Saturday, August 4, 2018

RAT WAX: "Record Weasels"

  *A book review I wrote. Originally published in French 'zine "Rockin'." It deserves a re-posting here on this blog, as it is an excellent read. Pick up a copy by following the link at bottom ( The author is currently working on a 2nd novel.           

            “RAT WAX: A book review by Justin Lee Russell of ‘Record Weasels’ by Dick Blackburn”

The desire to collect various things is a very basic, fundamental concept of humanity and civilization. From a more primordial perspective, it is a way to survive. Needless to say; we collect food, clothes, money; even ideas and emotions. Some of us more, slightly damaged individuals, take it a step further: records, baseball cards, autographs, post cards, matchboxes, movie posters, comics, vintage furniture, salt and pepper shakers, Elvis memorabilia, classic cars, sexual partners, and pornographic films. I’m sure there is some wretched degenerate, somewhere out in the world; with a collection of pubic hair belonging to celebrities. The list of things people collect is nearly endless. Go to the local pharmacy, some confused and frail grandmother has a massive collection of clip-out coupons. When she goes home, she lies in a pile of thousands of beanie babies. 
        Collecting is, usually, harmless. But as author Dick Blackburn magnificently shows us in his brilliant, but weird novel; collecting has its dark side. Obsessing, cataloging, alphabetizing, numbering, assorting, discovering, chronological order, color-coding, instinctual purchasing, the mathematical breakdown of one’s paycheck, the secrecy, the little white lies that one tells oneself and perhaps a significant other. Collecting can touch upon some heavy advanced psychology. Sometimes collecting and obsessing can deliver one into the bosom of a profound and abounding joy, other times one might find himself dead in the potholes of some dark, lonesome, and dank downtown alley with a switchblade thrust deep into the thoracic cavity of the chest. Or if you are lucky; it will just destroy your marriage, disappoint your love ones, or cause your utilities to get disconnected, it will make you wreck your Trans Am, or put your widescreen TV in hock, or get you in trouble with petty idiotic criminals. In Dick Blackburn’s bizarre and darkly comedic novel, almost all these things happen to its score of colorful characters. Criminals, backstabbers, Indian-givers, bitter impregnated lovers, judgmental mothers, lascivious shysters, and money hungry double-dealers constitute the perfectly dysfunctional corrupt world contained within the feral pages of “Record Weasels.”
The reader will go on a mad, twisted journey with Kevin the novel’s anti-hero. The reader’s emotions and ability to discern, or “read” into his fellow humans will be tested. The electricity of neurons will short. Social connectivity will backfire. Kevin is both affable and despicable. He is constantly on a precipice, ready to leap into full realization of either characteristic. He is vermin, shirking and swindling, in the burrows with other vermin. The reader will feel sorry for those around Kevin; especially for Marlene, his significant other. One will find himself thinking: “at least he is addicted to records and not heroin,” or “he could be into dealing with drugs, firearms, and human bodies but isn’t,” or “Marlene should be glad he collects records and not child porn”. The author, perhaps inadvertently and in conjunction with psychology, lends the novel a moral sense. There are definitely lessons to be learned within this novel. The inner-workings of both love and hate will be explored and there is plenty for the existentialist. One will realize that the concept of human relation is a wondrous, but greatly burdening thing. Perhaps, sometimes……maybe we’d do better journeying out into the woods…….alone.
Mr. Blackburn knows his subject matter and, exhaustively, did his research; this makes for an easy read. He delves into the world of record collecting, record history, the vinyl record industry, and music history. Record labels, record pricing, record grading, the exact year records were recorded, the various genres and sub-genres, their chart positions, and the individual record histories. It is very esoteric. The lucidity and ease of his writing and the universality of collecting and obsession combat this, and brings mass appeal and interest. This novel is for anyone who has collected something, or even anyone who has been in love.
This novel, most assuredly, fits snugly into the long and dark history of the dime store novel, noir fiction, and pulp fiction. It seems to engulf the various pulp genres and it reads like such, but has enough ultra-violence, hopped-up sex, modern conversation, and blockbuster action to feel completely new, original, and refreshing. The hipsters will call it “vintage” or “retro”. When reading this novel, authors like James Ellroy will come to mind. Also, one can get a whiff of Louis Ferdinand Celine’s dark pessimistic humor, the scathing brutality of Selby, the cool of the Beat poets, and the nervous, weird, and perverted awkwardness of Crumb.
Fans of Tarantino, the Cohen Brothers, Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, the quirkiness of Wes Anderson, and film noir will love this novel. I mention film and filmmakers, because one truly awesome and peculiar characteristic on Blackburn’s novel is that it seems to transcend and defy the limitations and the drawbacks of a novel. It isn’t stuffy, nor does it ever feel congested, bloated, or overbearing. It seems to flow freely between the different artistic mediums, in that; although it is a novel, it feels like a comic and at other times like a film. This is a unique effect. It screams from its physical prison of book form, to be transformed into a screenplay and, ultimately, an indie-film. It wants to be a comic series or an instant cult classic film. 

 The author reading from "Record Weasels" at Book Soup in LA.

Pick up a copy at

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