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picture of firecracker with legs

When I was in junior high, my friend Gabe introduced me to punk rock music for the first time. For a time, we were obsessed, drawn to the unbridled intensity, the radical views, the anticonformist and antiauthoritarian posturing. Around that same time, I got my first guitar (which, in complete contrast to my newfound interest in punk, was painted Eddie Van Halen-style) and a friend of my mother's let me borrow his old drumset. Gabe and I started clumsily jamming. We banged out one of our very first songs, which we called Fuck the Nun, because it was awesome to be controversial. Yeahhh!

Our punk rock phase didn't outlast high school. Gabe got more and more obsessed with hiphop and I grew my hair long and started listening to world music. My first gigging band certainly would never have qualified as punk rock, we were way too perfectionistic, slicing up and editing every note on computers and making everything rhythmically tight and applying high production values.

Even though punk was just a fleeting phase for me, it's still a part of me and a part of my musical judgment, especially when it comes to judging when pop music is just too full of shit. I can't help but hear privilege and affirmation of the status quo in mainstream songs, even when it's probably not there. And I get on a soapbox when I meet youngsters who think Blink 182 is badass and have never listened to the 70s and early 80s shit, it makes me sad.

So how did I end up working on a punk rock musical?

Yeah, kind of a risky combination there, I mean, what is more full of shit than musical theater?

It all started when Gaby Alter invited me to participate in a 24-hour theater festival called the ATrainPlays. The idea of the thing was to get a bunch of playwrights to meet at the last stop of the A-Train in the Bronx. They'd ride the train all the way to the end of the line in Rockaway Park, Queens (the longest single ride in the NYC subway) and write a scene that took place on a subway car. In Rockaway Park, the playwrights would hand off the skits to songwriters, who would ride all the way back while writing two songs for the scene. The next morning actors, directors and choreographers would rehearse the material, a rock band would learn the songs, and the whole show would be performed THAT NIGHT.

Stephen O'Rourke was one of the playwrights at the ATrainPlays with a gift for silly comedy. We worked together on a couple ATrainPlays and at least twice really nailed it with probably the funniest scene of the night. One was a scene with two subway repairmen lecturing young lovers on how to communicate their feelings, and another featured a soul singer filling in some intellectual politicos about the latest celebrity gossip.

Later, when Stephen finished a draft of a full length musical based on Shakespeare's "Love's Labour Lost" but set in the 70s with punk rockers, I was an obvious choice because I loved the old school punk rock. Actually, I believe Gaby got asked first (that's his actual career after all) but he admitted that he knew very little about the genre, and pointed to me.

Once the production was underway, I was amazed at how many people were required... the writers, the cast, the crew, the director, the choreographer, the producers, the liaisons. It required a huge commitment. And everybody gave it their all. Most days I had to go home after a full day of rehearsal and stay up most of the night rewriting tunes to be learned the next day. It was crazy intense, but stimulating, and fun. I had to bust out songs quickly, and move on to the next one, with little time to think and make changes. A very different process than how I usually write.

Firecracker was part of the finale of the show. At the end of the show, two bands, one all girls, and one all guys, are competing in a battle of the bands. They've all recently broken up with each other, and their songs reflect that. Both bands break down near the end of the song and start swooning about how much they miss their exes. I took that part out of this version because it only makes sense in the context of the play.

After the show closed, and the festival ended, we were awarded an honorable mention and invited to a meeting with some broadway producers. We walked in, unwrapped some candy from a jar, and a producer asked us, "where do see going from here?" Now, I have no idea how to promote a big theater production. I had gotten involved in Stephen's thing because it sounded like a fun learning experience, but I had no inspired vision for how to take this show to Broadway and make millions. Also, I had doubts that the aesthetic of musical theater patrons would have any overlap with the aesthetic of loud, screamy live punk rock. (I was later proved wrong by the Green Day show.) I asked the producer if he could see it going further. I think he was trying to gauge our devotion to the project, and feel out if we had a plan. Pretty soon the meeting was over, with a "Looking forward to your next project" dismissal.

Two years later I got an email that there was a new punk rock musical called "Punk Rock Love Song" based on Love's Labour Lost and with songs composed by Dan Beeman of Helmet. WTF?


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