The Beatles had no greater fan than a 14-year-old from Reseda, California, named Pam Miller. Young Pam was so smitten, she invented weird rituals to gauge her fanaticism, wallpapered her room with Beatle posters, kept a photo of Paul by her bedside and, with three of her other Beatle-smitten boppers, risked arrest to glimpse their heartthrobs. Now fully grown, Pamela Des Barres revisits her younger self and shares what she finds with PKM readers.
It’s not surprising that the son of Pamela and Michael Des Barres would have impeccable musical taste. When he was itty bitty, I’d tell Nick about each artist as they blasted from our record player or car radio. I’d later quiz him, “Who’s this, honey?” Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Led Zep, tumbled proudly from his toddler lips. This went on for most of his life. In fact, it still goes on. Now he quizzes me. He turned me on to my fave young band, the Struts, and more recently the poppy Japanese retro duo, Glim Spanky. He surprised me the other day with a spanking new Japanese release of the film A Hard Day’s Night, and I sat transfixed, recalling each line before they were uttered. “I’d be quite prepared for that eventuality.” (George) “We know how to behave. We’ve had lessons!” (John). I remember feeling oh so sad for poor little Richard Starkey as he wandered dejected and alone during “Ringo’s Theme” (a glum instrumental version of “This Boy”). It all came rushing back to me and I plunged heartfirst down the bunny hole to BeatleLandia.
Our seats were on Paul’s side of the stage, and I gazed hard at the object of my affection, knowing for certain we would make eye contact. Knowing. Knowing, knowing. And we do.
My earliest childhood musical memories actually took place within the Miller family’s various vehicles. Dean Martin’s cheeky crooning, Sinatra’s undeniable smoothness, Teresa Brewer’s perky trill, Nat King Cole’s implacable gentility filled our smoky Ford interior as we cruised down Sherman Way headed to Coffee Dan’s or Thrifty drug store for my favorite apple dumpling with custard. Even though we had a modern hi-fi in our valley ranch house, not many platters were played on Jamieson Avenue. My devotion to music somehow originated within my youthful, yearning heart, as I imagined my future with some swoony fellow who’d sing me to sleep at night. When Elvis made the scene on the Ed Sullivan Show, my shrieky, jaw-dropped, eye-popped reaction scared my parents out of their shoes. They had no idea what was coming.
Elvis Presley “Hound Dog” (October 28, 1956) on The Ed Sullivan Show
I tortured OC and Margaret with endless spins of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Don’t Be Cruel” on my little 45 player, and when I discovered Dion and his doo-woppin’ Belmonts, I immediately joined his fan club and tried to imagine walking down the streets in that exotic, faraway place, the Bronx. I wept with preteen longing when Dion went solo and sang “Runaround Sue” on American Bandstand. It meant so much to see my idols moving around and breathing, even though a lot of lip syncing was going on. I took several black and white TV pictures of Dion with our new Polaroid camera to cherish later. I still have them. I also have tickets to see him perform, all the way across the country in New Jersey on July 14. Covid willing. Dion is almost 80 and sings as divinely as he always has. As I’ve said before, my idols remain my idols.
Yes, it seems I’ve had the music in me from Moment One. I also had the innate desire to somehow KNOW the musicians I adored, so when an album by four mop tops from across the sea, Meet the Beatles, came out, I said, “OK!, baby! Lead me to ‘em!” The night John, Paul, George and Ringo first stormed the good ol’ Ed Sullivan Show, altered my consciousness, brain cells, DNA, and my pulsing teenage heart for all time. The long-lashed, bedroom-eyed, rose-lipped Paul McCartney was instantly MINE, and at 14 1/2, I was a capitol G-GONER. My mom let me line one of my bedroom walls with Beatle wallpaper, and I covered the others with posters that now sell for hundreds of dollars. pressing my Yardley-slickered lips to Paul’s and, in the process, smearing the chance to cash in over fifty years later. Haha.
Much of my Reseda social life took a swift turn toward England and I connected with three other Beatle freaks at Cleveland High – Stevie, My Ringofriend; Linda, my Johnfriend; and Kathy, my Georgefriend. We flounced around in a pack, carrying Beatle notebooks, collecting Beatle bubblegum cards, writing each other passionate stories about how we almost wind up between the sheets with our fave Livepudlian lad. Even though Kathy was Georgesmitten, her storyline for me involved a lovestruck Mr. Harrison trying to snatch me from Paul’s arms. Fan fiction before the term even existed. How I wish I could read the steamy stacks of pages I wrote for my three Beatle-witched compatriots. I hope they still have those pent-up pages. I’ve saved all of mine.
In a staggering spate of magical thinking, I had to perform a series of rituals daily or I’d never meet my beloved Paully-Waully Paul Paul (yes, I really did call him that). I framed a romantic dewy-eyed photo of him for my bedside, and had to look into those eyes every night before turning off the lights. If I didn’t write “I love Paul” at the top of each diary entry, it would be certain Bad Beatle Luck. My little record player was close by, and the last sound I had to hear was his buttery voice. “l’ll pretend that I’m kissing the lips I am missing/And hope that my dreams will come true…” If my daddy’s guffaw, or my cocker spaniel, Terra Lee, yapped, I had to start the record over. Sweet Tarts were a yummy new candy back then, and I had to melt one under my tongue as I drifted off to sleep, perchance to dream of Paul. Sigh.
I kept the most embarrassing ritual I had to perform quiet, until I wrote I’m With the Bandover 20 years later; it was one that revealed the level of my fiendish fanaticism. Every time I passed wind, I had to write “PAUL” in my most elegant handwriting, always keeping the list (entitled “My Cuts”) handy just case my intestines burbled. I still wonder how the heck such a strange sacrament might have helped my cause, but my faith was sincere because I just dug the list out of my Beatle Box, and I got all the way to number 432 before I stopped. That must have been when I met Bobby Martini, and I figured the fart ceremony might appear unseemly to my first real beau. (Even though I planned on naming our children Paula Jamie and James Paul).
Not content to just keep imagining the possibilities, my Johnfriend, Linda, and I actually became our heroes for each other. She only lived two doors away so it made it easy for her to accompany me to the uncommon ground of my Aunt Edna’s backyard. My favorite aunt’s sequestered patio became somewhere in England where we had romantic dinners with John and Paul, dancing together in the valley dusk as they professed their devotion to us in our own imperfect Liverpudlian accents. Our skitzo skits lasted all day and into the night, when all four of us rolled around in the weedy grass, making out with the backs of our own hands — the Cute Beatle and the Smart One, crazy about the two steamed-up teenagers from Reseda, California, pretending to be them.
When A Hard Day’s Night opened at my local Reseda Theater, I was first in line, and stayed for several screenings, hiding in the bathroom in between each show, practicing my Liverpudlian accent. I went back again and again, often pretending I was British, regaling the long line of Beatle fans with fantastical stories of seeing the Beatles play the Cavern Club. Seeing them speak, sing, move, dance, laugh and carry on was breathtaking. They were actually ALIVE! Living on the same planet I lived on. It was truly too much to comprehend.
I spent my weekly allowance on postage to England, mailing corny poems to an address I got from my favorite KRLA DJ, Dave Hull the Hullabalooer, thrilled that Paul’s fingers might touch my saliva as he tore into them. I just knew he’d be intrigued with my consistency, all of my adoration from across the sea. I knew of only one possible problem that might have prevented me from prevailing. Her name was Jane Asher. Being an only child with a daddy who had to be first in our neighborhood with the newest gadgets, I had my own reel-to-reel tape-recorder, and I devised various ways that this freckle-faced cretin would meet her demise. Me and my Beatlesweeties created scenarios that had her falling off cliffs, getting crunched by a double-decker bus, and having her heart shattered when Paul tells her about his new flame – a certain teenage girl from Reseda, California.
Every time I passed wind, I had to write “PAUL” in my most elegant handwriting, always keeping the list (entitled “My Cuts”) handy just case my intestines burbled.
Kathy’s dad knew a fellow who knew another fellow who worked at the Hollywood Bowl and snagged us all tickets for August 23, 1964, a date I still consider a holiday, like the Fourth of July or Valentine’s Day. I never forget it, just like all four Beatles’ birthdays. We got the treasured tickets months in advance and I framed mine, nestling the ultimate prize in between several pictures of the Fab Four on the wall, in constant stunned jubilation that one fine day I’d actually be breathing Beatle air with my Beatle lungs.
I bought all the Beatle mags and clipped every article out of the newspapers, pasting them diligently into several scrapbooks. One of the pictures of Paul literally snatched my breath from my lungs. He was sitting on a bed, holding his bass, his legs wide apart, and his tight Beatle trousers revealed the shape of his majestic manhood in great detail. I about lost my Pauly-lovin’ mind, placing the prize in a gold jewelry box, covered it with cotton, and allowed myself to gasp at this spectacle only once per day
Diary entry: “June 24, 1964 – I love Paul. Paul McCartney is the man I love. If he ever got the chance, I Know he would love me. I just know it. I love every fiber, muscle and ligament in his thigh. I know it sounds odd, but that’s the way I feel.”
I guess that’s as close as my imagination would allow me to get to Paul’s scintillating package.
My loving mother humored me, because what else could she do? This experience was unlike anything she, or any other parent, had ever confronted. She could have said, “Pam, honey, don’t get your hopes up,” but she’d always been on my side. As the momentous date approached, I dragged her all over downtown Reseda, seeking the most eye-catching ensemble ever draped on a teenage girl. One so fetching that Paul would find me in the crowd and our fate would be sealed. After trying on endless outfits, I decided on a tight, blue-checked, sleeveless chiffon two-piece with a frothy gossamer bow that tied at the neck, and a matching sky blue velvet ribbon for my hair.
When the night-of-all-nights finally arrived, I was determined not to shriek and sob like the other Beatlemaniacs swooning all around me, throwing “jelly babies” toward the stage. Piercingly focused, my hair piled up on my head with faux ringlets cascading over one shoulder, I felt very sophisticated for an almost fifteen-year old. Our seats were on Paul’s side of the stage, and I gazed hard at the object of my affection, knowing for certain we would make eye contact. Knowing. Knowing, knowing. And we do. His bedroom browns lock onto my baby blues. The moment shimmers. The world spins and spins on its axis, rollicking inside me. The screams cease. True tunnel vision. One second. Two.
I know he’s seen me like I know his first name is really James. That his mother died when he was only fourteen. That he was named after his father, Jim, who played the trumpet. That he has the longest, leanest legs in rock and roll. Slowly, slowly the familiar music comes back to me, barely discernable over the howls and yipping of my besotted companions. The Beatles played for 23 minutes and then they were gone. Girls were fainting and holding each other up as I walked numbly out of the Bowl. Linda, Kathy and Stevie chattered tearfully, animatedly about the show, but I was silent and sure and wildly alive. I had been seen.
But was that enough for this girl? What do you think? The very next day, Kathy’s father drove the four of us to Bel Air, where the Beatles had rented a mansion, dropping us off among the milling fans, seemingly content to bumble about, while we concocted a plan to actually encounter our dreamboats. A row of grim-faced security guards surrounded the cream-colored fortress, but determined, I scanned the gaggle of kids for someone who might actually live in the neighborhood, finally spotting an ordinary teenage boy riding a bicycle in our direction. I began the flirty-flirt, discovering he lived right across the road from our destination, and we all surrounded him, buttering him up like an ear of corn. His name was Ronny Lewis, youngest son of comedian, Jerry Lewis, and I might have been impressed a few years earlier when I’d laughed my head off at his cross-eyed antics in black and white. But I was too focused on my prize, and eventually convinced Ronny to take us through his family’s backyard, so we could be hidden in the Bel Air brush during our hallowed hunt.
It was a surprisingly long trek, and as we sashayed through the garden, Ronny told us a couple of odd stories about his renowned dad. The one that I still marvel about is that Jerry Lewis would only wear a shirt or a pair of socks one time before discarding them. What a waste! Sheesh. I hoped that at least these items wound up in a second-hand store. He pointed ahead of us, saying he had to leave us at Burt Lancaster’s property because he had to attend a screening of his father’s latest film, The Disorderly Orderly.
Ronny left us on our own at the edge of the perfectly coiffed Lewis landscape, wishing us well before we plunged into Burt’s tangled brambles without a compass, sniffing the wind like hound dogs heading for heaven. We tore through the thickets for hours, dirtying our ensembles – carefully chosen to Meet the Beatles – briars snarling our comely flip hairdos. But still we forged on with the help of Linda’s flashlight. I’m sure we trudged a mile or two out of our way before finally reaching a high chain link fence topped with barbed wire, realizing immediately we were looking into the Beatles’ backyard. Gobsmacked and disconsolate all at once, we also knew the fence couldn’t be climbed unless we wanted to be bloody Beatlemaniacs. We sat down wearily to wait for John, Paul, George or Ringo to take a dip in the giant pool, primping for that all-important moment when the Beatle of our choice would gaze in our direction. Just like in the cartoons, hearts would balloon over their heads, Jane, Maureen, Patti and Cynthia would cease to exist when they got an eyeful of Pam, Kathy, Stevie and Linda from Reseda, California. Paul would surely remember locking eyes with THIS GIRL at the Hollywood Bowl, now glowing like a lustrous fever dream behind a chain link fence, waiting, waiting, waiting to be seen.
Dusk fell, and then darkness. The four of us slept piled up like puppies, worrying about our parents who were surely worrying about us, lost in the wilderness of Bel Air. I knew my doting mom wouldn’t sleep a single wink and I’d be grounded for an eternity.
We were startled awake by a splash. Someone was swimming laps in the pool, and as we all gawped and giggled hopefully, the Beatles road manager, Neil Aspinall spotted us, clinging to the chain link. Oops. He picked up a large potted plant and attempted to block our view, and before too long we heard cops clomping through the shrubbery to haul us away from the Fab Four.
I often recall what happened next. We were ensconced in the backseat of a police car after a stern “talking to” by a very confused copper, heading down the hill, as a limo slowly passed us on its way up. John Lennon was sitting alone in the back, his Lennon cap pulled down low, almost sneering at the throng of fans, a sorrowful, disdainful look in his eyes. It was a stunning moment, one I didn’t share with my Beatlesweeties or anyone else. I suddenly felt older than almost 15.
I wrote my homework about this unforgettable experience in my creative writing class and got a B. Here’s the opening paragraph: “For the first time in my life I found myself locked up in the back of a police car, the siren blaring like the eternal cry of youth.” I’ve always been one for similes. I told a tall tale in the assignment, about how the Beatles spotted us, inviting all four of us to take a dip in the pool with them. ”It didn’t take very long for us to realize what down to earth guys the Beatles are. Ringo told us, ‘The other fans like us, but don’t try to understand us. They put us on a pedestal and worship us, but at the same time, try to rip the clothes off our backs. We want friends!’” What a dreamer (liar?) I was.
I saw the Beatles play two more times, but I had my own real boyfriend, and slowly unwound myself from their four pairs of arms. When I got turned on by the Rolling Stones, Kathy, Linda and Stevie called them dirty and sloppy, and I became a traitor. The Beatles’ music, of course, continued to be a backdrop for my flowerchild existence. I vividly remember hearing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” playing at a love-in as if “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was being streamed through the sunbeams.
My Paul rituals must have worked, because I did get to meet all four Beatles, actually spending some exquisite quality time with Ringo and George. When I met Paul after one of his concerts many years ago, he was with Heather, (oh dear) and as I handed him I’m With the Band, dumbstruck and almost speechless, he peered at me under those famously arched eyebrows and inquired, “We haven’t met before, have we?”