Pamela Des Barres And Mercy Fontenot: Memoirs of Two Outrageous Girls
The term groupie has probably been canceled, a term like this one cannot possibly be compatible with the ideas of the #metoo movement. However, despite the negative connotation of the term, groupies will continue to subsist as long as pop music exists. Pamela des Barres was one of the original groupies, maybe ‘The’ original groupie, she was the ‘band-aid’ type, entirely dedicated to music and musicians. She also was one of the GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously), an all-girl group whose only album, ‘Permanent Damage,’ was produced by Frank Zappa in ’69, and released on his Straight Records label.
If she is the author of 6 books about her experience as a groupie (her first one, ‘I’m with the Band,’ allegedly inspired the groupie character, Penny Lane, in Cameron Crowe’s movie ‘Almost Famous’) Pamela was not there to promote one of her books yesterday. She was doing a signing of ‘Permanent Damage: Memoirs of An Outrageous Girl’ at Stories Books and Café in Echo Park, paying homage to her best girlfriend and fellow GTO, Mercy Fontenot. Fontenot wrote the book just prior to her death in 2020 with music journalist Lyndsey Parker. Parker was there, wearing a bold and fancy ‘Mercy’ belt and she talked about the good old times with Des Barres. Just like Pamela, Mercy had no problem with the word groupie, they both embraced it and completely owned it.
The book is filled with funny anecdotes like the one about Mercy erupting out of a huge 7-foot cake at Alice Cooper’s ‘coming out’ party (aka first record release party) after having smoked a good deal of angel dust (PCP)… Richard Chamberlain and members of the Beach Boys got frosted with cake debris. She also met El Duce of the Mentors (the infamous guy who was allegedly offered money by Courtney Love to kill Kurt Cobain) who was shooting a movie in Hollywood: she asked the director if she could be in the movie and was immediately hired to play Duce’s wife. She was probably high that day. The craziest stories of the book are actually more drug stories than sex stories.
At 73, Pamela is lively and joyous when she remembers the ‘70s and her best friend Mercy. She even becomes emotional when remembering that Mercy is not there anymore: she died last July at 71.
Mercy was quite a colorful character, determined to meet every musician she admired. She had a dramatic sense of fashion with her thrift shop couture: ‘she dressed up with everything she had, 2 wigs, 18 belts… she was a maximalist.’ She eventually ended up being homeless for several years, living in the streets and pushing a cart: ‘she was a suitcase roulette, she would wear everything she owns because she was not living anywhere.’
The book is Mercy’s own words, and it is just amazing that Mercy remembers so much with all the drugs she took, but she mostly remembers ‘the vibe.’ She wanted to get high every night, did a lot of angel dust, and loved meeting the musicians she loved: she was obsessed with Brian Jones, loved Michael Hutchence, was a Gram Parsons fanatic and had a dream she would marry Johnny Shuggie Otis (and she did).
Mercy also declared all kinds of things, she claimed that Kiss got their look from the GTOs’ makeup – Gene Simmons got the idea from Miss Christine, another GTO – and she believed any conspiracy theories around the death of musicians. Basically, Michael Jackson, Otis Redding Sam Cooke, George Michael, Jim Morrison, Elvis had all been murdered, and it always had something to do with the record company: Amy Winehouse had been killed to make space for the more sanitized Adele, and Michael Jackson had to make room for Beyonce, or Usher…
‘An amazing life lived,’ said Pamela, ‘The scary spice of the GTOs,’ added Lindsey who insisted that, physically, Mercy was definitively the most outrageous of all the GTOs. She was also resourceful, after been a big part of the San Francisco scene, she even reinvented herself in the punk scene, then as an actress
Mercy was a true original, emancipated at just 15, named after a Don Covay’s song, and stoned every day of her life
When she finally got sober 20 years ago, she worked at the Los Feliz Goodwill store, a thrift store located just a few blocks from where I live. How strange to think that I may have crossed the path of a woman who used to hook up with the biggest names in music between rows of vintage shirts and used jeans.
Just before the talk, Starcrawler, the young band that is gonna save rock & roll, did a short acoustic set of 3 songs, the Burrito Brothers’ ‘Sin City’ to honor Mercy, their own ‘Used to Know,’ and the Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers.’