If you’ve been out and about downtown in Raleigh, or even just been on Facebook in recent weeks, chances are, you’ve heard about Johnny Handlebars. The musical, brought to you by members of TV Knife and a small entourage of their friends, will be performed at Kings this Saturday night. TV Knife was in recent years a local staple, and performed frequently at Kings’ prior location. Comprised of members Brad Womack, Chris Baldwin, Dave Toms, and Jeremy Maronpot, the group has taken on many different projects, including manifestations as cover bands such as The Flaming Lips, Hall and Oates, and Sade. We at New Raleigh were curious to get a sneak peek of this interesting musical tale, so we got in touch with Chris Baldwin, who has played a large role in bringing the musical to life.
According to Baldwin, Johnny Handlebars was born from a dream sometime around 2005. “Jeremy Maronpot had a dream that he was going to play at a talent show or something, where he ran into me,” said Baldwin. “Jeremy didn’t want to play. I said ‘I’m playing Johnny Handlebars.’ End of dream.” After Maronpot relayed the dream to his bandmates, Brad Womack decided to write the song “Johnny Handlebars.” This spawned the idea for a musical, and Womack wrote several additional songs and a back story to accompany them. At that point, however, no one was interested in pursuing the idea, so it lied dormant until just last year.
TV Knife began to work with some new songs, and decided to “do a musical with no idea how to actually do it.” Baldwin describes the musical as a very DIY, community collaborative project. Drummer Rob Lackey and guitarist Galen Smith were brought into the fold to help with the music, and Lisa and Matt Wood to help with song and script writing. Enlisting the assistance of several friends to portray the characters in the musical was the next step, and Johnny Handlebars was well on its way to becoming a reality. Though, the musical itself may not even be the end result; Roger Flake, whom Baldwin says has acted as an executive producer on the project, has been working to create a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the production, as well as a mockumentary on the life of Johnny Handlebars himself, and a feature film may yet be in the works.
So the question remains: Who the heck is Johnny Handlebars? Well, as Baldwin explained to New Raleigh, “the story of Johnny Handlebars is that of a tragedy.” Mr. Handlebars rides a bike and literally lives in a bar. He is unemployed, lonely, and addicted to crack and booze. His life seems pretty meaningless until he meets wine dealer Lisa, and falls madly in love with her, though he quickly realizes his feelings are unrequited. The musical wraps up with an intense scene that gives Johnny the opportunity to redeem himself and to make a decision that will have life-altering implications for himself and for others.
We can’t tell you any more than that without giving away spoilers, but it does sound like an intriguing story, and word from this week’s Johnny Handlebars dress rehearsal indicates that it’s going to be a really fun show accompanied by some solid tunes: a total of 10 songs will be incorporated in the musical; eight are TV Knife originals and two are covers. Don’t miss your chance to catch it this Saturday at Kings.
Tickets can be purchased for $8 in advance online, or they can be bought at the door for $10. The show starts at 10pm with opening act Valley Young; magician Michael Casey will also be on hand to entertain the crowd. More information, as well as some songs from the musical, can be found at the Johnny Handlebars website.