The fearless Pamela Des Barres has met many of her own personal heroes, including Dylan, Zappa, Cohen, Nureyev, Brando, Dion, Prince, McCartney, Harrison, Starr and Hutchence. Some experiences were better than others but all proved to be revealing and a few were life-changing.  She shares some of her encounters here, but she also spoke to others about their own encounters, the good, the bad and the ugly.

 HERO: A person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal. —

I was born and bred in Los Angeles, a city where one expects to rub shoulders, and perhaps other body parts, with various celebrities. Last week, for example, I was at a party where I chit-chatted with Warren Beatty about how he thinks I look like his sister, Shirley MacLaine. Ted Danson and I had a laugh about a goofy film we were both in waaaaay back in ’74. Everywhere I turned, my gaze landed on a familiar face, many I’ve met through the years: Laraine Newman, Edward James Olmos, Chevy Chase, Cindy Williams, Michael McKean etc.

Hollywood, that screwy ballyhooey Hollywood…

I’ve met so many of my heroes that when I’m not in the same room with someone I admire, such as Springsteen or Prince, I’ve expected one of them to walk through the door at any moment.

Actually, I did have a brief moment with Prince at an absurdly trendy, short-lived club called Helena’s back in the ‘80s. I approached his table where my diminutive throb was hiding out between two gigantic stone-faced bodyguards. I sputtered, “I love you,” even though I was a wife and mother in my mid-thirties. He slowly lowered his pitch-black shades and looked into my baby blues – his, a liquid piercing chocolate, laced with amusement – before shutting himself out again behind those impenetrable sunglasses.  Later I danced next to him to one of his own songs, enthralled at how he managed to be so elegant and provocative in his 7-inch stilettos. Of course, it wasn’t enough, and I longed to interact somehow. No dice.

Pamela’s original Dion Fan Club Membership Card

I got a very tiny window with Bruce when I met him backstage at a Rock Bottom Remainders concert. I had interviewed his wife, Patti Scialfa, for a magazine cover story, and he thanked me for including Patti along with Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper. Inside I was swooning, but I have long known how to maintain my cool with my faves. Hey, they’re just people with bodily functions, right?

I met another hero that night, Stephen King, who was in the band with several other authors. I’d sent him my books – Stephen King, Bangor, Maine – and was giddy when I saw that he recognized me. ‘Oh! Pam Des Barres!” he almost shrieked, “Tabitha, Tabitha, come here! Look, it’s Pam Des Barres!” His wife came toddling over and gave me a shifty nod before they both disappeared into the crowd. He actually seemed afraid of me, like I might jump his bones like the groupie maven I am. Yes, he called me Pam, a distinct no-no, but correcting a hero seemed, well, tacky.

I was invited backstage after Dylan’s gig, a rare occurrence indeed, and a non-existent one these days. He opened his arms wide as I walked in, exclaiming “I read your book cover-to-cover, and you’re a good writer!” I’ve said many times that I could have died happily at that moment

Speaking of Pam… My biggest hero called me Pam — and there was no way I’d ever correct Bob Dylan. My life was altered for all time in 1965 when Dylan’s unparalleled brilliance entered my earwaves. I’ve raved about him for decades and how he somehow reflected my inner teenage desires and burgeoning bohemianism before I had a clue what it was. Just as I was discovering who I might become, he was there to lead me through the Gates of Eden. As with all my heroes, it’s been a lifetime of devotion. I have all of his records, bootlegs, box sets, films, and every single one of his Sirius radio shows. I try to never miss him play either. I was so devastated I’d been on the road teaching when he recently played LA, that I scanned his itinerary and changed my New York flight to catch him at the Beacon next month. I was late to that game, but row Q is better than pining to just be in the room with our American Bard once again.

It was almost too much to imagine I might ever make his acquaintance, but during a seemingly brief time in his reclusivity, Dylan became what one might call social, attending the birthday parties of not one, but two of my dear friends. It was during his hoodie phase, 1987, and my first book, I’m with the Band had recently been published. I’d actually met Bob back in ’71 at at Waylon Jennings gig at the Troubadour, introduced to him by Willie Nelson, which is pretty astounding in itself. But he handed me a clammy, limp hand and looked at the floor, so it didn’t really count.

At the first birthday party, I was once again in the presence of my ultimate inspiration. After our initial hello, I didn’t presume to linger, and was wriggling around to some hotcha Motown records when I felt arms encircling me from behind, and incoherent mumbling breath in my ear – a voice I knew as well (or better) than my own. Through a few songs, Dylan kept his arms around me, raggedly dancing, asking me questions about myself, and expounding about the greatness of Motown artists. I was completely beside myself, but also in Dylan’s arms, so maintained my tenuous cool.  The second birthday bash Dylan attended was for my best doll, Patti D’Arbanville, and when I walked in, Dylan said loudly, “Pam! I missed you on Oprah!” then we sat and made non-sequitur small talk for awhile. I wasn’t flirty because he was dating a good friend and it would have been unseemly if I’d exposed all my charms.  Ha ha. Patti pranced by with her Polaroid camera and captured me next to Bob, looking like I’d just swallowed 15 or 20 canaries whole.

The third birthday party he attended was his own, and I’d been invited with Patti, to celebrate Dylan’s 50th year on the planet, along with a few of his friends, including all of the Traveling Wilburys. That glorious Malibu afternoon turned out to be right up there as one of the best days in my life. At one point, Patti and I were sitting under an umbrella with Bob and George freaking Harrison (we’d met before, definitely qualifies as a hero) when the quiet Beatle asked Dylan if he‘d read I’m With the Band, adding, “I’m not in it – unfortunately….” In that accent! If that wasn’t enough, George introduced me the mechanic fellow he’d brought along to the party, “He works with engines the way you and I work with words.” YOU AND I?!?! Great God Almighty and Mary Magdalene’s halo!

A little later, Bob motioned me over to him, took a little piece of paper from his wallet and asked for my phone number, “Maybe we could write together on something. A screenplay maybe.” How does one respond to such an unexpected offer?  “Sure, that would be swell.”

A few weeks later, I was invited backstage after Dylan’s gig, a rare occurrence indeed, and a non-existent one these days. He opened his arms wide as I walked in, exclaiming “I read your book cover-to-cover, and you’re a good writer!” I’ve said many times that I could have died happily at that moment and it’s the truth, baby. It’s a cliché but I swear to Buddha, all the clocks in the world stopped ticking.

Pamela Des Barres with Dion
Pamela Des Barres with Dion

The day came that Dylan called that phone number he’d tucked into his wallet, but I was not home. I was at the gym, puffing away on the treadmill, trying to be a good healthy girl. My charming assistant Lisa Derrick answered the phone, “Des Barres residence, who’s calling?” He told her it was Bob Dylan. She was nonplussed. “May I take a message?” He didn’t leave one and never called again. On rainy days I gaze into the drops sliding down my windowpane and ponder what might have transpired if I hadn’t felt the urge to sweat that day.

I received a similar compliment a few years later from another bona fide hero of mine. After interviewing the young singer songwriter Adam Cohen, I started going to his gigs in local LA clubs. I liked his music and admired his chutzpah. I’ve always imagined it must be tough for the offspring of geniuses, no matter how talented they are. The thought that his reclusive father might be in attendance filled me with anticipation and shivery tingles. Turned out Leonard Cohen was a devoted dad, and often sat close to the stage to enjoy his son’s performance. One night Adam introduced us and I just happened to have my first two memoirs in my bag for the occasion. (Oh why not?) After pleasantries and my effusive praise (your music has made my life better in countless ways, etc.), I handed the elder Cohen my two memoirs.

As a much younger woman when my heart had been torn to shreds by a certain musician and I needed comfort and release, I’d put on a Leonard Cohen record and climb into a frothy bubble bath, gradually returning to my senses, his calming growl lulling me to peace. One of my faves was “Bird on a Wire.

Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee
If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

The next time I saw Adam’s father at a gig, he stood up and motioned me to his table, saying “I read your books, and you really captured the era.” I was so humbled and grateful, I had to hold myself back from curtseying for the man. The last time I saw him was at the the Viper Room, when Adam had gone electric. I walked in at just the right moment for Adam to spot me and ask, “Would you like to sit with my father?” I scooched into the booth next to Leonard and a lovely lady, smiled, shook hands, and ordered a dirty martini. “Dirty?” he queried, “I’ve never had one of those.”  Of course I grabbed the waitress and had the distinct pleasure of buying Leonard Cohen his first dirty martini. After we clinked glasses, he seemed to enjoy it very much, grinning at me with a scorching twinkle. He asked for my address and sent me a copy of his poetry book. What a man. Do they make ‘em like that anymore?

I’ve been incredibly fortunate meeting my heroes. Frank Zappa was a massive inspiration before he became my mentor, producer, friend and boss. One night before we actually met, I passed him on the Sunset Strip and reached out to fondle his long, curly hair, then turned to my friend Iva, exclaiming, “It’s so soft!” The next time I saw him at the Cheetah Club on Venice Beach, I got a bit bolder and he literally swept me off my tootsies and rolled around on the grody floor with me.

Besides James Dean, Marlon Brando was my acting hero, and if you’d like to take a gander, I wrote an entire column about finally meeting him right here at Please Kill Me! I also wrote one about dancing with the ghost of James Dean, which I continue to do on a regular basis.

I had a brief moment with the divine Nureyev after seeing him dance like a cosmic swan, lifting off the ground and floating above the stage for what seemed like several minutes. The Toscanini violinist who’d taken me to the ballet spoke to Nureyev in Russian, telling him I wanted to kiss his feet (true) The Great One bowed to me flagrantly and said in English, “She does not have to kiss my feet. I am not a god.” Oh, but I beg to differ… Then he said something to me in Russian, which supposedly meant “You are a beauty.” Sigh.

After decades of loving Dion Di Mucci, I was invited by his manager to see him reunite with the Belmonts at Radio City Music Hall in ‘87. As a card-carrying member of Dion’s fan club, back in 1961, I’d hustle home from Northridge Jr. High to catch his suave glory on American Bandstand, and weep salty teenage tears as he moved his sexy mouth to the oh-so familiar words…

Here’s my story, it’s sad but true
It’s about a girl that I once knew…

After his insanely cool set at the revered Music Hall, I could hear my heart thrumming as I made my way backstage to meet my teen-dream hero. I gave him a copy of my first book, and he was as kind and charming as humanly possible. I got to HANG OUT with him for awhile, and I still never miss Dion play. I went all the way to New Jersey last fall, and wept through my favorite song, Love Came to Me just like it was 1961 all over again. I’ve also made the Dion pilgrimage, walking the hallowed streets of the Bronx. I even sang some doo-wops in the hallowed apartment foyer where he and the Belmonts harmonized together.

As a goofpot teenage Beatlefreak in Reseda, acting out little plays in which Paul McCartney’s girlfriend met her demise in various ways, I so desperately wanted to meet him, I performed many oddball rituals to make sure it happened — the most absurd being my fart list. Every time I passed a little gas, I had to write his name down in my most perfect handwriting.  For some kooky reason I still have the several page list. The darn thing should be in the Smithsonian. It took 40 years, but I did finally meet the Cute Beatle at an after party. Pre-divorcee Heather was looming, so after I handed him my first book, he raised those oh so famous eyebrows and asked nervously, “We haven’t met before, have we?” I met John Lennon with my beloved Keith Moon but it was in the middle of his Lost Weekend, and he was decidedly not interested. While leaning on a doorframe, he turned “Pamela John, John Pamela,” into meaningless gibberish, staring at me like I was a speck on his glasses. Ringo was much more pleasant on the set of 200 Motels, where he played Mr. Zappa. We even went out to dinner one night, and when I bump into him now, he still remembers my name. I met the cosmic, flirty Mr. Harrison three times, but as much as I enjoyed his seductive attention, I’ve always left married men alone.

For me, the last great rock front man was the late, great Michael Hutchence, and I was devastated when he left us. As my very first rock star interviewee, he made it so sweetly easy for me. He looked directly into my eyes, as I stumbled though my questions, and we wound up as friends. I sure miss his delightfully hot presence on the planet.

I could go on and on because I’ve often been in the right place at the right time with the right look in the right city, and for the most part, (the Smart Beatle notwithstanding) my heroes have been on their best behavior. Hmmm, I wonder…have other folks had the same good luck encountering their heroes? Let’s find out.

At an aftershow party for Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, my friend Pattie Spaziani-O’Neal was finally going to meet her longtime hero Ringo Starr. “I spent a month’s salary on a new outfit and shoes for the party. There was a band and people were dancing. Suddenly, Ringo walked up to me and asked if I wanted to dance. He stank to high heaven like he hadn’t bathed in days, was drunk and wearing a soiled red and white peanut vendor shirt under one of those Indian embroidered vests with tiny mirrors on it. But OMG – It was my idol. I was standing with my back to the wall and before I could even answer, he put a hand on either side of me, leaned in for what I thought was a kiss and promptly vomited all over my new shoes and passed out on top of me. Talk about a bubble burst! After some of the guys nearby pulled him off me, I ran upstairs to my hotel room, got in the shower with all my clothes (and new shoes) on and then called my mother (who had suffered through years of my Beatlemania) in tears to tell her about my horrible experience. After I cleaned up and went back to the party – I had to laugh about all the fantasies I had for years about meeting my heart-throb and this was about as far from any scenario possible!” Thankfully, my encounters with Mr. Starr didn’t involve hurling.

If that wasn’t enough, George introduced me the mechanic fellow he’d brought along to the party, “He works with engines the way you and I work with words.” YOU AND I?!?! Great God Almighty and Mary Magdalene’s halo!

Here’s another little tale featuring vomit from one of my writers in Fairmount, Indiana. Her dad once owned a punk bar in Liverpool, and as a youngster, Katey Jayne met many cool and uncool musicians. “We had the Sex Pistols in one night, and I had wandered up to our flat above the bar and fallen asleep on one end of the sofa. I was maybe 9 or 10 at the time. It was tradition for the bands to come up to the flat and party after their shows. So a party happened around me. I woke up to someone stroking me awkwardly and quickly sat up to be nose to nose with Sid Vicious. I promptly threw up on his shoes.” Kinda icky, right? She was a little girl, for heaven’s sake.

Katey had a more pleasant encounter with Mr. Rebel Yell.  “More recently, I re-met Billy Idol who was the front man of Gen X in my girlhood. I told him I remembered the Gen X days when he played in Liverpool. He said he thought he knew who I was. ‘I think you are the little girl who used to sit on the end of the bar.’ I confirmed. ‘You know what that makes me? Bloody fucking old, it does.’ I kissed him on the cheek and assured him he was still the same amazing guy.

My pal Cheryl Stano had a mid-‘80s encounter with Timothy Leary at a saloon in Cincinnati. “He was leaning over the jukebox with his face down, arms stretched out across the top, eyes closed…listening intently to Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.”. I approached him after the song finished to say hello. We sat at the bar for a quick chat & he signed a cocktail coaster ‘To Cheryl, the hottest blonde in town!’” The acid king used to totter into my parties, and was always very popular, and quite a charmer to boot.

Another friend, the lovely LeMaire, has had several encounters with her faves. “I heard Mick Jagger was in a restaurant on the Venice boardwalk so I roller skated up to his table wearing a string bikini and he said he liked my skates and kissed my hand. When I met Todd Rundgren, he opened the trunk of his car that was stuffed with snakeskin boots, and he said, ‘Take a pair.’ But none fit me.  I was with Aynsley Dunbar and he asked Frank Zappa if he could bring me to The Record Plant to watch them record.  Frank asked if I was going to be ‘trouble.’ I said in a whisper, ‘no,’ he smiled and said, ‘Ok.’  I always got backstage because I could do a really good English accent, which opened many doors for me.”

I have a lot of galpals with Todd Rundgren obsessions. I’ve known Todd since the late ’60s when Miss Christine GTO was his main squeeze. He’s a quirky, gallant genius and attracts like-minded characters. My Austin chum, Kris Kovach, adored him from afar, but then…

She picks up the story: “He was nervously playing the spoons on his knee as he received fans on his bus after the show. He had to have stolen the spoons from the restaurant attached to the venue and THAT place was notoriously staffed by assholes, so I was pleased to witness that my hero retained his rebellious nature. When I sat down next to him, he began to tap out a rhythm and sing the Siouxsie and the Banshees song, “Kristine, the Strawberry Girl” to me after he learned my name. Some swooning ensued. I didn’t need to DO this guy, that’s not at all what I was seeking – I just needed to see a little sliver of who he was; did it jibe with the genius I’d been listening to since 8th grade? It did. After a brief chat about Pee Wee Herman and his Secret Words, he asked if I wanted to come along with the band to the next show in a town about three hours north. It was a gorgeous summer night and I told him my bike was outside (more Pee Wee zeitgeist) and that I couldn’t just leave it there. Smiling he said, “we can put your bike on the bus.’ I laughed.

It was my turn as the junior high carpool mom the next morning – I literally already had lots of things riding on me. Plus, I’d already received what I’d come for; my still vital rock god; kind, curious, funny and clearly current on music that was moving us both. We weren’t anywhere near dead or done yet … there were many years of good music to come. And they have. I just sort of wished I’d asked for those thigh- smacking spoons as a keepsake.”

A little ditty about Jon Bon Jovi from Leigh Ann Nicholson — … “I worshiped the ground Jon Bon Jovi walked on – or the clouds I thought lifted him up. I fell in love with his voice when I heard ‘Runaway’, even before he had the band together. Years later there was a call for fans to be in a Bon Jovi video, and I went to the filming of ‘It’s My Life’. There weren’t many of us and a couple of us were quite short. Jon and the director conferred several times, and at one point they moved my 4’10 friend out of her front row spot to move in a very tall, 5’10-ish Shania Twain looking model. I had just been told that this blonde with a horrible bleach job was his side piece. As if that weren’t shocking enough, his wife, who I’d been jealous of for all those decades was also there. At one point there was a break in filming and the band was signing autographs, so I went over in the hopes of speaking to the man I’d held on a high pedestal for so long. But he didn’t come over with the other guys. He ignored all his fans.  I have always joked, ‘it’s not our fault your wife and your {alleged} mistress were in the same place at the same time.’ That’s the day he fell off his extremely lofty pedestal. I miss that young guy who bit his nails and was just happy to be a ‘singer in a rock n roll band.’”

Side piece? Yikes. Sometimes our all too human heroes are all too human.

Singer Celia Chaves had a much happier moment with her hero. “When I saw Nick Cave stride into the airport in Nice, France, I plunged into both fangirl excitement and terror. How badly did I want to speak to him! But what to say? He was with his family, his dark eyes fixed on a magazine. Nothing about him felt approachable. I had to walk past him, my guitar slung over my shoulder as a badge of musician solidarity, but What could I possibly say that would be significant or interesting, and not trigger a traumatic rejection from one of my heroes?

With the deepest breath possible in my lungs, and a ton of trepidation, I approached him.

‘Hello, my name’s Celia — I am sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to let you know how much your lectures ‘The Secret Life of the Love Song’ and ‘The Flesh Made Word” have meant to me as a songwriter. I write about love and heartbreak all the time and thought I was being boring, but you showed me that it is a sacred duty to an ancient tradition. So thank you.’

His eyes came up.

His magazine came down.

I froze breathlessly.

He did not rise from his seat, but he did extend a pale right hand.

‘I am very pleased to meet you.’

My eyes widened and I smiled. ‘Thank you — so very pleased to meet you too! Safe journey!’

That was it. I recalled the nerdiest thing I could have brought up, but it was honest, obscure, and broke through both my terror and his public boundary. If I see him again, as I’ve heard he was moving to L.A., I’ll be able to break the ice with, ‘We met in Nice…’’

One of my New York writer dolls, Marissa Deangelis, met a true heroine (are we all heroes? Is the term heroine outdated?) “I was chosen to ask Oprah a question when she came to Weight Watchers Corporate. It would be in front of whole company and I was chosen ‘cause I was a superfan. I was so nervous. I had to ask her about what she was eating on the plan, but I really just wanted to fan out and ask to go on her private jet with her and Gayle. Thank god I wrote my question on an index card, which included my name. When my time came, I said, “I wrote that down so I wouldn’t forget it.’ And Oprah laughed so hard, she stepped back for 15 seconds, then said, ‘I’m so glad you know who you are.’ The rest is a blur, and I only know that much because someone taped it and I watched it afterward. My recollection was really Oprah’s head floating above me like a bubble.

Laurie Kaye had a memorable meeting with John Lennon, in which he was much kinder to her than he’d been to Miss Pamela  (though he always remained a hero of mine)  “I had the opportunity to meet up with John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Dakota with our RKO Radio team.  Sadly, this December 8, 1980 interview turned out to be John’s last interview, as well as his last day on the planet, and although there were so many memorable moments from that afternoon spent with John and Yoko, the day will always be cloaked in sadness for me… but the greatest moment came during the interview, as I was seated next to John on their loveseat, making a point about something – and as he responded saying ‘yes, exactly’. He then slid his ‘John Lennon glasses’ down his nose and looked at me with admiration and total agreement – and I have never felt so validated in my entire life!  A moment I will never forget.”

My dear friend Roggie Baer chose a wild groupie as her hero during a difficult time –“Growing up I had intense feelings of being completely alone, and those feelings of not being understood and alone came back hard in college. I was a chemistry major by day and a concert promoter for the school at night. I had just read I’m With The Band’ by Pamela Des Barres and I felt I had found my soul-mate! She felt just like I did about music and magic and girlfriends and freedom and fashion and she told her story in words that melted into my ears like some sort of cement made of honey. I felt a permanence, tattooed by knowing I was part of something. I asked G-d to bring her into my life and a week later she phoned me at UA to ask if I could book the band she managed, SHE, featuring Gram Parsons’ daughter, Polly. As you can imagine, I agreed and that yes brought me several other Heroes into my life including my living guitar hero, Danny B. Harvey, my little sister-wife Polly Parsons and my big-sister soulmate Miss Pamela.”

I am honored to have been Roggie’s hero that long ago day. We need our heroes, our role models, our inspirations.  People who make us FEEL. Artists who remind us we are all connected; dancing around in this unfathomable soup, doing our best despite knowing the end will come at some unknown moment. A few weeks ago, Dion “liked” something I’d posted on his Facebook page. Of course I took a picture of this spectacular occurrence to have and hold until that unknown moment arrives.  Call me an old flowerchild, but I believe there’s no separation between souls. We are all someone’s hero at one time or another – even if it’s just for one day.  We recognize ourselves in our heroes, and by adoring our them, we’re adoring ourselves.