From British nobility to chic schoolboy to glam rocker to actor addict and everything in between, Michael Des Barres has lived more than his fair share of life – an existence perhaps best exemplified by his 1983 hit, “Obsession.”
rolling stone has an exclusive acoustic performance of the song Friday, an outtake from Des Barres’ recent documentary, Michael Des Barres: Who do you want me to be?, directed by J. Elvis Weinstein.
“That clip was supposed to be the climax – which is my favorite word – of the movie,” says Des Barres rolling stone. “That was removed to the director’s great annoyance. The song whose chorus is ‘Who do you want me to be?’ is also the name of the movie – [which is about] all these different characters I personified to live a very funky and spectacular life. The song itself was a huge hit all over the world.”
Written by Des Barres and Holly Knight, “Obsession” began when it was covered by the band Animotion in 1984; it hit Number six on the Billboard Hot 100. “I wrote it when I quit narcotics; it was about drugs, but I decided to turn it into a romantic obsession, since the 1980s were obsessed with just about everything: shoulder pads and coke,” says Des Barres. “It was relevant then and always will be, but this acoustic version has a much more personal feel to it.”
The actor/artist says the song fits the film well, as it followed his journey from the son of a showgirl and disgraced nobleman (Des Barres is the 26th Marquis Des Barres) to his first attempt at acting as a child up to his decision to start making music, which started with his first band, Silverhead. Des Barres has had his fair share of battles with drugs and infidelity, but he ended up with a diverse catalog of music and over a hundred roles in TV and film – from MacGyver until 1967 To gentleman with love.
“The real thrust of that documentary is someone who never gives up, who went through the whole journey,” says Des Barres. “Who do you want me to be?” is a protective phrase in terms of saving my ass in whatever situation I might be in. I would go into it and become what was needed. That journey ended with me being sober and creative and not being a member of Club 27.”
Des Barres says he didn’t watch the film – which premiered on streaming in July – until it was finished; even then he preferred to do it alone. “I would have killed the entire audience if they didn’t like it,” he says with a laugh. “So I snuck into a movie theater while I was making a movie at Paramount. Imagine sitting in the front row of an empty theater watching the movie with my fingers crossed. Nevermind my fingers – everything was crossed. My eyes! I cried at the right times and laughed at the others. It was amazing. I didn’t have to shoot anyone.”
As for what the jack-of-all-trades does during quarantine, Des Barres says he’s been busy making music and hosting his weekday radio show, The Michael Des Barres Program, at Little Steven’s Underground Garage (5am to 8am and 9pm to midnight PT). He is also on Stevie Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records and covered ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by the Sex Pistols with Van Zandt in May.
“I’ve been around the world a hundred times, you know…or maybe eight times,” Des Barres said of the lockdown. “So it’s not like I’m looking for anything. All I’m looking for is… I like being on the radio. I love music. My socializing has turned into solitary affairs, which is important because I’ve been able to dig deeper into who the fuck I am.”
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