By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Musician, actor, rockstar – Michael Des Barres, is one of the most interesting and colorful celebrities that you could ever meet. Des Barres has had an illustrious career spanning over five decades which consisted of him being in several high profile bands, including Power Station, which he fronted during the band’s performance at the prestigious Live Aid concert in 1985.
In addition, Des Barres also had a few prominent acting roles, and played Murdoc in the hit TV series, “MacGyver.”
But, while at the age of 67, Des Barres is still as determined and focused as he ever been. With the release of a brand new studio recording entitled, ‘THE KEY TO THE UNIVERSE,’ the British rocker shows no signs of slowing down. ‘THE KEY TO THE UNIVERSE,’ is a well-crafted, dirty and raw sounding, 10-track release, with unapolgetically honest lyrics, backed by a powerful, hard-hitting veteran band.
What follows is an very unique and exclusive RMS interview with Michael Des Barres.
Rock Music Star: Michael, thank you for taking time out of your schedule and calling us here at Rock Music Star. Just out of curiousity, where are you calling from?
Michael Des Barres: Los Angeles. Where are you?
RMS: You’re calling me here in Buffalo, New York, where, believe it or not, although it’s already April, we’re getting snow right now.
MDB: Jesus. I’m out by my pool with three naked girls, who (of course) are back up singers. (Laughs)
RMS: (Laughs) In doing research for this interview, I have to say that you’ve had an interesting life and career.
RMS: You have a new CD out called ‘The Key to the Universe.’ Having had such a long and illustrious career, do you at all view this as the beginning of the end of your music career?
MDB: (Laughs) What an interesting and strange question. I don’t see life in those terms, my friend. It began with my mother birthing me, and it will end with me in the arms of Chuck Berry. What do you mean, “The beginning of the end?” What are you talking about?
RMS: You know, is this is the final chapter?
MDB: I’m not a book.
RMS: Okay, a lot of people tend to look at life that way.
MDB: Well, a lot of people voted for George Bush.
RMS: (Laughs) Yes, they did. They did it twice, too.
MDB: I don’t mean to appear harsh, but if you look at life like that, you’re fucked.
RMS: I see your point. But, let’s be honest, not many people your age are putting out hard rockin’ CDs like you just did.
MDB: Don’t think about age. How old are you?
RMS: I’m going to be 50 soon. I feel that time is ticking by and I need to achieve my lifelong goals before it’s too late.
MDB: I’m 67, and I’ve never felt better in my life. If you lock yourself into the idea of “Age,” Thomas- and I’m talking to you as a human being and a friend, not as a rock ‘n’ roller and journalist – you will forever be damned by that caricature of yourself. You are capable, at any age, to do whatever you want. There’s no time constraints or limits on your life. You can write your book, you can write your screenplay, you can fall in love, you can fuck forever. It’s up to you. If you ask me questions like “Beginning of the end,” and “You’re old, can you still do it?” These sorts of things are archaic thinking. They’re ancient thinking. I think Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, etc. have proved…B.B. King, at 80, can still play guitar. If Iggy can stand in the rubble of the apocalypse, I’ll be standing next to him. I don’t confine myself by character, that it’ll be over soon. If you think like that, guess what? It’ll be over soon. I have just given you a key to the universe. You should be very grateful.
RMS: I am. You are right on with the Jagger thing, because I can remember back when he was turning like, 35, everyone was saying, “Oh my God, how can you still do it at 35?” And now, it’s 35 years later, and they’re bigger than ever now.
MDB: Yeah, that’s my point. My point is, it is what you want it to be. You have power over your life. Don’t let the culture have power over you. So, write your book, Thomas. 50 is nothing. 50 is just a number. Surely, we’ve understood that. The facts are, I’ve been through heroin, I’ve been through Hell, I’ve been through Heaven. It’s part of your life experience. Wherever you are is perfect. (Laughs) I’m not being an airy-fairy, I’m just speaking from experience. I would say 80% of the guys and girls that I’ve worked with over the past 50 years that I’ve been doing this are dead. Now, that’s because they succumbed to that kind of thinking. Forgive me for being so brutally frank, but if you do think like that, you will end up like that. You know, I kicked heroin in ’81, so I had a jump, in terms of health and fitness, because I knew I wanted to play music, and I wanted to express myself. I think, the key for it to mean anything at all, is to strip away all the crap you’ve been taught, and just be your true, authentic self, and everything else will take care of itself. I’m a living example of that. I got a call, over summer, from a guy who said, “Come to Rome and make a rock ‘n’ roll record. Would you like that, Michael?” And I said, “Yes.” I was 66 at the time. So, if that tells you anything, and I hope it does, anything can happen. If you’re in the consciousness of success and self-expression, you will experience that, and you will be able to express yourself. It has nothing to do with age. Anything that happens to you – you determine.
RMS: Well, I appreciate your advice, but I don’t know if my readers are going to care about me. They care more about you.
MDB: But, you see, there you go again. What are we going to talk about? Jimmy Page? What do you want to talk about? What do you think your readers want to read?
RMS: Well, I think they want to hear about the new CD, and how you went about writing it, and what it was like working with Linda Perry.
MDB: Well then, ask me those questions. Your questions have been, “You’re old. What are you gonna do about it? This is the beginning of the end.” Those have been your two questions. Ask me a question I can answer, and I’ll answer it.
RMS: Okay. Well, let’s talk about the Linda Perry song that everybody seems to be hooked on right now.
MDB: It’s a great song. She’s an amazing writer. She’s got what I would describe as an authenticity to her. She’s got more rock ‘n’ roll in her little finger than anybody I’ve ever met. I’m a huge fan of hers. It’s an obsessive love song with a real dangerous, brutal groove to it, so we’d thought it’d be perfect. Nigel actually found it, he is a gentleman that used to be with Interscope records and he has a treasure trove of songs from which we took three for the album. This particular one – I worked with Linda in the past on different projects – this one just blew my mind. We connected on so many different levels. She’s a great artist, and people have responded to that. It’s just got a powerful sentiment to it. Everybody’s been through that, and I think that’s what your readers will relate to. It’s a very true feeling. When I wrote the song, “Obsession,” I didn’t realize it would have such an impact. But, it’s the same groove and the same idea – that addiction to someone, and I think that people can relate. Hit songs, if you can call them such, are about the human condition.
RMS: I think the video that goes along with it really takes the song to the next level; just to have that visual. I love the video.
MDB: It’s a good video. David Russo created it. I really enjoy hip-hop videos, because they seem to be more cinematic than rock ‘n’ roll videos, which I find kind of silly, really. There’s a story to it. It’s about one’s past, and living in the moment, and it’s about obsession. What could be better? What could be more rock ‘n’ roll than that?
RMS: Yeah, it’s great. The other song I want to discuss is, “I Want Love To Punch Me In The Face.” That’s another really powerful song.
MDB: Thank you. It’s about the idea that we are so immured by our failed relationships that we fall into a slumber (laughs), and need to be smacked in the head to wake up. And, that’s what it is – it’s just an alarm clock – the romantic rock ‘n’ roll. Wake up, look around, and love yourself, and others will love you too. Don’t be too disappointed by love. What’s it going to take? A punch in the face to wake you up? That’s really what it’s about.
RMS: What are your plans, besides doing the obvious press for this? Do you plan on taking the band out on the road?
MDB: We want to go on the road. It’s a great band. Clive Deamer on drums, from Robert Plant’s band, Jeff Beck, Radiohead, and Dani Robinson on guitar – just an unbelievable guitar player. He’s amazing. And, Nigel Harrison on bass. It’s just a three-piece rock ’n’ roll band going out there, giving it everything we’ve got. Very proud of the album, love those guys. Great producer. We want to play it live, and it looks like we will, because it’s getting so much airplay.
RMS: I would say, with it only being a few months into the year, it’s definitely the surprise release of the year.
MDB: Thank you.
RMS: I didn’t really expect to hear such a great, hard rock record from you – I hate to say it – but at this point in your career, it’s a real pleasant surprise as a rock music fan.
MDB: Yeah, I mean, I think it takes somebody like me. You see, that’s why I am going on about this ageism. Because, the thing is, there are very few people who even remember what that music was. Everybody loves Zeppelin, everybody loves the Stones. Everybody’s trying to replicate that without thinking authentically for themselves. I think that, being my age, and Nigel being his age – we’ve been writing songs for 40-odd years. They’re all the same. The way I sing, and the way we play is something that is diminishing. Why wouldn’t it come from me? I know there’s a 16-year-old in Detroit in his bedroom playing guitar, and he’s going to blow our minds. That I do know, because I have a daily radio show, myself. I know that those fans are out there. But, for some reason, the stars aligned, and we found the key. I’m so delighted by it, and thank you very much for observing what you’ve observed.
RMS: No problem. I just want to briefly go through some of the other bands that you’ve performed with over your career. Just briefly tell me some interesting facts about them.
MDB: Well, Silverhead was the first band. 1972. Glam-rock band based in London. The streets are paved with silk, with polka dots in the air. We were degenerate and created havoc wherever we went, and it imploded. Second band was Detective on Swan Song. Jimmy Page was a friend of mine. He dated my wife, Miss Pamela, the queen of the groupies. He loved Silverhead, we became acquainted, and signed my band, Detective to Swan Song. It was a great experience. It was a drug-ridden blessing and a curse to be with the mighty Zeppelin.
Many stories to be told. Two great albums. Chequered Past was with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. In 1977, I went to San Francisco to see the Pistols gig, and I realized the jig was up, and I wanted to do that. I wanted short, sweet, minimal powerful songs. We became friends, and we got that band together with Nigel on bass, Clem Burke from Blondie on drums, and Tony Sales from Tin Machine on guitar.
And then, Power Station. Robert Palmer dropped out because he didn’t really want to go to that young, teenaged audience. He didn’t think that he could pull that off, live. Chequered Past had supported Duran Duran and they remembered me from that. They asked me if I’d join. I willingly said, “Yes.” Within 10 days of saying, “Yes,” I was on stage at Live Aid, which was an experience in itself. So, that band was really fun. Six months; short and sweet. Every rock star obsessed about private jets. I’ve been in private jets. After Power Station, then I got Murdoc, and did “MacGyver” for the next six years, and I just killed people on TV for the next 20 years. And, so, here I am, with the key to the universe.
RMS: Now, back to what you said earlier about heroin addiction. You said you kicked it in 1981.
RMS: How difficult was it, playing in the bands like Chequered Past and Power Station after that, with all of that temptation?
MDB: That’s a great question; a smart question. It was an underscoring, rather than a temptation. If you can imagine being in a private jet with two of the most famous people in the world, which was Andy and John Taylor from Duran Duran – if you recall; if you’re 50, you probably do – how huge they were. Biggest band on the planet. The access, without being too graphic, was very excessive, and very isolated. Instead of tempting me, they underscored that what I was doing was the right thing. I was out running with the bodyguards in the morning, and they hadn’t slept for three nights.
So, I remember doing that when I was their age, but it almost reinforced the idea that what I was doing was, shall we say, healthier. It was better for me – they could do whatever they like. But, I think it’s no surprise to tell you that they’re both sober today. I got them into sort of a healthy way of having fun and enjoying the romance and drama of rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe, talking about it wasn’t the coolest thing in the world. Cocaine and that nonsense. With Jonesy – I loved him so much – when he was so strung out, I just wanted to be there for him, because there’s nothing you can do. Did it tempt me? Absolutely not, because I saw him in agony, or I saw him nodding out. Either way, neither of these things I saw as attractive. So, it was not like any temptation, it was a reinforcement that what I was doing was healthier for me.
RMS: Back to Live Aid; that’s still one of the biggest concerts ever performed in the history of music. How much of a buzz was it, playing in front of that many people at such a prestigious concert, and how long did it take you to come down from playing in front of all of those people?
MDB: When I first got in a band, I went up, and I haven’t come down since (laughs). So, it wasn’t just that day. That day obviously was incredible. I mean, everybody was there; we all stayed in the same hotel. Talk about access. But, it was a difficult day, because it was so immensely overpowering that I learned a big lesson, which was it was never going to be as overwhelming as this, and everything after that would be easy.
You’re playing for two billion people, and your peers, which is even more intimidating, because you’ve got Bob Dylan in the wings. So, you better deliver the goods. For me, it was interesting, because I had only had a few days of rehearsal with them. So, there was all that going on. I was under immense pressure to remember the fucking words. That alone – and Keith Richards is looking at me. So, it was a day that I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I could do that, and I had the courage to do that. Not only that, but I had a lot of fun, and that’s what it’s all about.
RMS: And you were satisfied with your performance? You didn’t look back and say, “Oh, I wish I would have done that differently?”
MDB: No. You see, the thing is, the way I live my life is, I never look back. What can I do about it? “Oh boy, I wish I hadn’t tripped and fallen into the audience.” Well, no shit. I didn’t do that, but it’s possible. If you look back at a mistake, there’s nothing you can do. You must go forward. Stay in the moment, and see what’s next.
RMS: Absolutely. Not to beat the dead horse on this, but, back to your heroin addiction. How did you get involved in heroin? What led you to experiment with heroin, to begin with?
MDB: The culture. The culture was so… it was part of your growth to do drugs. It was like getting the right lyrics to a song. It was in the 70s, and 60s, because I did that movie in ’66 with Sidney Poitier. London was an opium field with glitter on it. It was part of the experimentation that made you into a rock ‘n’ roll artist at that time, and I bought into that. By the time I became addicted, it was too late. You know what I mean? I was now psychotic behind it. So, the further you take the experimentation, the more horror of drug addiction. But, I had good friends around me, and they suggested that, perhaps, this is not the right path for me. I’ve always been an excessive person in everything. But, I just transmuted everything into health and fitness, and trying to create a life for me and my family that, shall we say, I was present for.
RMS: A lot of people can’t kick it. Once they get involved with it, that’s pretty much it.
MDB: Well, they can function. But, when they hit their 60’s, their bodies are so wrecked, that they die. I mean, look what happened in the past couple of months – Joe Cocker, Jack Bruce. All people in their mid 60’s, which is what I am. But, I quit so early that, God willing, I’ll live to 200 and make rock ‘n’ roll albums.
RMS: I hope so, also.
MDB: Aw, thank you.
RMS: I really appreciate your time. That was a really great interview. Thanks for going off the cuff a bit and giving me some advice on life; I appreciate that.
MDB: Forgive my presumptuousness, but, what I hear in your voice is something that I dealt with, which is, hitting 50 is a hard and difficult experience for everyone. But, you can really, really get through it, and do what you want. Don’t be trapped by it. That’s all I would say, Thomas. Again, forgive my presumptuousness. It is not my place to give you advice, but certainly my experience.
RMS: Well, I do appreciate that. Hopefully, you’ll get on the road and play in Buffalo, and we can go jogging or something.
MDB: Fuck yeah! You’ll be front row center, mate.
For more on Michael Des Barres, please click here. “THE KEY TO THE UNIVERSE” is available now via FOD Records at iTunes and Amazon.
Special thanks to Aaron Feterl for setting up this interview. Also, thank you to Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.