About The Book
A collection of interlinked stories all set in the fractured microcosm of the business of rock music, Too Weird for Ziggy is the razor-witted fiction debut of one of the best music writers on either side of the Atlantic
The razor-witted fiction debut of one of the best music writers on either side of the Atlantic, Too Weird for Ziggy is a darkly hilarious collection of stories all set in the world of crass A&R men, fans mired in hero worship, and music stars perpetually on the verge of ego tantrum or outright crackup. From a Karen Carpenter cult to a rock “n roll s’ance; from a band of cock-rockers whose starmaking tour goes off the rails when their lead singer starts to grow breasts, to an obsessed fan on a mission from God to marry a woman-battering heavy-metal drummer, these stories are like sitting beside an expert commentator in the front row at the celebrity circus. Too Weird for Ziggy is devastatingly funny, surreal, and as hooky as a pop tune.
“British music journalist Simmons has taken the years she spent interviewing rock’s most outrageous personalities and compressed them into this lurid, engrossing collection of stories, gracefully linked like the incestuous world of rock itself. . . . She chronicles the transcendent weirdness of the music world” –Publishers Weekly
“A batch of wry and fun stories.” –Gina Vivinetto, St. Petersburg Times
‘simmons’ monstrously entertaining, ghoulishly compelling freak show works brilliantly, the more so as you realize the tales are linked, with kooky recurring characters popping up as stars in the spotlight or support acts in the seedy shadows. . . . Draws you in with gags and observations. . . . Realistic (scarily), and just weird enough.” –Uncut (Four stars)
“Too Weird for Ziggy is very cool reading, very rock “n” roll.” –Slash, original guitarist of Guns N” Roses
“A damn good writer. She is honest, truthful, and scathing. Read these stories.” –Lemmy Kilmister of Mot”rhead
‘very subversive and out-there and radical and funny and rather wicked, but very good and very, very well written.” –Marianne Faithfull
. Just brilliant!” –Tori Amos
“This is a hot read. Bravo Sylvie!” –Sharon Osbourne
Praise for Sylvie Simmons:
‘such a good writer.” –Leonard Cohen
“By gumbo, the dame can write. Any mag that has Sylvie Simmons as a contributor is sort of de facto wonderful.” –Creem
“A Fistful of Gitanes . . . is a highly entertaining biography.” –J. G. Ballard on Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes
“Gitanes is a stone masterpiece.” –Stephen Davis, author of Hammer of the Gods on Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes
I can’t say I liked her, though I talked to her enough times, every time a new album or a tour came along. And then she disappeared, simply dematerialized. I don’t think I’d thought about her until that night at the Conrad.
She had, like a lot of stars, a very big head. Not big as in arrogant, big as in oversized for her body like a doll, or like one of those space alien photos in the National Enquirer. A feline face, but like a child’s drawing of a cat: big round head, big almond eyes, exaggerated cheekbones, and a pink marshmallow mouth neatly outlined and filled in like in a coloring book. And this tiny body. Like she’d had everything below the neck liposuctioned and injected into her lips.
Editors would send me along for the “female perspective,” since the male journalists would simply worship and leave puddles on the floor. I’d do the hey, we’re both girls, you can trust me trick, you know, bind us together with some sort of spiritual fallopian tube.
But she’d look about her vaguely like a queen, or like a cow grazing, stare straight past me like her poster must have stared from the walls of teenage bedrooms up and down the country past all those hot-faced boys with their spongy Kleenexed palms. She’d recite her answers in a voice as dull and flat as Holland, and my mind would wander and I’d glance guiltily at the tape recorder to see if it had switched off too.
People called her Pussy and it pissed her off. She wasn’t Pussy, she’d say, bored and sullen. Pussy was the band. She was the singer. The voice of a child explaining something to its mother. They’d sent out promo baseball caps saying “Pussy Is a Group” –Terri Allen and four men. She lived with one of them, Taylor, the guitar player. He was small and dark with bright eyes black as T-shirts and a paddle nose like a little tit ironed on top. He looked like what you’d get if you let Roman Polanski and Michael Hutchence go to the Saturday night dance unchaperoned. His hands were tiny; he had to have his guitars custom-made to fit them. He’d sit in on the interviews off-piste, observing, saying nothing, merely exuding a practiced intensity, flopped like a noodle over the arm of a chair. He formed the band, he wrote the songs, he produced the records, and he fucked everything that didn’t crawl away fast enough.
One time I watched him pick up the publicist–during the interview, right in front of both of us, while Pussy sat there like a still life, balancing that huge head on her neck by an enormous act of will. He gestured the woman out and down the hotel corridor. I heard another room door open and close. The publicist told me–a long time later, after he’d fired her for contradicting him and replaced her with some guy who used to run the fan club–that he didn’t say anything, just pulled up her dress and put his hand up her. She said she felt like a ventriloquist’s doll.
At the outset he’d make a point of speaking to the press before Pussy did, meeting the boys–it was usually boys–in the bar. He’d stroke their brains, flatter their intelligence, wrap the whole stupid-kewpie thing in a web of irony and convolution, letting them feel in on an intellectual joke. He’d remind them of the arty band he had before he found her working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. Then primed, male-bonded, male chauvinist Pygmalions, they’d be led in to talk to her. And she’d chafe at their assumption that she was his creation, that he was the screenwriter, the director, the whole fucking play, that she was just the bottle-blonde stuck up front to look pretty. Yet all the while she sat straight in her chair and mouthed his lines through her pink-pillow lips. And they’d nod sympathetically, leaning toward her, within lipstick-sniffing distance of the dreamy face, the disheveled, bleached hair, the colossal goddess head on the little girl’s body, small and curved with a huge sphere on top, like that roll-on deodorant with the big wide ball.
Now that I think of it I do remember seeing something, in the whatever-happened-to section of a music magazine. The writer couldn’t answer and threw the question open, and letters came in–one from the old drummer, self-publicizing a project he was doing with Philip Glass, and one from some New Yorker claiming he’d trailed her through Central Park. He said she looked like a bag lady, middle-aged and lumpy, and she was mumbling to herself the lyrics for a batch of new songs. He followed at a distance, he said, taking notes, and they printed this dreadful teenage poem about sex and murder that anyone could see the wacko had written himself.
Of course no one believed him, though I suppose it could have happened. You just wonder how someone, no matter how they’ve aged, even if their face and body have altered out of all recognition, how they can pass unnoticed among ordinary people when, at some point in their life, a hundred thousand boys have jerked off to their photograph or gazed up at them in the spotlight from down dark in the crowd. Something like that must be tattooed all over you. It must leave the kind of mark that can’t be covered up.
There was a bunch of us at the Conrad in a corner of the lobby over by the window, the rain sheeting down outside. Interviews were running late as usual, and by early evening there were seven or eight of us backlogged, bitching, drinking, running up the record company’s tab. We were killing time telling old war stories and swapping gossip–just enough to swell your reputation, not enough to give the competition something to print. I’m trying to remember how the conversation got around to Pussy. That’s it, there was a slime from the tabloids sitting with us, telling sick jokes about Freddie Mercury and AIDS. When they finally scraped him off the seat and took him upstairs for his interview, we all started talking about rock stars who’d died, and Pussy’s guitarist came up.
They shot Taylor’s funeral for a video for the tribute album. Fat, nasty paparazzi jostled through the crosses and stone angels for the best hanky-clutching celebrity shots. The place was black with rockstars; at least most of them didn’t have to buy special clothes. Quite a production it was too. The coffin was shaped like a guitar case, according to his instructions, although they left out the window he wanted on top–so he could lie there and watch the goings-on, I suppose, silently, like he always had done; but no one fancied looking at a hundred and twenty pounds of mincemeat. It was a car wreck; quick but messy. Record company people, promoters, musicians played their parts professionally. Two of his girlfriends looked videogenically stricken, various relatives looked lost and out of place. And the band, as they walked in, were self-consciously solemn. There would be a jam session later on.
The minister arrived. She walked beside him, a tiny figure in a short black dress and a black Jackie Kennedy hat with a veil that came down to just above her lips, which trembled as she stood by the hole in the ground scraping her thumbnail up and down the stem of the rose she held in her hand. Then everyone filed around the grave in choreographed misery, a whir of camera motor drives started up a rhythm, the minister’s dusty old voice came in on lead, and as the coffin was lowered into the ground the first fat raindrop percussed onto the camcorder lens, blurring the picture. And that was that. Afterward I forgot all about her. We all did. That’s the thing with this business, someone else always comes along.
Though I do recall seeing a photo in the papers. It was when they released the greatest hits album–this was years ago, Pussy had stopped doing press, but a New York photographer shot her walking down the street. She looked fuzzy and fragmented in the picture, grainy. Like those old newspaper photos of the Rolling Stones’ ex-girlfriends when they’d moved on from methadone to menopause before fading right away. The photo seemed inverted. Her body was bloated and her face seemed smaller. She was biting her mouth; it looked as if she might have punctured her lips and the flesh had all run down her neck and settled down below.
So we’re in the hotel lobby, empty bottles and glasses piling up on the low table, and the PR has come down to lead the next victim upstairs when this young guy who freelances for one of the rock weeklies says he’s just done an interview with Pussy. I missed the start–I was watching another journalist announce his arrival at the reception desk, and anyway, it’s a well-known journalistic trait, switching off when someone’s soliloquizing, figuring you’ll catch it when you play the tape back later on. It’s a habit, like people who use the video remote to try and fast-forward when it’s the television, not a video, that’s on.
When I plugged back in, he was telling how, after Taylor’s funeral, Pussy had gone back to New York and lived there for a while with her old wardrobe girl. Then she came back to England, had an affair with the band’s manager, Jack Mackie, and moved in with him.
“He was talking about putting something together with her–he’d hooked up with some musicians and written some songs that he thought would work great with her voice. He was one of those managers–you come across them now and then–who really want to be in the band. But she left him,” said the freelance. “And she left the music business. She said she wanted to be by herself for a while. That she was coming on for forty and it sounded ridiculous but she’d never in her life ever lived on her own. So she went back to New York, told Mackie she’d call him with her address and phone number, but she never did. She didn’t contact anyone. She just fell off the map.”
“Hold the front fucking page,” sneered the guy from “XO, looking up from the new mobile phone whose display he had been studying with fascination ever since he arrived.
“Fuck you,” said the freelance, reddening. He slid his thin butt to the edge of his seat and leaned forward. The pair stared each other down for a few moments until each was satisfied he’d won. Cheeks still hot, the freelance reached for his beer, identifying it from the dozen identical bottles littering the coffee table with the acumen of a mother bird locating its eggs. He threw his head back theatrically and drained the bottle dry.
“For Christ’s sake stop giving the bottle a blow job and get the fuck on with it,” said the man from N.M.E.
“If you’d shut the fuck up and let me I will.” He propped his boots on the edge of the coffee table and sank back in his chair.
“Of course, it’s not that difficult disappearing in a huge metropolis like New York, but the music business is like a village. Everyone knows what everyone is doing before they’ve even e-mailed their lawyer about doing it. But Pussy’s manager never could find her. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. Jack Mackie spent a fortune taking out ads in all the major music magazines; women’s magazines too. He hired a publicist to plant stories in the newspapers: that this film director she really liked wanted her to star in his next movie; that her old wardrobe girl was pregnant and planning to get married and wanted her to be bridesmaid; that her favorite bodyguard was dying of cancer and wanted to see her one last time before he rearranged his final face. Mackie said anything and everything, but nothing flushed her out.
“You’ve got to give the man credit for persistence. Finally–after years it must have been–he found out where she was. She was renting a tiny one-room apartment in a low-life neighborhood in New York. Of course, with her money she could have easily bought one in the best part of town if she’d wanted to, but then it would have been simpler to track her down. And she didn’t want to be tracked down–she didn’t even have a telephone. Once Mackie got the address, he bombarded her with telegrams she never replied to. So he got on a plane and flew over to New York.
“Her flat was in one of those grim detective-movie buildings–rubbish in the hallway, kids running about everywhere. She was on the second floor at the end of the corridor by the fire escape. He rang the bell. She didn’t answer. But he could sense she was in there. He came back several times that day and tried again. The next day too. But she still didn’t answer. By now Mackie was getting pretty pissed off. He was hammering on the door and shouting, made such a racket one of her neighbors came out and threatened to do him over. So the following day he hired a couple of heavies and went back with them. “I’ve come five fucking thousand miles,” he said, “and I’m not leaving until you open this door.” She didn’t. So Mackie said, “Break it down.” A swift boot to the lock and it caved right in. But as Mackie went to open the door, it barely moved. It had jammed against something solid.”
He stopped. We were all watching him now.
“And . . . ?” said the barnacle-faced man from the Times. He had just seen the PR heading over to take him up for his interview and wanted to get the punch line before he left.
The freelance picked up his bottle and held it vertically over his lips, forgetting for the moment that it was empty. But he was undisconcerted–he had our attention now and he was basking in it like a turtle on a rock. He puffed out his hollow chest and stretched out his thin arms.
“You’ll have to wait till the story’s published.”
“Wanker,” the Times man growled, and swept out.
The freelance grinned at us conspiratorially. “I’m not going to give some prick from the nationals a free story, am I? So anyway. One of the gorillas puts his shoulder to the door and manages to shove whatever it is aside. Mackie, feeling uneasier than he could ever remember feeling in his life, peered around the door. It was a metal filing cabinet. The place was full of them. Cabinets and cartons and cardboard file drawers. Though they couldn’t make them out at first–it was so dark in there–there was a huge commercial refrigerator in front of the window blocking out most of the light.”
And then he saw her. She was pale as veal cattle; she’d been shut away for years. Her face was big and moon-white, her blonde hair now brown and smooth as a conker. Amid this city of cabinets, she looked contained and compact, everything held tightly in, like when you drive your car between a small gap in the traffic and hold your breath and pull yourself in at the edges to try and fit in the space. Next to her the hired men looked deformed, like giants. Mackie gestured to them to wait outside in the hallway. They stood there, still as mountains, while the manager opened, one after another, the cabinet drawers.
They were full of folders, every one of them neatly filed and tabulated. Each folder held a number of sandwich bags, zipped tight and tagged in the corner with a label, written out in her neat little handwriting. Some of them appeared to be empty, a flat transparent square with dust and condensation trapped inside. The manager held it up to the little patch of light above the refrigerator. It could have been dandruff or a scraping of cocaine.
In the next cabinet he opened there were even more sandwich bags. Mackie lifted up a file and took out a bag at random. This time he could see what was in there, but it didn’t help, none of it made any sense. It was hair–a tangled clump like you pull out of the plughole in the bathtub. The other bags had hair in them too. Sometimes just a strand or two, sometimes a handful.
In the top drawer the hairs were pale blonde with a smudge of brown on the crumb-tip. By the bottom drawer they were all brown. There were separate bags for eyelashes, and others stuffed with crunchy pubic hairs, like small, black springs squashed flat. And all of them were labeled with date and location, whether they’d been tugged from a hairbrush, culled from the sink, or swept up off the floor. The room was filled from top to bottom with bits of her–bits shed and hoarded, grouped and subgrouped, collected, catalogued, and safely filed away. The floor, every surface in the place, was immaculate. The dust from her dead skin cells had been brushed up and bagged as soon as it fell. There were bags of fingernails, tiny white crescents, and of toenail clippings curled thick and gray like dead wood lice.
And she just stood there watching him, small and hard and self-contained, as he went through all the cabinets, one by one, putting all the bags carefully back where he found them. She didn’t say a word; he didn’t either. He could hear an argument going on in the apartment upstair–banging, a child crying. It was the only sound in this small, stagnant room except for the whirring of the giant refrigerator.
“Where the fuck is that waitress?” the freelance suddenly demanded. “All this talking is making me thirsty.”
A slender man in a smart black suit slipped out from behind his desk and walked briskly over. “Please keep it down,” he said, “or I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to wait elsewhere. I’ll send someone over to take your order.”
“The manager turned to go,” the freelance said, more quietly. “However much he’d needed to see Pussy before, what he needed now was to get out. Get some air. His legs felt unsteady. This was something he didn’t know how to manage. But then he noticed the fridge. She was standing with her back to it, like a guard on sentry duty. The thing was bigger than she was. He knew he’d have to look in it before he left. As he approached, Pussy slid to one side. He ignored her and went straight for the chrome handle. Grabbing them, he tugged open the double doors.”
A light came on, shining through the frozen fog like it does on the stage, fuzzy at the edges but sharp enough to pick out the cold sweat on Mackie’s face. The right side of the fridge was almost empty–a carton of milk, some Coke cans, something unidentifiable wrapped up in a take-away bag. The freezer side, though, was almost full–with what looked like ice creams, neat rows of red-tipped Raspberry Ripples, steaming cold. And more Ziploc bags, puffed solid with frozen juice. He glanced over at Pussy, who was leaning against the bathroom door, arms crossed, hips thrust forward, one leg crossed over the other, swaying on the spot like a little girl.
‘mackie reached into the icy air and pulled one of the drawers out into the light. It was stacked with all her old used tampons and frozen bags of piss.”
A couple of the male journalists started to look queasy. “Jesus,” said one, “what a fucking nut.” He stood up. “I’m gonna take a slash. If the waitress comes, mine’s a Newcastle Brown.” He went to the bathroom.
Mackie pushed open the bathroom door.
It was tiny, barely bigger than a mouse-mat; you had to walk sideways to squeeze inside. There was a sink and a big old tub, white and gleaming but for the crap-brown rust stain running down from the tap, and over in the corner there was a toilet. It had a two-drawer filing cabinet on top of it. In front, in this minuscule space, she’d jammed a chemical toilet, one of those things you use in caravans that desiccate your shit. The drawers were full of bags of gray-brown powder. She’d hung on to everything. There was not one single bit of her that was going to get away.”
And that’s all I heard. I was called up to do my interview. I suppose he’ll get around to writing it up one day. What happened to her? All I know is the manager took her back with him to England. I hear she’s making a comeback.
Copyright ” 2004 by Sylvie Simmons. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.