Mercy Fontenot was a zelig who grew up in the San Francisco Haight Ashbury scene, where she crossed paths with Charles Manson, went to the first Acid Test, was friends with Jimi Hendrix (she was later in his movie Rainbow Bridge) and married Shuggie Otis with whom she had a son, Lucky.
Permanent Damage: Memoirs of An Outrageous Girl, written just prior to her death in 2020 with veteran music journalist Lyndsey Parker, fearlessly shows us the anything-goes world of the 1960s and 1970s music scene through Miss Mercy's eyes, as well as the fallout of that era--experiencing homelessness before sobering up and putting her life back together. Miss Mercy’s journey is a can’t miss for anyone who was there and can’t remember, or just wishes they’d been there. Pre-order the book here.
Miss Mercy’s work in the GTOs, the Frank Zappa-produced all-female band who released their debut album PERMANENT DAMAGE in 1969 on his Straight Records label, launched her into the pages of Rolling Stone that same year. Her adventures saw her jumping out of a cake at Alice Cooper’s first record release party, while high on PCP, and had her travel to Memphis where she met Al Green and got a job working for the Bar-Kays. Along the way, she married and then divorced the above-mentioned Shuggie Otis, before transitioning to punk rock and working with the Rockats and Gears. This is her story as she lived and saw it.
Here are 10 gems from Permanent Damage: Memoirs of An Outrageous Girl:
● Charles Manson: “One time in the Victorian [in San Francisco] I shared with Ricky [Prescott, her childhood friend] I could hear Charles Manson in the adjacent room, talking to a black guy about the ‘blood wars’ that would soon erupt due to all the racial unrest in the world.”
● Janis Joplin: “I was with Janis Joplin’s drug dealer the night she died...He wanted to test the smack on me, basically use me as his guinea pig. Naturally, I was up for the task. But as soon as he shot me up, I knew something had gone very wrong...Neither of us knew at the time that Janis would overdose from this same batch of heroin.”
● Rolling Stones/Altamont: “About three days before the Rolling Stones’ infamous, disastrous Altamont Festival, where the Flying Burrito Brothers also performed, Pamela [Des Barres] and I went to see Gram play a solo gig at the Corral Club in Topanga Canyon. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also there…One thing led to another, and we all jumped in a limousine at the end of the night and went over to Peter Tork’s house. I had my tarot cards with me, and for some dumb reason decided I was going to do a reading for the Stones…The whole read-out was an utter tragedy…I read Keith and Gram’s cards next, and it was same alarming result. Just no, no, no—'no’ was the one word going through my mind. All of the tarot cards looked horrible...But I decided not to tell them what I saw since I wasn’t going to be able to change their minds about going through with it anyway...everybody knows what happened at Altamont, when the violence broke out and the Hells Angels who’d been hired to be security guards stabbed that poor kid Meredith Hunter to death. Four people ultimately died that day—along with, many have said, the 1960s.”
● The Go-Go’s: “I wanted to put some funk into the punk. I spent all my time trying to educate these young punk people. I would tell them, ‘You’re playing shit…I remember being over at X’s house with Belinda Carlisle, and I handed Belinda a list of black songs that I thought the Go-Go’s should cover, and one of them was ‘Cool Jerk’ by the Capitols. They ended up recording it a few years later.”
● “Miracle Max”/Dr. Feelgood: “Once I traveled with Jobriath [70s glam rock musician] to New York, and he and the guy who cowrote Hair, James Rado, took me to meet Max Jacobson—a.k.a. ‘Miracle Max or ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ or the inspiration for the Beatles’ ‘Doctor Robert,’ who had been President Kennedy’s doctor. Max had been tied up with all these celebrities—Edie Sedgwick, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Eddie Fisher, Judy Garland, Thelonious Monk, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Tennessee Williams…Perhaps it speaks volumes about my tolerance level that a shot from the infamous Dr. Feelgood made me feel almost nothing. But I took a second shot that day, this one administered by Max’s nurse, and she booted me—what that means is, she shot me up, drew the blood back out through the syringe, and then she shot me again, so it was like shooting up twice, a two-for-one special. That’s how crazy this scene was. That rock ’n’ roll nurse had holes all over her arms.”
● Chuck Berry: “Chuck Berry was playing a concert with Johnny Otis at Disneyland, and I went with Shuggie and the Otis family to see the show. Before we set off, I gulped down a handful of pharmaceutical pills—Valiums, whatever I could find…I most likely had sex with Chuck that night, but I can’t be sure because I was so out of my mind on pills that it’s all a blur…So…about that bucket. Chuck Berry was known for certain bathroom fetishes and peeping-Tom behavior, for which he got in big, big trouble later. After we finished doing whatever we did in his trailer, he informed me, ‘I’m going to take a photo of you because I always take pictures of the women I have sex with.’ So obviously we must have had sex, even if I don’t remember it. Anyway, I let him take a naked Polaroid. I don’t know where that photograph is now. I’d actually like to see it. Then he said, ‘Would you do me another favor? I’m going to hand you a bucket. I would like you to go to the bathroom and take a shit while I watch.’ At the time, I thought Chuck’s request was odd, but I was probably too fucking high to process it. So what the hell—I did as I was asked. I gave him his sexy stool sample. I don’t even want to know what he did with the bucket afterward. At least there’s no Polaroid of me doing that, thank God.”
● Alice Cooper (from Pamela Des Barres’ afterword): “…she [Mercy] leapt out of a huge, gooey cake at Alice Cooper’s ‘coming out’ party, when she hurled the icing at all and sundry, splatting hunks of goop on the likes of Rod McKuen and Richard Chamberlain, who thought they were attending the coming out of an actual Beverly Hills debutante. As I remember it, Mercy had smoked angel dust before her big moment…”
● GTOs reunion/Hollywood Palladium: “The only event that came close to a real GTOs reunion was a show on October 11, 1974, also at the Palladium, called the ‘Hollywood Street Revival…Shuggie thought it wasn’t proper for me to be in the GTOs. He objected to most activities that would entail me fraternizing outside the house with other musicians. But then, on the day of the show, Cynderella called me up and convinced me to do it after all. The other girls had been rehearsing diligently, but she assured me it would be fine for us to just show up out of nowhere (apparently she’d skipped out on rehearsals as well). I told Shuggie, ‘Cynderella and I are going to the pictures, see you later!’...when Cynderella came by to pick me up, she had this china white heroin from France, so we got blitzed out of our gourds. We walked into the venue just as the GTOs were about to go on and said all brightly and casually, ‘Hey, guys, we’re here!’ Sparky and Pamela weren’t too thrilled to see us, especially when I became sick as a dog from the smack and started throwing up backstage…Later, when I got home, Shuggie eagerly sniffed up the rest of the French heroin, but not before his father, the legendary bandleader Johnny Otis, pounced on me the minute I stepped through the door. ‘How could you do that to the family?’ he screamed. I said, ‘What on earth are you talking about? Do what?’ Johnny said, ‘I saw you on the TV. How could you embarrass us like that?’ I had no idea that this Palladium concert was a splashy event that was going to be on the evening news. There would be no more GTOs reunion attempts after that.”
● Rolling Stone Cover: “Bernardo [Saldana, ‘the first love of my life’] and I were even on the sixth cover of Rolling Stone, in a prize-winning photo from the famous Gathering of the Tribes, of the ‘Human Be-In’—an iconic image that bound us together forever. It was that day that Baron Wolman, the legendary chief photographer for Rolling Stone, spotted us in Golden Gate Park. ‘Can you just pose for us? I like your looks,’ he said simply, and he snapped that historic photo. I didn’t think much of it at the time. A few weeks later I was high on acid at the Fillmore, and I saw the issue there and went, ‘Oh, my God, Bernardo. We’re in Rolling Stone!’ I could not believe it. There I was on the cover in my white poet blouse, perfectly worn-in 501 Levi’s, and antique fur coat, staring and glaring right at Baron’s lens with my kohl-caked eyes. Exactly a year later, on my birthday, I was in Rolling Stone again—issue No. 27, the ‘Groupie’ issue—this time taking up the entire back cover…”
● Arthur Lee: “Arthur [Lee, of Love] was a wild-eyed guy, so tall and so handsome, but so totally fucked up. He was so loaded that he hid in my bathroom and claimed the boogeyman was after him. At that point in my life, I thought to myself,’ “Damn, this guy’s a little too freaky, even for me.’ I had immense respect for Arthur as a musician, but I didn’t feel the need to hang with him right then. It takes a lot to scare me, but he scared the crap out of me. When Arthur and I finally hooked up a couple decades later, that boogeyman had followed him all the way into the nineties. That damn monster was still chasing him. I believe it chased him till the day he died.”
About Lyndsey Parker:
Lyndsey Parker is the music editor at Yahoo Entertainment and host of the daily SiriusXM Volume show Volume West. Considered an expert in music and pop culture, Parker is an Online Journalism Award nominee and has written for Elle, MOJO, Rolling Stone, NME, and Guitar. She has appeared as a commentator for the ABC special The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story, AXS TV’s The Top Ten Revealed, and the documentary I Want My MTV, as well as for VH1's Behind the Music, CNN, MTV, The Insider, and Good Day L.A.. She is the author of Careless Memories of Strange Behavior: My Notorious Life as a Duran Duran Fan (one of the first e-books published as part of Rhino Records’ all-digital music book series, which went to #1 on the iTunes Music Books chart).
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