Bluefinger: Rock & Roll Tragedy, One Comic Moment At A Time
Plenty of rock stars have shown that there's a fine line between fuck-up and folk hero. Herman Brood, the central figure of Catastrophic Theatre's Bluefinger, doesn't bother with that line – or any other kind of line besides the ones you can snort.
As played by former Sprawl and Middlefinger front man Matt Kelly, Brood is both child-like and callous, one great big id shining from speed and lit by vodka. A walking contradiction straight out of Kris Kristofferson's "The Pilgrim, Chapter 33," in other words.
Brood would never intentionally hurt a fly, it seems, but he's almost oblivious to the hurt his words and actions sometimes cause those closest to him, someone whose charisma and talents are so great that those in his immediate orbit don't mind cleaning up the slug-like trail of messes he leaves in his wake.
Told mostly as a series of production numbers and interviews, Bluefinger traces Brood's evolution (or non-evolution, really) from his first rock-star twitchings to the strains of Jim Croce's "Operator" in an Amsterdam coffeehouse circa 1973 to the aftermath of his 2001 suicide. Acting and sounding like an amalgamation of Elvis, Sid Vicious, Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, Brood is a tragic figure, no doubt.
But as directed by Jason Nodler and acted by the Catastrophic company – including Rocks Off's colleague Troy Schulze as Koos, the long-suffering manager and fellow "farm boy" who is occasionally able to cut through all the booze and drugs and talk a modicum of sense into his obstinate, substance-addled client – Brood's life is told as a series of comic moments and over-the-top performances that add up to an ending so genuinely moving – devastating, even – that it's impossible to see coming, never mind that it's been foreshadowed from the very beginning of the play.
There is much to laugh at in Bluefinger, and Kelly plays Brood as such a blithe spirit that none of the laughter feels malicious or even rooted in pity, not even when the smashed singer spectacularly fucks up his showcase for U.S. record execs at New York's Bottom Line club during the brief moment his "Saturday Night" is on the American charts. Those execs, who sniffle their way through telling Brood he'll be "bigger than Frampton" and that his junkie act is "OK onstage" and continually refer to Koos as "coach," draw some big laughs of their own.
The music of Bluefinger is both operatic and intimate. Glam-rock that occasionally veers into AOR territory – Brood's one and only big U.S. tour was opening for Foreigner – the songs performed by his band Wild Romance are remarkably free of camp even in their most Rocky Horror moments. As Pixies front man Frank Black, Michael Haaga provides musical commentary that's knowing but not unnecessarily arch; the song where Black basically plays Brood up to the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton as the drums stagger worse than Brood at the Bottom Line will stay with you for a while.
The number that brings together Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," performed by Kelly/Brood with more pathos than even Axl Rose could probably muster, with the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" is something best witnessed for yourself, as is Brood's six-gun ballet to the Bangles' "Eternal Flame." Like Brood, it's both uproarious and heartbreaking.
Death, Brood says at one point, is "old-fashioned." It's just one more mess for those he leaves behind to clean up. And as little thought he seems to give his eventual demise in the play, no doubt he's given it even less after the fact.
Bluefinger continues through December 18 at DiverseWorks, 1117 East Fwy. See catastrophictheatre.org for ticket information.