Permanent Damage: Memoirs Of An Outrageous Girl by Mercy Fontenot (BOOK REVIEW)

It’s kind of amazing how fifty-two years ago an album was released by a group of non-professional girls who liked to hang out with rock stars, and made no other albums, yet their names are still known to the rock & roll world. Thanks in part to Frank Zappa, the GTO’s – the infamous Girls Together Outrageously – recorded an album that featured Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Lowell George, Nicky Hopkins and Zappa himself, then went about their lives as pleasuring muses. We know Pamela Des Barres’ story already via her bestselling I’m With The Band. Now it’s time to learn Mercy Fontenot’s version.

Known as Miss Mercy, she was the resident “freaky girl” with the gypsy clothes and layers of black eyeliner. After numerous near-deaths and sketchy lifestyles, she was finally convinced to put her story to paper in 2017, working with Lyndsey Parker. And although it was eventually completed, Mercy would not live to see it published, passing away on July 27, 2020, at the age of 71, having stayed true to her free spirit to the very end.

Permanent Damage: Memoirs Of An Outrageous Girl, published on June 9th, is full of stories, the ultimate tale of sex, drugs, rock & roll, rape, violence, homelessness, fun, parties, lovers, and independence. “I’ve endured things that should have killed anybody,” Mercy describes in her prologue. “I’ve ingested every drug imaginable. I’ve had guns pointed at my head, needles poked in my arms. I’ve lived on the streets. I’ve gambled away much of whatever nest egg I once had.” In the end, she cleaned up, held a steady job, helped her loyal friend Pamela with her dying mother and tried to repair the broken relationship with her son Lucky. 

From page one, you are enveloped by Mercy’s straightforward, honest personality and you don’t feel like you’re simply reading another musical soap opera. She hooks you immediately and you laugh with her at her goofyness, drop your mouth to the floor when she casually mentions that her second husband beat her so bad he had broken all the bones in the side of her face, and envy her hangs with Robert Plant and Jimi Hendrix. The words flow like she’s right there telling them to you herself and the 208 pages fly by in no time. 

But what I’m sure you’re really wanting to know is, who are the big names that crossed her path. It was the sixties, come on, everyone saw everyone in those days, hanging out at the same San Francisco and LA clubs. You could simply hop over to someone’s house to score and run into Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. Alice Cooper and Rod Stewart were at Zappa’s studio. At 15, Mercy went to a Rolling Stones concert and saw Keith Richards get electrocuted onstage. Afterwards, she went with her friends to the Stones hotel and ended up sitting in Brian Jones’ room. All innocent fun. But the times, at least for Mercy, were not always like that. 

She scored heroin from the same dealer on the same night Janis Joplin overdosed. “After Janis died, you would’ve thought I’d have some sort of holy shit epiphany;” instead, “everybody could’ve dropped dead around me – and a lot of people did eventually, like Jimi and Gram – and it wouldn’t faze me. All I thought about was getting high, high, higher.” The drugs consumed her. Zappa, who had “zero desire to be affiliated with drug users, period,” following Mercy’s arrest severed his ties to her, to the group, to the album they had made. “I had ruined it for everyone.” And yet Mercy kept going deeper into the rabbit hole for most of her life. “I was leading such a dual life – a homeless crack addict by day who partied with celebrities at Ice-T’s joint by night.” 

I don’t think Mercy wanted people to feel sorry for her or pity her when she agreed to share her stories. It was simply HER life as she lived it. Even being known as a groupie didn’t faze her as she was more interested in being close to the music, not necessarily the naked musician; although she actively pursued Al Green, Shuggie Otis and Love’s Arthur Lee. “I never thought I would die young and leave a good-looking corpse,” Mercy announced early in the book. She felt it was finally her mission “to share some important music history with the world.” It may not all have been love and flowers and butterflies, Mercy’s version, but she certainly doesn’t lose your attention while the words are in your hands.

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2 Responses

  1. Mercy lives in the broken hearts of all of us who knew and ADORED her!
    In fact, a little of Miss Mercy lives in every broken heart…
    We do love you, Darling Lady, forever and EVER!!! <3 <3 <3

  2. I knew Miss Mercy in the Haight and I photographed her along with some other Hippies. In ’68 when I went to L.A. I met her again, along with the GTO’s, and was invited to Zappas house in Laurel Cyn. It was a great house, once owned by the cowboy star Tom Mix, and had this great tree on the side of the house with a circular staircase that came out of the first floor, curved around the tree and went into the second floor. I photographed Miss Christine, Miss Mercy and Moon Unit together at the Hollywood writers house, A.I. Bezzerdies’, in Woodland Hills. Later I photographed some of the GTO’s but never got all of them together for a group photo.

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