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Nudity and reptiles: ‘Florida Man’ inspires a new song cycle

Man united: Composer Phil Kline, left, has written a new song cycle inspired by news headlines of Floridians committing unusual crimes, which will be sung by Theo Bleckmann, right, at Boerum Hill’s Roulette on June 8.
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Talk about a hot mess!

A new song cycle will look at the sun-soaked criminality of the Sunshine State. “Four Songs from Florida Man,” performed by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn at Roulette on June 8, was inspired by the deranged news headlines that have become an online sensation in recent years, according to its co-creator.

“Florida is a land of fantasy, but maybe not the kind people think they’ll find there,” said Phil Kline, who wrote the songs for singer Theo Bleckmann. The Manhattan composer started collecting bizarre news headlines out of Florida a few years ago, with a focus on local men and women whose crimes contained additional off-the-wall twists specific to the swampy state, such as “Florida Man Charged with Assault with a Deadly Weapon after Throwing Alligator through Wendy’s Drive-Thru.”

“It always seems to be this combination of intoxication on something weirder than meth, nakedness, and reptiles,” he said. “It’s usually funny and a touch tragic.”

While writing the verses for “Florida Man,” Kline found deeper meaning in the headlines, beyond just the spectacle of outrageous behavior.

“Florida woman catches husband cheating, takes a dump on the floor, asks cops: ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and I got locked into the text, you know this question, ‘What am I?’ ” he said.

Kline said he likes finding inspiration in unusual places, such as a previous cycle called “Zippo Songs,” which re-purposed Vietnam War soldiers’ inscriptions on the back of their Zippo lighters.

His new collection kicks off with a moody take on Iggy Pop’s 1973 song “Search and Destroy,” which Kline chose because of its dark themes and because the punk pioneer — who lives in Miami — is a Florida Man of sorts.

“Iggy’s a Florida Man too, and for that matter he’s also walking around with no shirt on all the time,” Kline said.

The second song “Waffle House” re-purposes eye-catching texts from billboards in Florida and surrounding states, such as “Drive baked, Get busted,” “Biscuits are spoons you can eat,” and a host of Christian advertisements.

Kline also drew on more somber events coming out of the state. The penultimate song of the cycle, “Thoughts and Prayers,” draws on news coverage of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February 2018.

The writer plans to create a follow up for the cycle with four more songs about Florida, he said, though he hopes to diversify his subject matter.

“Florida Man is very white, and there’s a whole lot of other Florida out there that I haven’t checked out,” he said.

After “Four Songs from Florida Man,” the orchestra will play the world premiere of “Concerto for Two Trumpets and Strings,” by Gregory Spears, and a new arrangement of “Gay Guerilla” by Julius Eastman.

“The String Orchestra of Brooklyn: Music of Kline, Spears, and Eastman” at Roulette [509 Atlantic Ave., at Third Avenue in Boerum Hill, (917) 267–0363, www.roulette.org]. June 8 at 8 p.m. $25 ($18 in advance).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 10:43 am, June 3, 2019
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