We are happy to announce that Pamela Des Barres, bestselling author (I’m With the Band) and legendary rock & roll scene groupie, will be writing regularly for PKM.
In her debut column, Pamela takes the way-back machine to the Altamont Free Concert in December 1969. What had been an attempt by the Rolling Stones to present an all-day free concert in the spirit of the Woodstock Pop Festival, which had taken place four months earlier, turned into a disaster. Indeed, it has been called both “rock’s darkest day” or “the end of innocence” for Woodstock Nation, an event that was said to “bring the 1960s to a violent end.”
5 PM December 6, 1969
As a matter of extreme principle, I left the Altamont gig one hour before the Stones came on. Scrunge and filth unlimited! I have come to the conclusion that I am spoiled. I just wasn’t satisfied to sit in the dirt with 300,000 smelly, grubby people and wait for the Stones. I really thought that people would be united, brought together in a lovely way…but Nobody cared about each other.
I lasted until the Flying Burrito Brothers were over (excellent set) and the slimy fucked-up Hell’s Angels started throwing beer all over me and NO ONE cared!
I started crying and cursing and SPLIT!
Three hundred thousand people – mass humanity. Incredible. They’re on right now but I don’t have to go through that CRAP to see MJ [Mick Jagger]. After seeing him so many times, I can close my eyes and see him ANYTIME I PLEASE.
I hate going to concerts anymore unless I’m with the group, but this was an extreme case. I didn’t go to the hotel first because I’m nervous around the rest of the Stones (especially Keith). Now I won’t be able to bid adieu to my sweet, FREE and holy Mick Jagger. Hmmm. I think I’ll call him at the hotel and see what happens…
I’d been hanging out with the Stones for weeks in LA with Miss Mercy, my gypsy cohort in the GTOs (my all-girl group Girls Together Outrageously) and had recently succumbed to Mick’s sensual, fevered courting. It’s quite a long, twisty tale, but I’d been in a fairy-tale romance with Jimmy Page and naively believed he was being true to me on the road.
When I found out otherwise through the groupie tom-toms, I finally gave in to Mick’s incessant yummy come-ons. In fact, that sad day at Altamont, my thighs were still decorated with several hickies that I was sorry to see fading away.
One of my eternal rock and roll highlights was when Mick invited me to their show in Oakland, sent me a limo, and invited me to watch from the side of the stage. I am a proud groupie (it has been my life’s work to redeem the G word, which is just another word for LOVE) and it’s every groupie’s damp dream to be onstage with the band, to share their personal POV, to feel the adulation, the adoration, pouring like red hot lava onto the stage. In my opinion, this era featured Mick and Keith’s greatest songwriting and I stood, enthralled and sticky, as Mick pranced and preened, pouted and raged through “Midnight Rambler” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” whipping the stage with his long red scarf like he was trying to start a fire on the floorboards…
…knowing I’d later be able to wrap my arms around his sweat-soaked, skin-tight Leo shirt, pull it over his shoulders and make out with him until my lips were aching and swollen.
I’d found out about the free concert [at Altamont Speedway] when Mercy threw her battered Tarot cards for Keith as Mick and I danced in front of the fireplace at the pad they rented from Peter Tork in Laurel Canyon. She asked if they had some sort of secret event coming up as the reading was full of shadowy foreboding. The final card was the Tower, upside down yet, and she saw danger looming.
“I will never, ever forget the woe, the gloom, the absolute anguish I encountered as I entered the Stones’ hotel room. In retrospect, I realize that horrible day grew me right the fuck up.”
Keith looked at Mick and asked “Altamont?”
Mick shrugged. “We’re doing a free show for the fans up North,” he said. “It’s too late to cancel.” In fact, the Maysles brothers had already been hired to film the concert to document the magic.
How I wish the magic had manifested for me that torpid afternoon. Pissed off and shaken, I made my way through the hippie blankets and pot haze, as the soaring harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash filled the chilly air.
Teetering on my platforms, I defiantly stuck out my thumb, determined to escape boorish Angels thugging around like bossy cops. I heard the Stones had hired them for “protection.” Why? Wasn’t this event supposed to have the spirit of Woodstock’s peace-and-love vibe?
I was seriously bummed about my beer-splattered vintage dress, when I arrived at San Francisco’s stately Fairmont Hotel and called Mick on the hotel phone. “Please come right away,” he said in a strained, tremulous voice, giving me the room number, “Something horrible happened.”
Suddenly my stained dress didn’t seem so important, and Mercy’s Tarot reading popped into my head. Uh oh.
1969 was coming to a close. Heavier drugs had overtaken the hallowed psychedelic search for God within. And cocaine, the ultimate egomaniacal me-me-me poison dart had infiltrated the heads of the love-generation, leaving hearts in the dust.
Charles Manson and his hypnotized, bobble-headed puppets had just been arrested for the unholy murderous madness he’d unleashed, but Pam Miller from Reseda, California still held fast to her flower child ideals. Manson was a faux hippie anyway, a fraud, a pretender, right? I often scribbled in my diary my continuing belief in the innate goodness of humanity:
“I have something to give everyone and everyone has something to give me. The more I give of myself, the happier I am. Thank God, I’ve never been badly screwed up, and I believe it’s because of the faith I place in human beings. Everyone has the potential to be fantastic and there is an abundance of goodness in all of us. Jesus said, ‘unless ye come unto me as little children, ye cannot come.’ I never want to grow up.”
But when I discovered that Bummer Bob, the pretty boy I’d panhandled with and smooched in Golden Gate Park, later committed murder for Manson, I shuddered that Bobby Beausoliel’s rosebud mouth had ever been on mine.
It has been a little over 48 years, but I will never, ever forget the woe, the gloom, the absolute anguish I encountered as I entered the Stones’ hotel room. In retrospect, I realize that horrible day grew me right the fuck up.
The band, along with Gram Parsons and Mama Michelle Philips, sat hunched forlornly in eerie silence. Mick was on the floor, his legs bunched up in front of him, looking stunned and helpless, as he held his arms out to me. Not having a clue how to feel or behave, I crawled behind him and began to rub his shoulders as the facts slowly tumbled out around me.
Someone had been knifed to death in front of the band as they played, seemingly by a member of the Hell’s Angels. Mick didn’t say much but I do remember him shaking his head, insisting he’d never perform again, which turned my blood instantly to ice. He swore he’d seen someone wielding a gun, perhaps aimed directly at him. I mumbled gentle endearments into his hair, knowing my fumbling sincerity must sound like so much meaningless fluff. I had just turned twenty-one and was now considered an adult, but I’d never felt more like a blathering, birdbrained baby.
My friend Gram Parsons leaned against one wall, entangled with Keith, seeking comfort within their burgeoning bromance (before the term existed), whispering, wearing each other’s clothes, matching eye makeup smudging their cheeks. The gifted young guitarist Mick Taylor gazed blankly into nowhere, and Charlie [Watts], as usual, remained wordless yet somehow serene. I focused on his grace and took deep breaths for what seemed like a freaking eternity.
The facts hadn’t been revealed yet so no one knew that not only had the very stoned Meredith Hunter been killed by a Hell’s Angel after waving his gun around, but three other people had died in various ways. Two audience members were run over by somebody flipping out on LSD, another stoner drowned in a muddy ditch, and during the final set by the Grateful Dead, Marty Balin was punched in the face by a Hell’s Angel. Apparently the same Angel found Balin backstage and punched him again. The music ended early.
I don’t really believe in regrets, and do not regret anything I’ve done, but there are a few things I didn’t do that still cause me some angsty sorrow.
That long ago evening, as I kept up my attempts to soothe Mick by cooing and massaging his shoulders, Michelle slid over, whispered something into his ear and left the room. I was already feeling insecure and thoroughly unbalanced, and imagined that she and Mick were “together.” So when he suggested we retire to his room to relax, my frazzled mind told me that he wanted some sort of three-way with Michelle and me, and my heart started hammering. As pretty and charming as Michelle Philips was, I’m an old-fashioned, one-on-one bona-fide romantic.
After a few shaky moments, I stood up and said I’d promised a friend I’d spend the night with her and better get going. Mick seemed startled and followed me out into the hall, pleading with me to spend the night, kissing me hard, pulling me back toward him as I steadily moved forward, making flimsy excuses. I can still see him standing forlornly by himself at the end of that awful, awful day as I stepped into the elevator and blithely waved goodbye.
Two decades later, soon after my first book, I’m With the Band, was published, I was carousing at Helena’s, the scintillating club-of-the-moment, drooling over Prince, when Michelle Philips suddenly appeared in the chair next to me. Yikes. I didn’t know her; hadn’t really even met her that unsettling day at the Fairmont. Had she read the book? Was she angry about the three-way story?
I gulped and smiled sweetly at her.
“I was with Gram Parsons that night,” she said matter-of-factly, after a pointed pause, “not Mick Jagger.”
Before I could stutter an apology, she stood, slid her chair back and disappeared into the trendy crowd, leaving me soaking in the horror of my youthful mistake.
After probably the worst day of Mick Jagger’s life, I skedaddled like a scaredy-pussy punk, leaving him alone in a hotel hallway.
It has been a looooong time since that so-called “darkest day in rock and roll,” and I still occasionally berate myself for not saying “I’m not into sharing; sorry,” or “I’d like you all to myself, Mr. Jagger,” or anything that might have altered the outcome of that long lost night — to have given some comfort and goodness to another human being when it was sorely needed.
Since I believe in the power of forgiveness, I have forgiven that young version of myself, caught in a tricky spider web of unparalleled grief and confusion, trying to feel safe in my skin. I just didn’t have the life skills or self-confidence to speak up, speak out, speak now. I’ve learned through the years not to bemoan what-could-have-been, because it’s an illusion (it’s all an illusion, but that’s another story) and if you bang your head against What Is, it fucking HURTS.
When I moved to London for a few months the following year, Mick and I took up where we left off, never mentioning the debacle of Altamont, or my hasty retreat down the hallway. It was in fact, a joyous, scintillating one-on-one reunion of the sweetest kind. We held hands on the King’s Road and listened to Dylan while we made love on velvet pillows, making each other happy, sharing the abundance of goodness inside us.
Upon my return from a delightful trip to Europe, I gave Mick a jingle, hoping to resume our romantic romp-fest, but he didn’t answer the phone. Instead, a strongly accented, sultry, demanding voice told me to — “never call here again.” In no uncertain terms. Bianca. Whoa.
I followed Bianca’s instructions and didn’t call Mick again. But it doesn’t matter — I can still close my eyes and see him anytime I please.
This clip from the Maysles’ documentary about the event, Gimme Shelter (1970), which purports to show the death of spectator Meredith Hunter:
At age nineteen, Pamela Des Barres was a member of a wild dance troupe called The Laurel Canyon Ballet Company, and when Frank Zappa got a load of the chicks’ zany sexiness he suggested they write a bunch of songs about their madcap lives, call themselves the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously) and make an album! Permanent Damage is now a coveted collector’s item, and the GTOs have been emulated all over the globe for their feminist views and their trailblazing fashion sense. Thirty years ago Pamela’s first book, I’m With the Band was published, and remained on the NY Times best seller list for three months. It has since been published all over the world, and is coming out in an updated edition in the UK next month. Pamela produced a VH1 special Let’s Spend the Night Together a few years back, based on her third book of the same name, featuring several classic groupie muses, and a film about her life is in the works. She also conducts monthly Rock Tours, taking fans through Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood of yore, regaling them with tales about her joyous, torrid relationships with revolutionary rock gods. She will never stop trying to redeem the much maligned and misunderstood term, “Groupie,” (which she insists is just another word for LOVE) and has been teaching women’s writing workshops in copious cities for the past eighteen years. She has a fashion line, GroupieU, and one of the tees she designed shouts “Sexual Pioneer,” for obvious reasons. She is dead chuffed that her most recent book, Let it Bleed – How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir, showcases much of her students’ work. Miss P, as many call her, is now working on her sixth book, Sex, God and Rock & Roll – the Adventures of a Spiritual Junkie, which she hopes will continue to shake up the status quo.
Get the GIMME SHELTER DVD from The Criterion Collection HERE
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THE GREATEST ROCK & ROLL MOVIE NEVER MADE
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