Cover Story: Jason Nodler Discusses Bluefinger, His New Rock Opera About One Debauched Dutchman
"I am only ever interested in art/work/plays/music about how weird and fucked up it is to be a human animal on the planet earth, aware of and in necessary denial of our mortality, of the fact that each of us will die and go off the planet and be lost to memory and that everyone we know, love, admire... will too."
Herman Brood, Black Francis and Jason Nodler coming together
So says Jason Nodler amid the hours of conversation we had over a long lunch and via e-mail in the run-up to this weekend's opening night of Bluefinger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood.
"Plays, theater, art, music are just ways of dealing with the highs and lows of that for me. There are theaters that exist because their leaders love theater. I'm not a lover of theater. I'm a lover of gathering strangers together in the dark to experience intense feelings of despair and joy together. But this is only ever valuable if each of the players is willing to expose his naked heart to an audience. Ours are and that's what we work on in rehearsal."
In that sense, Catastrophic Theatre is the ideal company to resurrect Herman Brood, a typhoon of a man who well-earned his nicknames "the Dutch Elvis" and "The Netherlands' biggest and only rock star."
Before his fatal leap from the ninth floor of the Amsterdam Hilton in 2001 at the age of 54, the former farm boy Brood drank enough to rival Charles Bukowski, drugged enough to eclipse Hunter Thompson, and rivaled Wilt Chamberlain in the "groupies serviced" column.
The late, great Herman Brood
He fit all this debauchery into a life that also included some of the most important albums in Dutch rock history and a career as a critically acclaimed painter by sleeping only two hours a night. When he died, his friends liked to say that he was not 54 but 108, as he had packed two whole lives into that one short span.
But there was one dream that eluded him, and he came ever so close: he did not crack the American market in any major way. He blew it - he ran through his drugs too fast on his tour over here and took the a very important stage too drunk to perform well, and it cost him his ticket to that proverbial next level.
How he coped with that failure and survived another two decades fascinated Black Francis, one of the alter egos of Pixies frontman Charles Thompson. In 2007, he released Bluefinger, a tribute album to Brood. This play is that album brought to life, augmented with songs by Brood. The cast features Houston rock luminaries Matt Kelly (most notably of Sprawl and Middlefinger) and Michael Haaga (dead horse, the Plus and Minus Show) in the roles of Brood and Thompson, respectively. The two guys will lead two complete rock bands on stage, with a small army of curvy back-up singers cooing and swaying seductively alongside them.
You get the feeling that Brood would dig it. He always did lead with his heart and not his head, and after attending several rehearsals, it's easy to see that this production is a labor of love and not calculation.
Nodler seems to mean it when he says that he hopes the lion's share of attention his production garners will go less to him than the people it portrays, people like, as he describes him "the remarkable (and remarkably under-appreciated) artist Herman Brood."
"I hope it will encourage people to buy Charles' Bluefinger record, because it is amazing and everyone should own a copy," Nodler continues. "I hope it will bring great laughter and tears to its audience; I hope it will create in them very different responses, just as Herman did with his audience."
Just as he did with his friends, as you can find out in this week's cover story here.