PERSONAL: Born in London, England.
ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Office—c/o Mojo, Mappin House, 4 Winsley St., London W1W 8HF, England.
CAREER: Writer on rock music, 1977–; Mojo magazine, contributing editor.
Too Weird for Ziggy (short stories), Black Cat (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Malcolm Dome) Lüde, Crüde, and Rüde: The Story of Mötley Crüe, Castle Communications (Chessington, England), 1994.
(Author of introduction) Kiss, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass, Mojo (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.
Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes: Requiem for a Twister, Helter Skelter (London, England), 2001, Da Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Regular contributor to London Guardian newspaper; articles have also appeared in Independent, London Sunday Times, Rolling Stone, Creem, and Sounds. Contributor to Van Halen, by Jim Palmer, Anabas, 1984.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about Johnny Cash.
SIDELIGHTS: British writer Sylvie Simmons is one of the better-known names in music journalism; since 1977 she has been covering the rock-music scene for both British and U.S. music journals, as well as several mainstream British newspapers. "I've been obsessed with music ever since I can remember," Simmons explained to a GetReadytoRock.com interviewer. "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 more like Minnie Mouse. So, in time-honoured tradition, I became a rock critic."
Although Simmons was born in England, near the start of her music-criticism career she escaped the cold, wet weather of London for sunny Los Angeles. She was present when glam-metal music exploded into mainstream popularity and did the first published interviews with the now-legendary metal bands Mötley Crüe and Guns 'n' Roses. During those years Simmons also went along for the ride with various rockers on their drug-and alcohol-fueled adventures, giving her a great collection of stories and an interesting perspective on the hidden side of the music industry.
Since 1994 Simmons has been putting her knowledge of the music world and its famous performers to use writing book-length biographies of bands and individual performers such as Mötley Crüe, Neil Young, and Serge Gainsbourg. Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass, is a "breezy and succinct narrative" that "provides a selective tour of [Young's] varied and wildly diverse oeuvre," explained a Publishers Weekly contributor. Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes: Requiem for a Twister was praised by critics for re-introducing this late French musical legend to English-speaking audiences; his first introduction came in 1969, when his scandalous song "Je t'aime, moi non plus" ("I Love You, Me Neither"), a duet with Jane Birkin, hit the charts in the United States. When the chain-smoking singer—Gitanes were his favorite brand of cigarettes—died in 1991 at the age of sixty-two, he was famously dubbed "Our Baudelaire," after the nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, by then-French President François Mitterand. During his lifetime Gainsbourg had been famous for his provocative lyrics and risqué antics, including watching pornography with artist Salvador Dali and romancing actress Bridget Bardot. Gainsbourg "remains identified with his self-cultivated lecherous persona," Mary Jacobi noted in the Village Voice, but Simmon's "biography, though breezy, offers a welcome corrective, showing the artist's lesser-known facets." Artforum critic Luc Sante also praised Serge Gainsbourg, calling it "an easy and pleasant read that lets off sudden sparks of wit."
Simmons published her first book of fiction, Too Weird for Ziggy, in 2004. The stories in the collection draw on the journalist's extensive backstage experiences and are set "in an exaggerated nuthouse version of the music world," Whitney Pastorek explained in Entertainment Weekly. The stories Simmons tells feature the exploits of star musicians, some of whom are fictionalized versions of actual singers and some purely invented. Critics cast Debbie Harry, lead singer for the New Wave band Blondie, in Simmons's story about the punk-pop singer Pussy, and the fictional Cal West, a former California classic-rocker who, after struggling with mental illness, tries to make a comeback while being manipulated by his overbearing therapist, bears striking similarities to former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Each of the eighteen short stories centers on one musician, and each "reads like a profile clipped from a bizarro Rolling Stone," Mark Rozzo wrote in the Los Angeles Times. Since rock stars are known for being bizarre in real life and Simmons's characters are often over the top even by those standards, some critics thought that some of the stories go too far "in preposterous directions," as a Kirkus Reviews contributor put it. However, as that critic also noted, "when she goes in for affecting character studies, the pieces work brilliantly." Rozzo, on the other hand, interpreted Simmons's excesses as a conscious attempt to make Too Weird for Ziggy "a knowing sendup [of rock journalism and rock itself] as arch as it is fond."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Artforum, spring, 2003, Luc Sante, "Louche Life," review of Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes: Requiem for a Twister, p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, November 5, 2004, Whitney Pastorek, review of Too Weird for Ziggy, p. 85.
Guardian (London, England), May 24, 2001, Hamish Mackintosh, "Working It Out: French Connection" (interview), p. 4.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2004, review of Too Weird for Ziggy, p. 889.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Heather McCormack, review of Too Weird for Ziggy, p. 145.
Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2004, Mark Rozzo, review of Too Weird for Ziggy, p. R10.
New Yorker, November 4, 2002, Mark Rozzo, "Over There," review of Serge Gainsbourg.
Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2002, review of Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass, p. 175; September 6, 2004, review of Too Weird for Ziggy, p. 43.
Village Voice, November 13, 2002, Mary Jacobi, "Love on the Beat," review of Serge Gainsbourg, p. 63.
Canongate Books Web site, http://www.canongate.net/ (March 31, 2005), "Sylvie Simmons."
GetReadytoRock.com, http://www.getreadytorock.com/ (March 31, 2005), Jason Ritchie, interview with Simmons.
Rock's Backpages Web site, http://www.rocksbackpages.com/ (March 31, 2005), "Sylvie Simmons."