If reading has taught me anything, it’s that pop stars are not to be trusted. They’re all up to something—whether they’re fleshy marionettes of literal spiders from Mars (as in David Lapham’s Young Liars) or just run-of-the-mill Satanists and serial killers. And that’s just the talent. If you have the extreme misfortune of meeting a producer… don’t take their card or shake their thick, ring-encrusted hand; just run.
(Some spoilers below.)
KILLER HITS In Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
This is—first and foremost—a book in which perpetrators of serious crimes are saddled with a physical manifestation of guilt in the form of an animal, a literal monkey on their back. It’s called animalling, and our protagonist, Zinzi, is “cursed” with a sloth. Also: an ability to find things, through which she gets involved in a number of missing person investigations that all seem to lead to a sinister producer and a brother/sister super group. Come for the always-fantastic Lauren Beukes; stay for the giant albino crocodile (and the sloth).
DAVID BOWIE DOOMSDAY in Coin Locker Babies by Ryū Murakami
The premise: two brothers abandoned in a train station locker grow up with the singular purpose of destroying their mother, Tokyo, and the world. I originally picked up this book by accident, and have lovingly referred to it as “The Wrong Murakami” ever since. Amazon reviewers agree that the first sentence is a horrifying endurance test, and the rest of the novel is an exercise in nausea… but, if you can make it through the violence and nihilism, you get a glam rock star ruling over Toxitown (it’s exactly what it sounds like) while developing a doomsday poison from eggplants. These are spoilers, but trust me, it doesn’t really matter.
Fun fact: as in Zoo City, twins and pet crocodiles loom large in Coin Locker Babies.
DRUM AND BASS AND BASHING SKULLS in King Rat by China Miéville
It’s the 90s, and the Pied Piper of Hamelin wants in on London’s burgeoning dance underground. In a scene right out of Edward Gorey’s High Fidelity. Pete (the Piper) convinces a skeptical DJ (Natasha) to let him lay some elaborate flute tracks on top of her Jungle beats. Just to be clear, that’s not a euphemism. Pete wants to use enchanted club music to hypnotize and kill our protagonist, Saul—a freshly orphaned rat prince coming to terms with his new life living in shadows—and if the rest of the world becomes slave to the Piper’s killer beats, so much the better!
BLACK MAGIC MOSH PITS in Hellblazer: Rare Cuts by Jamie Delano
“Everyone who moved in occult circles knew Alex Logue as a crap-head of the first order—a sex and drugs magician,” begins Hellblazer #11 (“Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come”), “but he had this club, and we’d needed a gig for the band.” The band is Mucous Membrane, a Sex Pistols knock-off fronted by John Constantine, the antihero of the comic that got me into comics. Sure, Mucous Membrane isn’t necessarily trying to kill you… but Constantine invoked a demon at their first gig (in a haunted abattoir, obviously), and that was just a taste of things to come.
SEX BOB-OMBINGS in Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Scott Pilgrim is such a powerhouse in this genre—Pop Music Trying To Kill You—that it almost doesn’t feel fair to include, but I can’t write this list and not mention evil ex-boyfriends Gideon Graves (mastermind of the League of Evil Exes and owner of the Chaos Theater) and Todd Ingram (fake vegan, telekinetic bassist for The Clash at Demonhead, and all around terrible person). They’re not trying to wipe humanity from the face of the earth or create a dance party army, but they are standing in the way of true love, and that almost feels worse.
REPTOID CHAMBER MUSIC IS A-OKAY in Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater
I was tempted to make this a list of five Daniel Pinkwater novels since he’s been my favorite author since I was nine years old and has written four of my top five favorite novels (in order: Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, The Last Guru, and Borgel). Pinkwater doesn’t write many psychotic pop stars, though… even if Victor, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Lizard Music, does worry that “lizards who can play clarinets and saxophones might be capable of anything” (emphasis mine). Instead, in Lizard Music, we learn that five feet tall, talking lizards are generally pretty nice.
Originally published in April 2015.
Nick Courage is a New Orleans-born writer who splits his time between Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife and two cats. His work has recently appeared in The Paris Review Daily, Story, and Full Stop. His novel The Loudness is available from Sky Pony Press.