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Take Another Little Piece of My Heart
A Groupie Grows Up
By Pamela Des Barres
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 1993 Pamela Des Barres
All rights reserved.
I am the world's most famous groupie. Isn't that something? I keep going over the incidents that created this phenomenal fact, only to have a bunch of question marks floating over my head. It's true I wrote a book about my life as a young girl when I hung out in raging New Hollywood — "freaking out" onstage with local bands, creaming my lace undies over the brand-new long-haired boys littering the streets. I also chronicled my relationships with a bunch of different guys, most of whom were musicians, but I never expected to be introduced on the Today show as "Queen of the Groupies." Wow. What a twisted and unique legacy. I never know whether to defend myself or take a bow. Should I have my own TV show or move to some remote island and gnaw on mangoes all day long? Did I live it up just to have to live it down?
When I met the Byrds on the Sunset Strip and knocked on that backstage door, there was no word for what I was doing, but what was WRONG WITH IT? Who was I hurting? I had to find my place in and around the music I loved so much. Nothing — not even the panicky fear of foolish failure — was going to stop me. In the nineties there is a little more room in the industry for rock-crazed women, although there are still nowhere near enough A & R females, if you ask me. But back then there was NO room, and I needed to be near the inspiration. And guess what? I was a welcome visitor and probably an inspiration myself. As I wandered around backstage throughout those madmadmad years, all I really wanted was to locate Mr. Right. Mr. Forever. Someone I could devote myself to. And he had to play the devil's music.
Actually, I'm really proud of my thrilling heritage. I've always considered myself to be a freewheeling feminist, a lover of men and a champion of chicks. In "Like a Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan prodded and provoked, "You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you," and my life-style was validated. Thanks, Bob. I have always been determined to get my own glorious, heartaching kicks. Despite the hard-core fact that we all make big, fat mistakes, all of us have moments in life when time stands still for a few illuminating, mesmerizing split seconds and we are brilliantly grateful to be in our bodies, on the planet, ALIVE right now!! The reason for being comes into focus, everything shimmers with clarity, and The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Music. Know what I mean?
When I was Jimmy Page's doll-face of the moment, I got real chummy with the rest of the band, and one night before Led Zeppelin swept majestically onto the stage, one by one they slipped their big, hunky turquoise bracelets on my arm for safekeeping. I stood by the side of the stage touching the trendy, treasured Indian silver, watching my friends make rock-and-roll history, feeling honored and blessed. Gotta whole lotta love. I knew I would have my hands all over the exquisite, coveted Jimmy after the show, and I was awash with luminous gratitude. Of course, I was only twenty years old at the time. Ha! After Jimmy's day off, which we spent holed up in my tiny pink bedroom, under Grandma's handmade quilt, listening to Led Zeppelin II until I had it totally memorized, Peter Grant, their infamous, mountainous manager, called to tell us we were all going to Vegas that night to see Elvis. It was way over overwhelming. I sat in between Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in the front row while the leather-clad King scorched the room with his gigantic voice, flaunting his royalty in grand, steaming style. (It was before he got gaudy with those big, sequined tents and lost his mind to/in the rigors of prescription madness.) Even though Jimmy declined an audience with His Majesty — why, I'll never know — and I lost the opportunity to converse with the King, it was still one of the most shimmering nights in my history.
There was also the lovely night I walked right onstage with the Doors. The day before the show I had discovered Jim Morrison digging around in his fridge, wearing leather pants so low you could see his crack, living right down the hill from one of my best friends in Laurel Canyon! I had been hanging out in the danger zone, inhaling a lethal substance called "Trimar," which I have since found out was an intense liquid version of PCP. In fact, my freak flag is constantly at half-mast, mourning the brain cells that bit the dust in those lazy, hazy heydays. Come back, come back, coome baaa-aaaack. But way back in the Summer of Love sunshine, I did the neighborly thing and went down to introduce myself to the Lizard King. Being in the most cockeyed condition imaginable, I promptly did a full back bend in the middle of his living room and found myself gazing up at his redheaded girlfriend/soon-to-be-wife, who asked me impolitely to leave. As I offered her a hanky full of Trimar, which she declined with menace, Jim hissed from behind me, "Get it on!" and moments after I headed back up the hundred rock stairs, he was tapping on the door, wanting to try a spot of the ill-advised liquid. Hours passed as we lolled and rolled around under the chemical spell, laughing our pixilated asses off. I don't remember when he went back home, but I slept almost comatose until the Doors soundcheck at the Hullabaloo the following afternoon. As I stumbled down the stairs on my way to the club, I almost tripped on the many broken Doors demos, which I figured the redhead had hurled down as Jim climbed up. Or was it the other way around? Either way, she must have been entirely unamused. Poor Pam Morrison! Can you imagine the shit she had to put up with through the years?
Dolled up to beat the band in my handmade stripy bell-bottoms, and armed with a quart jar of Trimar, I propped myself casually by the backstage door. Jim slunk up to me, snarling, pulled me to a ladder leading to a musty storage area full of props and fixtures, where we reclined on my tatty muskrat jacket like it was a plush four-poster love den. Inhaling, kissing, slobbering, moaning, rubbing, stroking, touching, damp, wet, hot, almost passing straight out from sheer passion, until the strains of "Light My Fire" filtered into our tripping heads. Uh-oh. Was this soundcheck? How long had we been writhing around in nirvana? His exquisite face disappeared, and I was flat on my back, oozing steam, a dripping lace hanky in each hand. I made my way slowly down the ladder and followed the music, dragging the muskrat, hankies, and half-full quart jar right onto the stage where Jim was clutching the microphone like he had just clutched me. I stood there rock-stock-still, gaping at the audience that stared at me like I was an apparition until a nice roadie came to my rescue, escorting me to the wings.
There have also been times when I felt really out of my element, when the people in the room loomed out of reach, floating sky-high while I remained with my spike heels Crazy Glued to the floor. I was so wrapped up in trying to maintain my cool in certain startling situations that the glowing reality escaped me until much later. All because I was afraid to let go of my tormented, twitching ego long enough to notice that every one of us is going through the exact same thing. Everybody is a part of everything anyway. I think Donovan said that. (An incredibly long time ago when he wore flowing white robes.)
Like the time I was sitting around in a pent-up hotel room with the Rolling Stones after that poor soul had been knifed to death in front of the band at Altamont. I was concentrating on my composure instead of attempting to console Mick Jagger. He had invited me back to the hotel after the show which had been full of historically bad vibes from assorted Hell's Angels and too many too-high people. I hadn't heard about the killing until I had Mick on the phone and he told me to "come right over." I sat in that dismal, quaking room with the entire band, plus Gram Parsons and Michelle Phillips, while the Stones tried to figure out how the hideous thing could have happened. I was only twenty years old but wished so hard that I could slip a drop of insight into the conversation. I sat mute, counting the seconds as they slowly slid by. Each one of them hurt. I ached to offer condolence and actually did put together a humble sentence of sympathy, but it wasn't enough. Mick said he was thinking of quitting rock and roll. I didn't protest even though my thighs cramped at the thought. I looked over at Michelle Phillips curled into a big chair. The corroded old line, "A woman's place is in the home" popped to mind. MY mom's place was in the home. I could even picture her in her seersucker pedal pushers, pulling weeds in our chain-link-encased backyard, so what was I doing with the world's raunchiest rock-and-roll band as they discussed murder and mayhem?
How about the time my new photographer friend called to ask if I would like to be in a small film he was directing for this new trio from England, the Jimi Hendrix Experience? I danced in one of the very first rock videos, "Foxy Lady," wriggling around in skimpy blue velvet to the nihilistic sound oozing from this wild man's guitar. From my vantage point behind the stage I watched the eyeball on his hand painted jacket contort and wink, but when he wanted my phone number, I just couldn't bring myself to give it to him. "Pam, dear, there's someone on the phone for you. It's Jimi Hendrix." "Thanks, Mom." I tried to melt into the psychedelic walls when I wasn't perched on top of the plaster Greek column go-go-ing hard and fast. ... "Here I come baby, I'm comin' to GETCHA". ... How did I get there? Me, Pam Miller from Reseda, California? I had obviously wanted to be in these exalted places, in fact I worked extra hard at being in the grooviest place at the grooviest time, only to go cross-eyed with angst when the dream came true. But I have to give myself credit, because even though I palpitated from head to toe during these excruciatingly magnificent moments, at least I got myself there. Determination overpowered my heebie-jeebies every time, praise the Lord.
I was so intimidated when I finally met John Lennon, but since I was functioning pretty well within my top-flight insecurity, the famous and infamous never knew how hard my guts trembled. He had been on a rampage around L.A. for a few weeks, and word of his loco, angry escapades was out all over town. He had just been tossed out of the Troubador for heckling some poor comedian and wearing a Kotex on his head. What kind of statement was he trying to make, I wonder? Not only women bleed? I met my ex-love Keith Moon at the Record Plant, where he was visiting a Nilsson-Starr-Lennon session. It was a rough night for me anyway: I had to tell the loony tune Mr. Moon that I had fallen in love with Michael Des Barres and could no longer wipe his wacky brow at the crash of dawn. When Keith introduced me to the intelligent Beatle, I saw a gleaming warning signal flash across his wildly famous face and waited for the tornado. He stared at me with daggers, repeating my name over and over and over again until all the letters turned into rancid alphabet soup. How do you respond to that kind of onslaught? Gee, it's nice to meet you too?
It slowly got better as I became accustomed to hanging out with the hierarchy. Being the governess for Moon and Dweezil and living at the Zappa household really helped me to graduate from novice to know-it-all. I came to appreciate those incandescent moments even more because I was a true participant instead of a stressed-out observer. All the aspiring rock gods, especially the boys from England, couldn't wait to meet Mr. Z., so the house was always full of velvet trousers and British accents. I no longer had to peer through imaginary binoculars into the land of aahs. Forever-memories were created every day. The hills were on fire with the sound of music.
I never wanted to grow up, I figured, Why should I? Growing up represented giving up, becoming a faceless everywoman with boring superficial responsibilities. By staying young at heart, I would never have to think about "taking charge" of my life. I could meander through the daisy patch, hand-in-hand with a gorgeous, messy, free-spirited rock dude that I could worship-adore and do things for. But now at age forty-three, I ask myself, Why did I always feel like these precious jerks were doing me a favor? I kept counting my lucky stars while I ironed shirts, made copious cups of tea, and pandered to their every whim. And I can't really blame them for my Miss Conduct! What about the concept that behind every great man stands a woman? Which macho dog came up with that gem? I bought into that idea totally and went around making sure my man walked several paces in front of me, so if he happened to drop something, I could pick it up and he just might feel a gallant sense of obligation to me. In the early heart of the nineties that sounds pretty fucking twisted, I know, but at the time it just felt natural. Many years would pass before I realized I was giving myself the itsy bitsy end of the stick. I've come a long way since then, baby, and it hasn't been a piece of cake.
I eventually found my own personal free-spirited rock dude, my darling Michael Des Barres, and was married for a truly long time. And I certainly thought it was going to last forever, believe me. I watched my precious mom hold her marriage together against all odds and studied her example without even trying. I also got to witness Gail Zappa tending, mending, and fending for Frank twenty-four hours a day — taking umpteen tips from the high priestess of rock wives. I have always been a devoted slave to my men but never considered it a fiasco until I was struck by 3-D lightning not too long ago. I was in therapy with my Jungian analyst, complaining about my errant ex and his reckless sexual adventures that had hijacked our marriage, when I was struck dumb by the realization that I had been half the problem! I had become a classic codependent way before some now-filthy-rich soul had coined the term. Of course I have always been ahead of my time. Ha! The word codependent, like any other label, pissed me off at first, but I had to face facts, dolls. If the term fits, slide into it like a skin-tight cat suit. I now prefer "cocreator" because it's always a fifty-fifty deal. By catering to Michael, doing everything for him, kissing his royal ass, and attempting to alter him for his own sake, I had helped to create a man who had no choice but to rebel. I thought if I ripped out my heart every once in a while and offered him another piece, he would feel totally loved — totally beholden. I stood in front of him screaming, "Take it! Take another little piece of my heart, now baby. You know you've got it if it makes YOU feel good."
So many women my age are either adoring, diminished do-gooders, slavishly devoted to the men and children in their lives, putting themselves at the very end of the list, and rotting with boiling resentment or hard-bitten gals determined to wear the slacks and hold the reins. Their lips become slits of fierce, hard-won independence, and it's not very cute. I've always avoided the grown-up middle ground, but for the last couple of years I've been on a big search for this elusive pathway: take care of my man by taking care of myself. The goal sounds simple enough, but I've had to wade through reams of conditioning and blind rebellion, trying not to lose sight of the joyous, exciting day-to-day gift of life. I'm working on being independent — on trusting and respecting my wacky self — but not to get so serious that I get wrinkles on my forehead and trample on the things that thrill and delight me. It's definitely an adventure, and I'll always expect illuminating, mesmerizing moments to come along and clog up my day.
Excerpted from Take Another Little Piece of My Heart by Pamela Des Barres. Copyright © 1993 Pamela Des Barres. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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