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‘Let it Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir’

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The release of her 1987 memoir, “I’m With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie,” established rock super-groupie Pamela Des Barres as a best-selling literary force. Still in print, the salacious yet sweet and engaging narrative, packed with libidinous details of Des Barres’ sexual trysts with ‘60s and ‘70s rock gods including Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon and Jim Morrison, was followed by four more music-related tomes.

Des Barres’s latest book, “Let It Bleed: How to Write a Rockin’ Memoir” (Tarcher/Penguin) is designed to help readers craft their own memoir using tips and tricks that Des Barres has employed in her writing workshops over the last 17 years.

“I’ve learned what works, in terms of triggering memories and how to get the words out of your head and heart and onto the page,” Des Barres said during an interview last week from her home in Los Angeles.

After taking a creative writing class and realizing that she herself could be teaching the class, Des Barres decided to do just that. Her “femoir” classes have been held in venues ranging from Des Barres’ own living room to Austin’s South by Southwest festival to last fall’s London workshop held at the Islington concert venue.

“I give my students memoir-related prompts that they work on for 12 minutes,” she said. “The prompts might be connected to childhood or people you’ve known through your life. The prompts involve important moments in your life, including the difficult times.”

Des Barres instructs her students and readers to not censor or judge themselves, not to second-guess or re-read what they’ve just written, and perhaps the most difficult rule, but one that Des Barres says is most important: “Do not think!”

“Once a memory is triggered, many other memories just start pouring out,” Des Barres said. “It’s really amazing to see it happen and it’s very easy for anyone to do.”

Not surprisingly, some of Des Barres’ memory-prompts are connected to music.

“My books are music-related and my classes draw a lot of people who love music,” she explained. “Most of us love music and we all have a story to tell. Some people just need to find a way to tap into memories they thought were lost forever. I have them write about the first record they bought with their own money or the first live music event they experienced.”

Des Barres says she has learned that isn’t any trickery involved with crafting an effective memoir.

“All you need to do is to start writing,” she said. “One memory leads to another. People believe they’ll never remember certain things but once you start writing about it and you go back to a certain time in your life, it comes rushing out. Once you start using the prompts that I outline in the book, the memories will flow forth.”

Des Barres says her own unabashedly vivid memoirs have inspired many women to write their own story.

“Everybody has a story. My job is to help them tell it. I think we all have a book in us. No matter what you’ve done in your life, everyone’s life is worth writing about. My book is a lot like taking my class.”

I asked Des Barres to cite a few of her favorite music-related memoirs other than her own. She referenced three books that she says are among the best rock-memoirs ever written: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Keith Richards’ “Life” and Bob Dylan’s: “Chronicle Volume One.”

“The way Bruce writes about discovering Elvis, and the impact Elvis had on his life, is one of the best things I have ever read in my life,” said Des Barres. “I would recommend getting the audio version of the book so you can hear him read it to you. It’s really pretty special.

“Keith Richards’ book “Life” is a lot of fun and very well written,” she continued. “It’s amazing that he can remember anything (laughs).

“I’m also a huge Bob Dylan fanatic. He changed my life. He spoke our mind for us. And he continues to do that. I just saw him play live last week in New York and he was magnificent. His book (released in 2005) is one of my favorite memoirs.”

The hardest part of writing a memoir, Des Barres says, is simply starting the process.

“Just write and don’t stop. Once you begin writing about one memory, your mind goes back to that time-frame. One memory will trigger the next one and you will be amazed at what you end up with. All the time in my classes, I hear people say ‘Oh my God, I had forgotten all about that’ or ‘How did you get that out of me?’ It has a lot to do with just writing it down and other memories will come out.” 

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