Last week, I had the honor of meeting up with Michael Des Barres, during a sound check for Rockers In Recovery’s Hurricane Sandy Benefit at The Cutting Room in New York City. After spending many hours of transcribing, (“Carnaby Street” playing in the background) and reliving that day looking through roughly 300 photographs, I was left with a feeling of enlightenment and the yearning to want to know more about his luminous life.
As an actor, Michael has portrayed a master assassin who refused to die, a hoodlum crooner in a rock band, known as “Scum of the Earth”, a gay man and a baby doctor. Just to name a few of the multifarious roles he morphed himself into. Although acting may have been his first “love”, rock and roll was embedded in his heart.
As a teenager, he formed his first band, the Orange Illusion and later established the early 70’s British glam rock band, Silverhead. In 75’ he descended to the City of Angels, Los Angeles and brought together a motley crew of musicians, and framed a band known as Detective. With two recorded albums on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records label and their third on Atlantic Records, the band’s direction shuffled and they disbanded in 78’.
With two aborted bands in his back pocket, Michael trekked full steam ahead and encircled himself with the likes of a multitude of well-respected and multi-talented musicians in the business.
Aside from his long list of achievements, behind the camera and on stage, Michael and his right hand cyber conscience comrade, Kitty Amsbry, together, have created a worldwide platform (www.mdbimmedia.com), which showcases his music, videos, photos, news and blog. So, check it out, and peruse around, download his encore edition of “Carnaby Street” and perhaps visit the shop and pick up a Silverhead tee right after you read this fun, yet stimulating conversation about life, love, rock and roll and everything in between, with Michael his divine backup singer, Reagan Richards and myself.
Prior to my recorded conversation with Michael, we talked about how he celebrated his birthday just last Thursday in New York City. And having this been my first one on one with him, my finger hit the pause button. Nonetheless, I was able to catch his portrayal of the people of this city.
Here is my wintry preamble with Michael Des Barres on being extreme.
MDB: I think because I love extremes, I think my whole life has been extremes. So walking down the streets of New York, whereas, people are you know really, really just rushing down, scuttling down the streets with ear muffs and you know bandages (laughs) and trying to get out of the cold. And I went around yesterday morning and this morning, and it was unbelievably cold and I really got off on it because, I live in Hollywood, you know… and Hollywood is an extreme life…if in another way. But just to enjoy nature, I love nature, I love flowers, I love the howling wind and I love something that doesn’t know what time it is.
ST: And that’s winter.
MDB: Yeah, well “Now is the winter of our discontent: Made glorious summer by this sun of York, Richard the Third, Shakespeare.
ST: Beautiful…Let’s talk about “The Key of Love”, your latest single, just released off of your new EP “Carnaby Street”. I absolutely love it! Penned with profound lyrics and saturated with love. Tell me about your storytelling style.
MDB: “Key of Love”…Thank You.
ST: I listened to it about 20 times.
MDB: No kidding.
ST: I listened to it on my way hear. My girls listen to it. They love singing the backup.
MDB: How old are they?
ST: They just turned 10 years old.
MDB: That’s so divine. I think probably, the first song I wrote when I decided to get back on stage and play in sweaty rock and roll clubs and you know…it’s just so important. That song, I wrote in five minutes.
ST: Five minutes.
MDB: Yes. All the songs that have really meant something to people, that I’ve written and therefore putting my ex-wives in houses and my son through college has been really quickly, you know because it’s the old adage…” it’s” not you. You knew you’re playing it as something more divine and it comes, you know….there it is. It’s not like…hmm… should I go to A minor here? You know, I never think like that.
ST: So, do you write your lyrics before you write your music?
MDB: I get a title. As soon as I know what I’m about it just pours out of me. As soon as I know what “it’s” about, and what ‘it’ is. It’s what I’m feeling about at that moment, you know. “I wrote this song in the key of love” is the chorus and it just seemed to me, that it was such an eloquent way of marrying romance with music. Yeah (chuckling). And that just set me off on exactly what that song would be about. Authenticity and truth is the only thing I’m interested in. I only want to hear the truth, I only want to say the truth, everything else is artifice and nonsense, and the key to self-expression as an artist, is knowing who the self is doing the expressing. If you’re not an authentic self, then what are you writing? Point is…if I’m going to be a truthful artist, I have to know who’s doing the self- expression. I’ve had so many selves. I’ve had as many selves as the colors in the rainbow and the trick is trying to refine it and strip away the artifice, and find the art in the artifice by exonerating and exercising all the nonsense that we put out to get through the day. You know, I’m not going to play these games. If I play games, I want to play ping pong.
ST: Let’s go back a bit, back in 72’, Silverhead.
ST: How have you changed as an artist from the time that first album was released?
MDB: Well, I’m trying to get back to where I was in Silverhead, because Silverhead….great question…interestingly enough, I think the most authentic you are, is when you first begin. When you first begin and you pick up that instrument, or you pick up that microphone and you start singing and playing there is nothing to compare it to you know. It’s the first time you’ve done it. Therefore, just by the law of nature it’s real. What happened is, to me anyway, is two things. One I got addicted to every drug and every sexual act known to man or animal, and two I started to learn how to do it. Learn how to sing, learn how to write, learn what the complicated chords where, learn how to give what people wanted. I wasn’t sticking to what was true and simple. I’ve been in 117 bands as you’re aware of. A lot of bands, and I’ve done, and been around a long time. And the last three years I’ve tried to forget all of that. And the thing is I always relate it to painters. Wonderful painters who’ve had a long, you know, I say this often, a long life…creative lives. In the beginning, everything is very simple. Then they learn, and then it becomes more dense, and more, you know, more complex and more thought about. So the key for me in rock and roll especially…don’t think about anything. Don’t think. Cause the minute you start thinking about it, it becomes a calculation and therefore it isn’t what true art is, which is spontaneous and chaotic. No matter how good or bad, there’s no good or bad, there’s, how does it feel? So for me the similarities with Silverhead are paramount. In that I’m trying to get back to that simplicity. We were like unbelievable. It was a great band. Collectively we weighed a hundred and fifty pounds. We were the thinnest band around. And here we are in New York, 1972, and we got with Johnny and David and we get back at the hotel and its fire. And everything…everything that Silverhead was involved with was so extreme, you know. People took more chances those days. There was a romantic recklessness in the air.
ST: That’s what a lot of music is missing today.
MDB: Yeah, It’s missing recklessness because everything is too easy. You use a computer. You get yourself in tune, you make a loop. I’m not comparing era’s, cause that’s really pathetic because, there’s such brilliance pouring out of young musicians. The music business is dead. Music is very much alive. You know, and there’s amazing people playing. I cannot believe how great these people are. I’ll tell you what’s going on right now. There’s a lot of brilliance from the neck up, but very little brilliance from the waist down. That is, there is a sensuality that’s missing. That is an energy, and you can’t describe it, There’s very few, I mean, you know, Jim Morrison you wanted to have sex with, I don’t know if you want to have sex with the singer in Vampire Weekend, maybe…maybe, it’s possible…it’s possible. I’m not saying that he’s not sexier than Jim Morrison. I’m just saying that, that’s not his thrust, to use the pun. You know there’s sensuality, there’s a kind of carnality that’s been lost, but that’s true of the whole culture.
ST: You’ve got this amazing, amazing quality and essence about yourself when it comes to your words. Your words are extremely powerful. Your friends…I don’t like to use the word fans because they are your friends.
MDB: Yeah, they are my friends.
ST: They look to you, each and every day on Twitter and on Facebook and you bring them something that other things can’t. Materialistic or what may be. Have you ever considered putting your words into a published work?
MDB: Yes, many times. And we will. Kitty…brilliant Kitty Amsbry, who I love and adore. Brings tears to my eyes how great she is.
ST: I owe you a hug for her.
MDB: Because she knows what I’m trying to do. And we’re going to do it. I mean all of the stuff I have. I must have seven thousand photographs. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of them. But they’re nature, and they’re of me with famous girls. All sorts of wonderful stuff and I must have two thousand poems. Which, I think these paragraphs and status updates are. They’re not, saying “man, I just hate my bangs today.
MDB: But hey it’s Wednesday.
MDB: You know, so…I’m not saying that. I’m saying look people in the eyes, tell them the truth and have a great haircut. So, it’s a duality of, I’m trying to express what…I feel we can do to make ourselves happy and more productive. Be inspiring…be encouraging of ourselves and others. And also make them laugh. And enlightenment…if it was a color, it’s not gray, it’s gold. It’s yellow, it’s bright it’s a pastel. Everything I’ve written has got some humor in it. And sometimes I get terribly emotional about it and I’ll write something of gratitude, or lust or something. You know…so yes. I want to do a book. We are doing a book. We will. We have so much to do. I mean I have this F**k War thing that I’m working on right now, “(Stop) In the name of Love”, I rewrote the words to the second verse to say exactly that…we’re killing each other. You know, and I want Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), I want Steve Earle (singer/songwriter), I want you know, I want Eddie I want a bunch of activists, musicians to do this with me. And that’s what I’m concentrating on. I just did these things with Steve Stevens (singer, guitarists) that are so rocking. I did an electronica song with this girl. Beautiful song, “if Jesus was my boyfriend”, is the song I wrote for her, you know, “Our love would never end” is the chorus.
MDB: It’s fantastic and it’s all daka-daka-daka-daka-do pop (motioning playing drums) you know. It’s all Lady Gaga, but not. You know because it’s extremely controversial, it’s you know sexy Messiah. You know,” let me wash your feet”. I’m trying to mix metaphors and so yeah, I want a book. But my mind is working on overload right now, so I’m on fire with ideas that…Kitty’s the one that goes….”shhh”… ”this” so then we just do that, like right now it’s “The Key of Love” you know, and already, I mean it’s been played all over the south…all over the south right now, it’s interesting. And I wrote the rock and roll Santa thing for Christmas. So all of these things, I mean I could write three songs a day you know …..I do……so, it’s difficult for me to stop and go “okay let’s concentrate on that”.
ST: Well, okay…book to come. And if that’s’ something that comes to fruition that’s something that will be on my bookshelf.
MDB: “F**k War”? Or my book? I’m going to call it “The Optimystic”. Which is what I call myself, you know, the optimystic, m-y-s-t-i-c (spelling it out). You know because it’s good…its good…it’s good…it’s good. I’m not saying it’s better than anybody else. I could care less really about that but it’s entertaining…you know… we’ll see.
ST: So, you’ve put together, number of pieces in terms of your life. Going back to when you encountered drugs and rock and roll. You’ve worked with a number of people who I look up to in music and for inspiration, Phil Collins, Vince Neil. You know “Rock Against Drugs” I’ve seen all the PSA’s. I remember them when I was in high school.
MDB: It was the most viewed PSA of all time other than that bear in the woods.
ST: So today, you’ve partnered up with “Rockers In Recovery”
ST: To help an enormous group of people who have suffered despair and destruction. Having overcome your demons in your past, what words of hope would you convey to them?
MDB: I can only say that I love them, and my heart bleeds for their devastating losses. And, I mean there are many things I could say about that, but I wouldn’t be as presumptuous to put myself in a position of losing everything. It’s not my place to. I just…I just bleed when I think about it. Tears of blood and there’s no advice because, you know, here’s what I want to say…that’s really super, I love this song (Great White’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” playing during sound check in background) if pain is the resistance of all this, if that house is gone, it’s devastating. Are you okay with owning it or not. It’s so glib, what I’m saying right now. But all this suffering comes from, I can’t go on after this, you know, and you don’t accept what has happened. Then the issues begin to spread. All I can do is love them and pray.
ST: Music…genres, rock and roll. Is there anything else that you ever wanted to experiment with besides your Delta Blues style?
MDB: Scarlett Johanssen.
MDB: Uh… no, not really. I mean I don’t think about it. It’s all I know. I don’t know how to do anything else. I wouldn’t know how to do anything else. I mean I’ve played, I’ve experimented with electronica, which I really enjoy, because it’s so robotic and I can understand that. I made a record in the eighty’s, it’s called “I’m Only Human”. Which was very… you know…that. But it’s not what gets me off. I’m only interested in doing things that get me off. You know what I mean?
MDB: I think I’ve experimented enough.
MDB: I mean there’s always something that’s new I suppose. But, I enjoy all kinds of music, Miles Davis, opera, Wagner. Yeah…But really I always generally come back to that, but at least I don’t come back to hookers.
MDB: I always come back to the Blues. But know there’s enough for me to do in what I do.
ST: So, after Rockers In Recovery…after this gig is up…you’re going back to California. Where can we see you next?
MDB: The Viper Room
MDB: February second.
ST: Sounds good.
MDB: And then I’m going to do another movie, which is a fantastic movie. I just did this movie called “Me”, which is unbelievable…, a fabulous movie. I can’t wait for it to come out. It’s with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Molly Ringwald and Julian Sands. And it’s really good…it’s really interesting. It’s about a mad billionaire who thinks he’s in a realty show. And there are hidden cameras everywhere, and this woman, who he calls to make the show better, because his ratings are slipping from his hands. So she goes…“hmm”. And so she goes to the network and sells that show, to film the guy who thinks he’s in a reality show. Right, so it says a lot about our culture. What is real and what isn’t. And, these brilliant women are in it and you know, it’s called “Me”. It’s fantastic. And this next one is about a nut case who is very successful, and created a social network, it’s called “Distance”. And he’s completely alone and his work goes on in his head. I’m interested in Avant-garde, independent films and big TV shows.
MDB: (laughing). You know what I mean? So I can get the money to go off and work for nothing. That’s why I do commercials. I went on a commercial yesterday, to play a (Bond Villain) in some Chevrolet ad, because one day’s work will give my band enough, the luxury to be able to live for a while and just do what I want them to do. So, it’s a fabulous Robin Hood world, you know where I can, you know be a baby boomer guy with the Volvo who’s wearing the shades.
MDB: And that’s all it is. And then I take that money and I give it to the drummer.
MDB: I love it. Why not? You know, rob Peter to pay Paul. You know, it’s the only sense in the bible I agree with.
RR: (laughing) that’s funny.
MDB: But uh, you know. It’s a mad life I live, you know.
ST: With lots of love.
MDB: With lots of love…oh yeah.
ST: And you know your heart is centered right here, so it’s kind of like it should be the center of everyone’s universe.
MDB: Yes, yes, yes it should be and it is, if they only knew it. You know, the secret is knowing it’s there. Is really trusting that you are…you are everything. You know, like when people look up to people. Don’t ever look up to anyone. Look them in the eyes. It’s a much better angle. Most people look terrible when you look up at them.
MDB: So my advice would be if… you want it. Is to look people in the eye, and know that you’re as good as anybody that ever lived. And capable of anything that anybody has ever done. You could do it.
ST: You’re bringing me to tears.
RR: That’s a great statement.
ST: That’s beautiful
MDB: But you understand that?
ST: I absolutely understand that.
MDB: When you look at anyone…anyone in the eyes, know that we’re all the same. There’s no good or bad. There’s only true or untrue. And nobody on a pedestal can sustain what they think they are. You gotta know who they are. And by knowing who they are, you gotta know who you are, and you will never look up to anybody ever again, especially in a relationship. Don’t let any man ever…ever take the more noble position in a relationship. Everything is equal. You’re equal to a flower. Why would your husband or lover be above you? Why? Why would we accept that? So look at people in the eye. We’re all the same. And if you’re six foot, then bring an apple box and stand on it.
MDB: There you are…I see you…..got it?
ST: I totally get it.
MDB: I mean, when you love Simon Le Bon, that’s not Simon Le Bon. You know, Simon Le Bon is not Simon Le Good. Simon Le Bon is a wonderful human being. I adore him. But what you’re seeing is not particularly what is…what is really true. You know, but we need Gods and we need people, so yeah……I uh, I just like really tight fitting black clothes.
ST: I do too.
MDB: Yeah. And other than that, I don’t really need anything else.
ST: So what are we looking forward to tonight?
MDB: I don’t know…I have no idea. I’ll tell you this. It will be spectacular, whatever happens.
ST: I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait…I really am.
MDB: Let’s go.
ST: Thank you so much Michael.
MDB: Oh, honey.
ST: You’re a doll.
During this thirty five minute chat, having barely scratched the surface on Michael’s fascinating boulevard of life, I hope to catch up with him during his next visit to the city that never sleeps….”we only part to meet again”….John Gay