Hearing Damage: The Rat Opera Brings Dialogue and Song to the Life of Rat Bastard
Rob Elba and Brian Franklin have gathered a large and notable cast of local musicians turned actors to perform their rock show Hearing Damage: The Rat Opera. The band -- which also includes Russell Mofsky, Andre Serafini, and William Trev -- started warming up with some Led Zeppelin last Wednesday night during its penultimate practice. They played with big, childlike smiles on their faces. The room was filled with song and laughter, more than a dozen old friends creating together and consuming a decent amount of beer, orzo salad, and sushi in the process.
Next week, they perform the rock opera inspired by the life of noise legend Frank Falestra, AKA Rat Bastard, onstage at Fort Lauderdale's Cinema Paradiso. Rat Bastard has helped guide the Miami music scene for three decades. He's recorded just about every local band or act that's come through town, and he's known as the mastermind behind Scraping Teeth (Spin magazine's worst band in America circa 1993), Laundry Room Squelchers, and the annual International Noise Conference at Churchill's Pub.
The Rat Opera was conceived in 1996, but it was three years before Elba and Franklin actually started working on it and a decade after that before performing it live -- with songs only -- at Cinema Paradiso, Churchill's Pub, and Tobacco Road. The project now includes a story line, dialogue, and cast.
They originally wrote it in three hours on a yellow pad while driving to Orlando to see Guided by Voices -- a favorite band of Rat's. "Just about everyone I know down here discovered Guided by Voices through Rat," Elba explains. Rat used to hand out the band's tapes to his friends. The two musicians even included GBV lead singer Robert Pollard (played by Carey Peak) as a character in their production.
Mindy Hertzon Carey Peak performing as Robert Pollard.
Those who know Rat as the man who rules over the noise scene might assume Hearing Damage will be a cacophonous experience. However, they should look instead to the sounds and tastes of the dudes who wrote it. Elba, of the legendary rock band Holy Terrors, and Franklin -- who emphasizes he's a singer/songwriter -- created an engaging tale within the body of emotionally charged songs with comedic lyrics performed by a powerful group of musicians.
Elba says that though there are some embellishments, "all the things that happen in it is shit that Rat has done or that has happened to Rat, but we just kind of made the story around it." They even put out a call for stories on the internet to create the dialogue. During practice, people have exclaimed: "I heard Rat say that shit!" For instance, Rat is prone to call people hippies. "Rat always says he hates hippies," Elba says, "but the truth is, he really loves them. He is a hippie, really."
Elba further explains about their muse and friend of three decades: "The myth is more than the man, but without all the myth, the man is something pretty crazy. How many of us could work for 33 years at Delta? He'd work all fucking day, and then at night, he'd be at Churchill's till 3, 4 in the morning, get like an hour of sleep and then go back to work the next day. Fly to Japan to see bands play, fly all around whenever he wasn't working. He doesn't have a TV..."
Mindy Hertzon Rene Alvarez as Rat Bastard.
Everyone they asked to participate said yes, and for free. "These people are all connected to Rat in some form or fashion. It's very much a labor of love for them," Franklin says. The performers include Steven "Mr. Entertainment" Toth as narrator, Rene Alvarez as Rat, Ed Artigas as Rat's nemesis, Jim Camacho as Herald reporter Rian, Diane Ward as Rat's mom and ex, Ali Culotta of Stop the Presses as Rat's girlfriend, and others. They even have two Jacuzzi Boys acting as Rat's "disciples."