Too Weird for Ziggy, by Sylvie Simmons

Weird and witty tales from Planet Rock
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Writing the Great Rock 'n' Roll Novel is no easy task. Just ask Salman Rushdie, the most distinguished of many contenders who have, to a greater or lesser degree, ultimately failed to capture the rock environment's unique blend of glamour and squalor.

Writing the Great Rock 'n' Roll Novel is no easy task. Just ask Salman Rushdie, the most distinguished of many contenders who have, to a greater or lesser degree, ultimately failed to capture the rock environment's unique blend of glamour and squalor.

However, in the challenge of creating a linked cycle of short stories set on Planet Rock - each capable of standing alone but with a recurring cast of musicians, entrepreneurs, roadies and fans - we do indeed have a front-runner.

Sylvie Simmons is a veteran rock journalist with a fondness for country music and heavy metal, and a couple of heavyweight biographies (Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young) under her belt. She has been working on these stories for the best part of a decade, but their arrival - complete with endorsements from Sharon Osbourne, Marianne Faithfull, Lemmy and Slash - has been well worth the wait.

She welds the journalistic faculties of gimlet-eyed observation and epigrammatic description to the fiction writer's gifts of a surreal imagination and a deft touch with credible characterisation. Often simultaneously, she generates both wit and pathos.

Thus we find the mega-successful British rocker returning home via Heathrow customs, only to find that the official going through his suitcase is the former schoolmate who always resented him. The country singer, whose inspiration for her numerous hit songs has been imagining new deaths for her hated mother, learns that the latter really has died. Then there's the indie-band singer who discovers, mid-tour, that he has suddenly grown breasts; and the MTV-sponsored live resurrection, by a vodun master from New Orleans, of a dead rock legend. And we haven't yet mentioned the mysterious appearance of an image of Karen Carpenter on the wall of a kebab house in Kentish Town, or the obsessive pursuit of a heavy-metal drummer by a seriously disturbed female fan.

Perhaps Simmons's finest creation is Pussy. That is in fact the name of her otherwise male group, but lead singer and band have become interchangeable in the public mind. With her huge head, tiny body and "a pink marshmallow mouth neatly outlined and filled in like a colouring book... like she'd had everything below the neck liposuctioned and injected into her lips," she is a genuinely haunting character. The symptoms and manifestations of the breakdown she undergoes after the death of her boyfriend, the band's guitarist and songwriter, are memorably macabre enough to induce a lasting frisson.

The reviewer's 'Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and postwar pop' is published by Faber

Buy any book reviewed on this site at Independent Books Direct
- postage and packing are free in the UK

Comments