In the America of 2018—teeming with cautionary tales of contentious activism, rampant victimism, and unbridled political correctness—the Fight Club media franchise is fortunate to have eluded destiny’s disapproval. Moreover, not content to merely sit pretty in beloved book collections nor patiently wait to resurface in revival movie houses, the cult classic has reemerged as Fight Club Live; a stage show that breathes new life into the masterwork’s legacy.
Originally published as a literary work in 1996, Chuck Palahniuk’s novel crystalizes an enduring relevancy, offering poignant scenarios that on the surface may appear a product of some parallel dystopian universe. It is upon closer examination, however, that Fight Club’s haunting story reveals a clear reflection our own innate desires and physiological makeups, addressing subjects such as consumerism, matriarchy, monogamy, violence, and sacrifice.
David Fincher’s 1999 cinematic adaptation presented Fight Club to a new audience, many of whom were unprepared for the ride. When first appearing in theaters, moviegoers were seemingly unwilling to process the subject matter objectively, consequently rejecting the reality that our infinitesimally complex world contains people with differing ideas on what constitutes happiness or sense of purpose. Additionally, many critics completely overlooked author Palahniuk’s insight and Fincher’s poetic visual depiction of life’s probabilities, instead choosing to distance themselves from introspection.
It is precisely Palahniuk’s petition for self-analysis that seeks to break a collective mental-block, ultimately leading to awareness and better mental health; a process that isn’t simply confined to a psychiatrists therapy couch, but can also be effectively uncovered through participation as creator and/or audience.
Adding to the intellectually biting narrative and visually arresting chaos is the film’s score, created by The Dust Brothers. Mike Simpson, one-half of musical duo, was at the right place at the right time, inexorably linking him to a piece of classic cinema that skillfully and successfully carries the torch from the pages of a book to the big-screen.
A talented producer who found his beginnings at the Pomona College radio station, Mike (aka E.Z.Mike) has been lucky enough to work on various critically acclaimed albums and music projects for movie and television; a list including the Beasty Boys, Beck, Linkin Park, and Santana, which garnered a Grammy win for “Album Of The Year.” Now, Mike is setting his sights on Fight Club LIVE, a clever extension of the Fight Club brand that faithfully interprets the energy and spirit of the tale.
Citizen LA: You started on this path in 1983 with the other half of The Dust Brothers, John King. What did you guys spin back then?
Mike: When I first started doing the radio show at Pomona College it was the first Hip-Hop show in SoCal, and we were spinning artists like LL Cool J. It was a live mix DJ format, and The Dust Brothers came out of that.
Citizen LA: When did the thought of creating a film score pop into your head?
Mike: I don’t write lyrics, and don’t really listen to lyrics in music, so the whole time I was making beats I always thought that my skills would be more suited for film. Fight Club was the first film that I scored, and Fincher was so great about just letting us do our thing. That was a dream project, and Fight Club is my proudest work of anything I’ve done.
Citizen LA: Seeing Fight Club in the theater for the first time, I remember walking out thinking “what the hell just happened?” I was in a stupor, as if someone had given me a puzzle to solve. How do you perceive the book/film subject matter?
Mike: It’s a philosophical piece about the homogenization of our world. It was definitely ahead of its time.
Citizen LA: I saw it as a fairytale filled with love, chaos, anarchy and a bad-ass soundtrack. It’s unquestionably a lean-forward movie, where you really have to be paying attention.
Mike: Exactly. It’s a very intellectual film, which garnered a cult following and made a mark in pop culture; a testament to how powerful the film was despite the fact that it wasn’t a huge box office success. Fincher was particularly obsessed with the opening credits, wanting the music to be like “a bee flying around in your skull,” so abrasive that it would make people leave before the opening credits were even done.
Citizen LA: You’re like… “Yeah! I can do that!”
Mike: Fincher knew it wasn’t a movie for everybody. He wanted to clear the plate before the movie even started [laughs].
Citizen LA: That reminds me of the first time I saw A Clockwork Orange. I waited years to see it up on the big screen. Then, during a packed house at some revival theater, the gasps started, and a few people left soon after it started. When I think of movies with that kind of visceral response, I’d put Fight Club up there with A Clockwork Orange, or Requiem for a Dream, or Suspiria.
Mike: Dude. You just named some of my favorite movies. Requiem For A Dream is the perfect movie. It’s amazing. Stunning on every level.
Citizen LA: Right from the onset of Fight Club, the score explodes, driving the film forward frenetically. No doubt there’s been a lot of thought put in to capturing and reinventing the experience for stage. So where do you begin when producing something like this live?
Mike: I have to give all credit to Jake who approached me about doing Fight Club Live. I expressed interest, but also gave him the list of all obstacles that I saw to actually being able to pull it off. Jake loved the score, but was disappointed that we never performed it live anywhere.
Whereas the book, movie and soundtrack are etched in an indelible medium, bringing the mayhem of the Fight Club story into a live setting generates a situation brimming with a bazillion opportunities for error, this while meeting the watchful eye of an eager audience who knows the movie inside and out.
Serial entrepreneur Jacob Maymudes, who recently wrote a best-selling book depicting his father’s unique bond with legendary musician Bob Dylan, accepted these risks to produce a successful event in 2017 that apparently got it right… so much so that he was able to convince Mike to cut into his hallowed yearly ski pilgrimage and perform at the 2018 event.
Throwing caution to the wind, Jake has stepped into the crosshairs of Project Mayhem to share the spotlight with Palahniuk, Fincher, and The Dust Brothers. A venture that sounds… well… insane.
Citizen LA: It seems that many people don’t appreciate the subject matter, or simply don’t get it. What are your thoughts?
Jake: Fight Club is more relevant than it ever has been. We’re turning this planet into a mess of recyclable crap. This Instagram generation is worse than the MTV generation, and now content can’t be presented in more than 15 second chunks. The problems that Palahniuk was illustrating have gotten exponentially worse.
Citizen LA: What inspired you to take on this monster?
Jake: Fight Club is one of the best-case scenarios for an epic live movie that doesn’t have a symphony. It’s great to see a live score to Star Wars at the Hollywood Bowl, but my generation wants to see Fight Club live or Pulp Fiction live!
Citizen LA: How did you approach the show, conceptually & technically?
Jake: I knew that producing a Hollywood Bowl type show was my endgame, but I also wanted to outdo them. Most importantly, we needed a band capable of reproducing Mike and John’s score live, but we also needed an amazing stunt coordinator (Henry Layton) to throw people around the stage. This year we have The Dust Brothers actually IN the show, plus a memorabilia retrospective paying homage to the movie.
Citizen LA: What’s your biggest hurdle when producing the live show?
Jake: Maintaining quality. I reached out to everyone involved with the actual score of the film, but they all said it was too complex. I knew it was possible, I mean, this is Los Angeles, where many of the world’s best musicians live! Knowing that much of the score is Drum’n’bass, we brought on Ziggy Marley’s percussionist, Angel Roche, who fucking crushes it. We also invited mad scientist Damon Ramirez who spent six months developing his own synths, making all that stuff that Mike and John sampled from scratch! Mike was happy that I cracked the Dust Brother’s code.
Citizen LA: What was surprisingly much easier than planned?
Jake: Nothing. [laughs]
Citizen LA: [laughs]
Jake: I don’t do things that are easy. I specialize in the tedious.
Citizen LA: On the one hand, the live show lends itself to having a Performance Art quality, however, the need for synchronization with the movie may lead to certain restrictions. Is there any room for improvisation?
Jake: By the nature of it being live, the score is not exactly like the movie, but the goal is to get the people who have seen it a hundred times… to see it for the first time.
BACK TO MIKE…
Citizen LA: I have to ask… are you going to blow up Dowtown LA for the finale?
Mike: Oh, I can’t give that away.
Citizen LA: Aww. I hope it’s the financial buildings. Are people going to walk out of the Wiltern thinking, “What the hell just happened? Let’s go burn something!”
Mike: Hopefully it won’t be that kinda crowd.
Citizen LA: CUT TO the local news as riots erupt in Downtown LA after the Fight Club Live show… and I’m gonna say, “I told them it was a bad idea!”
Whether a fan of cerebral psycho/sociopathic storytelling or not, our freedom to produce disruptive imagery, performances and content should not be hijacked nor subjugated by narrow-minded hypersensitive members of society. We must remember that nurturing America’s creative mavericks and bleeding-edge storytellers is essential to our general well-being.
Achieving “cult status” isn’t planned nor a result of market research, these things just happen. To be associated with a cult classic in any capacity is not only rare, but also impossible for any artist to foresee. Mike Simpson and Jacob Maymudes recognize the significance of their unexpected contribution to the Fight Club legacy, and are enjoying every minute.
Oh, by the way… in death, we’re all named Robert Paulson.