Evanston’s short-lived Verboten became the ideal family in the long run for its young members
Evanston band, now the subject of a House Theatre musical, was an important outlet for all four band members, outsider teens who were dealing with intense family issues.
When he was 10 years old, Jason Narducy joined a punk rock band called Verböten which also included his friends 14-year-old Tracy Bradford, 12-year-old bassist Chris Kean and 11-year-old drummer Zack Kantor. Now nearly 40 years later, Verböten’s story has achieved a bit of rock ’n’ roll legend status as the band that inspired a young Dave Grohl (Bradford’s cousin) to follow his musical path.
But for the four band members, Verböten’s legacy goes well beyond this interesting piece of trivia.
The band’s broader more personal story is the focus of a new musical titled “Verböten” debuting at The House Theatre of Chicago and featuring a book by playwright Brett Neveu and music and lyrics by Narducy.
When: To March 8
Where: The House Theatre of Chicago at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Verböten lasted a little more than a year, but during that time the Evanston band was an important outlet for all four band members, outsider teens, who were dealing with intense family issues, says Narducy, 48, who went on to play with Bob Mould, Superchunk, Split Single and Verbow.
Verböten became a punk rock family for the young musicians and the idea for the musical was to capture this spirit, Narducy says.
“We all believe that a lot of the reasons we came together was that there was trouble at home in different forms,” Narducy says. “It’s an unusual story and I think Brett does a good job of expressing what would bring people together at that young age to play punk rock, a type of music that most of our friends didn’t even understand.”
The idea for the musical germinated after Neveu watched the HBO documentary “Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways” in which Grohl gives props to Bradford for taking him to his first punk show in 1982 at the Cubby Bear which featured Verböten opening for Naked Raygun and Rights of the Accused. Neveu realized the diminutive 11-year-old guitar player, who Grohl also cites as a major inspiration, was his neighbor Narducy (their kids went to the same school).
“All I could think was why hadn’t anyone written about this amazing story,” Neveu recalls, adding that he quickly approached Narducy about the prospect of creating a new musical.
Narducy liked the idea but laughingly claims that he doesn’t remember Neveu saying it would be a musical.
“My guess is I was overwhelmed and terrified at the prospect and just blocked it out,” Narducy says. “I was surprised and flattered but it was just a bit too much for my brain to absorb.”
Set in 1982, the musical follows the four punk rockers at they “struggle to find a place where they belong,” says director Nathan Allen. “Burdened with grown up problems, they find a way through it together. It’s timely in that way.”
Central to “Verböten” is Narducy’s own story: a child caught in the middle of what he calls “a very intense divorce.” Bravely, he let Neveu concoct a mix of truth and fiction in his storytelling.
“I really wanted to write about Jason’s situation because that kept the story centered,” Neveu says. “He really allowed the heavier part of the show to fall on him.”
Adds Narducy: “I know I needed something back then and the combination of that style of music and thankfully my ability to play guitar, sing and write songs gave me a power and identity that helped me get out of a painful part of my life. It probably says something that I’m still playing music today.”
The members of Verböten still have a strong connection and remain friends. “It was like we created our own family. We’re all still close,” says Narducy, the only band member who is still writing and performing. He penned 20 new songs for the musical.
“It was rewarding to be a more experienced musician and songwriter and write songs for my ‘band’ the way that we probably would have wanted to back then,” he says. “This stage version of Verböten is a better band than we actually were.”
Verböten was short-lived and Narducy clearly remembers the moment when the end seemed imminent.
“It was at probably the only punk band meeting ever with parents involved,” Narducy recalls with a laugh. “Tracy was 16 [Narducy was 12] and she wanted us to record and release an album and tour. I think we all remember pretty clearly what my dad said, ‘No, Jason is going to finish 6th grade’.”
Verböten never released that record but they did record some songs in 1983. Four of those plus one from the Cubby Bear show are now featured on a 7-inch record available at the theater. “It’s only taken us 37 years to release it,” Narducy says laughing. “I think we were good for our age but I think today the Verböten story is more impressive than the music was.”
Editor’s note: In advance of production’s opening, Verböten has announced their first-ever official release, aself-titled, retrospective EP, limited to 500 vinyl copies. The EP features a live version of“He’s A Panther,”originally recorded by Narducy’s father in 1983 at theCubby Bear in Chicagowhen the group shared a bill withNakedRaygunandRights Of The Accused.The EP may be purchased here while supplies last.
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.