Today, a break from photos as I write about my experience seeing author/groupie goddess Pamela Des Barres for an interview/book reading/question-taking hour in the cool darkness of the Leo K. Theatre on Bumbershoot’s Words & Ideas Stage. I didn’t really have a choice about the photos part; a posting on the entry door and a polite usher reminded me that there were no photos allowed during the session. I was disappointed (but not really surprised) and I of course complied, even when other folks’ and their iPhones did not. People, people. Miss Pamela was a must-see at the fest for me, and she was exactly as I imagined she would be, both in the good and not-so-good ways. She presents one with an opportunity to mull over a lot of complex questions that go far past the salience of what famous men in rock’s heyday she laid, and that might surprise you.

I’ve been aware of Miss Pamela, as she was known in her ‘60s/’70s glory days, from the time I was a tiny little rock fangirl and sent away for one of the Reprise “loss leader” 2LP samplers, free I think save for postage, found in ads in every rock mag of the time. At this time, Reprise hosted Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, the Everly Brothers, and the G.T.O.’s, the latter being a Zappa project which starred Miss Pamela and several other groupies, all part of the same swirling, wild Los Angeles scene. Honestly, when I looked at the little insert photo of the G.T.O.’s album, I thought it was pretty damn scary. They were hippie-goth before goth there. The music was similarly odd; childish, child-like, with long talking segments and avant-hippie Zappa punctuations. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually grasped what a “groupie” was, and did, in the most basic sense.

Pamela was a steady feature for several years in the press, her beaming wide smile ever-present, arms usually thrown around one of the bigger names in rock, like Jimmy Page or Keith Moon. Groupies fascinated me, as I was similarly consumed by All That Was Rock And Roll, although slogging through a torpid school career in rural Wisconsin, arms only thrown around my dog, Sam. I was drawn to music and musicians, like they were, intoxicated by the creativity and power and sheer fun. But as I entered my teen years and finally brushed the corn husks off and got into seeing shows and taking photos, there were the groupies, the girls lined up in their heels and disheveled rock finery and glitter makeup, and there was nothing too glamourous about that at all. It was all more sad than glorious, more unintentionally-funny than feminist, seeing girls my own age with a backstage pass on a bare thigh, a one-way ticket to doing one of the lighting guys that night. I stuck to nerdy fangirl non-sexuality, and my camera, safe and comfortable on the sidelines.

Pamela survived the crazy times, went on to marry and divorce rocker Michael Des Barres (they had one child, Nicholas, in 1978), and ended up writing a series of best-selling books about her experiences: I’m With The Band, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, Rock Bottom, and Let’s Spend The Night Together. I bought them all as they arrived in stores, and was delighted to find out that the trippy Miss Pamela was actually an intelligent, thoughtful, and funny author. The books are very entertaining reads, especially the first, I’m With The Band, as it begins with her early days as Pam Miller from Reseda, California, Young Beatlemaniac (and I do mean maniac; she made my baby fan screams over Paul McCartney look really basic) and going on to explain how she came to be an integral part of the rock scene. (Hint: it helped to be a pal of the cousin of Captain Beefheart. His name was and is Victor Hayden, and he was in the Bumbershoot audience, too.)

In 2011, as I watch her walk onstage, Miss Pamela remains as adorable as ever in a funky mini, plaid tights, cowboy boots, layered necklaces and bracelets, and bright red hair and lipstick. She is as pale as a porcelain doll; her voice dances with wit and inflection. Interviewer (author and DJ) Kurt B. Reighley  was a perfect foil; quick-witted, well-prepped, a definite fan. And right away, she says something to the audience, smiling but with defiant and definite edge:

I want you to know that I am more than just who I fucked!

And it is right there that the questions begin in my head, and they roll around, unasked through the session as Pamela reads about showing off a newly-learned backbend to Jim Morrison and his very-unhappy-to-see-her girlfriend, a high-school art project featuring the imagined testes of Mick Jagger, and the very very special and real spiritual connections she had with each of the musicians and celebs she slept with.


I can imagine that at times over the years, maybe many times, it must not have been too great being known only as a famous slut, although Pamela claims she slept with far fewer people than most folks do over a lifetime; hers just happened to be giant celebrities. Fair enough, and I believe that. But by writing her books, she continues to this day to make a living off of that very notoriety. Again, she mentioned that the actual talk of what happened during sex is minimal in her books, but that doesn’t matter. That is why people are interested, and why they stay interested. Sex sells. Everyone on rock’s periphery and his grandma have written books about what it was like bring around Hendrix and Lennon and Plant, but when you add a pretty girl talking about free love and blowjobs…well, you have a living. Why not completely, joyfully OWN IT? Why not say, hell yes, I did this and this and this and how cool was that and glad you guys want to hear about it! There’s no need to say you were a member of the “first all-girl band” because that’s not true (there were several before the G.T.O’s, and who were actual musicians), no need to say you were an unheralded fashion innovator, no need to insinuate that you were the primary inspiration for the Penny Lane character in Cameron Crowe’s film, “Almost Famous” and perhaps should have received something bankable for that. 

Amidst all the entertainment and fun, it was hard for me to brush off a feeling that Pamela Des Barres holds a little bitter with the sweet, that less-enlightened times kept her down as a woman, that those who didn’t understand, could never understand. When a woman in the audience asked her what she would advise a young aspiring female groupie these days, Pamela burst forth with an immediate answer: “Go form your own band! Go be an artist! Go be a photographer!” In that moment, I stood with her, remembering the fork in the road a long, long time ago.

After the session ended, I stood in line with a friend, a music writer, as he waited to buy a copy of “I’m With The Band” to have signed by Pamela. I didn’t introduce myself to her, not wanting to intrude on my friend’s short moment with her. After she signed his book, Pamela looked up at me and my camera, waved and smiled. I smiled back and very nearly said, “I became a photographer,” but didn’t, safe and comfortable once again on the sidelines.