Bluefinger

Catastrophic Theatre stages a rock opera redemption.

There was one last brilliant show, as Brood enjoyed the last of the old stash, and then came New York.

"And then Herman started drinking like always," Van Dijk recalls. Brood favored sweet booze — stuff like liqueurs.  "He was nervous."

The lights went up, Brood was introduced, the band kicked in and...there ensued the all-too-predictable disaster. 

1990s local rock legend Matt Kelly will play the role of Brood. The dangerously sincere and sincerely dangerous former front man of Sprawl and Middlefinger was Jason Nodler's first and only choice for the role.
George Hixson
1990s local rock legend Matt Kelly will play the role of Brood. The dangerously sincere and sincerely dangerous former front man of Sprawl and Middlefinger was Jason Nodler's first and only choice for the role.
Nodler and Bluefinger choreographer Tamarie Cooper display a mixed reaction to this typically depraved Broodian scene.
George Hixson
Nodler and Bluefinger choreographer Tamarie Cooper display a mixed reaction to this typically depraved Broodian scene.

"He thought he was funny, he thought he was great," Van Dijk recalls. "He goes to the director of our record company with his microphone and sat in his lap" — one can all too easily imagine Brood's sickly miasma of Grand Marnier-infused breath, sweat and spittle —  "and he started to sing a Dutch song, a kind of blues in Dutch, and the lyrics meant, 'Deep in my heart, I'm only thinking about you.'"

Brood thought this was hilarious. Nobody else got the joke.  "After the show, it was cold. Cold," says Van Dijk.

"It was over," Van Dijk says. "So we did not stay? There? We had to go back to Holland. And the [American-recorded] record was also a disaster. After we went back to Holland, the band split, and Herman went back to heroin, and that was the end for awhile. He started to be very-very-very crazy, like schizophrenic, two persons in one."

Brood would eventually make it out of this funk and craft a second act for his life, but it was a brutal defeat that took two years to overcome. "Later we had a lot of success again and we made a lot of money — but the dream, in America?" It was dead.

Brood would claw his way back to make the curtain call for a second act. In addition to the painting, there would be more music, too, and more women and drugs and booze, until Brood's mind could no longer tolerate the limitations his body placed on him.

"And then Herman jumped? Actually? From the Hilton, you know?" declares Van Dijk in his interrogatory accent. "The same Hilton where Yoko Ono and John Lennon were a week in bed, and in that same bed wrote 'Give Peace a Chance.' And from that Hilton jumped Herman."

Five days later, mourners lined the streets and watched as Brood's coffin was conveyed from the Hilton to the Paradiso, a landmark nightclub and the site of many a memorable Brood performance. Brood's version of "My Way" perched atop the Dutch pop charts for three weeks. U2 dedicated three songs to him on their subsequent Dutch tour, with Bono expending some of his world-renowned eloquence on an earnest eulogy at one show. A statue of Brood now stands in Zwolle.

And then his ghost started whispering in the ear of the Pixies' Charles Thompson...

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

— Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis
_____________________

Pixies front man Charles Thompson found out about Herman Brood from a poster on the wall of an Amsterdam nightclub in the middle of the last decade. He says Brood's smoldering gaze transmitted a plea to him. And after seeing some concert footage on the Internet, he was transfixed.

"He had really rare charisma," Thompson says. "There was just something about him."  He was also touched by episodes in Brood's life: the fact that Brood's first band had kicked him out for drug use, the Bottom Line. They weren't the most tearjerking stories he'd ever read, Thompson says, but there was something about them to which he related very deeply.

He set about creating Bluefinger, his 2007 Herman Brood concept album (released under Thompson's Black Francis moniker), which is the Catastrophic play's immediate inspiration. Thompson returned to Holland to speak to Brood's friends and associates. Prominent among them was Koos Van Dijk, Brood's fellow Zwolle native. (Natives of Zwolle are called Bluefingers — it's a long, 500-year-old story featuring a church bell and a debt paid in pennies.) Van Dijk took Thompson on a tour of Brood's atelier — the studio where he whiled away the last two decades of his life painting, drinking, shooting speed and fucking. It has remained exactly as Brood left it in 2001, and Thompson says his Van Dijk-guided visit was a very strange experience.

Thompson characterizes the place as a shrine, and Brood's friends as keepers of a messianic flame. "I think the word you would best use to describe Koos is 'enthusiastic,'" Thompson says. "The way he's kept everything exactly the way it was when Brood died — the drinks in the fridge, the dope on the table."

Little accidents of grace kept piling up, Thompson remembers. By that time, Thompson had already written a Bluefinger song called "Angels Come to Comfort You." At Brood's grave, a statue of an angel stood guard. "That's not very unusual, but I still thought it was a little weird," Thompson says. Things would get weirder still as he toured Brood's former living space. He discovered that the two of them wore the same cologne. And then, on a desk, prominent among Brood's personal effects, there lay a dusty copy of a Pixies album.

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