There have been a few major instances in my life that began with the exact same scenario: me, sitting in my parked car outside of a building, terrified to go inside, knowing that what’s to come will be absolutely life changing.
I remember this happening the night before I moved to Toronto, the day I began my internship with Warner Chappell Music, then again when I knew I had to walk into the Warner Music Canada building and quit my job. And then, of course, there was the night I became a doll.
I wrestled with the idea of this post for a while; how to write it, what to include, and truthbetold, if I should even attempt it at all. I mean, it feels kind of overdone to write about something that people in my circle have written about a million times before, something that has become such a part of everyday life for me that I often take for granted, something that really, words can’t do justice.
Then I remembered, fuck it. Without the dolls, my life would have taken a very different course. Besides, as I’m reminded time and time again, I live in such a small, rock n’ roll, artsy bubble, that people in my life outside of that realm still don’t even know what I mean when I say The Dolls, Pamela Des Barres, I’m With the Band, or, as I found out last Halloween when I went to a cabaret as Nancy Spungen, the fucking Sex Pistols. So, once again, let me explain (except for the Sex Pistols part, it’s off-point, so if you don’t know this by now, please google it.)
After Toronto’s first writing workshop in 2012 (Photo courtesy of Live Music Head)
Table of Contents
Finding “I’m With the Band”
I was twenty-one years old the day I picked up Pamela Des Barres’ first novel, I’m With The Band. It was mid-August, I had just come off a lengthy American road trip from Regina to Toronto with my mom, and we decided to spend an afternoon book shopping (one of our favorite activities). My hand was pulled towards the tome as if attached to a cosmic rope and, once home, I read the thing in just a couple of sittings.
My heart was all aflutter with Pamela’s tales of being one of the world’s first Rock n’ Roll groupies in the 60’s and 70’s. Along with her dalliances with Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Waylon Jennings, Keith Moon, Noel Redding, Jim Morrison, Don Johnson, and Nick St. Nicholas (to name just a few), she was also a nanny for Frank and Gail Zappa, had her own all-female group The GTO’s, went to love-in’s orchestrated by Allen Ginsberg, was at Altamont, and married Silverhead frontman Michael Des Barres.
I swooned, but Pamela’s rock n’ roll stories weren’t the only things I was swooning over. I swooned over her attitude, the way she found other like-minded people, the way she fearlessly wrote multiple novels about her life, the way she sticks up for her choices, for feminism, and for the word groupie.
The latter point of which she defends to the max – a groupie is someone who wants to be as close to the music as possible, and that can involve sex or not; either way, it’s a beautiful thing. A groupie is a woman doing what she wants, exactly the way she wants to.
When I finished the novel, I immediately did what I do every time I find something that inspires me, I googled. And when I googled, I found something that I knew I had to be a part of. Her writing workshop. In Toronto. Just three months down the road.
The timing of when I picked up her book to the date of the workshop was impeccable, cosmic, and dare I say…fate?
The First Toronto Writing Workshop
Fast forward to November 15, 2012. I’m sitting in my car outside of the house where the writing workshop is being held. I have no idea what to expect of this evening, I know nobody else inside that house, I rarely show anyone my writing, and I’m about to meet one of my idols. I’m both excited and scared shitless.
Nevertheless, I put my big girl pants on, wrap my jacket around myself for comfort, and walk up to the door. I knock, and am immediately met with smiling faces who shove a glass of wine in my hand and introduce themselves to me in a completely unassuming way.
The rest of the night is bliss.
I meet the other fifteen girls, all of whom I felt were much cooler than I, and we all sit in a big circle in the living room. One by one we introduce ourselves, sharing what we do for a living and if we’re in any relationships. Then, we’re given our first prompt.
See, the point of the writing workshops are to “free your creative muse” through writing about a topic chosen by Miss P for twelve minutes — these topics range from “Describe Your Relationship With Your Mother”, to “If You Could Have Dinner With Anyone From History, Who Would it Be?” — then reading what we wrote aloud to the group.
As we read, we are to do so without qualifying ourselves — no saying, “This isn’t very good, but…” — and we have to own our work. Naturally, the prompts given have a tendency to stir emotions, whether it is nostalgia, anger, grief, bliss, or any of the emotions in-between; and that is exactly why these groups bond the women, aka Miss P’s Dolls, together.
Walking into a room of fifteen strangers and bearing your soul is no easy feat; there is no judgment, of course, but it can be intimidating nonetheless, especially for a first-timer. Yet, this is why when I left the workshop that night, I felt as if I had gained a tribe, or a coven if you will. They were Rock n’ Roll sisters who understood me, who I didn’t have to hide around, who knew who the fucking Sex Pistols are.
There is nothing like telling your stories to a group of women who understand you.
The next day was much the same, albeit with Pamela doing a reading of I’m With the Band at Sonic Boom at Honest Ed’s (RIP Honest Ed’s!), during the day before the workshop. Then, that night at the second day of the workshop, we did as we did the night before with bearing our souls to one another and then, the Toronto Dolls Facebook group was born.
The Facebook group became a safe forum for us to talk about bands, love, writing, work, and life. It became an extension of the workshop, a place for us to go when we need advice, want to vent, or just have exciting news to share. The group exists to this day.
Outside the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles, Photo Courtesy of Kip Brown
The Dolls Through the Years
Since 2012, Pamela has been back to Toronto a few times, each time bringing new dolls to us seemingly on that same cosmic rope. And I mean sure, as with any group, there are going to be some disagreements and tense times, and there have been a few in this journey, but for the most part it’s been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. The coven has only grew, given opportunity, and wowed me in so many ways.
Because of knowing the dolls, I have gotten jobs I wouldn’t otherwise have, moved into apartments I wouldn’t have known about, and met amazing people who may not have crossed my path, and, because of the dolls, when I went to Los Angeles I reached out to Miss P to join her Rock Tour of Hollyweird and Laurel Canyon.
Because of the dolls, I have had the privilege of hanging out with rock n’ roll photographers such as Lynn Goldsmith and Baron Wolman, and lyricist Bernie Taupin. Could I have met them on my own? Sure. But would I have even known they were in Toronto? Maybe not. And would I have had the same experiences with them? Hell no.
Not to mention, I partially credit the confidence I gained in those writing workshops to helping me launch this blog in 2015. Confidence in my writing, confidence in putting myself out there, and confidence in the fact that my voice matters.
Sure, walking into that writing workshop at the ripe age of 21 scared the shit out of me, but it is precisely the things that scare you that have the most power to change your life.
With Baron Wolman, Photo Courtesy of Marlie Centawer
Pamela does writing workshops around North America regularly. If you’re interested in becoming a doll, purchase her book via the link below (it is an affiliate link), and then check her website to see if and when she’s coming to your area!
Do you have any stories of a time you were scared to do something that ended up changing your life in amazing ways? Let me know in the comments!