Sunday, May 8, 2011

Muse: Pamela "Miss Pamela" Miller Des Barres.

After hearing so much about this praise over the years about this gold standard groupie memoir, "I'm With the Band", I'm happy to say I just finished it and its fantastic.  I was shocked to see the book was actually written in 1987 but the book is so fantastically fresh it seems like a recently written recollection.  I'm absolutely confident that any of the very darling regular readers of this humble blog would love it, so if that category includes you, rush out to the library and borrow a copy, download it to your kindle, or add it to your Amazon shopping cart.

"I'm With the Band" is such a fresh and vibrant telling of the 60s and early 70s music scene from a dreamy, bohemian, boy-crazed California girl who was right in the thick of it all-- and best of all: it spares no details.   Its a tell-all in the most heartfelt, starry-eyed, least trashy way.  Its intelligent and sweet but it also gives the dish all us serious, independent-minded gals quietly want to know.  ;)  Its so open and endearing:  There are details about passionate nights with rock legends, colorful descriptions of the 60s LA music scene, stories from Pam's life, and its full of passages straight from young Pamela's diary that are so honestly from the heart of a teen girl that the frankness of emotion and drama is almost embarrassing to read.  It is above all an honestly endearing and colorful memoir.  Check out this Muse: Groupies post I did a while back for more background on groupies of the era and the GTO's.

Pamela Miller (as she was called pre-marriage to Michael des Barres), grew up in Reseda California, the daughter of a gold miner (!)-- from a happy suburban family with a supportive, loving mother and an ambitious, dreaming father.  Her earliest rock memories included Elvis worship and an extremely obsessive devotion to the Beatles.

Her foray into the rock scene was through a male friend and devotee of psychedelic 60s outsider Captain Beefheart.   She was soon rubbing elbows with the Rolling Stones and the Byrds as a frequenter of rock concerts and, as someone living in Southern California, it was relatively easy to stake out some of the band members homes and hotels.  Before reading the book I wondered how she really got her foot in the door of the scene-- in modern times, it seems nearly impossible to get up-close-and-personal with stars the caliber of the Rolling Stones or to swipe backstage passes as easily as Miss Miller did, but after reading her book I understand how different that era was.  There was so little security in the 60s and the fanatical crowds and groupies were such a new phenomenon,  neither the bands, nor the concert crews were prepared for the fan worship that was bubbling.  Also, Miss Pamela makes no bones about revealing the obsessive length she was prepared to go to meet the men behind the music.   Staking out homes for hours at a time just waiting to catch a glimpse, servicing band members any way she could,  devising elaborate plots to get near them,  breaking the rules when necessary, and using her powers of seduction to wear them down.   The girl was driven and absolutely incorrigible when it came to a brush with rock idols.

Many of her Sunset strip teen friends were equally hell-bent on brushes with rock stars and it was very disturbing to read how many of her young teen buddies (ie, 13, 14, 15...) were servicing rock stars.  According to Pamela's memoir, none of the rockstars had much inhibition about hooking up with their young, doe-eyed bobbysoxers, and some even sought -out the very young, nubile fans.   I saw a youtube video recently of women who contributed to one of Pamela's more recent rock-groupie reflection books discussing this.  Fellow former groupie and rock muse and friend of Pamela's, Patti D'arberville, was telling a story of a very salacious role-playing session with then-boyfriend Cat Stevens.  She explained, even at the young age of 17, Cat was asking her to role play as a younger teen.  He went to the extent of buying her an official school uniform and dropping her off on a corner, only to drive around to pick her up as she walked down the street, role playing that he had just picked a hot young school girl off the street, proceeding to take her directly to a secluded alley.  Patti went on to say that in her experience "all the Englishmen had a school girl fetish".   That clip came back to me as I read about Pamela's teenage trysts with the rockstars, and then later, as Pamela grew to the ripe old age of 21 (!) and was considered an old maid, past her prime by the so-called baby groupies that were tramping the scene.  Pamela even got dumped by Jimmy Page for one of the aforementioned 13 year old groupies, and later a 14 year old Melanie Griffith stole Don Johnson from her apparently withered, 22 year old claws!  The frequency at which 20 and 30-something stars were hooking up with young teens was quite disturbing to say the least... 

Pamela and Keith Moon during one of their trysts.

There are so many great stories in the book.  Passionate, steamy decade-long love affairs with Noel Redding, Jimmy Page,  country cowboy Waylon Jennings, Mick Jagger, The Byrds' Chris Hilman,  and upstart actor Brandon de Wilde.  She had loving trysts and heartfelt friendships with Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, and Gram Parsons.   There's a nervous meet-up with the sensual rock god Jimi Hendrix.  She had a tense run-in with Pamela Courson.  She was christened "Miss Pamela" by Tiny Tim.  She received indecent proposals from the likes of Dennis Hopper.  She watched as a very green, 14 year old Melanie Griffith stole her 20-something boyfriend Don Johnson from her (yuck, Don Johnson!  Clearly, illegal and gross on his part).  She was able to rub shoulders with all four Beatles (each experience is quite different though).  She was admired for her beauty and sweetness by George Harrison and Robert Plant.  She had an obsessive, one-sided relationship with film god Marlon Brando (Brando took the high road).  There's a long and bittersweet discussion interspersed throughout of the genesis, peak, and break-up of her creative partners and outrageous gal pals, the GTO's.  She was a friend of Ronnie Bingenheimer from his days before the English Disco even.  She was an enemy to the baby groupies like Sable Starr and Lori Lightening.  And of course, there's her long lasting rock wife gig with Michael des Barres and the professional relationship and personal friendship with Frank and Gail Zappa (she worked as Moon and Dweezil's au pair for many years).  The girl has lived and then some.

I fell in love with Miss Pamela reading this memoir.  She was clearly such an open, creative spirit, doing things in that time that many women wouldn't have dreamed they could do.  Its hard to keep in mind all the restrictions that were on women at that time that we today can't relate to.  Women living in an apartment alone or walking alone was seen as very strange.  Women couldn't get credit cards or many other accounts without a male present.   Pamela definitely had some close calls with predatory strangers and cops, taking the risks and living the bohemian life she did.  Even men within those bohemian circles routinely took advantage of the women-- making them feel the only role for women in music was a domestic one, promising them various things in return for appearance in their films, seducing young teenage girls under the guises of bohemian openness, and attempting to load them up with drugs just to get them to acquiesce to sexual advances.   But despite the risks she took, Pamela made it out not only unscathed but with such a rich story to tell of past friends, some geniuses of music and art, and the zeitgeist they made together.  

She lived in bohemian circles, and dreamed of new frontiers of society and culture, but wasn't bound to the trend, clique-ish, chained to dogma, or using it as a cover to "drop out" as so many did.   She thriftstore-sifted for vintage items far before the mainstream trend.  She latched on to roots country rock (ie Gram Parsons) way before it became en vogue.   She was truly an "It" girl in the sense of the 1927 film-- not having much money, but having absolute freedom of spirit, energy, creativity, fantastical visions and a sense of "make-do" that took her from waking up in her impoverished apartment in the morning to the fanciest hotel cavorting with millionaire rock stars at night.   It was truly like living in the extremes.  The only thing that disappointments me with Pamela, and the other GTOs as well, is that despite her creativity, she always let her aspirations take the backseat to finding the boy.   Its almost agonizing reading how many times she put something on the line to impress or get a guy and was let down... How much her world revolved around those instances.  All of her energies were on snagging the rock god, and her creative pursuits were on the sideline.   She clearly suffered more for it, but it was only the 60s, and her voice in writing the memoir doesn't finger-wag or judge her former self for the lack of insight, nor does she preach to the readers to avoid her mistakes.   She does, however, make it subtlety clear how much wiser she has become with age, and that she sees her mistakes, but still rejoices in the life she led and the story she's lived to tell.

She made money through the years through GTO's performances, making bedazzled cowboy shirts by hand, riding on rock star's coattails for brief moments,  putting in long days at candy shops and restaurants, and pounding the pavement as a hopeful actress-- and eventually scoring a part in Zappa's 200 Motels, commercials, soap opera bit parts, salacious C movies, and nannying for the Zappas.  Until writing her memoirs-- based on her very detailed daily journals she diligently kept from a young age-- it was as if she had never realized the fully glory of her creativity.    Its so amazing to me to, that when she cites certain journal passages from the era, its clear that even then she realized the value of keeping those detailed daily entries going.  She seemed to almost treat it as a creative project-- even though, I must say, she was very young and her writing in these journal passages typically wasn't very good, it didn't hint at the talent she had in recounting her life for "I'm with the Band"; but the entries were always honest and heartfelt.   I wonder if she ever saw herself writing a memoir when she got older?

The GTOs

The GTO's stood for 'girls together outrageously' but it was said that the 'o' in the abbreviation was always changing... could be 'orgasmically' or 'organically' if they wanted it to be in the moment.  Frank Zappa devised the name.  The GTOs were labeled the first 'groupie group' due to their unabashedly honest devotion to rock groups-- physically, artistically, fanatically, and sexually. It consisted of Miss Pamela (Pamela Ann Miller, later Pamela Des Barres), Miss Sparky (Linda Sue Parker), Miss Lucy (Lucy Offerall, later Lucy McLaren), Miss Christine (Christine Frka), Miss Sandra (Sandra Lynn Rowe, later Sandra Leano), Miss Mercy (Mercy Fontentot, aka Judith Edra Peters) and Miss Cynderella (Cynthia Wells, later Cynthia Cale-Binion). The girls were friends and locally famous in late 60s SoCal for their outrageous costumes assembling 30s teddies, victorian doilies, handmade quilted jackets, and fabric scraps into exotic ensembles.  At this time they were calling themselves Laurel Canyon Ballet Company.  They developed a following of copy-cat girls, but the original 4-6 members were always at the core.  Several of the gals were already friends with Mr. Zappa so they would routinely visit his canyon log cabin and sip tea with his wife Gail.  One day he decided to back them as a group on his label.  He suggested the name GTO's and lined up studio time with him.  They recorded a deliciously girly and strange album and did several wacky Zappa-esque live performances with other Zappa acts.  Eventually, several ladies of the GTO's became heavily addicted to heroin, angel dust, and speed... And while they hid their addiction from Zappa for quite a while (he was fervently anti-drug, and made a point of firing band members who dabbled in marijuana), eventually they became desperate junkies, impossible to hide the habit from Zappa.  Zappa fired the group for their bad behavior until they could get their act together, unfortunately, they couldn't and they all went their separate ways.    Some went toward motherhood and professional careers, others died from drug overdoses and health complications.

  The GTOs (minus Miss Lucy):  Miss Sandra, Miss Pamela, Miss Mercy, Miss Sparky, Cinderella, and Miss Christine.

Despite the rollercoaster in her love life and the instability of her acting career, Pamela Miller lived life to the fullest and still came out on top in the end.  She had a son, she gained fame and acknowledgement through this memoir as well as the two follow-ups, she beat breast cancer, and to this day has a devoted legion of female fans and is frequently asked to contribute to rock retrospective docs and bios.  It is said that the character of Penny Lane from Almost Famous and the concept behind The Banger Sisters is based around Pamela.  She has said she liked both films and still wants to do a bio-pic based on "I'm with the Band", something as true to the period as possible.  I would love to see her dream realized in the rumored upcoming HBO show based on "I'm with the band" featuring Zooey Deschanel.

Pamela in the 90s


Atomic April said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

First off, I'm loving all these MIss P. Posts!

WOW you captured the complete essence of her book in this post. Beautifully done. Best description/review so far. If this can't get someone to go out and read that book. I don't know what will. This made me feel like pulling out my copy and reading it again... And I think I may just do that =D

Lise.silva said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Thank you, darling April! That is too sweet :) I'm glad you enjoyed it.


remi said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

very nice description.
i'm not english, and it was easy and interesting to read.
btw, do you have any info about the both first photography ? she's gorgeous and i love the colour. i want to find more !

Lise.silva said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Hi Remi,

I didn't understand your question. Are you asking where I got the top two photos from?

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

You must've had a blast with keith Moon! My fave photo from that series is where your betwixt Keith and my sweet babboo:

United Archive said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Looove Miss P!

Do you know this is happening:


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