Poppy Z. Brite,
Plastic Jesus
(Subterranean Press, 2000)

"What if?" has to be one of the most-asked questions of all time, and one of the great charms of being an author is the license to let your fantasies run wild in answering that question. That is, in fact, what you are supposed to do -- the whole point of the job! In Plastic Jesus, fantasy/horror author Poppy Z. Brite tackles the subject behind some of the biggest pop culture what-ifs of the century: The Beatles.

Brite's fictionalized band is called The Kydds, and the leaders, Seth and Peyton, closely resemble two other adorable mop-tops known to us all, except that these become lovers and revolutionize the acceptance of homosexuality in modern society. Although this hypothetical scenario does much to promote gay rights, all is not happiness and light in Brite's world. The spectre of AIDS still exists, and worst of all -- Seth still gets shot and killed in front of his apartment building. Now that's one "what if" I would have gotten rid of!

Many of the other characters and scenarios in the book are quite recognizably real people and events. Even the illustrations, done by Brite herself, show Seth looking rather Lennon-like and Peyton with a distinctly McCartney-ish air. Her portrayal of the rock-star lifestyle of the 1960s is the girls/drugs/money/touring smorgasbord that lurks in our cultural subconscious and makes little boys around the globe strut around playing air guitar. However, she also portrays the difficulties faced by the stars -- lack of privacy, freedom and pressure to follow public opinion.

Some of Brite's work can be very explicit and often, gruesome, but this short work (only 99 pages) is remarkably restrained. It is a love story, far from her roots in the horror genre. There is a fair amount of sex, lots of drugs (it's a book about rock stars, after all) and an interesting dark twist at the end -- but all in all, it's rather calm and quiet. And I don't mean that in a bad way -- as an optimist at heart, I like happy, calm and quiet.

The book has an author's afterword explaining how the idea for the story came to Brite, and the profound influence that the Beatles had on her life. She even has a small tattoo of John Lennon's "cartoony little self-portrait" on her arm! Some versions come with an accompanying chapbook, which deals with pretty much the same information, just more in-depth. Acknowledging that not all Beatles fans will enjoy her work, Brite writes:

"I know there are a lot of Beatles nuts out there, and I figure a few of them will probably read this story, and some percentage of those will be pissed off by it. I can't help that. All I can say is that they are no more your Beatles than mine, and what I have created from the experience of listening to them is no less valid than the joy they've given you."

All connections to the Fab Four aside, Brite's story is well written, entertaining and can certainly stand on its own as an enjoyable pop culture read.

- Rambles
written by April Chase
published 12 April 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.