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FIRST FICTION

Too Weird for Ziggy

Sylvie Simmons

Grove Press: 208 pp., $12 paper

An aging, reclusive New Wave diva known as Pussy hoards her hair and fingernails in a bank of filing cabinets in her New York apartment; a California golden-boy songwriter gone mad mounts a wary comeback under the gaze of his puppet-master therapist; the gaunt visage of Karen Carpenter manifests itself, Christ-like, on the facade of a London kebab restaurant; and Leo, the lead singer of the testosterone-laden Nympholeptics, sprouts a rather unmacho pair of breasts during the band’s breakthrough U.S. tour, much to the befuddlement of medical professionals, his bandmates and himself.

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These are among the many scoops dished up by Sylvie Simmons in her fantasia of a comic novel about the world of pop, each chapter of which reads like a profile clipped from a bizarro Rolling Stone. Simmons is a crack reporter for the esteemed British rock monthly Mojo, and she summons all the out-there stuff she’s experienced over a lifetime of interviews, greenrooms, and backstage passes, cramming it all into this amusing book.

In the music business, fact and fiction tend to intertwine, and it’s impossible to determine which is more outlandish. Thankfully, Simmons doesn’t bother to keep them separate: Pussy is clearly a takeoff on Blondie’s Debbie Harry; the troubled California genius, lurching into digressions about the history of Barbie and forever pining for his bed, sounds a lot like Brian Wilson; and the handsome devil known as Spike who flits throughout the book just might be David Bowie. Or maybe Bryan Ferry. At a certain point, these seemingly real-life cartoons begin to morph and assume, like heavy-rotation melodies stuck in your head, lives of their own. What, say, the Rutles were to the Beatles, so is “Too Weird for Ziggy” to rock journalism and rock itself: a knowing sendup as arch as it is fond.

The self-devouring necrophilia of “classic rock” pops up in the guise of a voodoo ritual to resurrect the late megastar known as the Baroness and again during a macabre episode in which a fan initiates a sex act with an extremely defunct Jim Morrison. Allegories abound. If there’s an overarching message here, it’s perhaps best paraphrased via that half-forgotten 1990s MTV hit whose chorus went, “Who sucked out the feeling?” After all, Simmons’ stable of self-involved rockers are all has-beens or soon-to-be has-beens. You realize that the whole idea of obsessing over dudes with guitars -- and their silicone-pumped wives, wacko super fans, sycophantic managers, creepy A&R; men and obese man-child roadies -- is, in an era of the lip-synching Ashlee Simpson, a quaint one. It’s no surprise, then, that the shadowy Greek chorus of rock writers who make an occasional appearance “gob imaginary spitballs of cynicism at everything they see.” For her part, Simmons’ spitballs always land with a satisfying splat, even if her target is as fat -- and as backdated -- as Elvis.

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The Seas

Samantha Hunt

MacAdam/Cage: 192 pp., $23

Samantha HUNT’s hypnotic debut -- a slippery minnow of a novel about the teenage daughter of a drowned sailor -- spills over with H2O: The nameless girl in question labors as a chambermaid at a beachfront motel called the Seas and at a sardine factory. There are attempted suicides in bathtubs, and the occasional flooded basement, and even a brief encounter with no less salty a luminary than King Neptune himself. Besotted with Jude, a 30-ish veteran of what appears to be Desert Storm, Hunt’s heroine (an Aquarius) is under the impression, possibly correct, that she might be a mermaid. No wonder the townsfolk (she lives with her mom on an unspecified northerly American coast) find her “weird or special or unlucky or just too sad a puddle for them to dip their toes into.”

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If this waterlogged melodrama often seems a little wishy-washy, it swells into a tidal wave of full-on phantasmagoria when Jude unexpectedly melts on the floor and our beached mermaid is hauled in for questioning. Languishing in a jail cell, she tells us, “I have a Dixie Cup that I harvest my crying into so that later I can drink it, in case Jude is in there.” At that point, who’s to say he’s not? In “The Seas,” with its undertow of melancholic whimsy, what’s real and what’s not are as ever-shifting as the face of the ocean.


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