The Pynchon Hoax

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Submitted by Peter Markus as seen on

Thomas Pynchon is No Indie Rock Groupie
by The Cajun Boy
August 12 2009

pynchon001-200In 1996 the New Yorker ran a “Talk of the Town” piece about the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon becoming a huge fan of an indie rock band called Lotion, a story the magazine now acknowledges was all a hilarious hoax.

To get an idea of how all this came to be, here’s what the New Yorker’s Andrew Essex wrote about the friendship between Pynchon and Lotion in the 1996 TOTT piece:

The writer and the rockers first met in Cincinnati… After the show, the older guy, who was wearing a Godzilla shirt and ill-fitting pants, swung by to offer his compliments. He introduced himself as Tom. Jim Ferguson was reading “Slow Learner”, Pynchon’s collection of short stories. He’d left his copy backstage in a New York rock club, where Pynchon had been invited to watch the show. Pynchon saw it and asked, “Who’s reading my book?” “I said, ‘No, that’s my book,'” Jim recalls. “It didn’t register until 1 got onstage… After that, Tom began showing up at Lotion performances all over the country. An unlikely friendship was born. A year later, the members of Lotion are still a bit stunned by their guardian angel.

Recently Essex contacted the magazine to say that he and the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checkers had been tricked by the band all those years ago.

When asked about the article last week, Lotion’s lead singer, Tony Zajkowski, now a graphic designer at Wired, blurted out, “Oh, God, you got the big bullshit story!” Shortly afterward, the bassist Bill Ferguson, who now works on the Times Magazine copy desk, admitted that they had fed reporters at various outlets an account designed to be “as Pynchonesque as possible.” The bandmates had repeated their story to a New Yorker fact checker, who did his best to confirm details. Pynchon, then as now, was unreachable, and when the story came out he raised no public objections.

The band says that Pynchon did attend some of their London shows and actually wrote some liner notes for an album after they met him through his accountant, who happened to be the mother of the band’s drummer, but he was nothing even close to being a groupie who attended rock shows in Godzilla T-shirts and ill-fitting pants. They did the whole hilarious thing for shits and giggles, a hoax that stood for 13 years, and for that the former members of the Lotion deserve a tip of the proverbial cap.

More links:

  • Pynchon and The New Yorker: Pranksters Fess Up, The New York Times
  • THE PYNCHON HOAX, The New Yorker