At what point can one be officially recognized as an icon? I'd wager having a rock opera written about your life more than constitutes the title. While the odds of any of us having our stories told in the much-maligned format are slim, Frank "Rat Bastard" Falestra's life has certainly provided a compelling enough tale to earn the distinct honor.
The perpetually beanie'd and sunglass'd enigma of noise is truly something of a hero to some, an elder statesman to even more, but above all, a champion and figurehead of South Florida's richly diverse and criminally underrated subculture and arts community -- despite the fact that he probably thinks you're a hippie.
Hearing Damage: The Rat Opera returned to the stage for a two-night engagement this weekend at Fort Lauderdale's stately Cinema Paradiso. Part rock 'n' roll show, part Broadway play, and part comedy, the performance offered was a labor of love acted out by Falestra's longtime friends and collaborators.
The brainchild of Brian Franklin and Rob Elba, the show was actually quite informative and clarified some of the foggy details of Rat's life that many of us have received only in rambled bits and pieces. Being that Rat's friends put the show together, it also brought the uninitiated in on many inside jokes and Ratisms from years past. There was Rat's character's advice on dating. Act like you don't care, because, "you will become a slave to your own giving a fuck."
Set mostly between the sadly soon-to-change Churchill's Pub ("Where the crowd is electric and the ladies toilet is overflowing," MC Steven Toth, AKA Mr. Entertainment, explained) and Rat's recording studio/apartment, the play followed Falestra's semifictional trajectory from his childhood christening as Rat Bastard by his own mother to discovering a calling in noise music, through arguments with antagonist Bernando (based on Miami-to-L.A. musician Fernando Perdomo), played by Ed Artigas, who believes noise is eroding away at the local scene and should be stopped at all costs.
Philosophical questions about noise music are raised by Bernando and Rian the Miami Herald reporter character (Jim Camacho), like, "Maybe it does require talent to deliberately suck?" The entire time, brilliant songs depicting Rat's tale and ethos like "You'll Write Good Commercials," "All Your Tone Is Wrong," and "Ballad of the Rat" punctuate the dialogue. Falestra, played by Rene Alverez, was quite literally guided through the peaks and valleys of life by guardian angel and Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard (Carey Peak).
The music was performed by a squad of deft musicians who donned the coveralls and bright-orange vests that one might have seen Falestra in during his days working for an airline. Led by Elba and Franklin, the band featured guitarist Russel Mofsky, drummer Andre Serafini, and bassist William Trev, all of whom brought rock pomp and a bit of punk attitude to the show.
Ultimately, while the audience was thoroughly indoctrinated to the Cult of Rat, the production really expressed the love felt for Falestra by his friends and collaborators. The mock bar from Churchill's, permanently set at the edge of the stage, was a home to narrator Toth, who filled the gaps in dialogue and the occasional missed line with jabs and jokes. The show was entertaining for all, a warm experience that lifted up a true original who has led a far more charmed existence than most of us could hope to. The club really is open.