Beyond Suicide: Don Chaffer
After years of writing music and producing records in Nashville, Don Chaffer—front man for the duo Waterdeep (with wife Lori)—takes a foray into the music theater world of New York. While Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar light up Broadway, Son of a Gun, a loosely autobiographical stage translation of Chaffer's 2006 "Khrusty Brothers" concept album, will be playing a few blocks away at the Firebone Theater, from Nov. 1-18.
Through the mouthpieces of lively characters like "Cowboy Jesus" and "Lucy Sunshine," the production—with music and lyrics by Chaffer—asks the hard questions of life.
Officially, it's being billed as "a quirky, darkly comic, rock musical that tells the story of Danderhauler Agamenon Khrusty, the eldest of three sons of Winston and Elmadora Khrusty, and the heir apparent to the throne of the Khrusty family Appalachian band. Danderhauler's life is dominated by the charismatic personality of his father, a highly-functioning, highly-entertaining alcoholic. When Danderhauler meets the love of his life, Lucy Sunshine, they conspire to free him of the burden of his father's addiction, but their plans are thwarted by the surprising news of Winston's tongue cancer. Winston's tongue is promptly removed to save his life, forcing Danderhauler to step up as the new band leader. As the events that follow spiral out of control, Danderhauler clings to his love for Lucy to keep him upright. When even that window of hope is shattered, Danderhauler is forced to confront his dead father, which he does by means of an old fashioned cowboy duel."
Got that? We weren't exactly sure either, so we asked Chaffer to tell us all about it.
What inspired the 2006 album that ultimately was the source material for Son of a Gun?
That record had been done for the better part of two years before I released it. My father passed away in '03 of suicide, took his own life. In the wake of that, I found myself writing a different kind of song. I guess you could say it was a crisis of faith time, and I just started being interested in not pulling any punches when it came to asking whatever questions I felt like I needed to ask. The record reflects that.
Talk about the process going from album to stage.
I technically co-wrote a book called Son of a Gun with Chris Cragin Day. Chris's husband, Steve, thought it would make a good musical. That was just based on hearing the metaphorical flights of fancy and the parent backstory in the songs—and I just decided, sure. It's been many moons, probably five years, since we started. It's been an evolving process, and it's my first foray into storytelling of this scope, so it's not like I imagined it in the beginning. It's better.
Can you give us a sneak peek into the plot?
Son of a Gun presents an interesting mashup of music and narrative. And, from a story perspective, it's funny. It's a dark comedy with a serious arc to it. It addresses this question of family and how to hack your way through a life that can be filled with pain, and it asks where the redemption is in the midst of all of it.
Is it autobiographical?
The story emerged from my own life experiences. There are plenty of times where we would hit a roadblock in the narrative, like, What should we do next with this character or this thing? And I would say, "Well, here's what happened to me." And that would be the best dramatic solution to the problem. So there's times it's stunningly true to my own life, but, of course, I did not grow up in a family band. We were not from Appalachia. My dad didn't play guitar or sing. There were no duels anywhere. And so on.