Earlier this week I reviewed Lee Widener’s fantastically bizarre novella, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Head Case.” I reached out to him, and he was gracious enough to do a little question and answer session with me. Buy his book here and here.
Check it out.
Rock and Roll Head Case was first released in 2015 and is now being re-released with new content and revisions. Can you tell me a little bit about the journey you have had with this book and why you think it’s important now to get a new version of it into the reader’s hands?
In 2015 I was offered a chance to participate in the New Bizarro Authors Showcase, a yearly series that presented original novellas by emerging writers in the Bizarro Fiction scene. The catch- I had to turn in the finished manuscript in four weeks. I’m a terribly slow writer, so the proposal was a bit frightening, but the offer was too good to pass up, so I buckled up and accepted. But what story would I tell? The upcoming presidential election was heating up, and this was a topic that concerned me. I’m old enough to remember a lot of shitty presidents in my lifetime, and they kept getting worse- Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush lite… and this absolute CLOWN was making traction in the Republican party. This honestly frightened me. I HAD to say something. I had to make some kind of difference. In my first few chapters of my first draft the evil candidate was a thinly disguised simulacrum of Trump called “Dump.” But my editor didn’t like it. It was too spot on. It wasn’t a metaphor. I was skeptical. I really wanted to warn people about the looming disaster I saw. But my editor said, “In a year nobody’s going to even remember who Trump is. Your book will have longer legs if you change it to something else.” I was still leery but on his advice, I changed the candidate in my book to a literal monster. Ultimately, I think the decision was right, and it made the book better, but holy hell, Trump has turned out to be more of a monster than I even imagined. I’m reminded of something Robert Anton Wilson said in his book “The Cosmic Trigger.” That book was a non-fiction account of his experiences writing the infamous “Illuminatus Trilogy” with Robert Shea. He said every night they would write the most bizarre, crazy scenarios they could think of, and then the next day they’d read the news and it was even stranger than they were able to dream.
Somehow, Trump got elected, and life got weird really fast, and hasn’t stopped. Now, Eraserhead Press, who published the original edition of ROCK N ROLL HEAD CASE publishes a lot of books. That’s one way they stay afloat in this day when small presses are created and fail daily, so their back catalog doesn’t get a lot of attention. I asked for the rights back so I could update the book, give it a bit of polish, fix the typos, and re-release the book. It’s even more important right now to make sure the scariest clown to ever hold office doesn’t get reelected. Will this publication have any real effect on the situation? Who knows. Probably not as much as the brave souls risking their lives in protest right now, but it’s what I’m able to do. If my tale can give someone the strength to resist, to carry on the fight, can inspire someone to make a difference in the world, then it’s worth it.
The main character finds the head of Alice Cooper at the bottom of a fryer, wrapped in a trash bag. I have loved Alice Cooper since I was a teenager, and I caught some of the Alice Cooper puns throughout the novella. I love that you used Alice Cooper in this role instead of Gene Simmons or Glenn Danzig or Mama Cass. Is there a certain reason why you use Alice Cooper as an extension of the main character?
I had previously released a story called DAVID BOWIE IS TRYING TO KILL ME that got a lot good feedback. I chose Bowie for that story because he was an artist who spanned several generations in popularity. I’m not a musician, but I love music deeply. I listen to music constantly. It’s what keeps me going. So for my next work I wanted to include another musical artist. I needed somebody who had a long career- who was still around, still going strong. And I knew this artist would be acting as a mentor in my story, so I asked myself, who would be the world’s worst life coach? Alice Cooper was the template for a lot of what’s been termed “shock rock,” with songs like “Dead Babies.” His image is like a grade B horror movie- live snakes, decapitations on stage and such, but the real Alice Cooper is nothing like that. So I knew that I wanted to play with that image, use that dichotomy.
The Frankenstein Party is a political party running a presidential candidate that is the amalgamation of several different celebrity body parts. They are running on the platform that seems cruel but at the core is a great deal of the things that we are pushing for now in this country, particularly with housing and feeding the homeless. Was this coincidental or is this something that you personally have been pushing for during your own protests? Are you really the Frankenstein Party?
The issues in every presidential election are always the same – the economy, jobs, homelessness, but nothing ever really gets done. The solutions the Frankenstein Party offers in the book are not real solutions. They are dismissions. They are just talking points to placate the populace long enough to get the party elected, and then forgotten. The people who are running the country, who have the ability to make real changes, but instead take the opportunity to make themselves richer, and turn a blind eye to the amount of real suffering going on, are really, truly monsters. We need to stop electing monsters to govern. We need to fight monsters. This book is for everyone who fights the monsters.
Your website is filled with your interesting drawings, art, and just things you enjoy. If you are not writing, what creative things can we find you doing?
In addition to writing, I like to draw weird pictures, and make weird collages. You can find this stuff at:
Any day now I’ll have a new book out that combines my writing and art. TEENY TINY STORIES FROM THE MARINATED JUNGLE will feature ten weird animal fables and ten photocollages. Freaky fables for these crazy times.
The final question. Is there really no forever?
It’s true. There’s no forever. There is only now.
Thank you to Lee Widener to take the time to answer these questions.