Bob Pfeifer was the lead singer in the 1970s Cleveland punk band Human Switchboard. Later, he served as the president of a major record label. He's also been to jail. His debut novel, University of Strangers (published by Power City Press, the print arm of the punk label Smog Veil Records), is a fictionalized retelling of a sensational, true-life murder case, as related in the voices of real people (including Iggy Pop and the late novelist Roberto Bolaño) who act in fictional ways. Except for when they don't: some passages are borrowed from real life. Without trying very hard, it's a fuck-you to the notion of authorship and a sardonic salute to the age of aggregation. "I am the editor," reads the introduction. "Editors assemble information, select, winnow, deduce, cut and paste, and sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself, transcribe information from other sources." Reached via phone just hours before he hit the road with fellow Ohio punk legend Cheetah Chrome, Pfeifer says he was inspired by Legs McNeil's oral history, Please Kill Me, except that he wanted his own book to be fictional and a dark satire, like something out of The Onion. "Ultimately," he says, "it's about the search for truth." Pfeifer, Chrome, and the Pagans' Mike Hudson will read April 8 at Brookline Booksmith.
In the excerpt below, we hear from two of the novel's many disparate voices.
Dani is an attractive girl in her twenties and works in the Los Angeles sex industry.
I knew Vivian for a few years. We slept together every once in a while — nothing serious, just like when we felt like it. I ran into her and Branko at a club. I was a mess. I just had an abortion. I was with a client and the condom broke. I got pregnant. By the time I found out it was actually eleven weeks. And I'm . . . I'm not on birth control, basically because it affects me really badly. And um, so I know it's so stupid of me to be like that, I should have figured something out. I should have gone out and gotten that stupid fucking pill. I don't know what I was thinking — cuz, you know, there's the morning-after pill. You can go out and get it.
But I fucking spent the money on heroin. I got the money and it was like this weird chain of events. And I kept thinking, I gotta go get that pill. I gotta get that pill. And I kept spending the money on shit. So stupid.
Anyway, I started feeling sick almost immediately after. You know, like a week after. And I knew in my gut that I was. I knew, but I was in denial, because there's been times in my life when I thought I was pregnant and have gotten so psyched-out in my head that I started having physical reactions. Started getting morning sickness, missing my period, just from my mind convincing myself I was. And then it would turn out I wasn't. I just kept thinking, I'm freaking myself out.