Pamela Des Barres on sexual stigma, feminism and the rock 'n' roll life
Legendary groupie Pamela Des Barres sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss slut-shaming, being cheated on by a famous rocker, using birth control as an expression of feminism, and the dangers of drugs and STDs in the rock ‘n’ roll scene.
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A Conversation With Pamela Des Barres
Legendary rock 'n' roll groupie Pamela Des Barres has been chronicling her experiences for decades. Since her debut book, "I'm with the Band," was published in 1987, Des Barres has been a trailblazer in sex positivity and feminism.
In this exclusive interview with Giddy, the "Queen of the Groupies" discusses slut-shaming, being cheated on by a famous rocker, taking her birth control pills openly on the Sunset Strip as an expression of feminism, and the dangers of drugs and STDs in the rock ‘n’ roll scene.
I want to talk about just how the connotation of the word "groupie" has changed.
Well, it was not a bad word to start with. It was just a word: someone who hung out with groups. But because of the sexual tension in this country, they thought all a groupie did was sleep with rockstars, which is not the case. We did so much with them: took them shopping...I remember sewing a button on Jimmy Page’s shirt. But a lot of them I did have relations with. I was the right age, I was a teenager, and then early 20s when I was "dating" rockstars. They took me around the country so I became what you call a "supergroupie." But by that time, it was a negative word already.
You got a lot of slut-shaming. Who are these people, and what are they saying?
I don’t know. Jealous people. Uptight people. Never had an orgasm. I don’t know what it is...they got jealous. And there are a lot of trolls online and they want to attack.
What kind of things were they saying?
That I was a slut, that I was a whore. I was surprised by the audience sometimes. Really uptight ladies who would stand up and say, "How could you talk about that? And with rockstars!" That kind of stuff. But you have to own yourself. You have to say, "This is okay, what I’m doing. I have this area that feels good when I’m having fun." Why ignore that? We were given that. We were blessed with it. We were born with it. Because I’m not doing anything wrong sleeping with rockstars. I can do whatever I want. I wasn’t hurting anyone. I was not underage. I knew what I was doing. And I had a ball!
It sounds pretty cool.
I got to stand on stage with Zepplin, The Stones, and The Doors, and The Birds—so many bands. Right on stage with them! So I felt like I could feel that audience and the love coming. It’s indescribable, really, although I try to describe it in my books.
Who’s the first big rockstar that you slept with?
Well, I wanted to be in love. So I thought I was in love with this guy Nick St. Nicholas. He was in Steppenwolf, bass player. My first three were base players.
Yeah. I guess the first big rockstar was Jimmy Page.
Oh yeah. Big fan.
I was very circumspect. I would not sleep with more than one rockstar at a time. I’m not talking about in a different room or anything, I’m talking about being in a relationship with them. I believed, because I was so young, that maybe this could work out and I could stay with Jimmy Page. He certainly pretended that we might…even the band was saying "I’ve never seen Jimmy like this." So you start to imagine what could happen. But then I met Mick.
Mick Jagger. Rolling Stones. Just in case anyone needed a refresher.
Who’s Mick? He kept trying to pursue me, but he finally won me over when he convinced me that Jimmy Page was not being true to me on the road like I’d hoped he would.
This is important to note. What can we say to young girls who are feeling rejected, that are getting cheated on for the first time. Because I remember what that felt like.
Oh, it’s so heartbreaking. I just stood in the airport and sobbed because he said when he was leaving town, "I'm such a bastard, you know." And I went, "Oh, he’s breaking up with me."
Everyone’s got their Jimmy Page in life. You know what I mean?
Yeah! Luckily those days I had Mick Jagger in the wings. No, it still hurt. It always hurts. My last breakup just about killed me. You just have to do things, try to stay occupied, listen to a lot of music, read. Not their music, for sure. Take care of yourself during that time. However long it takes, it takes.
How did it feel in that era, walking down the Sunset strip?
Like I owned it. Like I owned the strip.
I’m picturing John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, only it’s Pamela Des Barre shimmying down in a fabulous getup.
Well, I wore all vintage clothes. I wore clothes from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Beautiful. Feminine. I was a girl. I loved being a girl. And I was a proud girl. I took my birth control pill out of my purse and took it in front of people on the Sunset strip. Which is feminism.
Progressive. I like that.
And at the time, groupies—and me in particular, ‘cause I wrote the book—were considered submissive. And it was the absolute opposite.
What age were you when you were on birth control?
19, 20, 21.
And do you mind if we say your age now?
You’re 73. Do you still feel like that young Pamela? What takes you back? The music, of course.
The music! In fact sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to The Stones, The Doors, The Who, the different people I knew so well, because I remember too much. It’s not like other people listening to that music. You just go there.
They must come flashing back to you, all these memories. The taste, the sounds, everything.
Oh yeah. And I’ve lost so many of them. So young.
Who was the most tragic loss for you so far?
Woah. There are way too many. My GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). There are only two of us left. But Keith Moon, that was rough. He was 31. Gram Parsons, who I was very very close to, was 26. You know, the drug culture. I wasn’t addicted so I dabbled with everything, but I was not addicted. I wanted to live, and I saw people die. So I stopped at a fairly decent age. But that was a rough time. We didn’t know how deadly they were, either. I went with the Jimi Hendrix Experience to a party at the Factory in New York, and as we walked in I was kind of behind all the guys, and they all put their hands out like this and people put drugs—pills—in their hands. And they took them all, without knowing what they were or anything. I didn’t, but I went "Wow, I hope he’s going to be able to perform tonight."
Sometimes it would happen.
Well, I didn’t mean on stage.
Do you remember the first time you pleasured yourself?
Yeah! I was listening to the early Rolling Stones record.
Well, I think it’s on the second album. It’s called "It’s All Right." And one of the lines was "Let me put it in / It feels all right."
Now when you’re rolling around with Mick Jagger did that ever come on?
No, but it came into my mind! That’s for sure.
I want to wrap this up with what we talked about with the slut-shaming. There’s a lot of stigma with sexually transmitted infections. What was going on when you were rocking around the Sunset Strip? Because we have so much more to worry about these days.
The only thing going on is that you could get the clap, gonorrhea, or crabs. I never got those things.
For people out there now, there’s so much stigma, it’s so much scarier. You would operate differently these days I feel, right?
Maybe a little bit. Because like I was saying earlier, I didn’t sleep with that many people. I was very circumspect.
But, no one was using condoms I would assume, right?
Well, we were on the pill, so we didn’t have to. But now you have to.
You have to use condoms, of course, of course, of course.