Bluefinger

Catastrophic Theatre stages a rock opera redemption.

Thompson had not known Brood was a fan, but Van Dijk knew. Boy, did he ever.  "I don't say I hate the Pixies, but you know?" For once the voluble Dutchman is at a loss for words, and then the flow begins again when he recalls how Brood's Pixie-fixation began.

A tired Van Dijk accompanied Brood to a Pixies show in Holland in the early '90s, and then drove Brood home, an hour or so away. Brood was keyed up and feeling the need for more stimulation, which he sought, as ever, in a shot of speed. "He did this because the show had him inspired to do painting and maybe meet with a girl," Van Dijk says. "And then he asked me, 'Can you make me a favor? Yeah? Can you play me the Pixies?'"

The speed now coursing through his veins, live renditions of "Debaser" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven" still ringing in his ears, Brood launched into a canvas. A weary, sober Van Dijk would urge Brood to take it easy, but the artist would hear none of it.

Michael Haaga, Joe Francis, ­Jason Nodler and Matt Kelly
George Hixson
Michael Haaga, Joe Francis, ­Jason Nodler and Matt Kelly
Ever the outrageous figure, Brood and this parrot were inseparable for a time. Brood rarely if ever remembered to wash the bird's droppings out of his hair or wipe them off his shoulders.
Sander Lamme
Ever the outrageous figure, Brood and this parrot were inseparable for a time. Brood rarely if ever remembered to wash the bird's droppings out of his hair or wipe them off his shoulders.

"Again! The Pixies!" Brood would demand. "That singer is wonder-full," Brood would growl. "And the lyrics!"

That scene would unfold often, and while it did inspire plenty of paintings, Van Dijk still grumbles. "Always Pixies, Pixies, Pixies!" Van Dijk exclaims.

It was not until Thompson called Van Dijk out of the blue and introduced himself as the singer of the Pixies that Van Dijk would change his view of the band. When it became plain that Thompson really was who he said he was, and not a prankster as Van Dijk initially thought, and that Thompson was obsessed by Brood, Van Dijk was overjoyed.  "He knew everything! He knew the name Bluefinger. I mean, Charles knew everything of Herman!"
_____________________

At Ziggy's on Fairview on a balmy early October mid-morning, Jason Nodler's Malkovichian mien — intense hazel-green eyes, barking, nicotine-steeped voice, under a shiny clean dome — hangs over his vegan feast. George Harrison wonders "What Is Life" through the speakers amid Ziggy's mid-morning lull, while Nodler speaks about his tumultuous last two years and how he came to be the leader of Herman Brood's posthumous attempt to conquer America .

Riffing off the Black Francis song, Nodler talks about "taking Brood's mouth into his," just as Brood had been inspired by his heroes Little Richard and Mose Allison, and in turn, Black Francis had drawn from Brood.

In 2008, Pixies biographer Josh Frank — a family friend of Nodler's — caught a performance of Speeding Motorcycle, and Frank thought Nodler's sensibilities were a perfect match for a play based on Bluefinger. He introduced the rocker to the playwright, and it was a go.

Nodler needed to research Brood's life in detail, so he headed to Holland to meet Brood's surviving friends and associates. He was there for only a few hours when his leg was crushed by a passing taxi. Nodler returned to the States for the long road back to health.  He couldn't walk unaided for nine months. The first chunk of that time he was wheelchair-bound, and he took stock of his life.

He was also suffering from a bout of depression, and a psychiatrist told him to quit drinking. One of his doctors told him that cigarettes were hindering his bones' healing, and that he would face a painful bone graft if he didn't quit, so he put down the Kools for the first time since his teens. And a friend advised him to eat meat for its health benefits. So there he was, as he puts it, "sober, and not smoking, but eating meat."

He doesn't eat meat anymore these days, but he doesn't drink, either. "I had a bit of an identity crisis with all that, because before, if you had asked me to tell you three things about myself, I would tell you I was an alcoholic, chain-smoking vegan. When none of those things were true, it really had some profound disassociative effects. I found myself not knowing what I thought about a light cue, which was really alarming because I need to have that point of view. So naturally, I started smoking again."

Nodler set about creating Bluefinger. He wrote and wrote — the adaptation of Bluefinger from album to play took place at an artists' colony in New Hampshire, an East Texas lake house, a tiny room in Nodler's Third Ward basement, and hotels in Houston, Austin, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. He overcame the loss of a promise of personnel and other assistance from the University of Houston's school of drama and moved on with new people.

Along the way, he was also casting. He realized he knew the perfect person to play Herman Brood: Matt Kelly, a consummate rock showman whose performances are still spoken of in awe, the former front man of epic '90s Houston bands Sprawl and Middlefinger, seemed a perfect fit. "In the early days of IBP, I would send my actors to Middlefinger shows and say, 'Watch Matt. Do it like that,'" Nodler says. "He always performed with such abandon. It wasn't straight punk — it had a sense of humor, he indulged a full range of emotions, he could turn on a dime and it all seemed to come from a sincere place." 

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