July 28, 2017
At vocabulary.com, the word Rebel is described as “someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action,” and I was dead chuffed (as they say in jolly olde England) to read the paragraph that followed:
“A rebel is someone who fights authority. The story of a rebel often finds its way into books and movies. In the 1950s film "Rebel without a Cause," a teenager rebels against his parents.”
You don’t say.
The breakout star of this classic 1955 film was James Dean, and even though he was killed in a head on collision in his wicked new silver Porsche on California Highway 446 before the film was released, (on his way to compete in a race) he almost immediately came to represent the character he portrayed in Rebel – someone who didn't fit in, who later realized he didn’t want to.
I had just turned nine when I was trying to fall asleep in my parents’ ’48 Ford, my head in my mama’s lap, my feet in daddy’s, when the announcer on the radio broke through a Sinatra song to say that James Dean had died. “Oh, how sad,” my mom said as I sat straight up and asked, “Who is James Dean?” Lo, these many years later I’m still asking myself that same question. He died so young he’s still a mystery, but he dared to show us the flat-out truth during his brief shining career.
I became obsessed with Dean and Elvis right around the same time, very prepubescent and already supremely curious about the opposite sex. My first record was Jailhouse Rock, the flip side, (love that old timey term) was Treat Me Nice, which set me on my determined groupie path. When Elvis performed on the Ed Sullivan show and had to be cropped at the waist for his blatant hip-swiveling, I somehow knew the fairly untraveled road I’d set for myself would be a fascinating one. Elvis was fearless and didn’t hold back because he couldn’t. James Dean didn’t know how to fake it either. It’s no surprise that Elvis had every word of all three Dean films memorized and when he’d spout a line of dialogue, his minions had to know the next line or else!
Back in those long ago days, in order to see one of Dean’s three films I’d often have to set my alarm at 3 AM, crawl out of my cozy bed, flip my TV switch and swoon all by myself in the darkened living room, waiting waiting waiting for Jimmy to kiss Natalie wood on the mouth. “I love somebody,” she said, and so did I. It never seemed like play-acting. He may have memorized his lines, but his spirit tore up the screen and set it aflame. I compared all the boys in my neighborhood to Dean, poor fellows, and they never measured up. How could someone be so misunderstood, so hot, so cool, so dead?
James Dean died beautiful and forever young, solidifying his eternal rebellious angst within the aching hearts of millions of teenagers -- which continues to this day. I’m on an airplane right now, headed once again to the tiny town Fairmount, Indiana, where Dean was raised by his aunt and uncle when his mother died. I’m speaking at the annual James Dean Fan’s Weekend, all about my (almost) lifelong adoration for the first rebel who turned my soul inside out. I’ve even been known to lay down on his grave at dusk and commune with his spirit.
Both Elvis and James Dean were mavericks of the first order. Breaking established rules, changing music forever, changing acting forever. Elvis couldn’t control the sensuality that oozed out of every pore, and Dean’s vulnerability made it OK for men to FEEL; to reveal true emotions, to let it rip, whatever the cost. Not only did these rule busters challenge the status quo, they trampled it flat and kicked open the doors for the rest of us, because of who they were. They had no other option.
I’m not daring to compare myself to these two, but I was mightily inspired by their bravery and brilliance. As most of you know, I was already in a long-term romance with music, and always will be. In 1966 I was too young to get into Ciro’s nightclub on Sunset (a joint that Dean had frequented) and along with a few other Byrds fans, was hanging around the backstage door, when I had a sudden realization. I was just a closed door away from my favorite band! As the other girls gawked, I strode to the double doors facing the Strip and stood there, trembling. Through the opening, I could hear the Byrds tuning up, playing a snippet of Dylan’s Tambourine Man. And despite my loudly pounding heart, I knocked. The door opened and I was invited backstage by Jim McGuinn, the jingle jangle Rickenbacker man himself. He handed me a joint, but I passed it along to the bass player, Chris Hillman, who smiled at me. The term Groupie hadn’t even been dreamt up yet, but I was on my merry way.
Hey Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me. In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you… Bob Dylan
Of course, the man who wrote those words was quite a spectacular rebel himself, but I’ll save that story for another blog.
by Miss P
Comment and join the conversation
August 09, 2017
That you approached a closed door despite your fear, realizing you could make the door open, is the heart of rebellion. Way to go, Pamela Des Barres!
July 29, 2017
I’m so glad you knocked! Some who are called rebels are indeed an inspiration to others. I love your spirit. I love your writing. And I love that you love music so much.
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