Liner Notes: Pamela Des Barres on the Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes”

Liner Notes: Pamela Des Barres on the Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes”

During the shimmering springtime in 1972, I was in between loves and dancing through the hearts, heads and dreams of a few lucky fellows, a 23-year old fancy-free spirit, madly in love with rock & roll.

One of my true loves, Don Johnson, and I had broken up (ouch) and I was spending quality time with Waylon Jennings and my dear Keith Moon whenever they ambled or slammed into town. What a contrast, eh? Somehow it made sense to me. Attraction is attraction. Brilliance is brilliance.

Another fave-rave of mine during this sweet time, and long before and after, was Ray Davies, the exquisitely unique, especially gifted, complicated, misunderstood leader of the Kinks, one of the most influential bands of all time. Their third single, “You Really Got Me,” catapulted them into the top 10 and solidified their eminent place in the rock pantheon ad infinitum. With each subsequent song, Ray’s masterful lyrics exposed and embraced the flawed, vulnerable human condition, somehow uniting us all in a compassionate lovelock.

Despite the Kinks’ impeccable, enviable position, Ray never seemed satisfied, his restless soul nestled uncomfortably within his genteel demeanor and dimpled grin, as his lyrics became braver, bolder and deeper. I was continually impressed, enamored and envious of his ability to keep his oh-so-British sense of humor while exploring the unpredictable innards of heartbroken humanity.

You know how it feels when you’re standing in front of a band you love, all swoony, smack-dab in the moment, and they launch into your favorite song? It’s almost indescribable. You are suddenly in touch with your highest, holiest self, connected with the whole universe, time ceases to exist and nothing could possibly go wrong.

I was born and raised over the hill from Hollywood, entranced and delighted by fame and celebrity, and never missed the Academy Awards (I even got to attend a couple of events!). I often skipped along Hollywood Boulevard looking for James Dean’s sparkling pink star, Brando, Monty Clift, stopping to pay homage to the sultry sheik, Rudolph Valentino, long gone, but somehow still breathing deep on fading black and white screens.

Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star
And everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are
There are stars in every city
In every house and on every street
And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Their names are written in concrete

Oh, how I adored “Celluloid Heroes” when it came out. Already a massive Kinks fan, I considered this song to be Ray’s shining accomplishment, and I played it endlessly, marveling at his ability to enmesh himself so thoroughly into Hollywood history, while examining the wickedly unwieldy desire for fame.

If you covered him with garbage
George Sanders would still have style
And if you stamped on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn round and smile
But please don’t tread on dearest Marilyn
Cause she’s not very tough
She should have been made of iron or steel
But she was only made of flesh and blood

It’s extra amazing when you actually know the musicians performing that favorite song right in front of you, and I was blessed to stand directly in front of the stage when the Kinks began playing “Celluloid Heroes” at the Hollywood Palladium, March 9, 1972.

I swayed, swooned, wept and exalted at being alive in such a precious moment, among like-minded music-lovers, in front of one of the greatest bands ever, playing my favorite song. I could almost feel the molecules I’m made of wake up and shout in unbridled ecstasy. Absolute euphoria. I can still see Ray, dapper and sorrowful, emotional and emotive, looking plaintively heavenward as if actually seeing Greta Garbo, Valentino and Marilyn floating in the ethers above the Palladium. Because as it’s been proven over and over again, celluloid heroes never really die.

I wish my life was non-stop Hollywood movie show
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die

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