An Immersive Narrative Experience by Kary Hess and Daedalus Howell
It’s a story of love, loss, leather and so many clove cigarettes against a backdrop of Reaganomics, the Berlin Wall, and the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Into this tumult, Le Drama Clüb formed — or would’ve if it were real.
Instead, its members, songs, images, and band-related ephemera have been invented by a team of creatives led by Petaluma conceptual artists Daedalus Howell and Kary Hess.
The idea was simple: Consolidate the collective narratives of a particular time and place and reimagine them as a new story – one born from forgotten memories and dreams broken over the knobby knee of adolescence.
“The exhibit is not intended to fool anyone but rather invites attendees to participate by sharing their own ‘memories’ of the band that never was – because at some point, usually as misfit teens, we’re all rock stars in our hearts.”— Daedalus Howell
The exhibit included listening stations for original music, posters, album covers, costumes, and a bevy of cultural arcana ran for a limited two-week engagement in November 2016 at The Back House Gallery, Heebe Jeebe, 41 Kentucky Street, Petaluma, CA. Limited edition commemorative Le Drama Clüb cassette tapes, T-shirts, buttons, and stickers were available at the event.
The Narrative: Le Drama Clüb
The Year was 1988
Lauren Mossi was 16-years-old. If the odds weren’t already against her as a punk, a poet, and Petaluman, consider that Reagan had been president for half her life. “Just Say No” was a de facto negation of all personal experimentation, and the Free Love and psychedelics of her parents’ era had been downgraded to freebie condoms and shoplifted wine coolers as Lauren and her generation were the first to come of age in the shadow of AIDS. And they were going to nuke us any minute.
The town was a conservative ’burb. The Balshaw Bridge was still under construction and the boulevard had barely recovered from American Graffiti’s cruising hangover. Petaluma was about
to experience its first real culture clash. It started with concerns over hair color and thrift store fashion and led inevitably to politics and sexuality.
It was into this small town tumult that Lauren Mossi offered an alternative soundtrack to the jeers of passersby. Lauren wanted to be heard. So, she had to be loud. And she knew just who could help her.
Four misfit drama geeks met in rehearsal for a high school production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. They bonded during the production but the foursome’s friendship coalesced with music. It started with their favorite bands (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cowboy Junkies, Violent Femmes) and ended with their own.
Enter Le Drama Clüb
They called themselves Le Drama Clüb. The faux-French and useless umlaut said as much about their cosmopolitan aspirations as their predilection for black clothes, clove cigarettes, and psychodrama.
Lauren Mossi: The band’s primary architect was junior Lauren Mossi. She was the single child of a single mother and determined to muster the escape velocity out of Petaluma. She was the play’s lead and by default the leader of almost everything else around her. Dow Morgan was The Mousetrap’s leading man (and Lauren’s onstage love interest). He was moody and rude but a decent guitarist. Moreover, he was willing to set Lauren’s poetry to music. For a while. Corey Kelley, played keyboards, bass, and – thanks to an early Macintosh computer in his art class – graphic design. On the emotional lam from his religious upbringing, Corey was introspective, dark, and served as the fulcrum between the increasingly volatile personalities of Lauren and Dow. For an entire year, he spoke with a British accent for no reason. The Mousetrap’s in-house techie, Jeffrey McPhee, owned a drum set and perhaps, more importantly, a van to move it. He also had his parents’ basement where the band could rehearse. As Lauren, Dow and Corey became a triangle, Jeffrey was resolutely a square.
French Exchange Student Jean Michel DuPré’s Leather Jacket
Jean-Michel DuPré was a French exchange student placed with the McPhee family on La Cresta Drive. This leather jacket was his first purchase in the United States. He occasionally let Jeffrey borrow it for gigs. Prior to returning to France, Jean-Michel gifted the jacket to Jeffrey because he complained, it smelled like the Phoenix Theater. Jeffrey assumed this was a compliment.
The objects of Lauren’s affections became the subjects of her songs. Jean-Michel was the inspiration for their song, French Exchange Student Boyfriend, though Lauren vehemently denied it.
Little Black-Hearted Dress
Lauren Mossi obtained this empire-waisted, gold-trimmed, cotton dress at Flamingo’s, a vintage clothiers in Petaluma. She shoplifted it.
When asked what she remembered about her “first time,” Lauren replied, “My shoes.”
These are those shoes (colloquially-known in the 80s as “China flats”). This is the song Mossi’s experience inspired:
Corey Kelley’s vintage Nehru jacket was purchased at American Rag in San Francisco. It was his prized possession. It was found on the driver’s seat of his car.
Friday, November 4, 1988
Le Drama Clüb had a heated rehearsal wherein it came to light that Lauren, Dow, and Corey had all, at different intervals, “gotten together” with each other.
Dow denied the nature of his relationship with Corey. This led to a melée between the guys that Jeffrey had to break up. He then complained that he was “left out as usual.”
Lauren accused the boys of being “immature.” After all, she had become acculturated to what she thought were European sexual moreés courtesy of her French exchange student boyfriend. That the exchange student in question was staying with the McPhee family only complicated matters. At some point, one of the guys muttered “bitch” under his breath and chaos ensued until Jeff’s father stormed downstairs and banned them from the rec-room.
Saturday, November 5, 1988
Corey Kelley’s Toyota Celica was discovered abandoned at Salmon Creek Road in Bodega, CA, near the beach trailhead. In the car was an empty vodka bottle, his Nehru jacket with his ID in the pocket, and a pair of Doc Martens. This indicated to investigators that an intoxicated Corey waded into the ocean and was intentionally or accidentally overcome. He was never seen again.
Saturday, November 5, 1988
Corey was not at rehearsal, nor was he at home, downtown, or at either of the cafés. They concluded that Corey had “majorly flaked on them.”
However, near showtime for Le Drama Clüb’s debut at the Phoenix Theater, Lauren began to worry that the preceding night’s drama had taken a deeper toll on Corey than the others. Her thoughts grew dark. But on they went with the show.
Onstage, performing as a trio, Dow girded their now thin, bass-free sound with useless guitar noodling. The gig was a shambles. Lauren became morose and improvised lyrics to the incomplete song Curtain Call as a heartfelt indictment against suicide. Dow perceived the performance as Lauren’s rapt ode to Corey and stormed offstage.
Originally conceived as a diatribe about “bowing” to the powers-that-be, Lauren had yet to complete the lyrics when the original demo tracks were laid in Jeff’s rec-room on a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder. It was not until the show at their one and only performance at the Phoenix Theater when Lauren improvised her lyrics, that the song found its ultimate meaning…
Jeff chased after, only to find Dow in the dressing room holding a cigarette lighter to the sole cassette tape of Le Drama Clüb’s recording. When Lauren appeared at Jeff’s heels, Dow flicked the lighter and Le Drama Clüb’s three-song oeuvre evaporated.
Over the years, Lauren’s thoughts often returned to Corey Kelley. On the occasions that she would reconnect with Jeffrey McPhee, with whom she remained social, they conjectured that Corey’s presumed suicide might never have occurred since his body was never found.
The thought continued to vex Lauren. While on business in Seattle, it was in this frame of mind that she thought she saw a grown Corey Kelley at a restaurant. He was seated with another man and their eyes met briefly but he broke off the gaze and hastily departed with his companion.
Overcome with curiosity, Lauren approached the abandoned table and discretely read the signed credit card slip. It read “Christopher Wren.”
It wasn’t until Lauren was home that she remembered that “Christopher Wren” was the assumed name of the war deserter in The Mousetrap — the part Corey had played in their school production.
A few weeks later, a courier delivered a parcel to Lauren’s office. Inside was a playbill for The Mousetrap and what proved to be a duplicate of the lost Le Drama Clüb recordings.
Lauren shared the trove with Jeff who set upon digitally remastering and judiciously enhancing the recordings. Dow Morgan contributed additional guitar and bass tracks from his home studio in Brooklyn. Lauren revisited her vocal for Curtain Call. The effort was a tribute to their lost – and perhaps found – friend.
In the resulting songs, one can hear all the youth and yearning, the angst and angling, the desire – same as it ever was – for lives worthy of one’s dreams.
Le Drama Clüb, was an immersive fictional experience created by Daedalus Howell and Kary Hess and realized through musical collaborations with Shannon Ferguson, Aaron Goldstein, Orion Letizi, Abe Levy, and Liam Nelson, and design contributions by Ryan Lely.
French Exchange Student Boyfriend was written by Shannon Ferguson, Daedalus Howell & Kary Hess. Produced by Shannon Ferguson and Liam Nelson. Released November 4, 2016.
China Flats was written by Kary Hess & Daedalus Howell. Produced by Abe Levy & Aaron Goldstein of Baldwin Street Sound. Released November 4, 2016.
Curtain Call was written by Kary Hess, Daedalus Howell & Orion Letizi. Produced by Letizi. released November 5, 2016.
Special thanks to Helen Anderson, Trane DeVore, Dennis Ferguson, Alexis Scarborough, and Drew Washer.
Dedicated to the memory of Madame Wadsworth.