By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Larry HirshowitzTHERE ARE WORKS FOR THE MUSICAL THEATER THAT begin in theaters, and some that begin in playwrights' laboratories. Others come out of universities; still more emerge from the dedication of a solitary writer working in a home office. Lately, a number of them have devolved out of movies, using hydraulic lifts and live animals to compensate for the grandeur lost from screen to stage. But only one can claim the distinction of having been cultured in the detritus of a dead rock career, grown in the dark environment of a 150-seat rock club, and emerged into the light of intensifying notoriety without a single workshop, cold reading or producer's notes. Andy Prieboy's White Trash Wins Lotto,a satirical musical inspired by (but not necessarily based on) the life of Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose, started with one song, written as a joke. It contains not one bar of rock music, but it has become one of the most talked about send-ups of the rock music industry since This Is Spinal Tap,and a potential source of fresh air for the commercial theater, not to mention the record business. And to hear Prieboy tell the story of creating it is to get a radical education in how to succeed in music without really trying. Lesson one: Don't print up fliers, invite industry heavies or give anyone comps. Lesson two: Learn to say "no." (Or, as Prieboy puts it, "'No,' 'No thank you' and 'Fuck off.'") Lesson three: When you're failing miserably in your chosen profession, try to remember why you chose it in the first place.
On a foggy November evening three weeks before White Trash Wins Lottoreturns for its second run at the Roxy Theater, Prieboy meets me on the street in front of his rustic Silver Lake house looking, in silhouette, like an avatar of '80s rock. He wears a double-breasted black Carnaby Street jacket, the kind that flares slightly above the knee, and his pencil-thin, straight black slacks end in cubed-heel boots. He styles his dark brown hair in a spiky shag, which would give his amiably puckish good looks a little toughness if his demeanor didn't undo it. He is enormously gracious and self-deprecating, apologetic at every possible slight and concerned about his words. "I just woke up," he says as he leads me through a woodsy grotto behind a tall redwood fence into his studio. "You'll clean it up if I sound inarticulate, right?" In the studio are two dogs, a German shepherd mix named Puppy-Boy and the tiniest of dachshunds, Dinky. Prieboy picks up Dinky and nuzzles her face, but puts her down almost instantly. "Eeeew,you've been in the cat box!" On top of the piano, which occupies a full quarter of the room, is a CD of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado,a number of artifacts from gigs gone by, and an empty ashtray. Rita D'Albert, former guitarist for the Pandoras and Prieboy's partner in both life and work, has just phoned Pink Dot for another pack of Prieboy's beloved Camel straights and a slice of pizza. D'Albert, who accentuates her olive-skinned beauty by bleaching her hair white, is tiny, scrappy and serious about business. The two give the impression of having risen above poverty, but not all of its customs. When Pink Dot arrives, Prieboy digs deep into his pocket and comes up with a wad of ones.
White Trash Wins Lottowas developed over a three-year period at Largo on Fairfax, where Prieboy and D'Albert had what they call a "residency," performing a cabaret show -- "a rock show in a concert setting," as Prieboy describes it -- twice a month with Estefan Bravo and Katy Conroy. But the idea germinated by accident in his studio back in 1994, inspired by two strangers who lived in a house directly above it. "I was down here writing my typically caffeine-driven, nicotine-fueled suicidal rock ballads, getting absolutely fuckin' nowhere," Prieboy remembers, "and these two guys were up there writing musicals. They were always at it, and I think they were, in their career, right about where I was in my rock & roll career. They were writing musicals, and could only get gigs doing children's theater."
Prieboy's career, as he tells it now, was "dead." After having replaced Stan Ridgway in Wall of Voodoo, the arty, Johnny CashmeetsEnnio Morricone rock band, Prieboy had embarked on a respectable solo career that yielded three LPs and a hit song, a grim AIDS ballad, "Tomorrow Wendy," which made the charts when it was covered by Concrete Blonde. But the moderate success ended abruptly in 1995 when Sins of Our Fathers,his last record on the Mushroom Records label, ended up gathering dust in the bins. Where it might have sold, it wasn't available: Prieboy and D'Albert toured Australia to standing ovations, D'Albert recalls, "but the record company hadn't put the record in the stores."
"Rita and I both knew that when we put on shows, we put on great shows," Prieboy claims, "and so in 1995 we just said, 'Fuck it.' We decided at that point to go back to the basics. No more demos, no more calls to beg people to see us play. No more playing to get a deal, or writing songs to get a record contract, or writing to get a hit. We said, 'We're just going to play because we like to play.'"