Catching up with author Lyndsey Parker about the memoir of a most unforgettable rock superstar
The word “groupie” has had different connotations at different times in rock history.
In the late ‘60s, during the heyday of Girls Together Outrageously, or GTOs, the girl band formed under Frank Zappa’s roof, groupies–particularly the ones that were the members of the GTOs–were not solely known for their sexual escapades with rock stars. They were known for their excellent taste in music, their musical knowledge, their passion for music, being on the cutting edge of identifying new musical talent and being good fun to hang out with. These are some of the reasons they were fixtures anywhere musicians were, none more ubiquitous than Miss Mercy.
Permanent Damage: Memoirs of an Outrageous Girl is the posthumously published memoir of Mercy Fontenot, written with her good friend, Lyndsey Parker, music editor at Yahoo Entertainment and host of Sirius XM’s Volume West. Named after the GTOs’ album, the memoir is, in two words, wild and weird.
The story of Miss Mercy’s life is told episodically. It offhandedly recounts anecdotal tales about her spending time with Rod Stewart (before anyone knew who he was), the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, Janis Joplin, Gram Parsons, and many, many others. There are a few sexual encounters, a shocking one with Chuck Berry, a disappointing one with Al Green and an abusive relationship with Arthur Lee, among others, many of whom she’s not 100% she had sex with as she was invariably out of her mind on drugs.
The book speaks about Miss Mercy’s time in Shuggie Otis’ life, including marrying him, having his son, Lucky, and her fractured relationship with him. Permanent Damage also traces her chaotic childhood, years of homelessness and the multiple times she was raped at various points her life. Throughout the whole book, except for a bit at the end, Miss Mercy adds what drug she was on in every situation.
In fact, the book reads like an altered state, stream of consciousness outpouring. “She told me, ‘You captured my voice,’” says Parker of Miss Mercy’s proclamation on Permanent Damage, which she was able to read prior to her passing in July 2020 from liver cancer. “It’s her words. My biggest struggle was stringing them together in a way that makes some sense.”
Parker, and many others, had repeatedly insisted to Miss Mercy that she should write a book. Her fellow GTO, Miss Pamela Des Barres’ book, I’m With the Band: Memoirs of a Groupie, was hugely successful. There is a built-in audience for Miss Mercy’s experience.
At Miss Mercy’s 68th birthday party in February 2017, the book came up again and this time, Parker offered to help write it. The next day Miss Mercy called Parker on her bluff and they started weekly meetings where Parker would try and streamline Miss Mercy’s recollections, finally just letting her follow whatever train of thought came to her.
“She’d had a health scare,” says Parker of Miss Mercy’s change of heart about immortalizing her life on paper. “She had some sense of mortality for the first time in her life.”
Fearless, shameless and regret-less, Miss Mercy’s tone in the book is casual, alarmingly so when she’s speaking about the most traumatic events: rapes, homelessness, the suicides of her parents, her drug use.
VIDEO: GTOs documentary
“I don’t think she was totally fine with a lot of things that happened,” says Parker. “But she would insist up and down that she was. She was never like, ‘I deserved this,’ or ‘I was asking for this,’ but, she was very quick to say, ‘Well, I went to this hotel room with this guy I didn’t know because he had heroin,’ or, ‘I went back to this biker house because they said they had drugs,’ or, ‘I hitchhiked and got in a car with some people I didn’t know.’ She didn’t say she was asking for it, but she did say, ‘I took a risk. I put myself in some situations that really weren’t very safe and it was probably stupid of me.’ She said the same thing when she almost OD’ed: ‘No one forced me to take those drugs.’
“She had less black-and-white, more grey area views on all that,” Parker continues. “She was sarcastic, and she was very tough and very brittle. I think it was a defense mechanism. She wasn’t going to survive if she was going to fall apart every time something bad happened to her. Whether or not it was her ‘fault,’ bad things happened to her all the time.”
As zany, and disturbing, as the bulk of Permanent Damage is, there is a sense of positive closure in the book. Miss Mercy was drug-free for 20 years. She had a stable home and a stable job in acquisitions in Goodwill—a great match for her. She was still a great source for new music, her particular favorites being Kendrick Lamar, Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr., the Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse and Starcrawler. She was still very close to Miss Pamela—who has written a beautiful afterword for Permanent Damage—and helped her take care of her mother at the end of her life.
Says Parker, “Even though this book has some pretty heavy stuff in it, I really don’t think Mercy would want people to be done with it and go, ‘Wow, she had a really shitty life and feel bad for her.’ That would be her worst nightmare. She wanted people to know that she had been a part of a lot of different junctures in rock history and super proud of that. She wanted people to think her life was fun.”
AUDIO: The GTOs Permanent Damage (full album)