Pamela des Barres: “#MeToo was different in music”

In a Letter To My Younger Self the legendary groupie talks Jimmy, Jimi and Jagger

By 16, I stood out like a beautiful, rosy red, sore thumb. I wore white tights and red patent leather flats and a little white dress. I looked so different from everyone. I’d tell my younger self – keep doing that, keep expressing yourself! I was very hopeful – I still am. It’s done me well through this wild and crazy life I’ve had.

When I was 16, I had a boyfriend called Bob Martine, he was a greaser boy. I always loved a bad boy. But he went to New York and during that time I met a guy called Victor Hayden. He was Captain Beefheart’s cousin and was later in the Magic Band. I met Don [Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart], when I was in high school, and became the Valley chapter of his fan club. It was a very new reality I started living at that time. I saw that there was an alternative to the life I had been living. Going into Hollywood was like going to Oz from Reseda, California. I started seeing a lot of local bands – but, of course, later they became huge – like The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love and The Doors.

I could have been Hillary Clinton if I had focused that energy on a political career

I had a lot of insecurity. I’d tell my younger self, hey, guess what – you’re going to meet all four Beatles. And you’re going to have a wild affair with this new, big-lipped character that you’re obsessed with… so, go on girl! Yes, you’ll have your heart broken by a lot of famous people. Your heart will take longer to heal because you’ll keep hearing them on the radio. But it’ll all be worth it.

I’d warn my younger self about Jimmy Page. I wouldn’t stop my young self from falling in love with him. But I would say, don’t believe every word he says! I actually believed that he was going to take me to England and take me to Pangbourne and we’d see the peacocks out the window. I thought he would send me a white chariot and that chariot never arrived. So, I would probably say, have more fun with him and try not to fall so madly in love.

That’s what I did with Mick Jagger. I realised, I’m not going to end up with Mick Jagger, so I just had several joyous, fun romps with him. He was the prettiest thing in the world. He was sexy, he was so happy to be who he was, doing what he was doing. You can tell, from looking at him now, what a great life he’s had and how unrepentant he is. I’m unrepentant too. I have zero to repent.

Pamela des Barres
Pamela des Barres has been dubbed "Queen of the Groupies" for her rockstar relationships

I would say, when that guy, who plays that guitar, that African-American guy, that incredibly far-out dude hits on you – go for it! I had just turned 17 when I met the Jimi Hendrix Experience and he hit on me. He was so bigger than life. I was like, “Oh! Excuse me Mr Hendrix, I’ll go over here to the little skinny bass player.” So I did wind up with Noel Redding and he was one of my boyfriends for years off and on when he came to town.

There was another time I could have hung out with Elvis. I’d say, when that guy calls you and says Elvis is looking for someone to watch TV with tonight – go! I had just got engaged to Michael [Des Barres, singer with The Power Station, and her husband from 1977-1991] and I was concerned that I might succumb to Elvis’ tempting ways. Later, Michael said, “What were you thinking?!”

I would tell my young self not to take so many drugs. Everyone was experimenting. The early drugs were fine – pot and acid, mescaline and all – we were sort of searching for God, looking for something higher and more meaningful. Then it sort of denigrated into cocaine and pills and stuff. I’d tell her to avoid some of that, because there are things I don’t remember because I was so high.

In the Sixties and Seventies we were inundated with rock gods. You could swim through them, there were so many. Now, there’s Jack White. He’s the only one.

I wouldn’t change anything I put in I’m With the Band, or the fact that I’m a proud groupie, but I would warn my younger self that she was going to get a lot of flak for being herself, for being brutally honest and sharing, joyously, this life I led as a young woman. I was really stunned at some of the response. All I was doing was sharing the life of a young woman growing up in an incredible time, in the perfect city. I’d warn this sweet young thing to buck up and get ready for the onslaught. Here I am, a senior citizen, and I’m still getting shit for stuff I did 50 years ago! I have to point out, hey, wait a minute – you have sex too, right? I just happen to have had it with some beautiful young guys who everybody else wanted. What’s wrong with that?

Pamela des Barres
Pamela has penned five books in her later years as well as running women's writing workshops

People ask me the #MeToo’ question a lot, and I had a lot of #MeToo’ stories growing up when I did – but not with musicians. I was doing exactly what I wanted to, with who I wanted to, when I wanted to. I was never harmed. I considered myself a feminist. I was doing what I wanted to do. That’s what a feminist is.

I was always afraid of cancer. When I was young, my aunt told my mother a story about this fellow who blew his head off because he had brain cancer. It scared me, and I worried about it for a lot of my young life. Then I got breast cancer 13 years ago – and I came through it. I got over the fear of cancer by getting it. So, I would say, you’ve got some incredible resilience… and you’re going to need it.

I was friends with Frank Zappa for years and years. He was beyond a pioneer. I was the nanny at the house, I was in the GTOs, the all-girl group he created. I was always amazed to be in his presence. He was so innovative and so funny. He brought the humour out in everybody. He had the ability to get you to tell him things you would never tell anyone else. I call him the master puppeteer, because he could pull out real creative things from people that they didn’t know they had in there.

My mum always said, if I’d focused my energy on something other than being a groupie, I could have done anything. I could have been Hillary Clinton, at this point, if I had focused that energy on a political career.

I would tell myself, start writing a bit earlier… and take your writing more seriously. I’d say, you’re going to be a writing teacher one day. That has become the most inspiring part of my life in the last 18 years – I’ve been teaching women’s writing workshops. This joyous part of my life could have started sooner. I help these women open up and realise who they really are.

A new and revised edition of I’m With the Band is out now (Omnibus Press, £14.99)

Find your local vendor

Find your Vendor