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Madrid-based rock opera back on stage

Santa Fe musician Joe West (center) as his alter ego, Xöe Fitzgerald. He and his bandmates Ben Wright, Noah Baumeister and Paul Greotzinger are reviving their rock opera ahead of a new live album of the performance coming out this month. (Courtesy of Joe West)

SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s a tale of love, tragedy and time travel.

In a fictional version of Madrid (New Mexico, not Spain), the story of “Xöe Fitzgerald: Time Traveling Transvestite” takes place after David Bowie’s alien character in the 1976 sci-fi film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” actually falls to earth.

That scene in the cult movie, local singer/songwriter and stage impresario Joe West points out, was in fact filmed in Madrid.

“So this make-believe story takes over (from) there, that while he was there he impregnated a hippie woman,” West said in a recent interview. “So Xöe is sort of half-alien, half-human and grew up in a Madrid town that, in the story, is still owned and controlled by a mining company.”

The rock opera “Xöe Fitzgerald: Time Traveling Transvestite” was produced as an album in 2010. (Courtesy of Anne Staveley)

West’s oddball rock opera follows Xöe as he – later she – returns to town, becomes a union activist and eventually seeks revenge for the death of her time-traveling scientist lover named Frank.

The production comes to Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery for one night only – Friday, June 21 – in conjunction with an album release of a 2014 live recording of Xöe’s musical adventures.

Performing as the Xöe character – clad in a blonde wig and a dress – is different from the country-folk style that West is usually known for around Santa Fe. But he says there’s something freeing about this other persona.

“I see Xöe as totally wracked with his own emotion and heartbreak, and anger and revenge,” he said. “And, as writers do, it’s fun to take on a character, another voice, because he/she is a very emotional character and a very passionate character, and those things I can write about from a sense of melodrama.”

“Xöe Fitzgerald: Time Traveling Transvestite” was composed about a decade ago, with a studio-recorded album of the songs released in 2010. It’s been several years since West and his band have performed the show locally.

He explained that he’s bringing it back, and releasing the live album, because he’s reunited over the past year with the group that helped co-write the story.

Local musicians Ben Wright, Noah Baumeister and Paul Greotzinger all became busy performing and touring with other bands, requiring West to record the original CD with a different group of players.

“The material had been so written and conceived with that group of musicians that it didn’t quite have the same beautiful punch,” West said of the earlier recording. “Now, we’ve gotten a little older, a little wiser, better musicians, so it’s really exciting to be back together.”

One of the first places the rock opera was performed was the old Club Alegria, whose space is now occupied by Tumbleroot.

This time around, and now produced by the company that stages West’s bizarre and beloved annual Halloween season Theater of Death melodramas at the Mine Shaft Tavern in Madrid, the Xöe show will have added theatrical elements, including dancers, some digital media and even a better fog machine, West said.

‘Camaraderie and love’

The inspiration for Xöe, West said, may come from glam pop/punk rock figures like David Bowie, and Iggy and the Stooges. But he said that, subconsciously, he probably drew on his own life story for the character’s “wondrous” tale.

Like Xöe, West was born in New Mexico, moved back as an adult, became involved with the local Madrid community and started a family.

The Xöe material is probably more personal than some of the music he typically performs, he added, “but it was juxtaposed onto a template of a whole different character and dramatic tale.”

At its core, West said, the story of Xöe is one of living life passionately. One of the character’s lyrics, West noted, is: “I stand for all the freaks and all their broken dreams, Mad Dog, Frankie, and the time machine.”

“It’s camaraderie and love,” he said.

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