Life sucks. And my life sucks in particular.
September 10, 2017 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Michael Friedman was the composer-lyricist of Broadway's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, numerous off-Broadway musicals, a founding member of The Civilians, and the newly-named artistic director of New York City Center's Encores! Off-Center series. He died yesterday at age 41 from complications due to HIV/AIDS.

Michael Friedman (wiki / obit) is probably best known for the pop-punk Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (2010), a "rowdy political carnival" that portrayed the life and times of America's seventh president in terms that now seem remarkably prescient. (See the rousing anthem "Populism, Yea Yea" which includes lyrics like, "And we’re gonna take this country back for people like us, who don’t just think about things." Or Jackson complaining, "Why don't you just shoot me in the head / 'cause you know I'd be better off dead / if there's really no place in America / for a celebrity of the first rank.").

He also was a founding member of The Civilians, a downtown company that coined the term "investigative theater." One such example was Pretty Filthy, a behind-the-scenes look at the porn industry based on interviews with porn producers and performers. In this New York Times clip, Friedman and star Luba Mason perform "Beautiful" from Pretty Filthy. In "Becky & Bobby & Taylor & Dick" two performers (Becky and Bobby) ponder the influence and intrustion of their pornstar personas (Taylor and Dick) on their off-camera relationship.

Last year, Friedman worked on a piece that musicalized the thoughts of primary voters from across the United States during election season. "I definitely believe in the politics of music and theatre and popular art," said Freidman. "I certainly think they are a conduit. Art is what survives from protest movements." The song "Undocumented" from that project takes its lyrics verbatim from a conversation with an undocumented immigrant in Dallas.

* * *

Many remembering Friedman point to his 2012 TEDxEast talk, The Song Makes A Space, in which he walked the audience through the process of writing a song for theatre.

Friedman's colleague and musical theatre historian Jennifer Ashley Tepper wrote this reflection of Friedman on Facebook (public post):
There is no way I can write anything on social media that can communicate with justice the horrible loss of Michael Friedman. Also Michael Friedman hated social media and would have made fun of me for trying. ... During act one of the show I saw tonight I suddenly started crying when I remembered a conversation I had with Michael this year. He was upset that there were still situations where people would avoid saying that an artist specifically died of HIV/AIDS. We were walking up 8th Avenue and he roared "No one should erase that! People have to know!"

Michael Friedman died of HIV/AIDS. He was 41. It was 2017. [more]
And one for the road: How To Come Back, a cut song from Bloody Bloody... ("They say there are no second acts in American lives, just second mortgages and second wives. They thought that they could return one day, trailing clouds of glory, but they couldn't remember the way.")
posted by Zephyrial (17 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

His death has been getting local attention because the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis is about to debut his last completed work, a musical about hockey. If you find yourself here in the next month and can handle "competitive and middle school language including “Shut up,” “Hell” and "Nut Cup"", check it out.
posted by Flannery Culp at 2:50 PM on September 10, 2017 [4 favorites]


posted by tzikeh at 3:02 PM on September 10, 2017

Also, your "more" link is borked (the one that comes after "Michael Friedman died of HIV/AIDS. He was 41. It was 2017."
posted by tzikeh at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2017

Ugh. Not only was he way, way too young, he hadn't yet reached his zenith as a creator. I'm so sad about this. Love to his family, friends and fans.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]



Also, thank you Zephyrial for putting the work into this thoughtful post about his work, which, as you say, is prescient.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:38 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks tzikeh, just wrote to mods. And thanks mandolin conspiracy; I didn't like all of Friedman's work but some of it I loved, and I can't think of anybody with such a distinctive voice working today. This is a tough one.
posted by Zephyrial at 3:47 PM on September 10, 2017

Mod note: Fixed link!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Damn it. So talented, and so young.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2017

This is heartbreaking. We saw a production of Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play and were just blown away. Steve Cosson, a founder of the Civilians, is a friend from college, and I started seeing the news as people posted condolences to his fb page. I can't believe this, still. What a terrible loss.
posted by rtha at 5:03 PM on September 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I loved his score for the Public's Love's Labour's Lost - I often find myself singing Rich People - And everyday you hear that all the best things have no price- but then the bankers and politicans don't take that advice! In a rich people's world i'll let them roll the dice...
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:23 PM on September 10, 2017

The same song includes the line- and now they're taking stuff away from you and me, they pay for better seats at plays that should be free. Hearing that at Shakespeare in the Park (where rich people can, indeed, pay for better seats at a play that should be free) in front of those very rich people blew me right out of my seat. Zing!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

posted by mikelieman at 7:34 PM on September 10, 2017


I fucking loved that musical.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 8:03 PM on September 10, 2017

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was great. I mean it had its problems, I'm not surprised the run was short, but it was pretty great. It'd be perfect for an early revival in the Trump era.

Also: fuck AIDS. With so much successful medical treatment now it's important to remember there's still a lot of sick people and some of them die way, way too young.
posted by Nelson at 12:46 AM on September 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

posted by Cash4Lead at 5:04 AM on September 11, 2017

posted by allthinky at 7:55 AM on September 11, 2017

Oh, I've wanted to see Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play ever since I heard about it. Frustratingly, I found out about a production that had been in my area too late, because the ad was on a Tivo'd show I didn't watch until a few days after the run had ended.

posted by tavella at 11:38 AM on September 11, 2017

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