Black Francis Rock Opera to Premiere

Bluefinger-based play to kick off Nov. 12 in Houstin.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

The Catastrophic Theatre (Houston, TX) announces the world premiere of the new Black Francis rock opera Bluefinger: The Fall and
Rise of Herman Brood, co-produced with the University of Houston School of
Theatre & Dance, featuring songs and concepts by Black Francis and Herman
Brood and adapted for the stage by Jason Nodler from an idea by Pixies
biographer Josh Frank.  

Bluefinger was inspired by the critically
acclaimed 2007 Black Francis album of the
same name.  The album was Francis’ first
concept album and was also significant for marking a return to the stage name
he’d used with his legendary band Pixies after a long solo career under the name
of Frank Black.  The album focuses entirely on the life and death of Herman
Brood, a Dutch artist, rocker and junkie who leapt to his death from the roof of
the Amsterdam Hilton in 2001 at the age of 54.

In 2008, Josh
Frank attended the Austin production of the original Daniel Johnston
phantasmagoria Speeding Motorcycle, created and directed by Nodler.  After the
performance, Frank expressed his longstanding desire to do the same sort of
thing with the work of Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Black Francis/Frank Black).  A few weeks later
Thompson and Frank met and Thompson expressed an interest in a theatrical
version of his recent album Bluefinger.  Frank introduced Thompson to Nodler who
began to listen to the record in the interest of developing the play.
 

Among the songs on the album, one stood out to Nodler as the lynchpin
of any stage version; “Your Mouth Into Mine” seemed to be an almost religious
expression of that phenomenon of taking the work of another artist so personally
that we go beyond identifying with them and almost become them – where the
artist, more than just speaking for us, provides the inspiration for us to speak
for ourselves.  According to Thompson this song is about Brood feeling this way
towards his American rock heroes, but in listening to it Nodler had the same
experience with the music of Black Francis. 
As he further researched Brood’s own music, the floodgates opened.  The deep and
personal connection he felt with the songs of both of these artists would become
the basis for the early development of the play.

All my days, I’ve
been listening to you play
I’ve spent all my days driving, all my nights
trying
You are so big but that don’t make me so small
You rule the world
but now I’m standing tall

I’m taking your mouth into mine

Over
the play’s two-year development, Nodler received useful advice and guidance from
many people: Frank, Francis, and Nodler’s
longtime collaborator Anthony Barilla who joined him in a month-long NEA
fellowship at The MacDowell Colony where early work on the project began in
earnest.  But perhaps the most useful guiding principle came from Brood’s
manager and friend of 30 years Koos Van Dijk when he said, “Don’t worry too much
about Herman.  He will be there.  Use your own blues.”

Bluefinger is the
story of Herman Brood to be sure but it is also the story of each of the artists
that have laid fingers on it, living or not.  It is the story of a long lineage
of artists who have taken the mouths of those that went before into their own,
creating in the process work that spans generations and transcends the work of
any one of them in favor of work that belongs to our historic culture.  In this
case, Brood took from Little Richard and Mose Allison (among so many others),
Francis took from Brood and Nodler took from
them all.  This is how artists become legend, how they outwit
death.

Brood was famous in his native Holland for his music
and art, but he was equally well known for his wild lifestyle.  A masterful
manipulator of the media, he was the subject of a biographical film, various TV
and film documentaries and countless books dedicated to chronicling his
biography, his musical career, his writings and his art.  He was also
notoriously addicted to speed and alcohol and stood apart from other celebrities
by speaking openly and unapologetically about his habits to the media.  He was
also addicted to sex and gambling but his most powerful and enduring addiction
was for the spotlight.  

For more than 30 years, Brood was the most
unique character on the scene in Holland. For weeks at a time he would appear in
public dressed as an airline stewardess or in pajamas or with a parrot on his
head and parrot shit on his hair and shoulders.  For a period he carried two
guns on his waist, though they were illegal in his country. For more than a year
he wore a saxophone around his neck though he could not play it. He was
constantly performing street actions and causing commotions.  He was
romantically linked for a time to the German musician Nina Hagen and appeared in
a feature film with her which launched yet another career for Brood.  Indeed he
was an actor, a poet, a singer, a piano player, a songwriter, a rock and roll
star, a highly successful visual artist and a media phenomenon.

What most
sets Brood’s life apart from other rock and roll stories was his philosophy
toward life and the way in which it played out in public.  He was as famous for
his ever-changing costumes and daily public antics as he was for his music and
paintings.  More than any other contemporary figure, Brood’s life was his art.
 

And yet, apart from a brief period of success in the U.S. during the
late 1970’s (a period that ended abruptly with a disastrous New York showcase),
his notoriety was confined almost exclusively to his native Holland.  He has
been called The Netherlands’ “most famous and only rock star,” his paintings are
omnipresent throughout his country, and millions of words have been used to
explore the impact he made.  But they are all in Dutch.  Until Black Francis
made the record dedicated to him, few on this side of the Atlantic even knew
Brood existed.  The true story of his life is one of the most interesting,
dynamic and dramatic stories still to be told and yet, until the album and the
upcoming play, one had to go to Holland to hear it.

Inspired
by Black Francis’ characteristically
abstract lyrics, the play’s story is told in a non-linear fashion, emphasizing
themes over biographical narrative including the desire to make a mark on the
world before departing it and to live life fiercely and to its fullest. 
Stylistically the play takes a cue from Brecht in its use of stand-alone scenes
and songs which accrete into larger ideas. The audience will be free to draw its
own conclusions and those conclusions will likely be as diverse and far-ranging
as those his countrymen had to Brood’s own life and work.

The play has
been conceived and will be directed by The Catastrophic Theatre’s Artistic
Director Jason Nodler, a playwright and director who has collaborated with
artists as eclectic as legendary outsider artist Daniel Johnston, Pulitzer
prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Emmy award-winning actor Jim
Parsons.  Nodler has worked closely with Francis to realize the theatrical
adaptation of his album.  

Texas musicians Matt Kelly (as Brood) and
Michael Haaga (as Black Francis) will star. 
During the 1990’s, Kelly and Haaga fronted two of the most influential and
popular bands in Texas: the funk act Sprawl and the metal explosion Dead Horse,
respectively.  Kelly’s subsequent bands The Joint Chiefs, Rugrash, middlefinger,
Les Saucy Pants and Lick Lick, which alternately combined punk, rock, pop, blues
and lounge music, have each been wildly popular in Houston and Austin.  Haaga
went on to play with Superjoint Ritual before creating his acclaimed solo album
The Plus and Minus Show which featured an all-star line-up, swept local award
shows and was universally praised in the press as the best pop album produced in
Texas in recent memory.  

The music, more than 20 songs by Francis and Brood, will be performed by two live
bands comprised of some of the best musicians in Houston and
Austin.

Nodler’s longtime collaborator Anthony Barilla, a resident of
Kosovo, will travel to Texas to provide support in creating and arranging the
play and music. Barilla is an accomplished and prolific writer, musician,
composer and theatre artist. His work, both for Infernal Bridegroom Productions
and his band seximals, has received extensive play on college radio stations and
was included in NPR’s official release of music from This American Life. 
Houston composer, musician and arranger John Duboise, best known for his
participation in local string quartet Two Star Symphony and his own original
compositions inspired by the work of Edward Gorey, will direct the music from
onstage.  Tony-nominated designer Kevin Rigdon, an early and frequent
contributor to Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre with numerous Broadway credits,
will serve as production designer.

The play will be performed
in the intimate, 100-seat theater at DiverseWorks Artspace, 1117 East Freeway,
Houston, TX 77002.

Bluefinger runs Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.
from November 12 – December 18.

 

 

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