I Am Groupie, Hear Me Roar

“We groupies were there doing exactly what we wanted to do. That's the heart of feminism, isn't it? We were paving the way, breaking new ground, throwing out the rules of how a decent young woman was supposed to behave.”

Pamela Des Barres is awake. Sort of.

"Um, can you call me back in fifteen minutes? I just got up," she yawns, all husky-voiced and kind of sexy-sleepy. I've phoned her at the pre-arranged time of 10am to talk about "The Banger Sisters," in which Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon co-star as one-time rock & roll groupies doing the Big Chill thing after 20 years. Former-groupie Des Barres -- the free-spirited author of "I'm With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie" -- managed to score an invitation to the recent Hollywood premiere, and clearly, she has yet to fully recover from the post-film party.

"Yeah, I guess I had one too many free drinks last night," she laughs, and we agree to try it again in, say, half-an-hour. That should give time for the caffeine to kick in.

Des Barres -- whose numerous fluid exchanges with famous rockers are related in juicy detail in her book -- is without question the most famous groupie alive, right alongside the infamous Cynthia Plastercaster. Cynthia's the one you may have heard of, who makes plaster molds of naked rock-star genitalia, and who, it so happens, was Des Barres' thoroughly appropriate date at the party.

Still based in L.A., Des Barres was once a member of the legendary GTOs, Frank Zappa's pet-project girl group. Now something of an icon, she has written extensively about the rock & roll scene of the '60s and '70s, and contributes a regular column to E! online. She's even established her own slightly eccentric and characteristically unabashed website website.

The way Des Barres sees it, the groupies of the '60s were not mere sex-partners for testosterone-poisoned guitar players; they were groundbreaking, chance-taking muses, selflessly nurturing the creative impulses of the world's up-and-coming musical geniuses.

And that's pretty much how they are remembered in "The Banger Sisters."

"I have no complaints about the way the music scene and the groupie situation was depicted," she enthusiastically proclaims, after we've reconnected later in the morning. "In this movie," she says, "there was no guilt and no shame attached to having been a groupie, there was no sense of naughty-naughty-naughty going on."

Barely stopping to take a breath -- caffeine is a wonderful thing -- Des Barres says, "A groupie was more than just some girl who wanted to get laid by any member of the band. Sure, it may have been like that in the late '70s and the '80s, but when we were doing it, it was more about being a part of the scene. It was about being embraced by the group, like we were embraced by all of Led Zeppelin, who, I must say, adored me. Eventually, the word groupie became so tarnished. That's why this particular film will be very uplifting for the real groupie. It definitely takes some of the stigma from the word 'groupie.'"

To hear Des Barres describing the good-old-groupie-days, it almost makes one wish "The Banger Sisters" wasn't set entirely in the present. Aside from one wistful montage of footage from the '60's -- beautiful people cruising Sunset Boulevard, blissful crowds surrounding the Whisky-a-Go Go, dancing in the streets -- the film never attempts to re-create the past.

"But that footage was great, wasn't it?" Des Barres almost shouts. "I kept looking for myself in that footage. It was so incredible. It was such a nostalgic moment for me, sitting there, watching that. I went, 'Oh my god! Oh my god!' I'd almost forgotten what it looked like. It was like watching some mythological era spring to life. It stunned me."

"But, isn't it hard to look back at the '60s," I ask, "without also thinking of all those dark pieces in the picture. Vietnam? Altamont? Charles Manson?"

"It turned dark, eventually," she allows, "but there was so much incredible optimism at first, the Beatles-era and all that. And that's important to remember. Also, musically, the 1960s was the most profound moment in history. So let's think about that. It was a revolutionary time. I truly believe that in hundreds of years, people will look back on the sixties and see it as a great musical Renaissance. And Frank Zappa will be revered as a kind of Beethoven."

"And how about you and Cynthia?" I ask. "How will you be viewed by future generations?"

"Oh. Well," Des Barres laughs. "I think people will see us as the pioneer women of the rock & roll world."

She's laughing, but she's dead serious.

"I hope future generations recognize that we were the women who opened up doors for other women," she says. "And Cynthia, with all of her cocks, will probably be seen as a truly revolutionary artist.

"I'm glad I wrote the book," she continues, "because otherwise I would have ended up as just one more of these forgotten, wonderful women who were despised by the feminists because they thought we were lapdogs and rug mats for male musicians. But we were not being walked over. We were there doing exactly what we wanted to do. That's the heart of feminism, isn't it? We were paving the way. We were the real feminists, breaking new ground, throwing out the rules of how a decent young woman was supposed to behave. We were the ones saying 'fuck it' to the conventions and values of the 1950s, and we trampled that shit to the ground."

"Some might say you were on the front lines of feminism," I suggest.

"Well, I think Gloria Steinem would disagree with you," she says. "But, hey, I think you're right. I took my birth control pills with me every night, and since I never knew where I was going to end up, I'd just pull them out and pop the pills in public. It was a statement. I was saying, 'Here I am. I am a woman. I can do whatever the fuck I want -- so just watch me.'

"And basically," Des Barres says with a laugh, "I'm still saying that."

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}