When they asked Sylvie to write something for her biography section she scowled, said she only liked writing about other people, opened a bottle of white-trash rosé and went back to trying to play bad thrash bluegrass on her new pawn shop banjo. Being a gentleman, I volunteered my services so here goes.
Sylvie Simmons is a petite, pretty, soft-spoken Londoner who makes grown rockstars quake in their boots. She will loathe the first part of that sentence but will happily own to the second part. Rock writing has long been considered male territory, but Sylvie doesn't seem to have noticed. In 'Girls Will Be Boys: Women Report On Rock' (1997) Sylvie was described as "more ballsy than the lads" - but there's a perspicacity too, a rare insight. She is fearless, smart and funny and cusses like a sailor.
It's probably fair to say that Sylvie has interviewed every musician worth talking to. In just the past year or so, for MOJO magazine, she's had tea with Brian Wilson at his L.A home, beer with Arthur Lee of Love in an English pub, talked about sex with Marianne Faithfull, depression with Leonard Cohen, disco with Mick Jagger, horror movies with Roky Erickson, the draft with Tom Waits, car crash songs with Lou "Tall" Reed, and how to kick heroin while sharing a bed with a strung-out country star with Keith Richards. She has also close-danced with Bo Diddley. She was dating someone else at the time but knew he would understand.
She's one of the best-known names in British rock writing. Pretty well-known in American rock writing too, since in the late '70s she lived and wrote in Los Angeles for seven years in a failed attempt to get a tan. Then she moved back to London, and after that to France, then London again, and now she's in San Francisco.
Sylvie has rock-written for just about every major international music magazine you can name - Q, Rolling Stone, Sounds, Kerrang! Tracks, Blender and Creem and dozens of others. She's been writing for MOJO since it started, has an Americana column every month and did a whole heap of cover stories, including Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys , AC/DC and Johnny Cash. She's also been published in all the main British newspapers, from the Times to the Sunday Sport, is in the Guardian regularly, and lately has been writing in the San Francisco Chronicle. Back in her Jailbait Years she had a U.S syndicated newspaper column, probably for the same reason she had a U.S radio show.
If you're thinking, "This Sylvie Simmons person is like God, she's everywhere", you are right. She keeps popping up on radio, sometimes television (though she hates it), and now and again in documentary films. (Her brief appearance in "Brian Wilson's Smile" led to two marriage proposals. "Their photos", she says, "seemed to suggest they had all their own teeth and hair.")Even without writing anything, she's in a number of other people's books. Dave Lee Roth has her in his "Cast Of Characters in his autobiography 'Crazy From The Heat'; Richard Meltzer claims she's a character in one of his books (she's not saying which one) and she's a "Principal Player" in Paul Gorman's history of the rock music press, 'In Their Own Write'. You'll also find her on a ton of album credits . But you're more likely to find her at a gig, propping up the bar.
Too Weird For Ziggy is her first book of fiction, coming on the back of two acclaimed non-fiction books, about Neil Young and French maverick Serge Gainsbourg. Someone just bought film rights to the Gainsbourg one, and she told me to say that if Johnny Depp is reading this, YOU are her chosen lead.
As for 'Too Weird For Iggy' (the Z was thrust upon it when Mr Pop thew a fit), when Sylvie first hauled the manuscript into MOJO and proceeded to monopolise the photocopier, announcing it was "the first-ever literary rock album", everyone assumed her Roger Waters interview had driven her over the edge. But, dammit, we think she's right.
What else do you want to know? Age? Dunno. Birthplace? Islington, North London, where she spent much of her childhood hatching plots to escape. After a couple of juvenile practice-runs, she moved to L.A and became correspondent for the then-leading UK rock weekly Sounds. She has two brothers, an ex husband who writes songs and once auditioned for UFO, and plays lots of musical instruments badly.
If you want to know anything more, ask her yourself.
by Jason Ritchie
Get Ready To Rock (2004)
How did you become involved in the music business?
I've been obsessed with music ever since I can remember. The first time I heard my voice on tape when I was a tiny little girl I thought I sounded like Billie Holiday. As my brain outgrew my ego, I realised I sounded like Minnie Mouse. So, in time-honoured tradition, I became a rock critic. Since I was sick to the point of insanity of London's grey skies and rain, I moved to Los Angeles and became the correspondent for Sounds (after getting the cold shoulder from called NME and Melody Maker, who I offered myself to first).
What were the highlights of your time at `Sounds'?
So many I don't know where to begin. As L.A correspondent I got to cover anything and everything, so one week I'd be on a tour bus crossing California with The Clash, the next in a helicopter with a coke-snorting Steven Tyler, and the one after that wading, fully- dressed, in a hotel swimming pool with Tony Iommi at 3am, helping him rescue frogs from a nasty chlorined death (this last thing happened on Sabbath's final tour with Ozzy as vocalist; I got to go along for the ride). Doing the first published interviews with the likes of Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses was nice, but even more memorable was interviewing Muddy Waters (lovely) and Michael Jackson (er, different). But the whole deal with Sounds was great - it was an era of non-stop gigs and parties, which I'd cover in my column Hollywood Highs, and endless free drinks (which, in the immortal words of Kerrang!'s Malcolm Dome, "it would be rude to turn down").
How did you become to be involved with `Kerrang!'?
While I was living in LA, the glam metal scene had just started up, and I was writing about it for Sounds. Geoff Barton asked me to write about it for Kerrang! so I did too - initially under the psuedonym Laura Canyon. Someone told me the name's now being used by a porn star. It's NOT ME. I've hardly ever been THAT blonde! Oh, and a delusional music writer from L.A also occasionally likes to claim she was Laura Canyon. Don't believe her. It was me and I have the battlescars to prove it. When I moved back to London and soon afterwards quit Sounds, Laura Canyon disappeared and I took her place.
What was it like working in a near all male environment of `Kerrang!'?
A fuck sight better than any other environment (and, being rock, most of them were near as dammit male) I've had anything to do with. Some might find it hard to fathom, but of all of the people, from all corners of the music business, I've had dealings with over all these years, musicians, editors and otherwise, the metal men were for the most part the easiest-going, the most (excuse the word) gentlemanly, and often the least sexist.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I'll go with the first one I remember. I was interviewing Eric Bloom Blue Oyster Cult for Sounds at a N. California festival. I was, er, in a state of chemical alteration and he wasn't.
Due to my temporary loss of plot, I continued to ask him the same question over and over again. Being a sardonic New Yorker, he simply answered it with the same reply each time. At one point, becoming aware that I'd heard the same words several times, I stopped and said to him, "You're really boring." He was a gentleman about it. Like I said, the rock men always were.
Read it in full here.
by Martin Horsfield
Writing fiction about rock'n'roll is awkward; always full of thinly veiled stars hiding within improbably named bands. This first effort from Sylvie Simmons has plenty of those (The Nympholeptics anyone?), but her experience as a long-standing rock hack means that these interlinked short stories are forensically detailed and wickedly entertaining. She takes well-worn myths and legends and cranks them up into rampant surrealism. Like when The Nympholeptics' frontman starts to grow breasts. Such gallows humour is worthy of Carl Hiassen's darkly satirical rock whodunnit Basket Case, especially Pussy, Simmons' Courtney-alike whose self-absorption extends to collecting her own toenail clippings (and worse). However even the maestro of Florida sleaze would struggle to contrive a rock death as grim as the C&W grand dame here, who's baked alive under her electric blanket and "marinated in her own urine". No wonder Lemmy's a fan.
Author Sylvie Simmons talks to NME
NME: do some of these tales start from a nugget of truth?
Sylvie Simmons: "Several. You meet someone, hear something, and then when you're doing something mindlessly dull, like transcribing interview tapes or interviewing Lou Reed, your mind starts riffing on it."
Who'd make a good soundtrack for the book?
"The title track would have to be by Iggy Pop. It was called Too Weird For Iggy, then the publishers sent him a copy, asking permission to use 'his' name. Apparently it was too weird for him. So they added the 'Z'. It's like someone telling you you've got to rename your fucking cat! For the whole soundtrack, it'd have to be The Arcade Fire or Yo La Tengo since, like the stories they're brilliant but change from track to track."
Were they any fictional band names you left out?
"DJ Underfelt: he's a kinda funky, jazzy, mixmaster. Pre-Op Cop: they're jokey punk-funk, a bit like the Kaiser Chiefs."
Who's your favourite fictional rock band?
"Right now, Kings Of Leon."