General Discussion => News Talk => Topic started by: jason on May 17, 2006, 02:08:39 PM

Title: Rock opera preview article
Post by: jason on May 17, 2006, 02:08:39 PM
For more info, check the Speeding Motorcycle thread below. Hope some of y'all can make it out.


Motorcycle Madness

A local theater troupe brings Daniel Johnston's wild vision to life

By Scott Faingold

Article Published May 18, 2006

You can listen to these songs / Have a good time and walk away / But for me, it's not that easy / I have to live these songs forever. -- Daniel Johnston, "Peek-A-Boo"

 "I hope we're not spreadin' it too thin," giggles Daniel Johnston over the phone from his parents' house in Waller. This has indeed been a banner year for the cult singer-songwriter -- there's an acclaimed documentary about his life in national release through Sony Classics, several of his drawings were selected for inclusion in the prestigious Whitney Museum Biennial in New York City, and he's just released three new CDs -- but it's still safe to say that Johnston is in little danger of becoming a household name. His story and his music are both as harrowing as they are compelling, and the sight of this hulking, chain-smoking man-child squeaking and rasping his painful yet tuneful songs of unrequited love is unlikely to ever be anyone's notion of a pop pinup. Still, the Johnston mini-juggernaut plows ever onward.

The most recent feather in Johnston's eccentric career cap is the brand-new rock opera Speeding Motorcycle, lovingly mounted by Houston's Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Two years in the making and funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Motorcycle is a two-act musical narrative culled from Johnston's extensive body of work.

 "I've been a fan of Daniel's music for a long time, so the idea of collaborating on the project was very exciting," says Jason Nodler, a founder of IBP who returned to Houston specifically to direct the production after a brief relocation to Rhode Island.

 "One thing I can say is that I'm so glad that I'd gotten the play totally on track before I saw the documentary," explains Nodler. "If I'd seen the movie beforehand, it might've totally thrown me off."

 The film in question, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, concentrates on the artist's outrageously troubled life, defined by the dangerous, violent outbursts and extended periods of immobilizing depression so often associated with bipolar disorder, the malady with which Johnston has been diagnosed. While the movie is poignant and disturbing, it is barely able to touch on the true reason people are interested in Johnston in the first place: his unique artistic vision.

 Which, as it turns out, is exactly what Speeding Motorcycle does concentrate on, making it an ideal companion piece to the film. Johnston's huge catalog of songs ("I think there's something like a thousand," notes Nodler) tends to center on specific, recurring narrative and symbolic themes, making his work ideal for the rock opera treatment. Visual elements were also not hard to come by, as Johnston's "naive" Magic Marker drawings are every bit as distinctive as his songs and even depict many of the same characters and situations.

 The prototypical Johnston protagonist is an everyman named Joe whose most unique feature in the drawings is the fact that his head has no top but is rather open like a large funnel, defenseless against the input of a hostile world. Joe is generally depicted as a boxer who fights against incredible odds but never loses heart. Other characters often sung about and drawn by Johnston include an innocent frog named Jeremiah and the famous (though highly distinct from each other) comic book heroes Captain America and Casper the Friendly Ghost, as well as the Fly Eyes, eyeballs with wings that hover about, monitoring the action. Many of the songs consist of quasi-mythological variations on Johnston's agonizing, never-ending, real-life collegiate crush on a girl named Laurie, who spurned his awkward affections in order to marry an undertaker, a love triangle filled with enough intrinsic dark humor and pathos to fuel, well, a thousand songs.

 The "Laurie songs," in fact, provide the bulk of Speeding Motorcycle's musical meat. The entire first act of the show follows the travails of the lovelorn Joe (played simultaneously and compellingly by actors Cary Winscott, Joe Folladori and Kyle Sturdivant in a daring act of willful theatrical dissociation) as he hopelessly fights for the attention of his dream girl, tripping himself up tragicomically every step of the way and fixating morbidly on her mortician paramour (Laurie works at the funeral home as well). Joe finally realizes that, as one song pointedly puts it, "the only way you can get her to look at you is to die." At the end of Act I Joe "gets his head smashed" in a car crash. He spends the second half of the show as a ghost (though not Casper). Nodler -- who describes his theatrical sensibility as one part rock 'n' roll, one part Sid & Marty Krofft and one part theater of the absurd -- is clearly the ideal person to bring Johnston's colorful and guileless, yet utterly twisted, vision to the stage.

 Paradoxically, much of Johnston's best music was recorded on a cheap boom box with hiss and room noise often as loud as or louder than the sound of his voice and instruments. This, along with his odd, childish vocal delivery, has ensured that he will continue to elude mainstream success and remain largely a musician's musician. Indeed, from the start, his fan base has been made up largely of established rock stars from Sonic Youth to Pearl Jam to Half Japanese to fIREHOSE, who recognize (and often openly envy) his melodic and lyrical gifts, which shine like rubies straight through the sonic muck of those cheap tapes, especially if you know what to listen for. Over a decade ago, when Austin rocker Kathy McCarty recorded Dead Dog's Eyeball, a disc consisting entirely of Johnston covers, she was the first to publicly unmask the aching, Beatle-like beauty of his compositions for all to witness, and the disc was one of the indie hits of 1994. Similarly, 2004's Discovered Covered tribute found artists as respected, hip and disparate as Tom Waits, Death Cab for Cutie and Beck all taking shots at their favorites from Johnston's catalog to similar, highly accessible effect, demonstrating that Johnston's songs are strong enough to flourish in almost any context.

 Which, happily, includes this blatantly theatrical setting. At a rehearsal last week, the tunes proved lilting, hilarious and heartbreaking, full of dramatic forward motion and tasty, haunting hooks. The choreography by Tamarie Cooper was expressive and surprising, a perfect complement to IBP artistic director Tony Barilla's sprightly, varied musical arrangements. The cast, even in rehearsal, all seemed to burn with the crazed emotional fervor mixed with near-cornball hamminess of Johnston himself.

 Heck, Jeremiah the Frog even sang a song.

 Daniel Johnston's Speeding Motorcycle will have a special preview party and performance on Wednesday, May 24. Party starts at 6:30 p.m., performance at 8 p.m. Keg beer and snacks will be provided, $35; show opens officially Thursday, May 25, at 8 p.m., $5.99; remaining performances will be on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. from May 26 through June 24, $15. All performances are at the Axiom, 2524 McKinney. For reservations, call 713-522-8443 or purchase tickets online at www.infernalbridegroom.com.

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: hulgetta on May 19, 2006, 08:21:07 AM

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: haint on May 21, 2006, 01:29:19 PM
Hey Jason,

This sounds fantastic :-D

Look forward to the show reports...

No plans to bring it over to the UK I guess :wink:

Will any of the performances be filmed?


Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: Stress Records on May 21, 2006, 01:47:14 PM
Here's another article from The Houston Chronicle. It looks and sounds like it's going to be amazing.


Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: Disfranchise on May 21, 2006, 02:22:16 PM
they just have to film this and make a DVD or something so everyone can see it eventually!
"hoping, yes I'm hoping"

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: Disfranchise on May 22, 2006, 10:13:18 AM
"There's this guy in love with a girl named Glory, who has a boyfriend who's an undertaker. Glory marries the undertaker and becomes his assistant." haha, someone didn't pay enough attention.
I have to see this.. Will they be touring sweden?  :-D

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: jason on May 22, 2006, 04:54:44 PM
Thanks for all the kind words, y'all.

haha, someone didn't pay enough attention.
I have to see this.. Will they be touring sweden? :-D

I can assure you it wasn't us.  The writer got a lot of stuff wrong in that article.

Will we be touring the UK or Sweden?  I don't know.  There's nothing in the works, but make us an offer.  We're all ears.

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: jason on May 25, 2006, 03:54:09 PM
We previewed last night.  It went better than we ever hoped it would.  We were sold out (we are for tonight, too) and the crowd went nuts for it.

Daniel was there and loved it.  He led the applause after every number and laughed a lot too.  At intermission he walked into the lobby and shouted to the crowd, "There's more to come!"

Here's a conversation he had with an audience member:

NANCY:  Daniel, this show is fantastic.  Do you like it?

DANIEL:  Yes, I like it very much.  It's funny.

NANCY:  It's funny, but it's not funny, too.

DANIEL:  Yeah.

NANCY:  In a way, it's not funny at all.

DANIEL:  Yeah, it's not funny.

NANCY:  It makes me want to cry.

DANIEL:  (suddenly alarmed)  Please don't cry!

It was a very special night.

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: The Dentist on May 25, 2006, 07:00:44 PM
This looks absolutely wonderful. And when someone does find out if it will end up on DVD my credit card is ready!! 8-)

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: hulgetta on June 01, 2006, 10:00:00 PM
Here's some pics of Daniel from the Speeding Motorcycle preview party...





Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: Henry Long on June 02, 2006, 09:19:19 AM
Will someone PLEASE get this man a bib?!

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: The Dentist on June 02, 2006, 07:05:14 PM
That looks suspiciously like a soda pop stain. :wink:

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: zack26 on June 02, 2006, 11:44:54 PM
What a great stain!  That must be an entire can of Mountain Dew...

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: tony on June 05, 2006, 12:19:51 AM

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: jason on June 05, 2006, 05:14:22 AM
Daniel came again on Friday night, with the Nitemares, and said all kinds of nice things. Then he autographed a cast members scooter and drew a Fly Eye on it (we are all so jealous). He also autographed another cast member's Sgt. Pepper's cassette. He wound up the evening by playing a totally untuneable piano along with a mix of his songs that we play after the concert section of the play and then playing air guitar and almost shouting, "I feel like Lucifer tonight! I feel like Lucifer tonight!"

Here's the text of the review Tony linked. Tony rocks. You guys should hear him sing and play True Grief.

June 4, 2006, 8:10PM
 Daniel Johnston as rock opera
 Speeding Motorcycle brings weird Austin vibe to the right Houston stage

 Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
 Speeding Motorcycle should be the cult hit of Houston's summer.
 Infernal Bridegroom Productions' out-of-this-world premiere rock opera takes its inspiration from cult figure Daniel Johnston, an outsider singer, songwriter and artist who first gained recognition in Austin during the 1980s.
 IBP founder and former artistic director Jason Nodler makes a welcome return as guest artist, after three years of freelancing outside Houston. He has adapted and assembled Johnston's idiosyncratic songs and concepts into a freewheeling musical-theater piece and staged the resulting show with vivid imagination.
 Johnston, Nodler and IBP prove a match made in alternative-arts heaven. The material, staging, design and performance all reflect what might be called the Austin aesthetic as in, "Keep Austin weird."
 IBP often has seemed a slice of Austin right here in Bayou City, but never more than with this outing. You feel you've been beamed to some funky venue off Red River or Sixth Street back in Austin's oddball glory days.
 Many of Johnston's autobiographical work concerns a guy's unrequited love for a girl, who marries an undertaker instead. His songs and comic-book-style art feature recurring figures: Joe the Boxer (Johnston's alter ego), Captain America, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Jeremiah the "Hi How Are You?" frog immortalized in Johnston's mural at Austin's Sound Exchange. His work often reflects his struggles with bipolar disorder and other health problems.
 Speeding Motorcycle centers on Joe's response after his beloved rejects him. Kyle Sturdivant, Cary Winscott and Joe Folladori all play Joe, appearing both separately and together. Sturdivant usually represents Joe at his most beleaguered and despondent. Winscott mostly fields Joe's determinedly optimistic efforts to find a bright side and keep going. Folladori makes up the difference as the watchful, open-faced, not-yet-decided side of love's fall guy.
 The show begins with all three before a red curtain, introducing the unrequited-love plot in a simple ditty. The first cool surprise comes as the curtain parts to show the entire cast, all strumming guitars and singing the same refrain. So, now and then, everyone can be a manifestation of Joe (or Johnston).
 As Joe hangs around outside his ex-love's new home, she and the chorus try to discourage him. "He's a man obsessed/He couldn't be a lover/So now he's a pest." (Love that lyric!) He attends the wedding, at which the pregnant bride gives birth. This makes Joe suicidal. He crashes his car, determined to die so that his love (as the undertaker's assistant) will "care for him" (i.e., prepare his body).
 Captain America tries to save the hero, pep-talking him with You're Gonna Make It, Joe. But the chorus of negativists taunts him with pictures of his love. He expires, and as the first act closes she is indeed preparing his body for burial.
 Act II, treating Joe's afterlife, grows even more surreal. There's a "let's go to the funeral" chorale: "Got me a coffin, shiny and black/Goin' to a funeral and I'm not coming back." A philosophical gospel rouser (Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances) enlivens the wake. After the mourners depart, Joe (Sturdivant at this point) sits up in the coffin and delivers a keening aria insisting he still loves that funeral girl. A chorus of skeletons surrounds him in a giddily spooky routine.
 Then Joe morphs into Casper for a wistful monologue on ghosthood (ghosthood, ghosthood), with self-pronounced echo (echo, echo).
 At last, Joe's various avatars unite and reconcile themselves to the hand life has dealt: "Even when the jokes were bad/Think of all the fun we had." (A fine example of Johnston's knack for making a resonant point with a simple lyric). Creating songs and art, they imply, has made the suffering worthwhile; the whole cast joins in the celebratory finale, Lovin' Feelings.
 But that's not all. Everybody out to the lobby for a live concert by Joe the Boxer a rousingly affirmative epilogue.
 You may find Speeding Motorcycle funny, touching or just plain weird, sometimes all at once. But you will find it different from anything else you've encountered.
 Call him a savant, primitivist or perhaps an instinctivist, Johnston's work seems guided by instinct rather than formal rules. Just as his songs are not traditionally crafted, Speeding Motorcycle is not a "well-made" musical. But as his songs seem to simply "be," the show's pieces flow together as a natural stream, alternately melancholy and loopy yet always genuine and distinctive.
 There's something irresistible in the show's blend of madness, sweetness and childlike innocence. It's like Marat/Sade enacted by Mr. Rogers and his friends.
 "I like to make things up," Joe says. "It's the healthiest thing that I do."
 The show projects that childlike glee at the sheer fun of making things up from the frog who consoles Joe at his lowest ebb to non sequiturs with a hint of Ogden Nash ("Someone once said life is like a cow/But I don't know how.").
 The show abounds in droll visuals. The undertaker (Troy Schulze) always appears carrying a shovel. The straitjacketed Joe (Sturdivant) makes a phone call by picking up the receiver with his mouth and dialing with his nose.
 Anthony Barilla's musical direction and arrangements are a key strength, adding here a sax and trombone, there the tinkle of toy piano and xylophone. Tamarie Cooper supplied the zany choreography, Maria Yingling the wild costumes.
 Kirk Markley's nifty setting features a proscenium frame, tilted askew like the sets of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Atop the frame, a red bloodshot eye, flanked by bat wings, stares out. Watch for the "tear" it sheds at the close of Act I. Clever.
 It goes without saying that anyone who's ever enjoyed Johnston's work should not miss IBP's exuberant celebration of his unique creativity. For those who've never experienced it, Speeding Motorcycle makes a fascinating introduction.


Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: Henry Long on June 05, 2006, 12:24:22 PM
Sounds like the start of a new religion.

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: jason on June 05, 2006, 01:25:11 PM
Sounds like the start of a new religion.

I was and am a true disciple.

Title: Re: Rock opera preview article
Post by: hulgetta on June 13, 2006, 05:15:48 AM
we have some photos up from the show now. Go here: http://www.infernalbridegroom.com/archives/speedingmotorcycle.html

and click on the photo links in the upper right hand corner...