Archive for August, 2004

I’m Back

Thursday, August 26th, 2004

As always being away affords me some time to reflect upon myself. Who I am, who I was, who I have become. I get to reflect on my lifes journey. Sometimes I am surprised at what I find and discover and sometimes I am a little dismayed by the amount of time I feel I may have wasted. Over all I am happy and the more so because I have taken some of that time and invested in it. The end result being a more aware me – (but for how long only time will tell)
The main thing I think I have worked on whilst away was to not invest in the end result. Yes I often talk about the importance of the journey and that being where the now is, but even so I have always kind of journeyed with an eye on the destination which is natural and an effective goal setting mechanism and therefore important. But to invest the journey with the end result in mind is where the hobbling of the journey, and the end result, begins.
So I feel I have freed myself to some extent by putting the goal out there into the universe and then let it be. The universe will take care of it and I can take care of the journey fully able to freely invest in the journey, it’s challenges and discoveries.
Nice to be back.

Too Tough to Die A

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

Too Tough to Die
A one-act musical staged in a pub is set to relaunch the music of New York rockers the Ramones, writes Polly Coufos
MICHAEL Herrmann isn’t against nostalgia-fests such as the Queen musical We Will Rock You but the Perth-based writer-producer believes there should also be shows for music fans who never did believe that Grease is the word.
Gabba Gabba Hey! is a one-act musical honouring New York punk rock pioneers the Ramones. It’s a show for those who like their music with a bit of dirt under its fingernails. And, as well as paying respect to this seminal band, Herrmann wanted to engage theatre audiences and give them more to do than wave, clap and hand over huge wads of cash.
At the very least, audiences at Gabba Gabba Hey! can drink, dance and sing along, for Herrmann has taken the bold step of putting the show in a licensed bar. He wants this to be a different theatre experience, one where 18 songs play out in 70 minutes.
Being different has been a specialty for the shock-haired Herrmann since the age of eight, when his first story, The Nitty Notty Nudist Colony, about an alien that crash-lands on a nudist colony in the middle of their fashion parade, had his teacher calling his parents to the school. Since then he has written the first two books in a white trash trilogy, bigjesustrashcan and breakfastinfur, and created a musical adaptation of 1980s cult film Earth Girls are Easy.
The speed and brevity of Gabba Gabba Hey! is true to the spirit of the band, which habitually kept its songs under three minutes. Still, this is a musical and Herrmann insists that it be recognisable as such. “I’m sick to death of 2 1/2-hour musicals full of padding. I wanted to do 2 1/2-hours’ worth of material in an hour,” he says. “That put pressure on me, that the songs did actually help tell the story. From there, in an almost haiku format, I had to put the maximum amount of characterisation and plot in as few words as possible. There’s only about a page and a half of dialogue separating songs.” The dialogue is part snappy send-up of TV teen romance and part tribute to bass player and principal songwriter Dee Dee Ramone (real name Douglas Colvin), who died of an overdose in 2002. In the lead character of Dougie, Herrmann brings key elements of DeeDee’s life into sharp focus. The troubled home life, the drug habit, the prostitution and the release he got from rock’n’roll are unleashed as Gabba Gabba Hey! explodes at full volume. The musical may even offer a chance to right history and, at least by proxy, make the Ramones the stars they should have been.
“They are arguably one of the finest bands of the past 30 years,” Herrmann asserts. “They remained popular but they never had that breakthrough hit they tried so desperately to get. And now two of them are dead, so why not focus on the music and celebrate that?
“When I was a teenager growing up I felt [their music was] very empowering. For those of us who weren’t in the in-crowd and didn’t fit in with what was going on, there was always the Ramones. There is an optimism and hope through their whole catalogue. Lyrically, these were much smarter songs than they were ever given credit for. They’ve always made me laugh. Scratch the surface and there’s a lot going on.” The writer knew he was on to something when he sent a draft of his book to Tommy Ramone with an offer for him to be involved as music director. The founding member and drummer responded by saying he was keen to come on board. He recently travelled to Perth for two weeks of rehearsals.
Herrmann’s script also impressed New York director Andy Goldberg and noted dancer-actor Paul Mercurio, who signed on to handle the choreography. The cast is mostly young and little known, with the exception of Cle Wootton, who was a finalist on last year’s Australian Idol, and Lynda Nutter, who once fronted new wave band the Dugites.
The Ramones never enjoyed mainstream success during their 22 years. The highest US chart position they reached was No.44. Because they dared have a sense of humour in their twisted tales such as Beat on the Brat, The KKK Took My Baby Away and Somebody Put Something in My Drink — all of which have been skewed to fit into Gabba Gabba Hey!’s narrative — they were characterised (or, more accurately, caricatured) as a novelty band.
“We knew we were putting out great records and none of them were selling,” the softly spoken Ramone says over a beer after a day’s rehearsal. “With Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin it was obvious we were trying to make a commercial record. We thought these were songs that could be played on the radio. I mean, why couldn’t these songs be played on the radio?” The issue came to a head for the band when they composed Do You Remember Rock’n’ Roll Radio? — radio stations refused to play that single, too, and it went the way of all the others.
Nevertheless, the Ramones have made their mark on the rock landscape like few others. The simplicity of the Ramones’ look — leather jackets, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers — has been a constant in rock since it was immortalised on the cover of their 1976 debut album. Every rock star and pop princess who has enlisted a stylist to show they are keeping it real or getting back to the streets carries a debt to the Forest Hills four.
While Ramone now involves himself musically in an old-time/bluegrass outfit, Uncle Monk, he remains proud of his work with the band. At a meet-and-greet session in a Perth record store last month, Ramone cast his eyes down and blushed when Herrmann described him as a rock legend, but there was a slight, well-earned smile on his lips.
In a year when the no-frills rock of Melbourne band Jet has owned Australian airwaves, Gabba Gabba Hey!’s arrival may be perfect. The musical is an opportunity to reassess the importance of the band that was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. “The general public thought we were just three-chord, two-dimensional gimmicks or cartoon characters,” Ramone contends. “It’s changing now — people are recognising that we might be, just might be, a classic band. The recognition may have come late but it certainly has been welcome.” Herrmann believes the musical belongs in bars. Looking ahead to a New York season, he has already made contact with Hilly Kristal at CBGB — the celebrated club where the Ramones cut their cut teeth as a live act, coming to prominence with Blondie and Talking Heads, among others — to negotiate a short season next year. There are plans to stage the show in the UK in the next northern summer. Seasons in other Australian cities are also in the pipeline, though no time frame has been set.
The Perth season will take place at the Monkey Bar. Staging it in a noisy pub may present unique problems. For one, people need to be able to hear what is going on. This is unlikely to be a concern while the band (led by one-time Clash guitarist Nick Sheppard) is firing, but it may be a different matter with the spoken dialogue.
“That’s also why I’ve made it really short,” Herrmann says. “If there were pages and pages of dialogue we’d just be asking for trouble. The sound quality going in and out of the songs is fantastic but also we’ll be schooling the cast in case of drunken interjections.
“For the actors it is a big ask. They are delivering what is a fully fledged musical in a rock concert environment.
“This is not about an audience sitting there quietly. If there isn’t a mosh pit down the front and if there aren’t people singing along and dancing around with a beer in their hands, we won’t have done our job properly. Purists may worry but I think the rest of us will have a great night out.” Whether it makes great theatre is yet to be determined but there is no doubt that this raucous tale of a Lower East Side Romeo and Juliet will have the audience taking the lead from Blitzkrieg Bop, the first song on their first album, and pulsating to the back beat. It’ll definitely be great rock’n’roll.
Gabba Gabba Hey! plays at the Monkey Bar, Perth, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and August 21. An alcohol-free show, on August22, is for all ages.
–Polly Coufos, The Weekend Australian