Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: Stories of Sex, Drugs, Rock 'N' Roll and Murder

Sheet Music

Phases and Stages


by Mike Sager

Thunder's Mouth Press, 480 pp. (paper), $14.95 Bracing, solid magazine writing -- the kind you used to find in Rolling Stone before Jann Wenner surreptitiously turned it into Highlights for Big Children -- rarely gets its due. Writers are limited by space, and also constrained often by deadline, but thanks to Tom Wolfe, Nick Tosches, and the not-so-new journalism, the form has in the past 30-odd years risen to become pretty much the only reason anyone reads Vanity Fair these days. Mike Sager, however, is no Tosches. He's an ex-Washington Post reporter under Bob Woodward who has moved on to become a contributing editor at the Stone and is currently writer-at-large for Esquire. Although Scary Monsters has its moments, too many of the 19 nonfiction pieces feel like cheap upgrades from the pages of supermarket checkout rags. Sager covers everything and everyone from the suicide of porn stars Savannah ("Little Girl Lost") and John Holmes ("The Devil and John Holmes") to the murder of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin (like the Holmes piece also adapted to film), and from the events leading up to the beating of Rodney King to funkateer Rick James' legal woes incurred after a lengthy coke and S&M binge. These grimy tales make for instant page-turners on the LAX red-eye, but collected in book form they feel strained, exploitative, and not nearly as fascinating as the title suggests. Sager relies heavily on chatty dialogue from his subjects -- the annoying Atlanta club kids who got Rob Lowe into trouble during the 1988 Democratic National Convention make you want to reach out and slap them -- and the sort of neo-noir, tough-as-dirt prose that cries out for nothing so much as a vacuum cleaner. It's not all dross. "The Martyrdom of Veronica Guerin" is breathless and unnerving, but many of the characters profiled on their way to or from hell require more than the 20-odd pages allotted. But then maybe we already know more about John Holmes than we need, or want, to.

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