When it comes to the musical version of Fight Club, the first two rules have been broken repeatedly, by Chuck Palahniuk as early as 2004, and by David Fincher since 2008. Fans aren’t sure if the idea is genius, terrible, or merely a prank (I am Jack’s running gag). Over the years the concept would occasionally pop up in interviews, but it never went further. Most recently during the San Diego comic-con in July, Chuck Palahniuk tweeted that Fincher and Julie Taymor (of The Lion King and Spiderman Turn Off the Dark) are actually working on the project right now. As much as various publications would like to see this as an official greenlight, a single tweet ending with “you didn’t hear it from me” isn’t exactly a binding contract. Yet within the past six months Palahniuk has spoken about the project with a certain consistent clarity which suggests that he and David Fincher may actually be serious this time. As we approach the 16th anniversary of the film’s release on September 21st 1999, I ask: Could Fight Club possibly ever work in a stage environment? Why won’t this rumor die? Would the original brilliance of the book and film be forever tainted by a broadway iteration? Should we be excited or afraid of the possibility?
First, if Fight Club is brought to the live stage it must be a rock opera and not just another traditional “musical”. Thankfully the creative team has already made that distinction among themselves. If you spend ten minutes checking out the offerings of youtube using the search phrase “Fight Club musical”, you will know why. Fight Club is not a ballet, it is not related to West Side Story in any way. Fight Club is a challenging, disturbing, and thought-provoking journey of hard questions and questionable decisions. Despite the trend of some people not looking beyond the violent aspects of the story, true fans love it for the philosophy and dilemma of determining what level of involvement is actually a catalyst for positive change, and what level is merely a vent for the universal frustration underlying modern existence.
Thankfully, David Fincher and Chuck Palahniuk are referencing the likes of Tommy and The Wall as comparison points for what they hope to produce. The best details about this project were conveyed in an April 2015 MTV interview with Palahnuik, in support of the Fight Club 2 comic book (which is outstanding so far). When you factor in not just the violence, but the general rebellious and subversive nature of the source material, Fight Club as a traditional musical would be, well, ridiculous. However, a proper rock opera version could be revolutionary.
One of the main issues in Fight Club is the lack of coming-of-age rituals in the modern era, which is an issue that has only festered since the book was published. It seems that according to Fincher, both Tommy and The Wall weren’t just works of art, they were expressions of the hopes, dreams, struggles and doubts of their respective decades. They both helped, in a way, to fill in the gap left behind by the absence of shared rite-of-passage experiences in our consumer-driven time. With that in mind, the presentation of Fight Club as the rock opera for the millennial generation fits perfectly with one of the main philosophical issues of this story.
Trent Reznor was first named as the musical talent for this project by Palahniuk back in 2004. Since then, Reznor and David Fincher have become inseparable collaborators. According to the Palahniuk MTV interview (and the above video), Fincher has given Reznor the next year to put together the songs for this project. This is a really exciting piece of the puzzle, since Reznor has quite a lot to offer in terms of stage effects knowledge, style, and most importantly inspiration for the original story. I know this might disappoint the Dust Brothers fans out there, so before proceeding, I’d like to go on record to say that the music they made for the film was perfect, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing that music. It was like fate, but also like fate, the Dust Brothers have seemingly scattered into nothingness. Their latest Wikipedia coverage is “the 2000s”, and it looks like the last time they updated their website was a few months after Fight Club first hit theaters. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and click on the link. Bathe in that late 90’s online presence sensibility. The Dust Brothers were great, but I don’t think they could mount the task of transforming the story into a rock opera as well as Trent Reznor can.
Should we be excited or afraid of the possibility?
Chuck Palahniuk has stated and tweeted on numerous occasions that he listened to The Downward Spiral repeatedly while writing Fight Club. Although the story idea started from his experience with co-workers after he was beat up on a camping trip (his co-workers avoided eye contact; avoided even acknowledging his bruised and healing face), the story elements of The Downward Spiral had a very strong presence in the finished project. Palahniuk and Reznor have been close friends for years. Last October, I gave a track-by-track comparison between The Downward Spiral and the plot points of the film. There is no doubt in my mind that Reznor is the perfect guy to help transform Fight Club to the rock opera medium.
Furthermore – since almost all NIN lyrics have an honest, self-reflecting, almost autobiographical quality – Trent Reznor is, in a sense, the living model for Tyler Durden. The real context for the lyrics in The Downward Spiral were a poetic reflection of Reznor dealing with his growing popularity and the discrepancy that existed between the person he knew himself as, and the guy that went onstage and beat the shit out of his band mates, his equipment, and himself on a nightly basis. Also the idea of stripping away all of the layers of self and pursuing self destruction as a path to rebirth was the very basis of the Nine Inch Nails project. He told himself back in 1988 that if he wanted to make it in music, he had to do without a girlfriend, without a band that didn’t share his vision, without any external influences; and his plan worked.
Just as Fight Club began with one guy at war with both himself and the world around him, so was the project of Nine Inch Nails formed. Trent Reznor created a rock star persona: a public face and mouthpiece that was at odds with the flesh and blood, vulnerable and mortal guy who worked late hours in the studio by himself, crafting together his Pretty Hate Machine. This theme of duality is very common throughout the NIN lyrical catalogue, because it was such a big part of Trent’s personal story. The quest to “hit bottom” is a philosophy that Reznor took to heart back in the 90s and it nearly destroyed him.
Still not convinced that he is the perfect man for this particular job? Well how about this: examples of Fight Club appropriate NIN songs outside of The Downward Spiral album include “Burn”,“The Perfect Drug”, “Somewhat Damaged”, “Even Deeper”,And All That Could Have Been”, “Only”,“Getting Smaller”,“Meet Your Master”,“Head Down”,“Copy of A”, and “In Two”. Just read the lyrics of any of those songs with Fight Club in mind, and ask yourself if there is a pattern.
Imagine if Bono had spent 20 years swinging around New York as Spiderman before penning Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark
The amount of insight that Reznor can offer to this project is tremendous. I mean, imagine if Bono had spent 20 years swinging around New York as Spiderman before penning the songs for “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark“, while also being a brilliant musician. That highly unlikely scenario demonstrates precisely the degree of relevance that Reznor’s influence would have on this particular project.
Finally, the concept of collaboration is something that both Reznor and Palahniuk have been exploring successfully in recent years. Reznor won an Oscar for his first film score, and Palahniuk has been quite outspoken about how much he enjoyed the collaborative experience of presenting Fight Club 2 in comic book form.
The very fact that Fight Club 2 is a reality that will continue providing installments until next spring makes this crazy Broadway idea less of a dream and more of a serious possibility. While this story has been a book, a movie, a video game and now a comic book (which inspired the brilliant Chuck Palahniuk youtube promotion for the concept of a Fight Club For Kids! book), the idea of producing a dedicated rock opera version actually makes a lot of sense. We should demand this version, not doubt it.
If Palahniuk, Fincher, and Reznor devote all of their energy towards crafting the Fight Club rock opera dream into a reality, we may be faced with one of the most cutting edge, transformative, and synchronistic musicals the world has ever known. By this point I’m not entirely convinced we’ll ever see it take shape, but if the most recent rumors turn out to be true, I think we’re in for an all-singing, all-dancing punch to the face, and it will be brilliant.