A practiced observer offers frantic fictions of rock ’n’ roll madness.
Simmons has been plying her trade as a music journalist since the ’70s, in Mojo, Rolling Stone, Q, and a host of British dailies and weeklies and has penned biographies of the off-center pop figures Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young. Here, however, she turns her hand to that most difficult form: rock fiction. The format is a loosely interlocking collection of stories featuring a handful of recurring characters: megalomaniac metal star Frame, oft-married country luminary LeeAnn Starmountain, Jim Morrison tribute performer Reeve, addled punk-pop vocalist Pussy, and damaged classic-rock songwriter Cal West. Some of the characters are familiar types, others veiled simulacra of real performers (Pussy is Debbie Harry, Cal West is Brian Wilson, etc.). These figures and others are involved in 18 tales set in a musical cosmos that is, as one character puts it, “like one of those parallel universes they had in the old sci-fi comics, where things look the same but have completely different functions.” In this domain, a cult devoted to the late Karen Carpenter springs up, a televised séance to raise a dead music legend is held on an LA beach, and a rocker urinates on his fans off a hotel balcony. Inevitably, stalkers stalk, groupies grope, and superstars suffer colossal breakdowns. Simmons has all the details of record-company politicking, rock-biz noblesse oblige, and backstage ritual down pat. But her plots suffer from the same excess that plagues so many works set in the milieu. Since everything in rock is drawn in larger-than-life proportions, fiction writers feel they must push the envelope and stoke the outrageous at every turn. In the case of Simmons, when she goes in for affecting character studies, the pieces work brilliantly, but she pushes most of the action in preposterous directions, often to the point of burlesque.
A keen-eyed depiction of the rock netherworld’s denizens is sabotaged by too many over-the-top scenarios.