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
Prieboy had already been listening to the musical writers up the hill, but not with any design grander than ridiculing Broadway musicals. "I'd just listen to these guys going through their writer's frustration up there, the same as mine only with different music, and absentmindedly I thought, 'I wonder what these guys, who have no background in rock & roll, I wonder what they'd make of the life story of a heavy metal icon? 'Oh, here'sa wonderful story! Let's make it a musical!'" So for idle fun, Prieboy wrote his first musical-theater ballad, turning the dark, melodramatic, funereal chords of Black Sabbath into the kind of modulated, embellished chords Stephen Sondheim would write for the stage, and adding lyrics sung to a sweet, melodic tune: "I want to be in a metal band. Please may I sing for you!"
"I broke myself up," Prieboy says of the moment the song came out of him. "Because no self-respecting metal guy would ever, ever, ever use that type of a melody, or that kind of phrasing, or that sentiment. I didn't think much of it but I wrote another song, 'Give 'Em the Meat,' about imagining Steve Tyler giving Axl Rose songwriting tips -- completely fictional. And one night at Largo, after we'd been there for about six months, I taught it to Rita and our other two performers, and I said, 'If the mood is right, we'll do it tonight.' And we did it that night, and the response was immediate. It brought down the house."
White Trash Wins Lottohad become a work-in-progress. Over the next year and a half, Prieboy wrote more songs, added more performers and developed a concept. He and D'Albert started going out to see musicals -- big, production-heavy musicals like Titanicand The Scarlet Pimpernel.Musical numbers about the heavy-metal rock star began to displace Prieboy's other material, and eventually, says D'Albert, "They atethe cabaret show."
Prieboy and D'Albert were holding fast to their pledge not to market themselves -- "we were sick of being another band handing out fliers," says D'Albert -- but word of mouth was proving more powerful, and audiences were lining up outside Largo to see the show anyway. One night the fire marshall called a halt to the performance because owner Mark Flanagan had squeezed too many people in. The L.A. Timesran a story about it; Entertainment Weeklypublished a paragraph on it; Rolling Stone picked it up, too. Libby Molyneaux wrote a short profile of Prieboy for this paper. Then the Associated Press caught the buzz, which prompted DJs around the country to riff on the notion when they needed to fill time. One morning, Prieboy woke up to hear KLSX DJ Jonathan Brandmeier performing his own version of an Axl Rose musical.
"I got calls from Chicago," says Prieboy, "and a friend of mine wrote me from Norway, and I got a bit of press in Spain. And I didn't even have a press agent."
The entertainment industries of Hollywood had taken notice, too. Prieboy was getting requests from ã managers and producers for a place on the guest list. He denied them all. "We have a guest list for our friends in poverty," he would tell them, "not for people with expense accounts." Who wants to work with a record producer who can't pay 10 dollars at the door? So the ones who came paid, "and suddenly guys with checkbooks were inviting me out to lunch," Prieboy says. "They were cagey about it at first. They'd say, you know, 'We really enjoyed your show . . .' and then they'd look at their fingernails and go, 'So. Are you really writing this musical?' I'd be like, 'Oh, yeah, I'm taking notes. Kind of feeling my way around it.'"
If Prieboy was still vague about his idea, he was certain about his rules of engagement. When a movie producer showed up to offer a chance to pitch the musical for the screen, Prieboy told him, "Here's the pitch: Imagine a band playing at Largo, and it's 10 dollars at the fucking door." Another movie company made an offer, which Prieboy and D'Albert considered until the exec made the mistake of giving them an ultimatum. "He said, 'Sign this deal or I'm going.' And Rita's response was, 'You tell that motherfucker we have a lifetime supply of ramen noodles and we can wait forever.'"
In 1997, BMG Music signed a deal to publish White Trash Wins Lotto "for a very nice sum of money," says Prieboy, which he'd planned to spend on car insurance, until he wrecked the car. The cash did, however, allow him to stand ever more firm with Hollywood -- or, rather, to teach Hollywood how to behave with respect toward rock & roll musicians. "Here's the problem," Prieboy expounds, "Music people, musicians, want everything on paper, up front. That's how we've been trained to think. In the movie business, everything is so speculative that nothing gets done on paper. So a musician will look at the movie people as being devious, and the movie people view music people as being incredibly naive, because they want a multimillion-dollar production all printed out on paper up front.