Like any engaging rock star, Pamela Des Barres goes on tour. Author of the bestselling memoir, “I’m With The Band” (1987), the book that alt-rocker, Kim Gordon, calls the best book about music that she’s ever read, Des Barres tours as a fan, as a groupie, and as an author–she’s penned five books, including “Let It Bleed: How To Write A Rockin’ Memoir” (2017), which is based on the writing workshops she teaches, and she’s currently working on a sixth book.
Des Barres also goes on a unique and literal tour: a tour of her rock ‘n’ roll life. Begun in the early naughts after a wealthy fan bankrolled a private tour of the city and her rock history, and chosen as Best Kiss & Tell Music Tour by the LA Weekly (2013), Des Barres and her co-pilot, Kip Brown, deliver a ride from Hollywood to Laurel Canyon (and sometimes West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Century City), that you’ll never forget, her tumultuous, noisy past shimmering like a wish. Cement sparkles and pollution evaporates as Pamela and Kip guide us through highlights of the rock ‘n’ roll heyday of the 1950s through the 1970s, when revolution seemed possible through making music of every kind, from forming bands to hanging out with them, from listening to music to sleeping with the people who create it. Pamela Des Barres, a SuperGroupie, wrote a memoir about her experiences with the band, and in her own band, as she embarked upon a spiritual quest. Her rock tour’s itinerary charts her progress.
Kip, casually cool in jeans and a baseball cap, of punk rock band, Shock, and holiday surf band, The Hollyberries, drives the tour van. He adds to the conversation his own extensive rock ‘n’ roll knowledge, and provides a calm navigation of Los Angeles streets and traffic, never faltering. Pamela, resplendent in velvet, directs the stops, guiding us in when to get off (!) so we can more closely examine the sites. She also reads excerpts from “I’m With The Band,” and on the first tour I took, we all applauded after each reading.
The sprawling city that is Los Angeles becomes more than an exhausting complication of traffic, and way to get from one place to another. Transformed through Pamela’s words and writing, the city’s beautiful yearnings and artistry seem suddenly revealed; her lipstick feminism draws a map of the past, with the tour as narrative structure, and the exciting possibilities of landscape and architecture as new ways to get places, and foment social change. Hotels and venues are places to party as well as places to form political parties, as my mom pointed out to me when I told her about the tour.
The exquisite entrapment of hotel rooms, the furniture inside bystanders made to act: Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham throwing a TV off the Riot House balcony, landing on the limousine in which Pamela and guitarist Jimmy Page reclined; drummer, Mitch Mitchell, from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, gluing furniture to the hotel ceiling. The Nickelodeon, RCA, Cosmo Alley, The Palladium, The Knickerbocker (where Elvis lived!), the Landmark Hotel (where GTOs lived! And where Janis Joplin died), the places where Pamela lived (which Pamela, Kip, and I walked through when the doors were amazingly open! Original tiles and charming built-ins, memories like long-lost friends, or a much-hoped for plane ticket from a rock star, suddenly at the door), the Alta Cienega Motel, the Sunset Marquis, the Century City Hotel (where a royally caped Keith Moon, who loved to dress up, poured Tide detergent into the public fountain for a lavish spectacle of soapy suds!), the Laurel Canyon Country Store (Jim Morrison’s Love Street!). The Tammy Show! Pandora’s Box! Hullabaloo!
Throughout the tour, Pamela’s stories integrate musical facts (who played what, when, and where) with personal experiences (her band, the GTOs, or Girls Together Outrageously, forming at Gail and Frank Zappa’s Log Cabin in Laurel Canyon; their pink-tinted album cover shot by pioneering photographer, Andee Nathanson; Beatle George Harrison complimenting her band and her legs when they ran into each other at A & M for the much acclaimed and influential GTOs photo shoot with renowned rock photographer, Baron Wolman) and re-enactments (facedown in the Whisky’s gutter as a tour-taker pretends to be a passed-out Jim Morrison; a pose from the famous Julian Wasser photograph of her band, the GTOs, with Flying Burrito Brothers).
Like all great explorers, Pamela created a map. A rock ‘n’ roll tour. The tour is archival, rock ‘n’ roll history. A tour of a time in history when music seemed to promise exploration and equality. Amazingly accessible and one-of-a-kind. Intimate, filled with dreams, memories, music, and effort, fulfilled wishes and sometimes disappointment, hilarity and hijinks, boredom, hurt feelings, and heartbreak. Physical limitations, and the sometimes transcendence of them. “Why didn’t it last?” I asked her about that amazing era in music history.
“Does anything?” she replied. It’s like life. Once the tour stops, you’ll want to take it all over again. Check out the website.
Previously on The LA Beat: