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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Song of the Survivor

Author Paul McComas turns his novel into a concert

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Inner peace and social justice, not unlike the personal and the political, should never be entirely separate. That’s one theme in Paul McComas’ 2002 novel, Unplugged. After publication, the Milwaukee-turned-Evanston, Ill., author refitted his story of Dayna Clay, a suicidal young woman who happens to be an alt-rock star, into a low-decibel rock concert telling her story in memorable songs and meaningful narration.

The musical version of Unplugged sketches the protagonist’s inner and outer journey. A survivor of rape and other abuse, Dayna channels her roiling trauma into anthems for her young fans while careening toward self-destruction. The Unplugged performance begins on a cynical note with “Fireproof Storage,” whose lyric laughs at the walls we shelter behind. “Give Me Oblivion” offers the sort of suicidal clues that often go unrecognized. “Just give me oblivion,” Dayna demands. “No one can damage you if you’re no longer there.”

Dayna’s words are sung and acted out by Maya Kuper. “Being a compelling performer involves connecting with your audience, drawing them into the story, relating to them, leveling with them,” Kuper says. “And being able to relate to all Dayna’s troubles isn’t something I would wish on anyone.” McComas also sings, narrates and plays guitar, backed by Tim Buckingham on drums and Mike Holden on guitar.

Unplugged grew out of McComas’ work in the ’90s on behalf of Rock Against Depression. “We wanted to honor Kurt Cobain’s legacy while cautioning his fans about the mistakes he made,” McComas says. “Over the course of that project I engaged with these issues in fiction, which led back to music. I needed to compose songs in character with the protagonist.”

The songs and the story they convey have universal resonance and a message of social justice. “It’s not just about rape victims but about anyone who has struggled with trauma or loss—with psychological, physical or emotional abuse, with war, violence or bullying,” McComas explains.

Unplugged will be performed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, at Marquette University in the Alumni Memorial Union’s Henke Lounge, 1442 W. Wisconsin Ave. Admission is free. The event is sponsored by Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking.

 

Book Happening

 

Tagore: A Celebration

2-4 p.m., March 22

Loos Room of the Central Library

733 N. Eighth St.

It’s no longer rare for non-European writers to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but in 1913, India’s Rabindranath Tagore was the first. “The Walt Whitman of India” was a prolific storywriter, playwright and songwriter as well as a poet. The Milwaukee Public Library’s Tagore fest includes a documentary on the author by acclaimed Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and performances of his poems by Milwaukee’s current poet laureate, Jeff Poniewaz, and former poet laureate, Antler.