Chaino Durante is a loser working the night shift at the Nuclear Burger. He bids his time working up the courage to rob the place, just so he has a chance to have control for once. One day at work, he happens to discover the disembodied head of Alice Cooper (it happens) who helps him with the robbery. With the money from Nuclear Burger in hand and Chaino’s asshole manager dead, he runs off with the head of Alice Cooper on an incredible adventure.
“What the hell do you want? You did this to me. You stuck a gun in the back of my head. Now I’m a gun. What do guns do? They kill things. It’s the eternal cycle – birth, life, death. Old things have to die so new things can be born. People have to die so the new you can be born. It’s the natural order.”
If I had to describe Rock ‘N’ Roll Headcase in a sentence, I would say it’s a love letter to strange 1970s animation. Think Fantastic Planet, the work of Ralph Bashki or the Heavy Metal movie (even if that came out in 1981). Even right down to the hippie-ish philosophizing.
The plot is picaresque and trippy. This is both a strength and a weakness in the book. Lee Widener comes up with some great psychedelic imagery throughout the story that’s at times hilarious and others quite pretty.
He felt a familiar feather touch on his arm and Shadow appeared before him. She took his hand and they flew into space, past a dizzying image of a series of identical planets fanned out like a deck of cards, each one overlapping the one next to it in an unending chain. Occasionally they’d swoop down into the atmosphere of one of the planets to get a closer look, and Chaino was treated to a phantasmagorical parade of life forms and environments.
The problem is towards the middle, the focus on this kind of imagery slows down the plot. There are one or two times you get the impression that Widener came up with a weird vignette that he was determined to put in this book, whether it really fit or not.
In the end, whether you’ll enjoy Rock ‘N’ Roll Headcase depends on how much you can tolerate 60s-70s style weirdness. If you’re the type who finds the idea of spending an afternoon queuing up some of The 13th Floor Elevators and reading some trippy-ass shit appealing, then this book is perfect for you.
Ben Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/