Tuesday, May 02, 2006

10 Yrs. Ago: The Gay Church

Yes, that's me with Brian Wilson and Nik Venet poking his head out between us.

My blogreader and longtime netpal, Mage, pointed out in a previous entry that it was my friends sticking around that helped me significantly in staying alive through this period. One of those friends was songwriter Harriet Schock and songwriting mentor, the late, great Nik Venet. Nik was a music industry legend who was fierce in his denunciation of bad songwriting. He made Simon Cowell look like Paula Abdul. Seriously. Nik never gave any quarter to any songwriter who he felt was lazy and not trying to dive all the way into the meat of any lyric.

Aside from the great John Bettis (left), who first heard my songs and gave me the go-ahead to believe in myself and my writing skills, it was Nik, who, when I first played them for him, pushed my self-confidence over the top because I didn't really know him that well at the time. We had met a few times through my involvement at the songwriter academy, but it was sitting in Harriet's living room at her piano that I played the TLS songs for Nik -- and when I turned around, there were tears streaming down his face. All he said was, "You're on it, kid."

So, as I continued writing the score, Harriet and Nik (pictured right) gave me an opportunity to play them live for a roomful of other songwriters 10 years ago at the Songwriter Campfire. From the diary dated April 29, 1996:
"Last night at the Songwriters Campfire, Nik "El Greco" Venet, who runs it, leaned over to say hello to me at the back table. I was sitting with David Robyn, my young songwriter "protégé." I told Nik I was hoping he'd get to hear David's "This Ain't Good" cause I would love for him to be on the showcase. Nik said hearing the demos wasn't necessary. He said if I thought it was good enough, that was enough for him. Then he said David could be on the following Sunday.

"David leaned over and hugged me (thanking me) and told me he thought I was about most respected man he'd ever met. I told him he needed to get out more often...

"...Scott Wilson (another wonderful songwriter) introduced me from stage with such affection and build-up, I thought I'd never live up to it. But I got up there and did The Faces In The Music by memory for the first time. (It has LOTS of words). The applause seemed endless with everyone shouting and cheering."
I REMEMBER THIS! The Faces In The Music is a song we eventually cut from The Last Session because it didn't fit dramatically, but I remember that night. The Songwriter's Campfire was held at Genghis Cohen, an Asian cuisine restaurant that has a club for solo artists and small bands. The room was packed. I was scared and shaking as I sat at the keyboard.

NOTE FOR MUSICIANS: Nik always made keyboard players sit slightly off-center with the keyboard turned at a slight angle. He said, "Otherwise, it looks like you're ironing."

The applause after that song really did seem to go on forever. And they were literally cheering. Looking back, I think a part of me probably thought they were just glad that I made it through to the end. But this crowd doesn't really do you any favors. If they don't like a song, you'll know it by the 8th bar.
"Then, without comment, I launched into Going It Alone and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. It's such a moving, unexpected song. Harriet Schock had to follow me. She got up there and said she needed a moment because she was so "into" my song, she wasn't "there" yet."
I remember poor Harriet getting up on stage after "Going It Alone." She could barely speak. Her eyes were red. She literally asked everyone to give her a moment so she could compose herself before she could start singing.

The Songwriters Campfire was held on Sunday nights. But earlier that day, I joined with Alan Satchwell and his choir from the Sherman Oaks United Methodist Church to sing "When You Care." They are the choir, btw, that is on the Bonus Round Sessions recording. I had forgotten until I read this entry that it was my first time in a Metropolitan Community Church -- a gay church. For my Baptist eyes, it was a bit startling. It was also shocking to me that gay people would even WANT to go to church. After my experiences in feeling demonized and ostracized by certain old friends hyper religious friends from east Texas, I hated church and I hated religion. I never really expressed that in the diary back then, but it's true. I mean I HATED church. I HATED religion. I wrote:
"I don't go to church these days. It's complicated, the reasons. Most of it has to do with the structure of worship services and the syntax of religion. Again, it's hard to explain in a few words. My faith is strong, but it's deeply personal and I don't find it easy to get into someone else's ritual, if that makes sense....

"Anyway, the gay church: well, it's like any other mainstream Protestant church, I suppose. The clergy are in robes (which is weird to a Baptist). Most of the women are kinda butch and the male "Worship Coordinator" spoke with a slight lisp. But the atmosphere was gentle and kind and very loving, with a nice sense of humor. I don't think one would know one was in a gay church if one just wandered in. Gay people are so hated and ostracized by other religions, I think they are happy to find a port in the storm where they can freely be themselves."
10 years later, I've sung in more churches that I can remember. I've sung in churches and synagogues of every faith and denomination, but liberal and conservative. I still don't hold a membership in any church, though, because I still feel, as I did then, that my own faith is mine alone and very personal. John Bettis once said to me that religions are like off the rack clothing. None of them fit anyone exactly. I did note one incident at the morning service, though:
"But the thing that touched me deeply that morning was a guy who, in the little prayer circle we did before the service, asked for prayer for a friend who was "going back home to his parents' house to die." I knew he was talking about AIDS and I couldn't help but feel a catch in my throat as I saw the pain in his face.

"Later, during the communion portion of the service, while everyone else was praying for each other and huddling and taking the bread and wine, he sat across the room from me alone and wept bitterly for his friend. It touched me deeply and I couldn't help but cry a little myself as I saw his agony. I wondered how close the dying friend was to this young man who looked so helpless in his pain. It made me realize how much AIDS is about real live flesh and blood human beings -- not just statistics.

"And how much this agony is not just about the people who are dying, but about the ones who are left behind. As I write these words, tears are once again streaming down my face."
One of the "contributions," if you can call it that, that AIDS made to the gay movement was that it forced so many people out of the closet. For the first time, all the bigots and homophobes "back home" were forced to realize that Uncle Ned and Aunt Sue, brother Billy, daughter Julie, were all gay. It's hard to hate a group when they have a face -- and when that face is someone you love.

Even today, many moms and dads are facing the fact that they children they nurtured and loved "turned out" gay. They blame themselves. They blame the environment. They look for "reasons." But the fact is that there is no "cause" for being gay anymore than there is a "cause" for being straight. It's like looking for a "cause" that someone is left-handed. What kids need to know is that they will be loved no matter what. Because, gay or not, they will always be your kids -- and they will always need to know that you love them.

The irony of this whole "gay church" thing is that first we get thrown out of churches because we're gay. Then, we gays get criticized and ridiculed for not going to church. Then, when we find a church that will have us, we get criticized for going to a church that will have us.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it is your passion for life that kept you here. Look at your enthusiasms from the past few days. Napping, music, singing, petting cats and cats in any positions, Lotus's, architecture, music writing, music structure, music, popovers, friends, and more right back to napping.

Steve Schalchlin said...

HA! Passion? Me? Why, whatever could you mean? Just because I'm in love with EVERYTHING I SEE?? :-)