America’s relationship with the redneck is weird. We fear he might steal our skin or impregnate our sheep and yet some of us proudly wear trucker hats and listen to the folksy musings of Larry the Cable Guy. Rednecks are abominations and earthy troubadours, drooling rape monsters and loveable bumpkins. The 70s brought us a couple traditions that come together in a weird way in Edward Lee’s book Header. Movies like Sassy Sue made the redneck a noble savage porno hero following the nudie cutie tradition of the 60s. Sexy farmer’s daughters and perverts in overalls had the fun we wished we were having if it weren’t for the fact that we have to talk to women like human beings and most of them would like us to be smart, refined and courteous. We can’t just forsake decorum for a literal roll in the hay.
Yet conversely, the golden age of grindhouse also brought us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and took us to the America of Tobe Hooper. In Hooper’s America deranged hitchhikers lie in wait to be picked up by vans of naive hippies and take them to a nightmare antifamily, one lacking female compassion, real humanity or any kind of potential for growth. Tobe Hooper’s rednecks, Leatherface, Cook, Grandpa and Hitchhiker are subhuman monsters, symptoms of the American heart gone leprous.Essentially, it’s one fucked up take on Little Red Riding Hood and the American redneck is the wolf.
Header is a fascinating book because it manages to combine aspects of the TCM redneck phobia with almost a hint of the Lovecraftian. The “protagonist” of the book is a corrupt cop, a man with a sick wife who can’t put out and an imagination tyrannized by possibilities. First, it was the idea that he could run drugs, corruption being the allure of singing sirens, replacing the eldritch tome that will drive any man mad who touches it with the very real possibilities of crime. And at the beginning of the book, he is already succumbing to that. To quote They Might Be Giants “Can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding”. We all find comfort at some point in the arms of the unnatural and he has to since once again, his wife is not putting out.
But Header’s world presents him with another possibility. A scarier one. For a man who has fallen into corruption, the prospect that human beings have infinite potential for evil and perversion is a haunting one and he’s confronted by it (THROAT CLEAR) head on. Corpses are turning up with holes drilled in their heads and semen in the holes. Somebody is fucking heads and by doing so is fucking with his head. An almost demonic obsession overcomes him. A sex act has become the Necronomicon, a temptation to join with the subhuman elementals of the American backwoods.
Header goes so far as to show you these people at work. Grandpa and Travis, the perpetrators of the titular sex act find no greater joy than fucking the holes they have drilled in people’s heads. There is nothing more pleasurable for them than soaking themselves in the dark spongy parts of the brain. As a Bizarro writer and editor of a journal of underground fiction and critique, I relate to this on a certain level. Not literally, but this is literature, dammit. It’s about metaphors. And not just about head fucking. You get to see the two of them graphically and quite resplendently enjoying something so awful it’s ingenious. Lee, in his afterword points out that he’s actually gotten letters from women who fantasize about getting a “header”.
Why should we look at this? Why should somebody fantasize about that? Why should head fucking haunt and possess a cop? WHY? Because perversion is magic. It opens gateways into new potential for better or for worse. The pervert’s universe is bigger and smaller than the square’s. Sometimes a perversion can shrink the Earth and become one’s definition of joy as it has with Grandpa and Travis or perhaps it can open up a road of possibilities. What do you think that box from the Hellraiser movies is, after all? Header portrays a world being wrenched open and intrudes upon your own with glimpses into awful potential. Tobe Hooper’s America, where teenagers pick up deadly hitchhikers and end up at almost necrophilic dinner parties hosted by cannibal meatpackers. If you read Header, this road will open up for better or for worse.
And you know what? It’s awesome. Just as we should admit Oz into our cosmology, we must also admit the backwoods and the cabins. When we see infinite potential at its worst, we get to decide to bring it to bear at its best. Or maybe we decide our imagination is less tyrannous than we thought and the pink, swollen handprint you left on your best gal’s ass ain’t the end of the world. My brother in arms Jeff Burk chose well when he chose Header and the reissue is a must for those with strong stomachs and imaginations. God help me, I had fun. And you might too.