“I left Pam in the dust and became Pamela…”
These are the words I couldn’t get out of my head while reading I’m With The Band.
Pictured: My very favorite photo of living legend Miss Pamela (circa 1967.)
For those unfamiliar, Pamela Des Barres is an acclaimed author, teacher of writing workshops, and the undisputed queen of rock-and-roll groupies. She’s also a former member of Girls Together Outrageously, or The GTO’s: a girl group/groupie troupe spearheaded by the one and only Frank Zappa. Their music definitely leans towards the avant-garde but their only record, Permanent Damage, is worth checking out if you’re into Certifiably Weird Shit like me.
I’d been wanting to read Pamela’s first memoir for quite some time. I knew her as a style icon first – that blue velvet mini dress from the "Foxey Lady" video? Come on! But in time I became a bit of a wannabe groupie myself. And of course, I’m With The Band is like the freakin’ groupie Bible. As I mentioned in my last post, I got my signed(!!) copy as a gift from my dearest Daniel.
While the book made its cross-country trip wrapped in a vintage pink checked shirt, I read every bit of Pamela’s work online that I could. I’m talking every single one of the Please Kill Me columns, liner notes for albums and then some. In doing so I will admit, I did accidentally spoil some of the stories Pamela tells in I’m With The Band; specifically her meeting Victor Haydon and her Beatlemaniac antics. Oops. Guess I’m eager.
I was ecstatic when the book finally arrived on my doorstep. And just two days later I’d get to pack the book away in my little avocado green suitcase for a trip to Vermont. The cell reception is less than stellar - arming yourself with a book or two on a trip out there is generally recommended.
That week in the mountains, I gladly dug right in.
Firstly? Oh god I laughed. I couldn’t help but laugh with how earnestly a teenage Pam Miller described her puppy loves. It was grounding; it reminded me of how embarrassingly honest I was as a teen. This heartfelt and disarming nature runs through the rest of the book. Pamela is damn funny when talking about her sometimes-reckless younger self. I think my heart would stop, like, immediately if I'd gotten into any number of the antics she did! She had some guts to write about everything, including less-than-finer moments. (I won't spoil too much in case you'd like to read as well!)
Before long, I began picturing myself with the music Pamela wove into her vignettes of the past. This was helped tremendously by, you guessed it, reading with music! It brings you into the world of the story, and I was totally sucked into Pamela’s California paradise. “Fresh Air” by my beloved Quicksilver Messenger Service was blaring from the radio of my nonexistent ’66 Beetle. (Green, of course.) “Light My Fire” became dancing around a stuffy living room, clothed in nothing but a fur rug. “Got to Ignore Evil Temptation” was a sweaty night of drink, drug and dance; all a blur the morning after. “Alone Again Or” became a chilly night in the Zappa cabin. The rambling guitar line sounded like cool autumn winds slipping through the open windows. It felt cool. It felt fresh and free.
Something important to note here: I force myself to break reading up into bite-sized chunks. That’s the one and only reason it took me as long as it did to read I'm With The Band. My daydreams will devour me if I don’t.
Back when I read Daisy Jones & The Six (fantastic little book by the way) through an ill-fated trip to Nashville, I made the mistake of reading it all in a matter of days. Oh, the dreams of hanging out on the Strip in sky-high platforms with a side of Buckingham-Nicks-level drama! They clouded my sunny afternoons at the pool. I wore my little heeled clogs everywhere because they made me feel like a groupie too. You know, even if I was giving myself blisters walking all over downtown in them. But I didn't care at all, it was part of the dream.
Pictured: An assortment of digs from my little “groupie” shrine. From the top, clockwise:
A Jimi Hendrix Experience concert poster print so kindly gifted to me by Boogie Child
My most favorite brown fur coat. Thrifted it in college for only $25!!
My antique feather boa, found at a flea market last summer
My copy of I'm With The Band
Paul McCartney's photograph from The White Album, framed
A blouse that looks JUST LIKE Robert Plant's little blue shirt he wore on stage with Zeppelin in '73 (thank you Daniel!!)
My very favorite Zeppelin record, Houses Of the Holy
A little mini Cream frame, which was actually a note from an Etsy order I received
An antique Irish lace collar I'm using for...something. Won't tell anyone what that is. But I will be blogging it. Guess you'll just have to stick around and see.
George Harrison's photograph from The White Album
All surrounding my Donovan autograph!
I hope to add more to this collection – maybe a copy of Permanent Damage if I can track one down.
When I read books (fiction or not) that revolve around the life I wish I had, I sink into despair. It may seem dramatic but it’s so difficult not to feel that way when it’s so pervasive. Admittedly that's what I felt while reading I’m With The Band. It couldn’t be escaped, no matter how long breaks between chapters were. Visions of doing Literal Actual Backbends for Jim Morrison on a hot Laurel Canyon afternoon (complete with Pamela Courson chasing us both out of her house!) rattled around in my head. They plagued me as I was trying to cut out pattern pieces for my latest sewing project. Dreamy and fun at first, but the mood inevitably turns. I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Why can’t I live like that? When will I be free to leave Abby in the dust and become Layla?” As cliché as it sounds, I feel like I missed out on a time I would’ve thrived in. I feel homesick for places I can’t go to.
I’m mourning the life I never had.
No matter how many pairs of bellbottoms I squeeze into, how many fur coats I wear, how many records of long-dead rock stars I spin…I can never bring myself back to that garden.
When that teetering balance between daydreams and destructive feelings was thrown in favor of the destructive, I put the book down for a while. My madcap groupie dreams were seeping themselves into every waking hour. Hell even the Five Dollar Big Country Cash lotto ticket commercial became my fantasy calling out to me! When the siren calls ceased, I was able to pick it back up. Another taste of sweet freedom.
I haven’t disclosed this to many outside my closest inner circle: my fear of the outside world makes it difficult for me to live a “normal” life. People have faith in me and I have no faith in myself. And it creates such a terrible dissonance in my head. That's as much as I'm willing to divulge as of now. Pages 99, 103 and 104 of I’m With The Band took my feelings of isolation and longing and just walloped them flat on their back.
Around the time of the GTOs’ formation, Pamela wrote of cautious excitement in her journal. She was a willing figurehead of the Sunset Strip revolution, there’s no doubting that. “Wondering what life has in store for me, just about ready to plunge into it.” That much already resonated; I'm 22 and doing so much. Running this blog, hosting my Vinyl Monday series, making my own clothes and photographing myself left and right. Considering other platforms. YouTube? Oh god what if they hate me?? Becoming a semi-public figure, much to the chagrin of others and myself alike. I'll die before I have to take myself seriously. It feels like so much. But at the same time it's so little. I'm 1. allergic to stability, 2. never satisfied with anything, and 3. always broke. It scares me. But I guess Pamela, too, once felt like a scared girlchild in the midst of all these happenings; wanting to be “sucking (her) thumb in a safe, predictable place, dribbling tears into (her) Pop-Tart.”
Maybe that's just what being an unapologetic Girl around rock-and-roll is. Always being a little scared, but too busy chasing the thrill.
I was shocked I wasn’t alone. Was it possible that the Miss Pamela once felt the way I do? Under very different circumstances, of course. But those pages of I’m With The Band assured me that yes, I am capable, no matter how incapable I feel. And it was okay to be scared shitless of my potential.
It’s okay to deck yourself out in sequins and feathers and still be shaking under the stage lights.
Perhaps what moved me the most about I'm With The Band, though, was how Pamela described the people she knew. Sometimes I could see bits and pieces of Pamela’s friends and chosen family in the people I know. My buddy Trevin is like a mini-Victor Haydon, it’s uncanny really. He’s an artist too. He was one of the first to see my potential as a muse. He saw something in me I still can’t quite see in myself, and I am forever grateful for that. I’m still trying to find my Outrageous troupe of girlies, but I’ve got my Victor Haydon and that’s a good start.
God, I wish I knew Miss Christine. I really wish she was still here with us, and I’m angry that she’s not. What I would give to hand-stitch clothes with her all through the night like madmen. I might go ahead and write an entire post all about her one of these days. That’s how much Pamela’s depiction of her moved me. Christine was not of this realm, not of this dimension really. But she was so authentic, so true.
Pamela described the people she met as more than bodies, more than characters. So much more than a big blinking arrow that turned her in the direction of, you know, becoming Her. Which is so hard to do in a memoir, in my opinion. She made them human. Even all those guitar gods who were damn good musicians, sure, but maybe not the best of men. They were real people with real lives and flaws whose stories extended before and after the 289 pages of I’m With The Band. By the time I shut the back cover for the last time, I felt like they were my friends too. And gosh, I wish they were my friends!
Pictured: The marvelous GTO’s, photographed by Ed Caraeff (circa 1969.) From L-R: Miss Christine, Miss Cynderella, Miss Mercy, Miss Lucy, Miss Sandra, Miss Pamela and Miss Sparky.
So, where does this leave me? How do I reconcile my wannabe groupie heart with my circumstances? The biggest change I felt was my perspective on being a female fan. I used to be ashamed of loving musicians with all my heart. I was once reluctant to pin their pictures to my walls and the insides of my notebooks, for some bizarre fear of jinxing my chances of meeting them. (Really! I'm crazy superstitious.) But now? Well...I’ve got four big Beatles prints hanging over my vinyl setup. I've got framed photos of Paul and George with Donovan’s autograph and a replica Jimi Hendrix concert poster. I have a framed photo of Rob Tyner from the MC5 on my vanity. (One of my weirder celebrity crushes, yes I’m aware. But come on...those glasses, that hair!) And to top it all off I wear a pendant with my problematic fave, Eric Clapton’s face in it. I fucking love rock-and-roll and I love it openly. There’s this stigma that comes with being a female fan, especially of rock-and-roll; these old guys can be so gatekeepy. But hey all you Daryls, Ricks, and Steves! A lot of your precious classic rock was once - gasp! - pop music. And young female fans were the backbone of those fanbases.
Rock-and-roll would be nothing without girls. It’d be nothing without groupies.
In conclusion, I can confidently say I’m With The Band changed me. The girl who picked up that book and the girl who put it down are not the same. I felt seen, I felt heard, I felt empowered and encouraged to do what I want with my life. Whatever that is, I’m still not totally sure. But who cares, you don’t have to know everything! You can just sort of...be...until you do. Pamela said something to the tune of "be until you are," and I practice that every day.
We as fans have this tendency to mythicize our idols. But they’re not too different from us really. They might even be a devoted fan just like us. Mine uplifted me without even meeting me – I’m a muse like her. She said so!! I’ve had my own "list of musicians on the wall" and have since my teens. But I'm no longer ashamed of wanting to be close to and openly LOVE the artists that move me. That’s liberation, and that’s a very rare gift indeed. And I’ll cherish that gift, along with those I met in the ballad of Pamela Des Barres, forever. My little groupie heart is full.
In the words of Gene Simmons of all people…“Thank God for Miss Pamela.”
Here’s that playlist of all the music/musicians Pamela mentions in I'm With The Band. I listened to this while reading, if you even remember me mentioning that. I highly, highly recommend.
If you want some rockin’ groupie digs, here’s a couple places you should check out. HandmadeDropsOfDew made my beloved Clapton pendant. If you've got some more obscure rock-and-roll crushes like I do then fellow Nutmegger OddBeeCo makes custom pieces. Might commission some soon myself! And Pamela herself has an online store where you can buy signed copies of her books, "I'm With The Band" t-shirts and sometimes the odd copy of Permanent Damage! (I'm not being paid to say any of this, I just really believe in these businesses and the women who run them.)
And finally, you can listen to Trevin's project Humble Fish here. I can't wait to see what else he's gonna do.