Liner Notes: Pamela Des Barres on “Like a Rolling Stone”

Liner Notes: Pamela Des Barres on “Like a Rolling Stone”

Even though I’ve always been a bit of an oddball on a slightly crooked path, it wasn’t until the strangest boy at Cleveland High turned me on to a fuzzy-haired folksinger from Hibbing, Minnesota, that I hurtled full-throttle through the bunny hole into a totally different realm.

I was Beatle-obsessed and had a bad boy Italian boyfriend, a teased bouffant flip and an unrequited desire to cheerlead with fluffy pom-poms when Victor Haydon took an interest in me. He must have sensed the lurking weirdness trying to burble forth because he started hanging around me at Nutrition, profundities pouring forth like electric charges, rarifying the pent-up teenage air around us. Victor was a loner, his hair was too long, he carried around books by Freud and Jung (who were they?) he was an artist, always wielding a paintbrush and half-finished canvas full of madness. He said I should listen to the Rolling Stones. I should meet his cousin, Don Van Vliet, who called himself Captain Beefheart because he had “a beef in his heart.” And I should definitely get turned on to Bob Dylan.

As an adored only child, I not only had my own bedroom, but my own little den, which I had previously called the “Bop Room,” where I listened to Elvis and the Beatles and swoon over Dion DiMucci, bopping to Runaround Sue. Upon Vic’s recommendation, I snapped up Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They are a-Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan albums at the Reseda Record Rack and sequestered myself in my former Bop Room to find out what the mighty fuss was about. As the insights poured forth, almost bursting my brain apart, this burgeoning hippie baby experienced acute cosmic overload. Weighty philosophical insights careened through my hi-fi speakers, and as with millions of boomers, Dylan spoke my mind for me before I was able to express my own blossoming rebellion. I was instantly transformed. Suddenly lyrics were more important than the guitar, bass and drums, and I became a lifelong lyric whore. The words to “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” from Freewheelin’ could have been written this very day, they’re so sadly prescient.

Unless you were there to experience the arrival and immersion of Bob Dylan into the ‘50s mindset, it would be impossible to calculate the gravity of his influence on music, culture and society at large. Elvis, the beat poets, and Dylan’s heroes Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger had started opening curious hearts and minds, but when Dylan plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival, July 25, 1965 (the sexiest moment in rock & roll), to paraphrase Walt Whitman, he sang the body electric and, just like my Walter-ego, blew the lid off the world as we knew it.

The folkies scratched their heads when Dylan walked onstage wielding a Fender Strat, as roadies plugged in big ol’ amps all around him. “Like a Rolling Stone” had been released only five days earlier and when he launched into the six-minute number, the crowd’s grumbling became louder and someone stuck in the unplugged mud shouted out “Judas!” Many got up and left, proving that some folks prefer to be mired in the past.

“Like a Rolling Stone” became my favorite song the moment I heard it, as it changed all the radio rules due to its length. How I love a rule-breaker. There are too many lines within those lyrics that helped me forge a new life path, but here’s my fave: “You should never let other people get your kicks for you.” Grand advice that I continue to take to heart.

Dylan’s words helped me learn how to live. I first saw him play in 1965, and still try to never miss a gig on his Never-ending Tour. I snap up all his records and melt over lyrics such as these in “I Feel a Change Comin’ on,” on Together through Life:

I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver
And I’m reading James Joyce
Some people they tell me
I got the blood of the land in my voice.

I get seriously pissed when I’m walking out of a concert and someone is ragging on Dylan’s ragged, lived-in voice. It has the blood of the land in it, after all. I’ve been known to stop a perfect stranger and say, “You’re lucky to have been in the presence of our modern bard, so stop complaining!”

In case you haven’t noticed, Bob Dylan is my hero. And as long as I draw breath, I’ll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it.

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Despite her infamy as “the World’s Most Famous Groupie” or “Queen of the Groupies,” Pamela Des Barres has many other facets, fascinations and unique talents. Known mostly for her heady dalliances and friendships with classic rock’s elite dandies in the ’60s and ’70s, she presciently kept copious diaries about those madcap revolutionary days and nights. Pamela has written five books, I’m With the BandTake Another Little Piece of My Heart (autobiographies), Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music BabylonLet’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies and Let it Bleed.


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