Pamela des Barres takes you on a history-filled jaunt, co-starring Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, Led Zeppelin, Don Johnson, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, that ends in the canyon that she calls “God’s Golden Backyard,” where “you could stick out your thumb and arrive in Heaven.”
As a lifelong creative soul, I’ve had various and sundry gigs to keep veggies on the kitchen table and music on the turntable.
My very first after-school job was dipping rubber Batman feet and gloves into little bottles of paint alongside my outcast compatriot, Victor Haydon, who would soon become the Mascara Snake in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. We also dabbed paint onto Pokey and Gumby’s blank eyeholes, bringing them to life for countless kiddies across the US of A.
Frank Zappa paid me thirty-five bucks a week as my GTOs salary, which was a thrill for several months until a couple of the girls got busted. I sold big ugly overpriced posters door-to-door in freezing cold office buildings. I pestered people on the phone, convincing them to purchase cheesy time-shares in Las Vegas. I’m sure they thought the GRAND Flamingo was actually the Flamingo hotel, and I felt too guilty to carry on even though I was raking in the bucks. I danced in a tragically outdated, dingy dime-a-dance hall downtown called Danceland, where woebegone lonely men pretended they were on dates. Some of the girls jacked the guys off in dark corners, but the closest I came to joining them was when I let a bespectacled throw-back gent rub my tootsies under the table for an extra fifty bucks. I had to quit when a shy Asian fellow presented me with an engagement ring.
I wrapped Christmas packages at the Broadway and can still wrap a fancy gift box in mere seconds. I held down several temporary secretarial gigs, trying to avoid leering, lecherous bosses. I sold candy with Miss Sparky at a massive store called Whitefront where The World’s Tallest Man passed rings out to the kiddies who wore them as bracelets. When we gave him his choice of bonbons for free, he said somberly, “You’re the only people who treated me like a human.”
I made cowboys shirts for all sorts of musicians after creating a few for my first true love, Chris Hillman. I charged 25 dollars and they were all hand-embroidered.
I could go on and on, but at around age 34, I was asked to do an interview with author Stephen Davis for Hammer of the Gods, his book on Led Zeppelin. After spilling a few stories, he told me I should write my own book. And so I did. After it became a best-seller, I became a journalist, writing for dozens of magazines. My first piece was on an eternal hero of mine, Dion DiMucci. I just saw him play in Asbury Park, and will fly anywhere to see him perform. Next up: The Struts. I’m now working on book number 6 – Blinded by the Light – Sex, God and Rock & Roll – a supernatural trip through my spiritual shenanigans.
Since bills keep a comin’, and need to be paid…. several years ago, when I got an email from a wealthy British stranger who wanted to “one-up” his best friend on his 40th birthday with a private I’m With the Band tour, I was dead chuffed as they say in Blighty. The upper-crust duo picked me up in a Rolls limo, and as we stopped at several of the sites featured in the book and in my life, I regaled them with rockin’ tales that only I could tell. “This is where I did that stoned-out backbend for Jim Morrison.” “Here is where the GTOs performed our ditties for Mr. Zappa as he laughed his ass off.” “I was standing right here with Jimmy Page, ready to go to the Forum when John Bonham tossed a huge television set off the balcony and it landed atop our limousine, so we rode to the Forum with the TV poking through the top.”
They seemed delighted all day long, and after the tour, they took me to the Polo Lounge for a frivolously fancy meal, and after driving me back home, peeled off fifty one-hundred dollar bills and waved ta-ta.
Hmmmmmm, I thought to myself, perhaps there are other classic rock fans out there who might be interested in a little historic jaunt down the Strip and through Laurel Canyon, a magical place I once called “God’s Golden Backyard,” because no one locked their doors, music and marijuana smoke gushed freely from open windows, flowers bloomed year-round and you could stick out your thumb and arrive in Heaven.
I have to backtrack a bit here, to tell you how I decided on the all-important driver who would man the wheel so I could freely project, point, preen and proselytize as we cruised through Hollywood. I had recently taken an L.A. James Dean tour with my mutually Dean-loving pal, Kip Brown, and was mightily impressed with his plethora of show-biz knowledge.
We’d met when I was working on a screenplay about the Original Rebel, and had taken several trips to his hometown, Fairmount, Indiana together. (I’d carried a black and white photograph of Dean’s tombstone around in my wallet all through Junior High and when I finally got there, I laid down on top of his grave, imagining his bones beneath, and swooned. The little hairs on the back of my neck actually lifted from the back of my neck!) Kip is also a musician, having played guitar in Shock and the Little Girls, and lends his own masterful touch to the proceedings.
I had taken the British fellows to half a dozen places where thrilling things occurred, but before my first tour I pored through Band, finding many more sites to gladden rockin’ hearts. And of course, I lowered my price to the reasonable sum of $120.00 for the all-day retro-fest. Despite my trepidation, ten years ago I rented my first 15-passenger van from Avon, and my original group of fun-lovers met me and Kip in front of Amoeba Records on Sunset.
I leapt out and joyously hugged each excited groover, then they all piled in and we headed to the first site that made logistic sense a few blocks away, the now historic building, once the snazzy showbiz Earl Carroll Theater. In 1967 this establishment across from the Hollywood Palladium was briefly the Hullabaloo Club, and this is where I crack open my book and tell the scintillating tale of climbing a rickety ladder to a dark and dusty loft above the stage where I made out wildly with the lead singer of the Doors. This is actually part two of my Jim Morrison story, and it involves a dangerous short-lived drug called Trimar.
I hadn’t even started smoking pot at this point, but my friend Jerry, Iron Butterfly’s bassist, worked at a hospital during the day as a janitor, and after breaking a jar of clear liquid, he got stoned while mopping up the chemical mess. In an entrepreneurial move, he started smuggling bottles of the stuff, selling little vials on the strip for ten bucks. But lucky (!) for me, Jerry had a huge crush on me and handed over quart bottles for my enjoyment. Ouch. Whenever memory fails, I silently say a prayer for my Trimar-tortured brain. “It looks like water,” I told my young self, “how could it harm me?” Oops. But intensely slobbering with the prettiest man (next to Elvis) in music while brain cells spun, danced and died has made for much salacious reflection.
I found out years later that the drug was used for eliminating pain during childbirth, or for tranquilizing huge animals such as gorillas or rhinos. But I digress, dolls…
Later, when the Lizard King suggested the stuff might “hurt our heads,” I paid attention and that’s probably why my gray matter still functions.
The Hullabaloo soon became the Kaleidoscope where I first saw the Byrds featuring Gram Parsons, so on every tour I take the opportunity to plead with the unconverted to please, please PLEASE give this most important pioneer a LISTEN, for God’s sake! I can’t help myself. Gram’s Cosmic American Music has merged with my DNA.
I point across the street to the grand old Palladium where I’ve seen everyone from Dylan to Jack White, and where the GTOs backed up my ex-hub Michael Des Barres at the Death to Glitter show in ’74. Kip was there, of course, and expounds on performances by the New York Dolls and Iggy Pop while gathering phones for our first group shot. My most vivid memory of that night is of Miss Mercy staggering onstage late, her rainbow-colored Afro wig askew, reeking of angel dust. Those were the days, my friends. The Palladium is also where I met Captain Beefheart while still in high school, but I’ve already shared that life-altering moment in column #3.
Our next stop is at Sunset and Cahuenga, the former RCA Studios, where I found myself face to face with my teen damp dream, Mick Jagger. Cast your mind back to probably before you were even born, and try to imagine the world without groupies. Yes, they’ve always been with us under different names, Bobby Soxers, Top Forty Fuckers, etc, but the G-word had yet to be dreamed up by that clever British journalist, and very few fans even imagined they might actually meet their musical heroes. Hey, I’m a pioneer in my own way too! Ha ha. I still wear that blood red G on my forehead.
Kip pulls the van up in front of the parking lot where I made a teenage fool of myself when Mick asked me to help him out of his parking space back in ’65. I was so agog and throbbing that he slammed into two different cars, following my breathless instructions. Despite my goofiness, I swore Keith Richards gave me “a sexy look.” Right on, teenybopper.
I read from I’m With theBand about the modern art painting of Mick’s nuts I created for my 11th grade art class, which leads to several chuckles from my passengers. I’d only seen one pair of balls at that point, but managed to conjure up a pretty good likeness, complete with floating sperm. I wrote in Band that I got an A, but it was really a B plus.
I never thought of myself as a historian, but as each tour bus fills up with avid classic rock lovers from all over the globe — all ages, colors, styles, shapes and demeanors– I’ll answer almost any questions they might have all day long. I do however, make sure to announce the only two I’ll never respond to: Who was the best lover? And who had the biggest dick? Whoever I was with, of course! Oddly enough, before I invoked this rule, it was mostly men who had that burning desire to know. The women wonder how Jimmy Page smelled. (Really delicious and sweet). Or if Jim Morrison read his poetry to me. (Yes he did).
You may wonder how I’m able to talk about these events over and over again, but I’ve discovered I actually enjoy reliving my own outrageous life stories. Sometimes when I’m telling a particularly spine-tingling tale, such as dancing as the Foxy Lady in the Jimi Hendrix Experience video (called a “short film” back then) I marvel that it was actually ME romping with this as-yet unknown trio while cameras rolled. And gazing at my passengers’ expectant faces, I realize they’re hearing it all for the first time. After all, a revolution was going on — a musical, spiritual, sociological, sexual renaissance, and I just happened to be smack dab in the center of that crossfire hurricane — which will forever vibrate like an eternal wah wah pedal.
On our way to the former Landmark Motel where the GTOs lived across the pool from Alice Cooper and his band, Kip points out various historical sites – “This lobby is where Frances Farmer was put into a straightjacket and taken to a psych ward…” “See that top window up there at the Alta Loma apartments? That’s where the first shot of Sunset Boulevard was filmed. The camera was on a crane and takes you through the window where William Holden is working on a screenplay…”
“Right on this corner is where William Frawley aka Fred Mertz dropped dead of a heart attack.”
We cruise by the majestic Deco Montecito Apartments where I lived with Don Johnson long before Sonny Crockett became a household name. We wrote a boozy country song there together, “I Have no Reason to Quit.” When his album, Heartbeat, came out, he got a lot of shit, but he’d been a musician for years and plays a mean guitar.
Stop, hey, what’s that sound? On the way to my second home, the Whisky a Go Go, where I saw Zeppelin, Hendrix, the Who, the Mothers, the Kinks, the Doors (over and over) and where my girl group the GTOs performed “Getting to Know You” on the dance floor, we stop at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, the site of the Sunset Strip Riots. The city was closing down our fave hippie haunt, Pandora’s Box, and we weren’t going to take it standing up. Instead we all sat down in the middle of the street and refused to budge.
My group circles me on that infamous corner, and I read those Buffalo Springfield lyrics – “what a field day for the heat/a thousand people in the street…” and one of them was me. Apparently, Stephen Stills drove his van as close as he could get to the madness but had to turn around and write “For What it’s Worth,” which reverberates to this very day. Everybody look what’s goin’ down.
We hit the Strip and when I describe spotting Bob Dylan leaning against the wall at Fred C Dobbs, the leftover beatnik joint, wearing his peg-leg pants and pitch black Ray-Bans, I actually get the thrill of seeing him again. There’s Ben Franks where Zappa used to park his bus, where Rodney Bingenheimer tried to feel me up.
And there’s the Comedy Store, once Ciro’s, where at seventeen, I decided to knock on the backstage door and was invited to join the Byrds as they smoked a joint before their gig. Next door was the Hyatt Riot House, (now the Andaz) where Zeppelin always booked the entire sixth floor. So much happened to me at the Riot House, I can still come up with untold tales for my riders.
For example, here’s a knee-slapper: Zep was having an absurdly celeb-studded bacchanal, and I had recently learned how to read palms at the Renaissance Faire. As crate upon crate of Dom Perignon was wheeled in, I happily indulged, having never enjoyed bubbly before. The last thing I remember about that night after all four members of Zeppelin appeared in full drag — dresses, make-up, heels — was reading Stevie Wonder’s palm. And he was amazed by my spot-on accuracy. I guess all inhibitions had drowned in those flutes of champers, because I woke up at my little pad 24 hours later. I don’t know how I got home that night, and I never will.
We recently added a Beatles site to the Rock Tour, the elegant house in Bel Air where I hid all night in the backyard brush, praying for a glimpse of Paully-Waully. I got in serious trouble back in Reseda when the cops escorted me out of fancyland in the back of a black & white. On the way down the hill, we passed a long, sleek limo and I caught a glimpse of John Lennon, his John Lennon cap tilted just so. But instead of the slap happy She Loves You countenance one might expect, his face was somber, annoyed and almost horrified by the scattering teen scene. I said in Band that the look on his face grew me right up. I can still see it like a snapshot tattooed on my psyche. It shouldn’t have surprised me, years later when my beloved Keith Moon introduced me to the Intelligent Beatle, that he was still annoyed and not in the least thrilled to meet me.
After many more stops — my apartment where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant changed the order of Led Zeppelin II, where Waylon Jennings showed me how a Real Man handled a lady, and a cruise by the Century City fountain where just for fun! Keith Moon dumped an entire box of laundry detergent, we finally swing through Laurel Canyon, still God’s Golden Backyard. Zappa’s Log Cabin, Gram Parsons’ Burrito Manor, and the Stones’ rented house where my high school painting finally came to life in my hot little hands.
The Country Canyon Store has been in the same central spot since the 1930s, and my passengers grab a bite at the deli, a bottle of Laurel Canyon wine, peruse the rock star pics on the walls, all customers, of course, before I read about the glorious sunny afternoon I woke up to the Doors unreleased album being played nearby.
We all gather in front the little house on the recently renamed Love Street where I first met Jim Morrison, high enough on Trimar to proudly show him a move I’d just learned, right on his tattered Oriental rug. The house where Jim lived with Pam has burned down twice, but while I tell the tale, instead of the elegant adobe-style home in front of us, I see the green shingled hippie pad with the Dutch double doors. I hear the creak of the wooden porch as I peek into the tiny kitchen, I hear Jim singing along with “The End”, as he pokes through the fridge, I see him look up at me in my purple velvet minidress and hear his throaty growl, “Get it on…” and I am once again striding through those double doors, standing at the precipice of a life I couldn’t have possibly imagined.
And then I performed a perfect backbend.
Pamela des Barres’ next Rock Tour is scheduled for December 2.