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Kind of sad.
on August 23, 2010
This is an infamous book, and as I worked in the concert business for awhile, I've been interested in reading it for some time. I finally did, and now I'm kind of sorry. The book isn't really that revelatory or even titillating; it's mostly just kind of sad. Because far from being a story of female empowerment, it's about a woman who is cripplingly insecure and lets that insecurity guide her life and choices.
Pamela Des Barres claims she was "the original groupie" back in the late 1960s/early 1970s. I have to say, if that is true, I had a completely different idea of what a "groupie" was than apparently is the case. I thought a groupie was someone who followed and/or slept with rock stars because they enjoyed being close to fame, but they chose who they followed and who they slept with, and it was mostly about the conquest - not about trying to find true love. Pamela, however, basically falls in love with more or less every rock star she meets, and in addition to sleeping with them, she does things like make them clothes, cook for them, do their laundry, etc. Like a maid or nanny that also provides sexual services. The entire book is one anecdote after another about how she met this famous person, was fascinated by them, slept with them, fell completely in love with them, and got her heart broken. Over and over and over. She fixated on these famous men to the point of creepy-stalkerish behavior (the stuff about her relentless, unrequited pursuit of Marlon Brando was really embarrassing. He finally had to tell her to leave him alone and look for answers inside herself - the problem is, I don't think there WERE any answers there). I hate to say it but I was reminded of that line in Silence of the Lambs when a character, describing Jame Gumb, the serial killer, says "Jame wasn't really anything, you know, just this total sort of lack he was trying to fill...he would walk into the room and it would feel a little emptier." It's pretty obvious that Pamela was suffering from the "my daddy didn't pay enough attention to me" kind of neurosis that leads women to latch on to train-wreck men who treat them poorly. The only thing is, instead of a series of average alcoholics, drug abusers, womanizers and head cases, she latched on to famous ones. I don't think she came out any better for it, other than that she was able to write this book about it later and make some money.
And that is another thing that bothered me about the book. She pursues an acting career but it keeps going nowhere and she has to repeatedly move back in with her parents, who aren't in any better of a financial situation. She is continually broke and the only skill or trade she has is making clothes she sells to entertainment people, but that isn't enough to keep her going. To me, part of being an "empowered" woman is having some financial independence, and ability to self-determine. Throughout the book, Pamela seems to have almost no self-determination; her goal in life is finding the next famous guy to sleep with. She develops her own fixations on people but then if someone from her past shows up and wants a roll in the hay, she'll drop what she's doing and go running to him.
All in all, I was confused by this book. I didn't think it was glamorous and I don't understand why people think it's such an amazing portrait of a decadent rock and roll lifestyle. I thought it was really sad. Pamela is the type of woman I feel sorry for; I don't want to emulate her. When I think of an independent, free-spirited, sexually-adventurous, "empowered" woman, I would say Samantha's character from Sex and the City is more what comes to my mind: a woman who has forged her own path and can support herself, and freely chooses to engage in serial superficial relationships without being "devastated" and going into a "trademark collapse" every time a casual relationship ends. (I kept wondering why Pamela didn't figure out, after one guy after another left her for another woman, that the only commonality between all these men was her. My mentor used to tell me, if you keep encountering the same problem over and over, there are two possibilities - either the entire world is in conspiracy against you, or it's you. Which is more likely? In Pamela's case, her grasping neediness and aimlessness was the problem, but I don't think she ever did figure that out.) I guess maybe for the time, being sexually free was the same as being powerful, but that's certainly not the case any more. I would hope young women wouldn't read this and think that providing homemaking and sexual services to a parade of famous men is a ticket to fame or fortune, because in most cases I think groupies end up as Pamela says most of her friends did - with diseases and drug problems that all-too-often prove fatal. In any case, this book to me is just a sad recounting of the pathology of a textbook case of histrionic personality disorder. Not fun, not uplifting, and not even really that entertaining. Just kind of depressing, in the end.