To steal unapologetically from Steinbeck: Slim Bone Head Volt is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Slim Bone Head Volt is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps of an actor’s brain and a musician’s hands. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Vincent D’Onofrio. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen,” and he would have meant Dana Lyn.
The project’s theatrical roots are evident: Slim Bone Head Volt is the free-form system of Stanislavski mixed with the daring of Sturm und Drang and the broken fourth wall of improvisation; it’s Ionesco and Brecht meets The Last Poets and Tom Waits; a theater-of-the-absurd-in-the-round and unabashed circle in the square times of today.
In the mirror world of Slim Bone Head Volt, the musician scores the soundtrack to the water balloons of thought that run through the actor’s head. Strings howl and percussion thumps while bells whistle and bass lines stalk, like a jazz band from hell recording in a smoke-filled zero gravity chamber. The speech erupts and whines, slinks and probes, never winking (possibly?) and never letting up (certainly)—a raging tempest of ridicule and a hilariously balmy assault upon the ears.
The duo was born when, during rehearsals for an off-Broadway play in which both D’Onofrio and Lyn were cast members, the actor invited his innermost thoughts into the unsuspecting minds of his contemporaries via that modern day messiah of connection: the text message. The transmissions were long, rambling, and raucous, and Lyn, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and composer, fell in love with them. In direct contradiction to the thumb-guided medium’s impermanence, she sought to give the messages new life by pairing them with her own original music and encouraged D’Onofrio to share more.
The actor, trapped in the physical shape of Mr. D’Onofrio, flings his synapses onto the tiny external brain he carries around in his pocket. He does not edit—he cannot edit, for when do you consciously amend your dreams? You do not, and he does not, for this is honesty, and truth, and beauty, and it is all quite fucked up. These are the inner workings of a man gone mad with his own majesty, and they are as profound as they are pathetic and heroic in their humility.
A brief thumbing through the journal’s virtual pages reveals tales of fragile ballerinas and imaginary friends, presidential aspirations and warring hands, heartfelt tending to pigs with nihilistic names, silent birds and hamsters with shoulder chips, fury and futility and the super-golden long-flowing hair of aspiration, ego, and of becoming Blanche DuBois. Like Tennessee Williams’ iconic Southern Belle, Mr. D’Onofrio is infinitely dependent on the kindness of strangers, and were he whisked away tomorrow to his divine rewards in the asylum it wouldn’t be soon enough.
The musician, given life by Ms. Lyn, has undertaken the challenge of holding up the instrumental mirror to the actor’s vague maelstrom of nature. Half of the music was through-composed, the other half improvised with direction based on D’Onofrio’s words. Thereby, the sound becomes just as instinctual for Lyn and her players as the delivery is for D’Onofrio. Despite having not seen any of the music before the recording, the assembled cast knocked out an entire album (plus 13 tracks that didn’t make the final cut) in two five-hour sessions, in a maximum of three takes for each song. The resulting product, titled Slim Bone Head Volt, will be released on March 3 via Buddhabug Records. Live previews of the work have taken place infrequently and mysteriously at Joe’s Pub in New York, with another coming in late December, and future performances to be announced.
So, how can we expect to comprehend all this madness? How, to tear a page from the man once again, can the poem and the stink and the grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream—be set down alive? Perhaps to comprehend Slim Bone Head Volt, the product of two maniacal minds who shall not, under any circumstance, be moved, you must simply open your own mind and let the stories crawl in by themselves.