The average age of Crying 4 Kafka’s band members might not immediately gain them any street cred, but their vast experience backs the authenticity behind their lurid subject matter and punk bravado. Take The Saint of Fucked Up Karma, their new rock musical based on a true story (the names and places have been changed to maintain anonymity) that will premiere at Muddy Waters Café this Friday, June 21. The concert-meets-theater piece features a complex and gripping array of songs cowritten by Crying 4 Kafka and Robin Finck (of Nine Inch Nails and Guns N’ Roses fame). Kafka’s lead singer and scriptwriter Paul Abramson describes it as an “agonized spiritual tribute to redemption and accountability.”
At UCLA, Professor Abramson teaches courses that include Human Sexuality and Sex and the Law. He also serves as an expert witness for cases involving sex crimes, where he’s encountered situations that have greatly informed his band’s lyrics. The Saint of Fucked Up Karma is no exception.
The story revolves around three different arcs: a case involving a sexually abused child named Porter, the abusive childhood of a character named Frank, and a romantic relationship.
Abramson worked on a real-life case where a boy was sexually assaulted by a cop, and helped him win a restitution of one million dollars. “When you hear the beginning of it, you think, ‘How could this get worse?’” he said, “and it gets much worse. [The title] was not gratuitous. I mean, it’s all fucked up.”
Abramson himself grew up in an abusive household. The character he portrays, Frank, is largely autobiographical. While reciting a scene from the play, he explained, “My dad had a twisted view of religion, of what is and what isn’t. … He’d be screaming, ‘Fuck this, and fuck that.’ It was like a haiku of hate.”
However, he says, “The past is not always the prologue.” Abramson strongly advocates for people taking accountability for their actions. In his case, he said, “I didn’t want to live the life that my parents lived.” Instead, Abramson earned a PhD from the University of Connecticut in 1976 and then became a professor in UCLA’s psychology department. Abramson — and all The Saint‘s players — currently reside in Santa Barbara County. “It’s clear that Frank’s character has experienced redemption, but I also didn’t want it to be this heroic kind of thing,” he said. “It’s never that way.”
The musical takes a stab at challenging the effectiveness of being saved, where the twist ending is, as Abramson puts it, “the worst thing you could imagine.”
This near-dystopian world where former victims must take responsibility for their actions and caretakers are less than traditionally heroic is no fabrication. Abramson says he’s just transferring his real-life experiences into a stage production.
To bolster the impact of The Saint of Fucked Up Karma, Abramson is fortifying the story with what he calls “real rock ’n’ roll.” The band’s sound is rough and “bootleggy,” rather than stagey and operatic. “I think in musicals like Hair, the music is made palatable to the mainstream population,” he said, “but edgy stories with really raw emotions are better served by rock ’n’ roll.”
However much the story is organically grounded in truth, the musical form is contrived in its slant toward innovation. Abramson wants to expand past playing traditional shows in clubs by experimenting with the musical-theater format, and he considers his work to be in the vein of the culty Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“The whole idea thrust behind this is to think outside the box,” he said. “Once you’ve done something, at least for me, there is the motivation to move beyond it.”
Furthermore, Abramson said the musical is meant to raise questions rather than provide definitive answers. “The underlying motivation of the musical is, ‘How do you extract meaning out of this?’”
We live in a world where standard-bearers of morality sometimes enact the opposite of what they preach. In the case of The Saint, Frank’s father is a hypocritical Christian and a police officer sexually abuses a child. Amid all of this divergence from expected high ground, Frank tries to “right a wrong” as an expert witness.
“Art should provoke thought,” he said. The creation of The Saint of Fucked Up Karma is Abramson’s way of making sense of it all.
Crying 4 Kafka presents The Saint of Fucked Up Karma at Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Friday, June 21, and Left Coast Books (5877 Hollister Ave., Goleta) On Sunday, June 23, both at 8 p.m. Call (805) 966-9328 or visit facebook.com/crying4kafka.