The Music Man
|Photo by Dirk Reinartz|
It's a low point in the story of Andy Prieboy. In 1988, his band, Wall of Voodoo, has been dropped by IRS Records. He's working at the Soap Plant on Melrose -- again -- and has decided to take up painting. "I painted a picture of Christ at the gates of heaven, with two dogs in tuxedos and boxing gloves. Christ is holding a piece of paper that says, 'I don't care what record company you work for, your name's not on the list.'" Playing in the background as he applies the brush strokes is a London production of The Mikado that so moved and inspired him that it was the only thing he listened to for a year and a half. These elements -- the Byzantine opportunism of the music industry and the pomp and spectacle of great theater -- will team up years later in Prieboy's original musical comedy White Trash Wins Lotto.
This 14-song work-in-progress has nothing in common with Pippin, Hair, Rent or, especially, Jesus Christ Superstar -- "great libretto on that one, though," Andy jokes (badly). The story is based on an Axl Rosetype character named Axl Rose and follows his ascent from a hayseed's arrival in Hollywood to rock & roll megastardom to near damnation. Along the way we meet assorted sinister A&R people, the ghost of Jim Morrison, Rolling Stones handmaidens, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler giving Axl a lesson in Heavy Metal 101. There are song titles like "L.A. L.A. Lulah," "New Duran Duran" (as in "We've got to find the") and "Wealthy, Fucked Up and Free." Speaking in the industry lingo he attacks, Prieboy has spearheaded the satirizing of the Sunset Strip and its power players with a piece of work that's a hoot and a holler.
AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF ANDY PRIEBOY, WITH COMMENTARY BY ANDY PRIEBOY
Raised in East Chicago, Indiana (a few miles down the road from Axl), Andy started piano lessons at age 9 and was promptly told to quit, "because, as some critics will agree, the teacher said I had no talent whatsoever"; wrote his first song at 12; almost got kicked out of Catholic school for his long hair, but the "bad kids" he hung out with chipped in and bought him a short wig. At 17, "I got it in my head that I wanted to learn to read music, and I went to a theater-arts college in St. Louis, where I proceeded to flunk every fucking course God gave me."
Then he moved to New Jersey to be in a band and got a job as a furniture mover in New York City. "The guys I worked with called me 'Biafra Victim.' I was the guy who always had to get Cokes." [In Guido voice] "Leggo, get me a triple dresser! Little Bobby, get me one of those fuckin' sleeper couches! And you, Biafra Victim, get Cokes!"
When that band broke up, Andy moved to San Francisco, where he joined a combo called Eye Protection. After about six years, he moved to L.A., because "The son of a Beverly Hills real estate developer made me a production deal that turned out to be a front for his heroin and cocaine habit."
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
"It was an early-'80s L.A. nightmare." Andy was eventually sued by the real estate company, which needed a fall guy to account for the son's drug expenditures. After a year of ugly, draining litigation, Andy ended up giving the company every song he'd written. (A decade later, the now-sober son explained to Dad that Andy had been unjustifiably sued, and Prieboy's catalog was relinquished, but the emotional damage had been done.)
Then came Wall of Voodoo. Andy tells a story about going to a party where a drunk -- "He wasn't a drunk so much as a messenger of God" -- spotted Andy making small talk with another fellow. "You're the guy they're looking for," insisted the drunk to Andy (Andy delivers the line in a Foster Brooksworthy slobber), who didn't realize he'd been talking to Voodoo bassist Bruce Moreland. Soon after, Andy had the job succeeding Stan Ridgway as the lead singer for Wall of Voodoo.
"I liked the way that got set up," says Andy.
THE DOG DID NOT PUKE ON THE FLOOR
"The dog puked on the floor," announces Andy to Rita, who looks down and sees that it's just a piece of plastic. Rita D'Albert, guitarist for the later hard-rock period of L.A.'s Pandoras, hooked up with Andy after playing flute on his third solo record; she also acts in the musical and provides backup when she and Andy perform together. "We're like a rock band waiting for their drummer to get out of jail," summarizes Andy. The two live and work together in a classic Silver Lake style (i.e., lots of cats and candles) in a rustic house next to his home studio. With her bombshell looks and his air of an Edward Gorey figure, they may be L.A.'s most striking couple.
Anyway, Wall of Voodoo ended, but never broke up. "Some of the members just got drunk and wandered away. That's very Voodoo," he recalls with an obvious fondness. The rest of his history includes two solo records, Upon My Wicked Son . . . and Sins of Our Fathers, both on Dr. Dream Records, and a bona fide hit with Concrete Blonde's cover of "Tomorrow, Wendy," about a prostitute dying of AIDS. Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt will soon release a cover of his "Loving the Highwayman" from Wicked Son.
Fans of the Prieboy catalog can tell you that his progression from rock to operetta is a natural. One song in particular, Sins' "Psycho Ex," is a perfect example. It's based on his breakup with a girlfriend who was a heroin addict. "People who go off their rocker start doing all these desperate things, and the emotions musically should be very big. 'You came into my house with a prostitute who had gone to jail for shooting her boyfriend's cock off. Why did you steal the purse? Why did you steal my coat?'" he says, getting excited and tossing a cat in the direction of Malibu. "Those emotions are operatic -- they're not sad."
White Trash Wins Lotto dates back almost three years, to when Andy would hear his neighbors' -- a Broadway-style songwriting team -- peppy chords through the walls. He got the idea that an ambitious, starry-eyed Midwesterner (much like himself?) seeking fame in rock & roll would make a good story -- as a joke. He added songs to his regular performances at Largo, and the musical eventually took over, with Andy acting as narrator to move the story along. The cast now numbers 13 and includes Estefan Bravo as the starry-eyed Axl; D'Albert and singer Chrissy Guerrero as heavy-metal stripper chicks, among other roles; and comedians Greg Behrendt, Paul F. Tompkins and Blaine Capatch as an A&R "clique of pricks" singing "We Can Do What We Want," about buying out Guns N' Roses' original manager "'cuz she's only a chick." In "Give 'Em the Meat," a Dr. Seusslike Steven Tyler advises young Axl on the art of the hit song: "A bridge is a bitch, but its job is enormous . . . Make it tender/tell the world you understand."
And boy, oh boy, are there some intentionally bad moments. Andy even instructs his dancers to hold their marks a little bit too long at the end of a Bob Fossean number. "It should be more like a high school production," he urges. There is a reading of prose by Guns N' Roses biographer Danny Sugerman, and the obligatory hoedown title tune -- "like 'Shi-poo-pi' from The Music Man," offers Andy, "but mine is, mercifully, a lot shorter."
HBO IS FLYING THE ENTIRE WHITE TRASH WINS Lotto cast to Aspen for its upcoming U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, and at a rehearsal, the three-and-a-half-pack-a-day Andy takes a break and gnaws on a Power Bar (while smoking!). He sidles up to the HBO guys, who sit in a huddle strategizing the show for taping, and asks, "If the altitude affects me, can I bring an oxygen tank onstage? And can I smoke next to it?"
The future may yet see a betuxed Andy Prieboy at the Broadway opening of White Trash Wins Lotto, and whisking into Sardi's to wait for the reviews. But for now he sees it as more of a club thing. "We want to keep it in the environment that pertains to its subject matter." He's been approached by theater people, publishing people and even movie people who want in. "They're going to be the subject of my next musical," he says, probably joking. "There are so many assholes to write about -- including me!"
Andy Prieboy performs White Trash Wins Lotto at Largo Thursday and Saturday, February 25 and 27.
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