and hosts rock’n’roll tours of “her” LA for tourists. “I’ve be­come this his­tor­i­cal per­son,” she smiles, “which is so weird.”

But don’t go mis­tak­ing that for sad­ness, an el­egy for an era whose time’s up, for a youth wasted. Pamela Des Bar­res was her own woman then and she’s her own woman now.

“I miss a lot of peo­ple who didn’t make it,” she says qui­etly, “but there are plenty peo­ple who did. So, no, I have no sad­ness about it at all.”

I’m With The Band: Con­fes­sions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Bar­res is pub­lished by Om­nibus Press at £14.99. Or­der a copy for £12.74 at guardian­book­

‘We en­hanced these peo­ple’s lives. Without groupies they would not be who they are’

Happy hour: Pamela Des Bar­res with Alice Cooper in Los Angeles in 1974

Songs of in­no­cence: (from top) with Keith Moon in Hol­ly­wood, 1978; with her band the GTOs (Pamela is in the front) in 1969; and with Jimmy Page in 1973

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