Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case (review)

Lee Widener’s Rock’n’Roll Head Case is a badass adventure, sometimes mystical and often silly.

The prose is clean, unembellished and functional. There’s a lot going on in this story, and Widener wisely chooses not to let his words get in the way, instead allowing the reader a frank look at the bizarre situations he’s cooked up. More importantly, Widener’s story is always on the move. The pacing is right up there with Jingle All the Way, leaping from event to event without wasting screen-time. Characters are archetypal but outlandish, communicating most of what you need to know about them in their first few sentences on the page. The economy of story-telling is strong enough that I was surprised to learn that Lee Widener hasn’t got any screenwriting credits that I could find. Obviously we don’t want the world of books to lose a unique voice, but Widener’s high-concept yarn would translate beautifully to the screen.

The world of Rock’n’roll Head Case is warped, but familiar. While Widener populates his world with Frankensteined presidential candidates and disembodied rockstar heads, his protagonist Chaino Durante is a classic everyman. Everyone who isn’t some popped-collar trustfund larva has worked some shitty gruntslime job, even if it isn’t for a fast food joint that cooks burgers in toxic waste. Durante gets to live out the perfectly healthy fantasy of murdering one’s boss and stealing all his money, only to find out how deeply he’s gotten in over his head.

My favorite aspect of Rock’n’Roll Head Case is the merging of the monstrous, the morbid, and the divine. Widener’s Alice Cooper is equal parts Tyler Durden and Shiva, with a healthy dash of black magic. Widener’s Cooper is a smooth, spider-spewing criminal whose rhetoric hints at a deeper philosophy behind his devil-may-care attitude. Everyone in Alice’s worldview holds death inside them. We must die to become ourselves, and this state of being is both monstrous and godly.

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