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POP EYE

Confessions Of An Ex-groupie

June 21, 1987|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

The first three copies of Pamela Des Barres' new book went out to Don Johnson, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page.

And guess why? Des Barres, formerly known as Miss Pamela, one of the leading groupies of the late-'60s-early-'70s rock era, has published her memoirs, the aptly titled "I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie" (due this week from Morrow).

Des Barres, 38, an actress and mother of an 8-year-old son who's married to rocker Michael Des Barres, isn't worried about possible lawsuits from the above-mentioned pop idols--or any other former conquests, who include everybody from the late Keith Moon to Waylon Jennings.

As she impishly put it: "Everything that I wrote actually happened. I just wanted them to read it before their wives or girlfriends did, in case there were a few things the guys had neglected to mention about their past."

Des Barres added: "I haven't heard back from Mick or Jimmy, but Donny got to read it. He did raise his eyebrows a few times, but he really liked it. Anyway, if you'd ever seen his Playboy interview, you'd know he's told everybody everything anyway!"

Des Barres' exuberant, often comical account of her between-the-sheets escapades is certainly eyebrow-raising, whether she's recounting the time (as a high-schooler) she hid in the bushes outside Jagger's Ambassador Hotel bungalow, or telling of her lengthy affair with the decidedly eccentric Jimmy Page ("his whips were curled up in his suitcase like they were taking a nap").

But it also offers an intriguing inside peek at the heyday of the gaudy L.A. rock scene, when giddy young lovelies like Des Barres had the run of rock-star watering holes like the Continental Hyatt House. Relying largely on a stack of diaries she kept during the era, Des Barres regales us with so many bedroom adventures that her reminiscences take on the fizzy unpredictability of a Blake Edwards sex farce.

Our favorite account, which neatly captures the unintentional hilarity of the era, finds Des Barres and several other blissful nymphets visiting Donovan at his Malibu Colony home. Overcome by such close proximity to a rock star, one dazed teeny-bopper phoned her mom, who immediately called the police. The girls fled. "I turned around on my way out to bid adieu to the prince of pop poetry," Des Barres writes. "But he was running toward the ocean, his white robes flapping in the wind, his arms outstretched, hurling his pot into the salty waters of the sea."

Des Barres says that as a rock-crazed teen-ager, the gulf between being a fan and a groupie wasn't that large. "I just had to know these guys," she explained. "I wasn't happy just sitting around, looking at a poster of a rock star. I wanted to touch them. When you were a kid growing up in the '60s, rock was incredibly liberating. These guys were sending a message. They had skintight pants and wild guitars and you wanted to be a part of it."

While other accounts of the era have painted many rock stars as crude, drug-addled, male-chauvinist jerks, Des Barres insists she never felt exploited or subservient. "I saw myself more as some kind of geisha girl. I'm sure there were girls who got tied up or whipped, but I was never treated badly."

Still, Des Barres definitely tells all. She relates that she lost her virginity (at the comparatively late age of 19, after years of just smooching with the likes of Jim Morrison) to Steppenwolf's Nick St. Nicholas--whom she later dubs an "exquisite moron." She pops pills and does drugs with an obviously unhappy Keith Moon. She takes in an Elvis Presley concert in Las Vegas, sitting in the front row between Page and Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant.

Des Barres is at her best sketching rock-star portraits. Stevie Winwood is a "porcelain doll." Rod Stewart, who once wrote Pamela a letter asking if he and Ron Wood could "crash" at her apartment, is a "swankpot." Waylon is a "sexy country stud" who starts every sentence by saying, "I'll tell you what." Gram Parsons was a "well-mannered country boy who drowned his sorrows in little vials of powder and reams of reefer." The young Don Johnson, who Des Barres says dropped her for the 14-year-old Melanie Griffith, is so hot "his looks could have prevented World War II."

Of course, in today's era of AIDS, the freewheeling groupie life style has been radically altered. "I couldn't imagine being a groupie today," Des Barres said. "It'd be too dangerous to even think of doing what I did today."

The final chapters of "I'm With the Band" capture this melancholy air, as Des Barres chronicles the untimely, often drug-related demise of many of her heroes. "I was lucky. I experimented with all sorts of drugs, but I wasn't an addictive personality," said Des Barres, who has recently been active in Rock Against Drugs. "A lot of people died, but a lot of us didn't. I figure if David Crosby can get his act together, then anyone can."

Des Barres, who had practically no previous experience as a writer ("In high school, I was an English major before I became a lunatic"), is happy to have her book behind her. "I feel like I've just exorcised something very big.

"I really wasn't nervous writing the book. The only thing that threw me was when I heard I was going on the 'Today' show and might have to talk to Bryant Gumbel. Now that's scary!"

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