Wednesday, April 10, 2024

No Sympathy For The Devil

No Sympathy For The Devil, by Frederick Snow
April, 1982  Fawcett Gold Medal

I’ve managed to discover yet another obscure rock novel, one so obscure that there wasn’t even a scan of the cover online, so I had to take one with my phone. And also there’s no info out there about Frederick Snow; apparently this is his only book, and No Sympathy For The Devil is copyright under his name, but it could be a pseudonym; whoever it is, the writing is very clunky throughout, much clunkier than anything I’ve ever read from Fawcett, which in my mind was a slightly more upscale imprint. 

On the positive side, I can say without question that No Sympathy For The Devil is by far the raunchiest rock novel I’ve yet had the pleasure to read. Even more raunchy than Mick Farren’s The Tale Of Willy’s Rats; almost every other page features characters having sex, thinking about sex, or talking about sex. The image very much conveyed is that the rock world is comprised of fragile, juvenile egos that are driven by insatiable impulses, constantly snorting coke, smoking dope, or having depraved sex. This of course is a huge mark in the book’s favor. 

On the negative side, No Sympathy For The Devil is poorly written, with the aforementioned clunky prose, expository dialog, and often awkward sentence construction. Frederick Snow also POV-hops like a champ, meaning we’ll start a paragraph in the perspective of one character but finish the same paragraph in the perspective of another character. That sort of thing really grinds my gears. Also the plot is goofy – a suspense subplot is grafted onto the trashy template of the story, perhaps catering to the demands of publisher Fawcett, which of course was known for its suspense and crime fiction.

Another problem is the year of publication…I mean 1982 doesn’t scream “rock” to me. Fortunately Snow makes no mention of punk or new wave or synthesizers or whatnot, though “disco” is mentioned in passing a few times, mostly as in “disco clubs” up-and-coming singers got their starts in. Another interesting note is that the rockers for the most part presented here are all women…this however is so Snow can feature each of them in kinky, drug-fueled sexcapades. Hell, the women in this novel are so horny that at one point a 46 year-old housewife is abducted by thugs – while she’s masturbating in the shower – and one of the kidnappers is a lesbian who immeditely goes down on her when they pull her out of the shower; an orgy ensues. 

The most interesting thing about No Sympathy For The Devil is how it’s so much like something Belmont Tower or Leisure Books might have published the decade before. I’m not exaggerating. It has the same coarse narrative style as, say, The Savage Women, and the same focus on sadism as pretty much any of those BT or Leisure paperbacks – even the same big print. In fact there was something familiar about the writing style, and belatedly I wondered if it might have been written by J.C. Conaway, as there is a touch of his style to the prose – and also I can find no info on a writer named “Frederick Snow.” (Not to mention that I also suspect Conaway wrote The Savage Women.) The glitzy Hollywood trappings are another Conaway hallmark…and really the “glitz” stuff takes precedence over the “rock” stuff, as like Angel Dust this is another “rock novel” where the occupation of the main characters could be changed, from rockers to, say, movie stars, and the plot wouldn’t change. 

The chief rocker in the novel is Jennifer Carron, now “at the top of the rock and roll ladder” but at one point a no-name who sang in those aformentioned disco clubs and whatnot. Curiously Snow does not tell us what Jennifer Carron looks like; he has a tendency to not much describe his characters at all. He also doesn’t much describe the sex scenes, shockingly enough; while No Sympathy For The Devil is certainly raunchy and adult in nature, the actual sex either happens off-page or is only minimally described. What I mean to say is, the novel never truly descends (or should it be “ascends?”) to hardcore. 

And I’ve gone this far without acknowledging that the title, of course, is a nod to one of the greatest songs in history: “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones. At first I thought No Sympathy For The Devil took place in its own reality, with a made-up cast of rock stars and whatnot, but as it develops it is indeed a roman a clef, with occasional mentions of the Stones or The Beatles. We’re told though that the most famous rock group in the novel is “The Cinco’s,” five British guys who are “mentioned historically in the same breath as the Beatles, the Stones, or Elvis.” 

And yes, friends, it’s “The Cinco’s,” with the apostrophe before the “s,” as if “The Cinco” owns something. Remember when I mentioned the clunky writing? 

But as it turns out, The Cinco’s are a minimal presence anyway. It’s the women who stay at the forefront in the novel…which honestly could be yet another clue that Frederick Snow was really J.C. Conaway, given his preference for female protagonists. Jennifer Carron is sort of the main character, or should that be main antagonist, though surprisingly she fades into a supporting role, after a memorable opening which features her snorting coke and having sex in the studio. But there’s also a Tina Turner-esque singer named Darlene Silk, who has a rivlary with Jennifer, and the plot concerns their battle for which will receive this year’s “Entertainer of the Year” Grammy. 

And this is yet another “rock novel” where the author never tells us what the music sounds like, nor really much describes it – we have the opening bit where Jennifer Carron belts out what we’re told is a surefire hit in the studio, but describing the song itself is outside the author’s ability. Later in the book both Jennifer and Darlene will each sing a song at the Grammys, but again we aren’t told how it sounds – and friends that is it, so far as the “rock stuff” goes. As I said, Jennifer and Darlene could be changed into movie star divas, fighting for an Oscar instead of a Grammy, and the novel would be the same. 

Because, as it develops, the “thriller” stuff, such as it is, takes precedence. In the opening chapter we are told how, two years ago, a sleazy individual named Rudy Cannon was fired from IEM Records, where he served as VP of Sales – he was outed by hotsthot producer Greg Welles, who claimed that Cannon was selling pirated copies of the Cinco’s latest album, which had been withdrawn due to the Cinco’s being unhappy with the mix. IEM Chairman of the Board Townsend Parker, urged on by Welles, had no choice but to fire Cannon, who vowed revenge. 

Then the plot itself begins, two years later, and we see Greg Welles in the studio with Jennifer Carron, and this is the most “rock stuff” part of the novel, with studio musicians playing and Jennifer singing what will surely become a huge hit, then doing coke and screwing Greg while the engineers listen in the control booth. But after this No Sympathy For The Devil changes course and the focus of the plot concerns Ashley Burdnoy, attractive 46 year-old wife of John Burdnoy, a CPA who runs the agency that counts ballots for the Grammys. Burdnoy is a non-celebrity who, each year, enjoys a few seconds of celebrity as the guy who brings out the letter containing the winner of the “Entertainer of the Year” on live TV during the awards. 

Readers soon learn that Rudy Cannon’s revenge scheme concerns the Burdnoys: now running his own label, Good Vibrations (which started off due to a wealthy funder whose identity is left a mystery until novel’s end), Cannon seeks to steal artists from IEM, particularly ones who have worked with his archenemy Greg Welles. Jennifer Carron would be the big score, and Rudy has promised her a plush contract – as well as guaranteeing she will become Entertainer of the Year if she moves to his label. Jennifer is all for it, whatever Rudy must do to guarantee it – and his plan is to abduct Ashley Burdnoy and use her as collateral to force John Burdnoy to change the name written on the winning card to “Jennifer Carron.” 

A lot of the narrative is focused on the kidnapping, drugging, and raping of Ashely Burdnoy, who as mentioned is abducted while pleasuring herself, so of course Snow skirts the line with the subtext that Ashley, a bored housewife with no children and who keeps fit on the tennis courts, begins to enjoy it. Her kidnappers are a motley group: a radical lesbian named Ronni, a junkie slut named Eva, and a burly biker-type named Denny. Each of them will have their way with Ashley in the short course of the novel, including even a sequence where she’s forced to have sex with Denny on videotape as yet more collateral – Rudy Cannon’s safeguard to prevent John Burdnoy from going to the cops after all this is over. The kidnappers also have fun drugging Ashley up, most notably a part where they dose her with LSD and then Eva goes down on her, leading Ashley to experience the biggest orgasm of her life. 

So as you can see, No Sympathy For The Devil is pretty depraved. The issue is, it’s really more of a kidnapping/extortion novel than it is a rock novel. The “rock world” trappings are for the most part lost as the narrative becomes more concerned with Greg Welles trying to help John Burdnoy find his abducted wife. But this too is goofy, because multiple times through the novel they could just go to the police, but this is never addressed. But the idea is that Burdnoy assumes the mystery man who has kidnapped his wife – and who keeps calling Burdnoy with orders to declare Jennifer Carron the winner that night at the Grammys – must be Greg Welles, who of course happens to be Jennifer Carrons’ producer. 

As for Welles, he’s kind of a cipher and not much brought to life, despite being the hero of the piece. I did appreciate how the author recreated the casual infidelities of the rock world: as mentioned the novel opens with Welles and Jennifer having casual sex in the studio, even though both of them have respective others: Jennifer’s a sleazebag who serves as her manager and who is also part of the kidnapping plot (which Jennifer is aware of), and Welles’ a hotstuff movie actress named Frederica. The grimy vibe extends to all of this, with every character talking about sex or wondering when they’ll have sex again – even the Cinco’s show up at Welles’ place, having brought along a young girl they discovered in England who literally orgasms at the sound of the lead singer’s voice, entailing a bit where everyone sits around and watches her climax on the floor, complete with details on how wet her panties are getting! 

So yeah, all this depraved stuff is great, but the book is constantly undone by the comically-inept lack of payoff. Like for example, the opening sex between Jennifer and Welles. It’s Jennifer Carron who initiates it, fondling her producer in the studio and asking if he wants to “fuck” after offering him some coke. Later on we realize this is a casual thing between them, but Jennifer seems to secretly be in love with Greg Welles, and that he spurns her is one of the reasons she’s looking to jump ship from the label. But this is never paid off. Even worse is the case of Eva, the junkie who still likes men but for the most part is in a relationship with full-fledged lesbian Ronni. Well folks, we get the WTF? revelation midway through the book that Eva was once married to Greg Welles, and this is never really brought up again, other than another random WTF? tidbit that Welles’s chaffeur/bodyguard Tonto (a white guy with a very un-PC nickname) has “had a crush on Eva since college.” This info is just randomly introduced and then not dwelt on again…indeed, Eva seems to disappear from the text at novel’s end, leaving the reader to wonder what her fate is. 

But really the book is more focused on the various degredations of Ashley Burdnoy, who is captured while fondling herself in the shower and will spend the rest of the novel – which occurs over a few hours – either nude or in a bathrobe that’s constantly coming open so her adbuctors can fondle her nether regions. Meanwhile Greg Welles, working with Darlene Silk’s people, tries to figure out who abducted Burdnoy’s wife. Here’s where it gets hard to believe, with Tonto and another dude ultimately heading for the place where Ashley’s being held, one of them even toting a Magnum revolver – again, it would be just as simple for them to have gone to the cops, given that they’ve not only figured out where Ashley is being held but also who is behind the kidnapping plot. 

Instead the climax plays out at the Grammys, with lots of “tension” as Welles and Burdnoy wait desperately for word that Ashley is safe, the notification upon which Burdnoy will change the cards again so that Jennifer Carron does not win. This entire part is goofy – and here’s where I really started to suspect J.C. Conaway was the author – because there’s a bit where guest presenters The Cinco’s do a dumb comedy routine while presenting the Entertainer of the Year award, complete with them playing “peekaboo” with the audience from behind the award stage curtains, and it’s all very Conaway-esque. 

That Leisure Books vibe also extends to Ashley’s rescue: just as she was abducted while pleasuring herself, so too is she rescued while being forced into lesbian sex with Ronni. I mean this lady is really taken over the coals throughout the book. But there is a nice payoff with Ashley getting hold of that Magnum and blasting out vengeance – complete with the nonchalant reveal, at the end of the book, that she’s blown off the friggin’ head of one of her captors. 

Humorously, Frederick Snow just flat-out ends the book at the Grammys, complete with Ashley showing up still in nothing but that damn bathrobe – not that anyone seems to notice. It’s kind of hilarious in how poorly constructed the novel is at times, but also a refreshing reminder of the days when publishers didn’t have “focus groups” to judge the quality of a book before publication. But while it’s kind of a cold finish, it does at least resolve the kidnapping and revenge scheme storylines, as well as the outing of Rudy Cannon’s secret funder – which, honestly, is kind of easy to figure out, given that there are only a handful of characters in the novel. 

Overall No Sympathy For The Devil is certainly trashy and depraved, and in that regard serves up everything I could want from a rock novel. And at 224 pages of big ol’ print, it is a pretty quick read. Yet at the same time, the rock stuff in it is so minimal that it’s mostly just window dressing…in actuality the novel is more of a kidnapping yarn with a lot of sleaze and sadism, and I’d really love to know if “Frederick Snow” was J.C. Conaway or some other Belmont Tower/Leisure Books veteran.

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