Whenever I decide to embark on travels through Europe, London is usually not the city of my choice. I never really connected with this place before. This time it will be different.
Friday, November 11th
Today I travel to London for a reason. Pamela des Barres, who was lucky enough to be born into the vivid and glowing L.A. of the 1960s and was a companion to many rock stars of that time, is holding a writing workshop there this weekend.
Many people would probably use the word ‘groupie’ to describe Pamela. I don’t. I avoid this word wherever possible, to me it sounds insulting and pejorative.
It’s so often used for women who simply enjoy being around artists and to converse with them – a desire I understand very well.
It’s a word that emerged in a time when women were still seen as people of second class a little bit, as people who have no own desires, dreams and wishes to themselves. (Of course we still battle with that in many different ways, but we achieved a lot of improvements regarding feminist matters since then). Those “groupies” were women who didn’t want to lead that cliché 50s housewife life and much rather went out, met interesting people and lived their life to the fullest.
Pamela was always doing exactly what she wanted with whoever she wanted. To me, that’s actually a very feminist thing to do!
I really enjoyed reading her biographies, her stories of the time most of us wish to have experienced, so my main motive to participate in her writing workshop was to actually meet her in person and to talk to her. The writing aspect came as a second. (Even though it became way more important over the weekend, but I come to that later).
It’s shortly after 6pm when I arrive at Heathrow Airport. Pretty exhausted I make my way to Bethnal Green where I’m staying in a cheap apartment. It’s a little shabby and the heating doesn’t work, but I’m just glad to finally have a bed.
Saturday, November 12th
My apartment is right around the corner of Brick Lane, so I decide to walk down the street and then have breakfast somewhere.
I do a little shopping, vinyl, books, clothes, so many treasures to find here.
I’m in this state where you’ve slept a little too much and you’re completely lost in your own head and everything that happens in the outside world reaches your thinking process with a little delay.
I wander around, smelling the damp of Bangladeshi food mingling with the metallic smell of the rain that is pouring lightly onto the cobbled streets of the back alleys.
When I reach the end of Brick Lane I head into a little coffee shop, order a huge cup of black coffee and sink into a sofa in the back of the room, really looking forward to flick through the books and the records I bought.
Before I do so I check the details of the location of Miss Pamela’s writing workshop again.
And I’m glad that I did.
Last time I checked, it said that it was supposed to start at 7pm and go until 23pm, but suddenly it says 12 – 4 pm. I glance at my phone. It’s already ten past 12.
I jump up and run, run, run to my apartment to collect my stuff and get changed. Suddenly Brick Lane seems very long.
I arrive at The Islington (where the workshop is taking place) at shortly past 2pm.
At first I feel a little guilty for being late, thinking that all the bonding had already taken place and now I’m the one awkwardly crashing the party.
There are 9 other women besides me and Miss Pamela. Most of them live in London, but many hail from different countries, Italy, Canada, Switzerland…
I introduce myself and then we get told to start with the next writing exercise: to write about someone who changed our life.
That’s a tough one. I kind of think that almost every person I’ve ever met changed my life somehow. Some significantly, some not so. But still, like even the person who stops you at the tube station to ask for some change could make you miss your train which could then lead to something that changed your whole day, maybe even your whole life. I think about that a lot, how everything we are and everything we experience during our life is just a collision of billions of coincidences. Out of all the possibilities of what could have happened, this happened.
But for the writing activity I decide to hide my constant urge for philosophical ramblings and instead go for my first love. A classic! I write about how he saw my soul burn, before anyone else did.
Pamela’s touched. “Now I’m really glad you made it here today!”
Sunday, November 13th
It’s so warm in the morning sun I decide to have my first coffee outside. I take off my coat and still feel warm while the bright sun beams are tickling the pores of my skin.
I’m really in the mood for writing today.
Our first task at Pamelas Writing Class today is to write about a situation where we thought “this is the end of the world”, but it actually turned out to be for the best.
I write about the homesickness I suffered from during the first weeks of my student exchange.
Pamela says that she likes my ‚passionate‘ writing. “It’s so… sweet”, she says. “Well, people have called it cheesy”, I reply. “Well, fuck them! Those are the people you don’t need to listen to.”
Now we get told to write about a missed opportunity.
I write that I think I can proudly say that I don’t really have any missed opportunities in my life.
I have always been very, very impulsive, very much living in the moment, not really thinking much into the future, except when I worried about it, which often boosted my impulsive behavior even more. When I look back at my life it’s full of decisions I made and people trying to make me feel about them.
Teachers and classmates predicting that I’d never bring it to much in life, because I spent my Tuesday nights going to gigs instead of studying and spent mornings sleeping off my hangover instead of showing up in school.
“You can catch that band next time”, my dad used to say. But what if there’s no next time? And why should I wait when every fiber in my body wants to see that band and not the condescending look of my chemistry teacher, because I failed the exam again? Who says anyway that life is about college degrees, careers and money? I definitely don’t. For me it’s about people and connecting with them and yourself, especially when gathering around music.
I know what makes me happy and other people probably know too, but wouldn’t dare to lead a life offside the norm.
“That was very, very wise”, Pamela says. “And you’re only 23”.
It’s easy to be wise on paper though, to be wise in retrospective. It’s so weird how most of the time you know exactly what would be best for you, but you still don’t go for it. I guess most people much rather have control over their misery than surrender to the uncontrollability of their happiness.
Pamela tells us that her English teacher once wrote “I dare you to write” on one of her reports. I add her on my list of people who got told they couldn’t do whatever they aspired to do, but did it anyway.
It’s such a pleasure to listen to the stories the other girls write.
They’re all so inspiring and diverse personalities.
I simply love people.
After the workshop I roam through London.
I need to buy a new bag, because the one I have now is falling apart.
There’s a shop close to my apartment, the guy who works there is really cool. We sing Elvis songs and dance to the Stones.
I come home late. Can’t sleep. I get up again, leave the house and wander around, aimlessly. Then I remember that Hare Row is close by. It’s the little alley where The Libertines filmed their music video to “Up the Bracket”. I stop by. It’s dark, I’m on my own and the guys who stood in the front of the pub next to Hare Row suddenly turn silent. It’s definitely more pleasant in the daytime. I leave soon
Monday, November 14th
I change my apartment today and move to a place close to Shadwell.
Pamela is doing a reading of her new book at the Islington today.
I arrive there at 7pm. Tolpuddle street is a little reminiscent of Haight Ashbury in the 1960s tonight. People dressed in velvet jackets and a pair of flares pilger towards the Islington. I feel out of place clad in black and with my big leather jacket on.
Pamela starts her reading. I love how she’s talking to the crowd, but I can’t stay until the end of the reading. I have tickets to see Marching Church at the Victoria in Dalston.
I arrive there and realize that this is way more where I belong, surrounded by shy kids in leather jackets and eyes lusting for dark rock n roll music.
I watch the band, they’re very, very good.
While I’m observing Elias, the singer, on stage I remember how I left Pamela’s reading during the chapter in which she talks about the Lizard King and it’s like her words turned into reality now. It’s not that I’m comparing Elias to Jim Morrison, but he definitely has a very weird and mesmerizing stage persona that never fails to excite the crowd he’s playing to.
I talk to Elias and the boys and the boys for a couple of minutes after the gig.
I was never quite sure if he’s just acting or if he’s really the strange, withdrawn person he appears to be. Now I guess it’s the latter.
Tuesday, November 15th
Another apartment change today. I move to a hostel in Brixton that looks like a wicked castle.
It’s close to the venue where I’m gonna see The Growlers tonight, finally. They have been one of my favourite bands for a long time, but I’ve never got round to seeing them live. I wish I’d seen them before they became “big”.
The dude who works at the hostel is pretty awesome, we talk about the Growlers, he’s already seen them a couple of times and promises me that they’re gonna be very good.
I spend the day strolling around the city until it’s time to get ready for the gig.
I arrive at Brixton Academy early, buy a drink and go up to the front of the stage. Suddenly the girl next to me turns around.
“What’s your favourite Growlers song?”
Her name is Katie, she introduces me to her friend Ella and we share our excitement for the show.
The DJ brings the perfect vibes, with his mix of Cali Burger Records Bands and English Punk Rock.
“Do you like David Bowie?”, Katie asks me.
We decide to have a smoke on the balcony, where we meet lots of other nice people:
“What’s your favourite Growlers song?”, Katie asks them.
Naked Kids wins again.
“Do you like David Bowie?”
We head back inside the venue. As soon as the band arrives on stage the place goes mental.
The setlist is very much focused on the new album City Club, which disappoints me a little, cause it’s my least favourite. I still enjoy the show though.
After the show Katie, Ella and me try to meet the band. While we’re looking for them we meet two guys from Birmingham who have the same goal.
After a while we see the band outside the venue.
The girls are shouting at them
“Brooks please love me!”
“If you don’t talk to me I’ll kill myself!”
She’s probably joking, however there’s nothing in her voice or behavior that would suggest so
“That’s probably why they’re not playing England that much”, says one of the boys.
Those guys have a captivating craziness about them which makes them fun to be around with. They’re like characters in a British TV show.
The band comes over to us. They look at us as if we were crazy. Can’t blame them.
There’s something so tremendously opposed between Americans and the British. Two worlds colliding, always.
We go to the pub with the band. Brooks is very different to what I’ve guessed he’d be like. I’ve always imagined him to be more the Californian slacker kind of guy, but he’s actually really eccentric and interesting. Even though I’m stirred by his intriguing personality, tonight I feel no desire to talk to him. I much rather stay with my new English pals. It has such a soothing, comforting effect on me, dancing to the Libertines, Jamie T. and The Smiths. There’s something so exceedingly British about that and I feel like this is exactly what my last night here should be about.
Wednesday, November 16th
After way too less sleep and a crushing hangover I meet up with Ella, Katie and the boys for breakfast.
Brixton feels like our own island.
Again its incredibly warm outside, the sun is throwing a lovely glint over the brick buildings on Effer Road.
We eat and talk about everything that happened last night.
Katie is especially enthusiastic.
“I wonder if Brooks likes David Bowie”…