The England-born, L.A.-based Michael Des Barres is a lovable cad and a hilarious scoundrel. The man is a walking performance — part Oscar Wilde, part Keith Richards. He’s an actor and a musician, and he sees both sides of his career as one big slab of performance art. Frankly, he’s a one-of-a-kind rocker.
We spoke to Des Barres while firefighters were still trying to get control of Malibu. That sobering dose of reality puts a lot of things into perspective for everyone, Des Barres included.
“I spent decades on those beaches, both immoral and moral,” he says. “I came here to marry Miss Pamela in 1970-whatever it was. I’ve just got a lot of friends [there]. Not only famous friends — fire doesn’t care who it fucks up.”
Des Barre’s career is storied, to say the least. He made a name with the glam groups Silverhead and Detective, as well as the supergroup Chequered Past (featuring members of Blondie, the Sex Pistols and Tin Machine), before replacing Robert Palmer in The Power Station just in time to perform at Live Aid.
“The night was way more interesting because we all stayed in the same hotel,” Des Barres says. “You can imagine. It was hilarious. I was sitting on a couch with Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Don Johnson, and everybody was coked out of their heads. Except me, I’d been sober since ’81 so I could see what was happening. All their shades were a little askew. The nervousness before the show was fascinating. I didn’t have time to get nervous — I’d only been with them for three days. Robert Palmer dropped out and I came in. The only photograph I’ve got of it is my laughing my ass off at the absurdity of it.”
“If rock & roll stands for anything
Music, Des Barres says, is his priority. But he’s known for so much more. For starters, he’s the ex-husband of celebrated author, actress and socialite Pamela Des Barres. He’s also a successful actor, having appeared in movies such as Ghoulies and Mulholland Drive, and TV shows like MacGyver, on which he was a regular.
In fact, he’s been appearing on the recent MacGyver reboot, too. But music remains his No. 1 passion. He has a popular show on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM, which allows him to hear a lot of new rock & roll music. And he’s just formed a new band — The Mistakes.
“I’m playing at the Redwood Bar — the first gig of The Mistakes, which is the greatest name for a band in the history of rock & roll in my humble opinion,” he says. “That’s where the magic is, when you fuck it up. The Mistakes are an unabashed rock & roll band. We are very loud, and we make lots of mistakes.”
He’s right, of course. Rock & roll is at its best when it’s sloppy — raw and authentic. Not too polished. Des Barres says he has felt this way since seeing the Pistols in San Francisco back in the day.
“I saw The Ramones at the Roxy too, and I had the same feeling,” he says. “That minimalistic feel. You can’t teach feel. ‘Ever feel like you’ve been cheated,’ Sid picking up the money — it’s all so iconic. That is classically what I’m attempting here with The Mistakes. Not that in any way I think The Mistakes are going to be the biggest band in the world, by the way. That’s got nothing to do with it.”
It’s been a while since Des Barres has had a band of his own, so one has to wonder, why now?
“I’m 70 and I weigh the same that I did when I was 19 on a Jagger level,” Des Barres says with unabashed vanity. “I think that has to be seen as what it is. I want to represent vitalogy, power, strength and energy. And engagement. And do away with all the ageism in rock & roll. Because what you’re seeing out there is people snuffing it, or sitting on the couch with the remote control, sort of medicated, which is even worse. I have a lot of energy, and I want to express it the same way I did when I was 19, and that’s why I’m doing it. Also, having something that is so potent as rock & roll on your mind and body is the source of vitality in some perverse way. It’s like going to the gym, but it’s a rock & roll gym. Three chords, not three sit-ups.”
As far as Des Barres is concerned, he’s doing The Mistakes at the perfect time, coinciding with a great renaissance of garage and punk rock in Los Angeles.
“I love The Regrettes, but I really love the trashy stuff — Glitter Trash and all of that,” he says. “When you get up there and it’s so rehearsed and so refined, it loses its soul. It’s revolutionary in the fact that there is an LGBTQ vibe about it, which I think is the most important thing happening on the rock & roll level. People must accept new archetypes, otherwise they’ll drift into conservatism and die. If rock & roll stands for anything, it’s chaos, anarchy, danger, experimentation and commitment.”
Michael Des Barres and The Mistakes perform at the Redwood Bar on Friday, Nov. 30, and the man himself says we can expect a career-spanning set.
“The Silverhead songs I’m grateful to because people love them,” he says. “So I’ll do a handful of Silverhead songs. I owe it to people who like me to do songs they know. Although I am doing some covers that will shock people.”
Ultimately, Des Barres will do what he wants. Whatever kind of music he’s playing, that’s the definition of punk rock.
“My thing has always been, I’m on TV and I have the confidence to do that — does that mean that I’m not a punk? Not chaotic? Not anarchic? Fuck off,” he says. “I can do whatever I want, and I always have. If I want to be on fucking ALF, and I’m acting with a sock, you can say anything you like to me and it’s all water off my back. I’ve done it on a Frank Sinatra level — My Way.”
Michael Des Barres and The Mistakes play with The Hellflowers and Electric Children at 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30, at the Redwood Bar.