In 1896, French writer Alfred Jarry debuted his play of Ubu Roi to less-than-welcoming audiences. For both the dress rehearsal and the premier night of the production, rotten fruit pelted the cast as the audiences let the cast know what they thought of the play. After that experience, Jarry spent the rest of his short life trying to improve the story, even going as far as to turn the play into a marionette concept.
Since that time, that infamous play of Ubu Roi has been staged several times, each time in a different style, sending the concept in many different directions. For those who who have yet to discover Ubu Roi, here is a short description of the play:
Pere (Pa) Ubu has yet to do anything of real consequence, although he DOES work as the right hand man to King Wenceslas. Mere (Ma) Ubu is tired of her nobody husband and concocts a plan to make Pere Ubu important. So Pere Ubu wipes out the royal family and he becomes the ruler of Poland. However, his reign as “Ubu Roi” (King Ubu) is quite short. It is during the time when he takes the Polish army into war that Pere Ubu is defeated and driven out of the country. Mere Ubu is also chased from the kingdom by an angry hoard. They find each other hiding out inside of the same cave, where they are once again threatened with death. Reluctantly together, they run.
In the 1970’s, the Cleveland-based musician David Thomas and some of his friends formed a punk rock/art rock band that they named Pere Ubu after the main character of the play. With Thomas’ own experience with Ubu Roi, it was only a matter of time until the band and the play would cross paths and become one entity. Recently, Davis Thomas created a version of the play, which he named “Bring Me The Head of Pere Ubu”. Depending on the draft of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, the two Ubus are either captured, killed or they escape to live another day. In this version of the story by the band of Pere Ubu, Mere (Ma) and Pere (Pa) Ubu sail away back to their native country of France.
The play of “Bring Me The Head of Pere Ubu” was performed in England in the early part of 2008. After the play had its time on stage, Thomas and the rest of the members of the band of Pere Ubu took the play and created a radio play version of it. And once the radio play had been finished, the music that was created for the production was taken and put onto a CD. That CD, “Long Live Pere Ubu,” was recently released.
If you are familiar with the band of Pere Ubu, you know that the rock band is known for their unusual style and sound. The rock music created by Pere Ubu works perfectly to bring the play into the 21st Century. The band’s style is just right to be used as the background music for the equally unusual play of Ubu Roi and David Thomas’ writing style for the lyrics to the songs created by the band match the feeling and attitude of the original work written by Alfred Jarry.
If you are not at least somewhat familiar with Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry, the album may not be for you: the story is a little hard to understand; the underlying jokes and references can be easily missed; and the imbedded foul language of the original composition (which has been cut back quite a bit for this production) can be a little off-putting; As with the original play produced by Alfred Jarry, “Long Live Pere Ubu” by the band of Pere Ubu begins with one word: Merdre, which is the French equivalent to the English word of “F-ck”. If easily offended, you may want to listen before you buy.
Like the original story written by Alfred Jarry, the subsequent productions (including this album) may not be for everyone. This does not, however, take away anything from the talent of the players and singers on this CD who have created a wonderfully unique take on this very unusual, maybe even weird, story. Along with Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas (who plays the Pere Ubu role and also plays the xiosynth, organ and bass), the rest of the personnel that helped Thomas create the album of “Long Live Pere Ubu” included: Sarah Jane Morris (who played the role of Mere Ubu), Keith Moline (who played the guitar), Robert Wheeler (who played the EML synthesizer and theremin), Gagarin (who provided the electronica for the production), Michele Temple (who played the bass and other instruments), and Steve Mehlman (who provided the drums and percussion, as well as plenty of belching, to the recording). You can easily consider Ubu Roi by Albert Jarry to have a cult following, as far as plays are concerned- Only certain people would even attempt to create a new production of the story. David Thomas and the rest of Pere Ubu not only attempted to create a new version, but the resulting album of “Long Live Pere Ubu” is a very strong (and equally creative) take on the story.
To discover the album of Long Live Pere Ubu by the rock band Pere Ubu, visit the website www.ubuprojex.net. You can also find the band on MySpace at www.myspace.com/pereuburadio. And to hear the complete radio play, visit www.hearpen.com.