Book Reviews: Dating Tips for the Unemployed by Iris Smyles

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I don’t know what I was looking for when I found Smyles book in the fiction section of my local library. Perhaps what I was looking for was a story about a woman’s difficulty navigating the world of love and romance while also being out of a job, something I bet a lot of us can relate to. Dating and trying to the find the “right one” or at least the “right one at this particular time because I want to get laid or at least not spend a Saturday night on the couch with a remote in one hand and a pint of store brand of mint chocolate chip mint ice cream in the other” while out of work can be quite a conundrum. It can also make for one heck of a book. Alas, not this book.

At first, Dating Tips for the Unemployed looked promising. Its book jacket provided a lot positive comments and Smyles’ author photo showed an attractive woman in a fetching retro look. And speaking of retro, throughout the book featured old school ads found in the back of magazines ages ago.

Smyles can be an entertaining writer, at times filled with wit and whimsy, and at other times, moribund and melancholic. But as Dating Tips for the Unemployed went on (and on, and on, and on), I found Smyles writing style and her story tiresome.

Dating Tips for the most part reads more like a memoir than a novel. First off, the main character is named Iris Smyles. Gee, I guess coming up with a different name was too difficult for Smyles.

For someone unemployed Iris has it pretty easy. There are no stories of trying to get unemployment, updating one’s resume, navigating the on-line obstacle courses of job searches, bad interviews, rejection letters…or worse, no feedback at all. There are no stories of trying to stretch a dollar until it screams, living on Ramen noodles, crying over wondering how you’re going to pay the rent and bills, and thinking you hit the lottery when you find a five dollar bill in a pocket of your blue jeans.

In fact, this book makes unemployment sound like a grand adventure of dating a lot of guys, travels to Greece, and fun nights on the town and goofy tales of family antics. Sure, this pretty much explains what it’s like to be out of work for most people…only not.

But apparently Iris lives in a different world than most of us. She appears to be fully supported by mommy and daddy even though she’s well into her thirties (Smyles was born in 1978). She travels to her family’s country of origin, which is Greece (gee, when I’m down on my luck I can barely afford a tasty gyro from Apollo Café on Brady Street) and men can’t help but be drawn to her. Most of Dating Tips for the Unemployed is devoted to Smyles’ endless cycle of boyfriends that for the most part are never fully fleshed out to be compelling or interesting. Even the sex is a total snooze fest. I’ve written grocery lists that were more erotic.

I think for the most part, Smyles is self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware, a trait that wears pretty thin after someone gets past the age of 25. She tries to come across as quirky and different, but is just another flavorless manic pixie dream girl like a piece of chewed Juicy Fruit gum that’s been on your bed post for a couple of days.

And no I’m not being a jealous hater. She’s very fortunate to have supportive parents and yes, she is quite attractive. I can figure out why men are drawn to her. But after a while, she’s just another boring #privilgedwhitewoman, nothing new under the sun. She’s more Elizabeth Gilbert than Dorothy Parker.

In the end, Smyles book was one I should have ignored and left on the library shelf. If I want to read about a young woman dealing with being out of work and out of money, I’ll re-read The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel. And when it comes to a woman and her collection of paramours, you can’t go wrong with Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band.

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I Read It So You Don’t Have To: Miss O’Dell-My Hard Days and Long Nights with the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved by Chris O’Dell

6455172I’ve always been interested in reading rock and roll memoirs, especially by people who were behind the scenes. But when these books are written by women they are usually written by wives, girlfriends and groupies. Now I like these books; Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band is one of my favorites. But I want to read books by women who actually worked in the music business. So when I came across Chris O’Dell’s Miss O’Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights With the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Women They Loved I thought I had hit the jackpot. Chris O’Dell worked for the Beatles’ Apple Records and managed several rock tours. Surely, she’d have some great insight on what it was like to be a women in a mostly man’s world and perhaps provide some inspiration to young women who want to do more than provide favors to roadies and rockers. Sadly, Chris O’Dell’s memoir turned out to be a huge disappointment.

Miss O’Dell begins in the late 1960s. O’Dell is living in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with Beatles’ insider, Derek Taylor, leads to her getting a job in London at the Beatles’ fledgling Apple Records. It’s never quite established why Taylor thought she’d be such an asset. Did she already have the experience and impressive professional track record? Or was it because she was an attractive blonde? Okay, I shouldn’t hate. Given the chance, I would have jumped at this opportunity.

While at Apple O’Dell does things that are done at any other office. She answers phones, delivers messages and procures lunches. But she also gets to do lots of cool things. When the Beatles played their infamous concert on top of the Apple building, O’Dell was right there with them, soaking up all that rock and roll energy. Any Beatles fan would give his or her eye teeth for such an experience. Lots of rock gods and goddesses roamed the halls of Apple, and O’Dell can’t help but get a little bit fan girlish over the famous people she met. I can’t say I blame her for this. If I had gotten a job at U2’s Principle Management, I would have been squee city. “OMG! Bono said ‘hi’ to me! I can’t wait to tell my mom!”

However, O’Dell soon gets bored and high tails it back to LA. She lives with musician Leon Russell for a time. He had written the song “Pisces Apple Lady” in her honor. Unfortunately, the relationship soon sours. Bored once again, O’Dell begs to get her Apple job back, and is off to London. This turned out to be a common theme with O’Dell. She goes to London, gets bored. She goes to LA, gets bored. Rinse and repeat.

It’s not long before O’Dell is managing major rock tours. She manages tours for Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Rolling Stones, and later in the book, Echo and the Bunnymen. Not surprisingly, debauchery was a huge part of these tours. Music seemed to take a back seat to snorting up cocaine and sleeping with any available musician, not too mention a lot of fighting among band members and tour staff.

No book about the 1960s and 1970s would be complete without a lot of passages about drugs and sex. Miss O’Dell is no different. However, instead of finding these passages shocking or salacious, I was bored. Reading about endless drug and alcohol-fueled happenings was truly tedious. I could barely stifle my yawns. O’Dell also slept with lots of musicians. Ho-hum. By the time O’Dell mentioned she slept Mick Jagger, I thought, “Who hasn’t? Mick Jagger has probably slept with every third person on the planet. That man would shag a shoe.”

O’Dell also writes about the intense friendships she had with many musicians and their wives/girlfriends, especially George Harrison and Pattie Boyd and Ringo Starr and his wife Maureen. She describes in very full detail of the long conversations she had with these people and the fun times they had. But she seemed more like a free-loader than a good friend. She takes a considerable loan from George Harrison, and never pays him back. While house-sitting for Eric Clapton, she decides to paint his kitchen yellow and orange and then runs off. She later stiffs him on a hotel bill. She constantly took advantage of her rock and roll friends’ generosity, never showing any appreciation. And when she later sleeps with Ringo Starr while he is still married to one of her friends, I wanted to shake her.

It doesn’t help the book’s writing itself is clumsy and amateurish. But what I couldn’t take was the lack of character development on the part of O’Dell. Sure, she does get over drugs and alcohol addiction, but this turning point in her life is given a scant few pages. Never once does she show any remorse for her actions or any semblance of growing as a person. O’Dell is very self-absorbed but not exactly self-aware. Also, she totally ignores the huge cultural and social changes of the era. O’Dell’s memoir takes place during “I am Women. Hear Me Roar” second wave feminism, yet she never mentions what it was like to break ground as a woman in the world of music. I don’t know if all the drugs dulled her memory or she couldn’t be arsed to care.

I wanted to love this book, but I almost threw it across the room. Miss O’Dell isn’t inspiring or even that interesting. However, I do hold hope that a woman who was a true pioneer in the behind-the-scenes world of music will write her memoir. Suzanne de Passe, please write your memoir.

Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

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“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Retro Review: I’m With the Band-Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres

I'm With the BandBefore Pamela Des Barres was known as a writer and the now ex-wife of rocker Michael Des Barres, she was a Pamela Miller, a girl from Reseda, California. She lived for rock and roll and wanted to be around all of that musical energy. However, she didn’t just go to concerts and hang up posters of the Beatles on her bedroom wall. “Miss Pamela,” as she was later nicknamed, actually met many of her favorite rock stars, had relationships with them, and lived to tell the tale.

Pamela got hooked on rock and roll at a very young age. She loved singer Dion, the Beatles and later became a fan of the Rolling Stones, which made her a bit of pariah among her friends who found the Stones dirty and repugnant. Before long Pamela ditched her bouffant for long hippie goddess tendrils and fully embraced the counter-culture lifestyle of the 1960s.

Whereas Pamela’s high school classmates went off to college or to the work place after graduation, Pamela hightailed it to Hollywood and joined the scene. Getting close to musicians was a lot easier back then and it wasn’t long before Pamela started meeting musicians like the Doors (she made out with Jim Morrison), Frank Zappa, and the Byrds.

Macking on Jim Morrison was a fleeting moment, but Frank Zappa and the Byrds truly became a part of Pamela’s life. Pamela befriended Frank’s wife Gail and later acted as a nanny to the Zappa’s young children. Blown away by Pamela and her friends’ unique style and energy, Frank turned them into the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously). The GTOs weren’t so much a band as they were a living and breathing piece of performance art.

As for the Byrds, Pamela fell hard for bass player Chris Hillman. Pamela and Chris struck up an on-and-off again romantic relationship, and Pamela later followed Chris when he formed after the Flying Burrito Brothers after the Byrds broke up.

Pamela had romances, dalliances and hook-ups with other musicians and famous folks. Among them included Keith Moon, Mick Jagger and Waylon Jennings. She loses her virginity to Nick St. Nicholas from Steppenwolf. And has her first orgasm with Noel Redding who was in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And she also nearly gets her hands on the King himself, Elvis Presley!

Pamela falls hard for Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and he flies her all over the United States until dumping her for Lori Maddox who was all of 13 at the time. Poor Pamela, who must have been in her early twenties at the time, felt ancient against the pubescent Maddox. How could she possibly compete?

Pamela also has a romance with a pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson who later takes up with a very young Melanie Griffith (damn, what is up with men and their obsession with adolescent tail?). Interestingly, enough Pamela remains friendly with Mr. Johnson and she and Melanie have become total besties. Pamela doesn’t allow bitterness to get the best of her.

When Pamela wasn’t indulging in carnal delights, she tried her hand at acting, traveled all over the United States and Europe and pretty much tried to find herself during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. She admits to experimenting with drugs. Fortunately for her, drugs never took the toll they did on others and she escaped being a casualty.

As Pamela approaches her thirties she begins to embrace maturity. She marries rocker Michael Des Barres and they have a son, Nicholas. Though the marriage doesn’t last (Pamela covers this in her follow-up Take Another Piece of My Heart), she and Michael remain friends. Pamela continues to write, teaches creative writing and is considered quite an inspiration to groupies and rock fans everywhere.

What I love about I’m With the Band is how it gives me a front row seat to a time I can only imagine. Pamela doesn’t just give the reader a sneak peek; she flings the curtain wide open and nearly shouts, “Take a look, dolls!” We get a glimpse of the good, bad and ugly of rock and roll excess. Plus, in an age where reality show starlets think sex tapes are the road to fame and politicians text their junk, Pamela’s sexual exploits are downright quaint!

But what truly makes I’m With the Band work is Pamela’s lively and distinctive writing voice. It’s honest and descriptive, with a fun, gossipy flair. And Pamela’s never afraid to show her real self, sharing her personal journal entries, which could be quite cringe-inducing. And despite heartbreak and the loss of friends, Pamela remains an optimist and a total sweetie. She’s a lover of men, a supporter of women and still believes in the power of rock and roll.