by Pericles composer/performer Joe Popp
Life can be full of coincidences. Circa 1994 I was playing in a punk trio called dogs on ice in Tampa, Florida. We had some minor local success and even signed to a small label out of San Francisco run by Jello Biafra’s graphic artist. We were doing as good as any local band could hope to do, but thought that maybe we would get a big break after learning we were going to open for our punk idols – Green Day.
The show was scheduled at a scrappy hole in the wall called The Brass Mug – sort of the CBGBs of Tampa. I remember the evening vividly. Green Day had not been signed by Reprise yet, but were doing great on Lookout Records. As we pulled into the club in our oxidized blue Ford Econoline, a rougher, more road worn van pulled into a space close to ours. It was them – yes, Green Day, all the way from the notorious punk rock mecca 924 Gilman Street. The band we listened to constantly and read so much about in the pages of our bible, the ‘zine Maximum Rocknroll.
We greeted them, and they seemed bigger than life. Tres Cool asked if any 5-0s were rolling because he had to “take care of some business,” and Mike Dirnt asked our bass player for a string, which he provided. The Mug was filled beyond legal capacity that night – at least 400 in a place that regularly drew 40. We took the stage with anticipation and rocked a pretty good set to the enthusiastic crowd. We felt good. Then Green Day took the stage.
They transformed the seedy club into a whirling vortex of energy. It didn’t matter that the sound was crap or the ceiling was low. They played with such tightness and fervor that I knew great things would come to them. My opinion of my band admittedly dropped drastically when I witnessed a new musical paradigm first hand. Weeks later their Dookie album was released on Reprise. Dookie sold millions of records and proved to be the record that lead them to stardom. My band went the way of most: we broke up.
I played in other bands and started getting involved in writing rock musicals. I had done quite a few in Tampa; my first being a Mac Wellman adaptation in 1994 and a very successful outdoor version of Macbeth in 1997 with my band Joe Popp as the witches. Hoping to score the next great rock musical, I left Tampa for NYC in 2000. I wanted to hear real rock music in a show; not just show tunes with electric guitars. I thought I could make a change. I had hope.
Once in New York I experienced some minor successes. I wrote a musical called MAXWELL that my old friends at Jobsite Theater produced in Tampa and later at the ultra-hip Williamsburg venue Galapagos Art Space in 2002. Some producers saw it, but passed. An old friend introduced me to up-and-coming writer Rinne Groff in 2003, and I composed some music for several of her plays. Along with Michael Friedman, I would later co-compose music for Rinne’s play In The Bubble, a musical spin on the 70’s heartthrob John Travolta movie The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. The show was directed by Micheal Grief of Rent fame and produced in 2007 by Northwestern University as part of the American Musical Theater Project. People saw it, but it still has yet to be produced again.
After what seemed to be a lifetime of being the opening band or the regional theater rock musical guy, I tried a new approach. No longer would I stab at music as a serious career, but just have fun doing projects. I started a band called The Hornrims with two old friends, and we get together once a week to write songs. For the past two and a half years, the band been has been working on an old idea I had of a mafia-inspired rock modernization of Shakespeare’s Pericles.
I am still based in NYC but I work quite often with Jobsite Theater – the well-known risky troupe in Tampa Bay that helped me cut my artistic teeth for so many years and produced my musical MAXWELL. After struggling in NYC to find anyone interested, Jobsite artistic director David Jenkins hooked me up with writers Neil Gobioff and Shawn Paonessa to write the book. We had a few meetings, worked separately in NYC and Tampa and eventually came up with the rock musical Pericles: Prince of Tires.
We produced the show in a 99 seater at The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (now the Straz Center) with great success last summer. The creative team decided to give it a go in NYC and try to get some producers to look at it. The stars seemed to line up, and we luckily landed a week at New York’s famed HERE, a theater known for its cutting edge material. Pericles: Prince of Tires is now poised for a week of shows in Tampa as a tune-up, and then four shows in NYC starting April 15th – during American Idiot‘s final week of previews before it opens on the 20th.
Once again, in an odd way, I am opening for Green Day. We no longer share the crusty Brass Mug stage, but here we both are still doing what we do – making some kind of music. Green Day on a grand scale, and me and The Hornrims just getting together to blast some pop-punk once a week. Although my measured success falls far short of my idols, I feel I have achieved a certain kind of success – the success of persistence. I guess where I landed is summed up nicely in the final chorus of the final song of Pericles: Prince of Tires. The cast sings, “After all these years I’m here.” And you know what? I am.