BRIEF BLOG INTRO: I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas who is "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- having cheated death from AIDS. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.
I'm a man on a mission to convince you that music is a Super Power, and that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.
In 2013, I turned 60 and I created a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City (while getting great reviews). Now I'm out to redefine theater and cabaret. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Saturday, April 29, 2006
I guess the question is why does the US Bureau of Education hate America?
(Thanks to Michael Scott for the tip).
This is Aaron. Aaron is a film student and Jim had agreed to appear in his new film short. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy and it started to rain, so the shoot was put off until June. Very sweet script about two guys looking at their gravestones and having a little tension over their neighboring plots. We all met for breakfast and I even had volunteered to be a production assistant. Who knew it would rain in Los Angeles? What kind of a world is this coming to? And also, how adorable is he? A really sweet guy who felt bad about postponing the shoot, but what can ya do.
This past week we also attended the opening night of Jay Johnson's "The Two & Only" in Burbank at the Colony Theatre. I waited around and snapped a shot of Jay with Robert Mandan since both of them were on the sitcom "Soap."
Meanwhile, back home, Steinbeck saw that I featured Thurber on a previous diary entry, so he jumped into a box and tried to mail himself to Europe.
I didn't work, though. He weighs so much, he couldn't afford the postage.
Meanwhile, Alexandra Billings is moving. So, I went over to help out a bit.
Speaking of cats doing their own thing, my friend Michael's cats, Figaro and Jett, seem to be up to a lot of online mischief. He woke up the other morning and they had forgotten, during the night, to turn off the computer. And THIS is what he found. Apparently, they decided to start their own blog. One wonders if they've been checking out all the kitty porn sites.
Friday, April 28, 2006
I was kind of appalled to hear that the national anthem is being turned into a political fight about the English language. When Bush today was asked what he thought about the national anthem being sung in Spanish, the immediate answer that could have come from him that would have been so graceful and put this issue to bed immediately would have been to say, "I'd love to hear the national anthem in EVERY language."
But he didn't.
"Imagine what would happen if American Christianity came from the Martin Luther King side of the family rather than the TV evangelist side."
I have to hand it to Andrew Sullivan today for his passionate and beautiful tribute to Father Mykal Judge of the NY Fire Department who died on 9/11 -- and who is the subject of a new documentary film called "Saint of 9/11." From Andrew's blog:
I truly hope that it will get wide distribution and that many will see it. I say this not simply because this saintly man was gay, because he would be barred from the priesthood under the current Pope, or because, in the mysterious way God works, Judge's sexual orientation actually became a way for him to minister more effectively to the marginalized, sick, poor and forgotten.And this really got to me:
For me, his ministry to people with AIDS in the very early days means the most. We forget how terrifying HIV was in the early and mid 1980s, how patients would be quarantined in dark rooms, abandoned by their families, with their meals rolled into their rooms on trolleys. From the beginning, Mychal did as Jesus did and walked right in and kissed these frightened souls on the lips. If they recoiled from the sight of a priest - gay men at that time saw the church as an alien, hostile entity - he would persist in silence. He would simply bring holy oils, take a chair to the bottom of their hospital beds, and massage their bony, cold, pain-racked feet.A man of true courage and honor died on 9/11, and he had to live in the closet to fulfill his ministry. Isn't ironic that he had to live a lie in order to be one of the best kinds of ministers in a church supposedly devoted to truth?
EDIT: THIS THING ROCKS! This is clearly the best work Young has done in years. I can't believe how good this is. Well, yes I can. It's Neil Young.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The day after Dennis told me, "OH MY GOD YOU'RE GONNA DIE IF YOU DON'T DO SOMETHING NOW," we scheduled an appt. with a new doctor. Quoting:
"Dr. Steve had me take some blood tests and a chest x-ray and then prescribed paregoric to stop the you know what as a last ditch effort. Yes, the old famous paregoric. He said no one makes it anymore and it's hard to find. But, of course, Bob's Pharmacy had it. Bob has everything. I looked it up in the dictionary when I got home and saw that it's made from opium. How nice."In case you aren't aware, narcotics help block up the old poop machine. This new doctor, who I have absolutely no memory of, checked me out and decided that since TPN costs about $600 a day, and is a very extreme measure, he thought we should take one last stab at stopping the diarrhea the old fashioned way: narcotics.
"A quiet day. The paregoric worked somewhat on the diarrhea so that was a relief. I went over to Jim Latham's and wrote two complete lyrics in a hour and half for a movie/tv project he's doing."Jim Latham is one of my oldest friends here in L.A. He and I have worked on several projects together and when we first met, he was a "second" sound engineer at Theta Sound Studios in Burbank. We named the character of "Jim" after him in TLS. I haven't seen him in a long time so I just sent him a note and, hopefully, I can get over to his place soon so we can hang out. What I do remember is that would go over to someone's house and have to take a nap upon arriving. Then I'd wake up and we'd do something. Then I'd sleep again and drive home. From the entry on the 28th:
"Since I'm on the mend right now and don't have much energy, I purposely stayed in most of the day yesterday and rested -- and guzzled all the anti-you know what medications I had. Every few hours -- I felt I was in a battle zone and I was going to defeat the enemy. Drink the paregoric! Have a codeine! More immodium! All day long, and this morning? Victory again. But I must continue the battle. I win it and I lose it and I win it again. I'm determined to beat this and get my life back."Thinking back, I remember now that the goal was to go a single day without diarrhea -- and then another. So, I'd literally guzzle the opium-based paragoric (which was this orange, totally vile, thick gunk), take codeine pills, take Immodium and eat nothing but BRAT: bananas, rice, applesauce & toast. And I'd sleep in a narcotized stupor.
Every morning when I woke up, as I did on this day 10 years ago, I would keep my fingers crossed that a hundred gallons of water wouldn't pour out of me, because that's what it usually felt like. And even through this, every single day, if I had a "victory," I'd feel like I was at a turning point headed back in the right way.
Unfortunately, the list of things going wrong with me just kept getting longer and longer. The worst days were to come.
Marie said, "I didn't know that YOU didn't know how sick you were."
Adrian said, "What amazes me about that time is that you never stopped moving; never stopped going out. If it'd been me, I'd have stayed home and hid."
I laughed at that. It's always fun to hear what other people were thinking during that time period. Marie really put it into focus, though.
"Steve," she said. "Everytime I saw you, I'd think, Okay this is the last time I'm going to see Steve. And then you'd pop up again and I'd think, Okay this is REALLY the last time I'm going to see Steve."
It's true. I guess I knew and I didn't know. The thing is that when you're in your own skin and going through something like that, you don't really see how bad it is until something like I described earlier happens -- a friend looks at you and says, "OH MY GOD YOU'RE GONNA DIE NEXT WEEK IF YOU DON'T DO SOMETHING!!"
Because people are never that blunt in real life. No one walks up to a walking dead man and says, "Oh, hi, Steve. My, but you look terrible today."
Or, "Hello, Steve. Listen, be sure to say hi to Jesus for me next week cuz it's obvious you're gonna be dead by Thursday."
Adrian and I had a really good talk about it. I encouraged her to open up about her feelings during that time. She said, "Okay, well, I could see how sick you were. I was thinking to myself that I wouldn't have been able to stand the pitying looks."
I said to her, "I never saw that. I really didn't. All I could read was caring on their faces. I never saw pity. And besides, I'm such an attention whore I probably wouldn't have cared anyway." (That made her laugh).
She put her hand on my chest and said, "That's your pure soul."
And that made ME laugh. I said, "Honey, if there's one thing I don't have it's a pure soul."
But maybe I do. I don't know. I look back 10 years ago and I see myself going to industry functions, meeting up with friends, trying to make demos of the songs from TLS and trying to just act as if this is a little cold that I'll get through. I never gave up. I never saw how bad it was. I must have known but it wasn't something I gave much energy to. I just kept moving. And Jim never got in my way. He always treated me like I was the picture of health even though he was always very aware of when I was tiring myself out or feeling badly.
I think that's one of the reasons I love him so much and why I feel our relationship is about the most perfect thing one could imagine, despite our ups and downs in the past. He never faltered. Never wavered. Never stopped me from going and doing.
Maybe, in retrospect, I made a lot of people uncomfortable during that time. They had no choice but to look at the face of AIDS because I refused to hide it. I refused to go away.
And maybe, in retrospect, that's why I'm still alive today.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Click here to download
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
“I found out that I was HIV-positive at 27 and I didn’t think 30 was an option,” says Wilson, who has full-blown AIDS. “So, to be 50 is amazing.”Happy birthday, Phill. I hope we meet some day. And I also hope you raise more money than you ever dreamed of.
Phill Wilson is an amazing person. He’s throwing a big birthday bash this Saturday in Los Angeles. And it’s not your typical birthday party.
“I don’t know what the traditional gift is for someone on their 50th birthday – let alone surviving for a quarter century with a life-threatening disease – but I do know what I want,” he said in the letter of invitation. “As you know, I have dedicated my life to the eradication of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Black communities. So as a birthday present to myself, I’ve committed to raising $250,000 for the AIDS organization nearest and dearest to my heart, the Black AIDS Institute.”
The Black AIDS Institute, founded in 1999 by Wilson, is the only HIV/AIDS think tank that focuses exclusively on AIDS among African-Americans. And its birth came out of a near-death experience.
“In 1996, I got very, very sick,” Wilson says. “My doctor basically had given me a matter of days to live. I was unconscious and I was in intensive care at Kaiser Permante. Everyone thought that I was going to die. When I came out of that, I could not work like I had been working, which is basically how I work today,” the workaholic explains.
“By 1999, there had been a lot of progress made in the Latino community and among women, but there had been very little progress made in mobilizing traditional Black institutions. It was clear to me that the only way to stop this epidemic in Black America was for our institutions to take ownership of the disease.”
More than anyone else, Phill Wilson has energized and mobilized the Black community, calling out gays and straights, encouraging Black churches to become more active, getting the Black Press to devote more coverage to AIDS, and persuading national civil rights leaders to take a more active role in fighting the epidemic.
HERE IS HOW TO DONATE TO THE BLACK AIDS INSTITUTE. If you make a donation, be sure to donate in Phill's name.
April 25, 1996 is a vivid day for me. It was a landmark day. It was the day I lost it. As I had been hinting in the days leading up to April 25, 1996, the slow realization that I was totally and completely losing the battle -- like a frog in a pot of water about to hit boil -- all came to a loud, angry, out of control scream.
The person who got screamed at was Dr. Frank Jasper. Dr. Frank was this beautiful, gentle, kind man. He was an actor before he went into Chinese acupuncture, appearing as the muscle-bound bad guy in the movie "Vision Quest." To call him kind and gentle is to understate my absolute love for him. And the only reason I was able to undergo these treatments was because they were a life-saving gift from John Bettis. I have no doubt that these treatments played a part in keeping me alive up to this point.
So, I shocked myself when "the scream" came out. And it wasn't just an "all-purpose scream at the ceiling cry of desperation." No. This was pent-up frustration, shamefully aimed right at the most vulnerable and sweet person I could find: Dr. Frank.
The entry starts this way:
I was lying face up on Dr. Frank's table. I was thinking of what my friend (and Registered Nurse) Dennis had just told me not one hour earlier. Dennis hadn't seen me since the reading two months ago. He saw me as this walking skeleton and was horribly shocked when he saw me at the door. He said that if I did not do some kind of aggressive intervention to get some nutrition into my body, I would be dead soon.Let's back up. "The Reading," mentioned in this entry was our first staged reading of "The Last Session" which was at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. On that night, I played the role of Gideon and it was a triumphant night, the full telling of which is for another entry. Suffice it to say that the diary began as a result of that night because I wanted to find a way to promote TLS and this new World Wide Web thingie seemed the perfect vehicle. Little did I realize, at the time, that I was making both medical history, technological and theatrical history. (It was the first website created for a show that made it to New York -- and that's including all the shows that were in New York at the time I started.)
Dennis was a great friend who, when I first went into the hospital in 1994, came into the room with all kinds of food and toys and a CD player. Dennis was the one who told me, on that first visit where I almost lost the battle, "If you die, a piece of me is going to die, too." Dennis and his partner, John, were the ones who loaned us the laser printer that we were using and which they now needed, which is why I was in Malibu at Dennis' house earlier that day. As I said, I hadn't seen Dennis in about two months.
When I walked in his door, the look on his Registered Nurse face was indescribable. It was as if I had just been in a car accident and was standing there covered in blood with an arm detached and an eye hanging out of its socket.
I looked at him, "What?"
"You have to do something now or you're going to be dead within weeks. Compared to how you looked two months ago, I can't believe you can even stand. Seriously. This is it. Steve, you're dying."
I remember being completely numbed by this news. I was a zombie driving in my car to Dr. Frank's office in Pacific Palisades. What could I do? Dennis is usually full of happytalk and Don't Worry About It and We'll Get Through This. I was speechless. I looked at my face in the rear view mirror. A skeleton with sunken eye sockets -- The Cryptkeeper -- was looking back.
I got to Dr. Frank's office. Dr. Frank's office is very calm and relaxed. I was in a state of panic. Dr. Frank's office has running water and soft music. My heart was playing Nine Inch Nails. I laid down on the bed. He pulled out his needles. He smiled calmly at me. A volcano was building up inside of me. He said casually, "So, what shall we do today." I hated him in that moment. I hated his beauty, his smile, his manner, his office, the sweet music, the gentle lights. His words were like hammers hitting nails into my head, "So what shall we do today?"
And that's when I screamed.
It wasn't just a scream, mind you. No, it was the man on death row cutting loose on the executioner one last time. Quoting from the diary:
"I'm sorry, Dr. Frank, but I'm lying here dying right in front of you and you're going to further my torture with your stupid painful needles that don't do me a bit good. You don't have the faintest idea of what's wrong with me and how to fix it, do you? You just go about your business doing the same damn thing you've done from the beginning.I'm sure I also said, "So, do it! Torture me! Whatever the fuck you want. It's not going to help. You can't help me! All you can do is just torture me more and watch calmly as I die on this stupid table!"
I remember the hurt on his face. The tears that sprang into my eyes as I realized I was blaming him for everything and tearing him apart, word by word. I was enraged. I was mortified. I felt guilty as hell.
I had hit the wall.
From the diary:
Dr. Frank was very sympathetic and told me if I didn't want the acupuncture, I certainly didn't have to have it. I told him to please let's just do it. He inserted the needles, put on my favorite relaxing new age music and then put his hands on my head rubbing my temples and soothing me. I fell asleep and when I woke up, I felt a lot better, but even more determined to do something to get my life back.I remember that moment. The lights were dim. I had done my scream. The earthquake was over. He stood behind my head, put his hands on my temples and softly, gently rubbed me until I fell unconscious. When I woke, the moment had passed. And as I noted there, the panic was over. It was time to do something. When I got home, I told Jim what had happened. Then I called Dennis:
Dennis went to work, made an appointment with a doctor, called home health care and tomorrow I am going to step up to the plate and aggressively do something. What I think we're going to do is to put me on TPN, intravenous nutrition. It will mean 4 weeks of being hooked up to a bottle with a PICC-line (a semi-permanent tube) inserted under my clavicle (more torture -- yeah!!), but at this point, it's a last resort I must accede to. Either I do this or I die.TPN. "The last thing they give you before you die." That's how TPN had been described for me by another PWA. But it was time to examine all our options.
I knew I had one last shot at staying alive at least a little while longer and I was going to do it. Whatever it took. I was gonna try.
Monday, April 24, 2006
I had to leave early last night before they even served the food. It was the ASCAP Film & TV Awards dinner honoring Randy Newman and all the movie composers of the biggest films of last year. I just wasn't feeling strong and I started getting a little sick, so I left.I remember vividly feeling profoundly weak that night. I wanted so badly to be there, to pretend that I was getting better and to show my face, but I could barely hold myself up. I also had one of my first experiences with breaking the news to an old friend. Remember, in 1996, AIDS was an almost instant death sentence. The therapies we enjoy now were not on the market -- or, rather, they were mostly rumors and speculation. From the entry:
I saw Brock Walsh (Brock's claim to fame was that he co-wrote the song, "Automatic" for the Pointer Sisters and was the voice of Mac Tonight, the singing moon on the McDonalds' commercial, but his magical talent is lyric writing. He writes English words for many of the top Brazilian jazz artists and is a true poet, in my humble opinion).I was so unabashed about having AIDS. Unlike a lot of people who tested positive and got sick, and who hid it, I just was blaring it everywhere. Remember, this diary was one of the very first on the Internet written by someone with AIDS. To me, it felt like I was trumpeting it worldwide, but, in fact, with the Internet so new, not that many people were online.
Anyway, I mentioned my musical and when I said it was about my own experience with AIDS, he absolutely freaked. He hadn't heard, so there I am in a crowded room full of strangers in tuxes and gowns who are laughing and drinking -- and I'm yelling to be heard that I have AIDS, etc. etc. etc. Very surreal to say the least.
I remember the look on Brock's face. It was like I had punched him in the stomach. Tears sprang into his eyes. This had happened once before, a couple of year earlier, and I recounted that event in this entry:
It was a couple of years ago at the NAS Salute to the American Songwriter. I was talking to my old friend, Tony Haynes (a lyricist and semi-mogul -- works for Warner Bros. now doing all the music for their animated series) in the lobby just before the big show. I off-handedly mentioned something about my health and he hadn't heard, either. So I told him and -- now get this, Tony Haynes is big brawny 6'5" tall black man with a patch over one eye -- a very imposing figure of a man. As soon as I told him I had AIDS a huge tear came to the one good eye and he had to go sit down on the steps.Even to this day there are old friends who decide to suddenly do a search on my name and find out about my diagnosis for the first time. Just this past week it happened, an old friend who used to volunteer at NAS. Nowadays, though, they can read this blog and see that, while I have to fight the disease every day, at least I'm alive and kicking and thriving.
That's when I knew that I should be very careful about how my friends find out. They love me and this is not the kind of news that anyone just says, "Oh well, good luck and did you see my last picture..."
EDIT: Marie Cain says, "And Brock Walsh's brilliant lyrics for "Evolution" (music by Ivan Lins) ring all too true today. Here's just a sample:
We can travel to the planets
Drive a mile through solid granite
Thrive in all extremes of weather
Yet we cannot live together...
We have ventured
Where none have gone before us
But in matters fundamental
We are patterned on an old design
Welcome back, Tyrannosaurus
Evolution is a state of mind
Like a faithful spouse, you can always count on the Republicans, especially the most desperate ones, to start in on the gaybashing when it's election time. Given how badly the GOP is doing now, showing themselves to be among the most corrupt group of Congressmen in history -- and Bush now named by most historians as the worst President in history -- it's inevitable that they would go to the issue that they have always counted on to stir up their religiously based voters: Gay marriage.
In a NY Times story, three particularly corrupt and viciously bigoted politicians, Frist, Santorum and Brownback, have gathered together a formidable group of Catholic Bishops, TV evangelists and conservative church leaders to once again pretend to fight for morality by backing a constitutional amendment to stop gay marriage.
Yes, these paragons of morality, as they support torture, bombing of innocent civilians (instead of fighting the war on terrorism), backing the spying on Americans, lining their pockets with multi-millions from lobbyists while cutting programs for the poor and the sick; those who have ignored the devastation of New Orleans, have targeted what they consider to be America's biggest moral problem: gay people who want to create homes and live in peace. I guess this means Exodus will be getting a big, fat check so they can parade the same ol' "exgay" faces out on billboards under the pretense of ministry.
Will it work? They think it has. Of course, they have no other issues to run on. They can't run on honesty. They can't run on immigration. They can't run on the war effort. They can't run on gasoline prices. So, I guess picking on gay people who want to get married is all they have left.
I received a letter from a reader in the Bahamas and thought it was worth sharing in light of the recent report about homophobia in Jamaica.
Hi Steve I Just discovered your blog looking around for stuff about the new Neil Young record. My name is Andrew Jones. I've been positive for over 20 years..started writing and playing music after diagnosis actually during my first serious illness - shingles in the mid 80's. Saved my life for sure.I wrote Andrew back and told him I was planning on putting more of the music from TLS here on the site over the coming weeks in celebration of our 10th anniversary L.A. workshop. He was very excited and told me more about the Bahamas.
I was full blown by 91 or so and managed to hang on until the new meds came around. I've made 4 records in betweeen illnesses. I'm also living with hep b and c and have done a couple of inteferon treatments on top of HIV meds. Anyway I just wanted to thank you and congratulate you for your work. I'll spend some time reading your writing and hopefully hearing some of your songs. I spent a lot of time in New York in the 80's and Boston in the 90's.
I'm back in the Bahamas now where i was born and grew up. I've been working with HIV here for a while now. It's a pretty bad situation here... Between 3 and 4.5 % HIV positive and although there are services and free meds available now the stigma is still terrible and a lot of people wont even come forward for testing much less treatment. I'm one of 3 openly positive Bahamians so there is a lot of outreach work for us here. The primary transmission here is said to be heterosexual but who can tell really. I'm straight but have a lot of gay friends here. The Bahamas is also ( i saw your piece on Jamaica) an extremely homophobic culture. Rosie O' Donell just did a documentary about the horrible reception her gay family cruise got here last year. Anyway I Just wanted to say Hi to a fellow traveller... I've been away from music for a year or so although my band is coming down from Massachusetts this weekend to play in Nassau and we're talking about recording again this summer. I havent been writing much lately but I'm hoping to find a way back to it. I was on Sustiva for a long time until september last year and fell into a sustiva depression which i think might be partly why I havent been writing as much as i always did. You can check out a few samples of my music here http://spirithouserecords.com/ Best of health and happiness to you and as we say in the Bahamas
Plenty PLENTY Love Andrew
I'm considering doing some more explicitly HIV + material for my next project. It's always been in there but i feel the need to come at it a little more head on this time around. Indeed i also find a lot of people who don't know or have forgotten what it was like in the early days of HIV.Andrew is clearly out front and a hero to many people there. If only we had more people like him.
Its really crazy here in the Bahamas some of the misinformation and sheer ignorance that persists in the general culture. The government and a few committed individuals are doing a good job but the general population is still caught up in the same old religious hysteria, stigmatization and homophobia and it makes it really hard to reach the people who need help. I put together a benefit for our local HIV+ network a couple of years ago with some local musicians and my band. It went over pretty well and I find that music and arts in general are a good way to reach people on this issue.
The first time i talked publicly here was about 5 years ago on a radio interview about my music when the interviewer asked me some question about where my music came from and I had a moment where i just realized I had to be real about who i was and where my music came from. It was really liberating for me and a lot of people heard that interview and I got a lot of positive response from that and every other time I've spoken out here. It makes me realize how lucky I am to still be here and able to speak out when so many cant.
In the early days of HIV in the Bahamas people who were positive mostly ended up living and dying at an old leper colony on the back side of the island because family members wouldn't have them in the house. Its getting better but I meet a lot of positive people here who are just terrified and are still convinced they have a death sentence. I always hated that 'death sentence' crap!
He also says, "By the way if anybody in the audience would like to sue me, we have forms out back," Brown said. "Just pick one up on your way out."
Sunday, April 23, 2006
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Neil Young's newly recorded protest album "Living With War," including a song calling for the impeachment of U.S. President George W. Bush, will be posted for free Internet streaming next week, his label said on Friday.
Starting April 28, fans can log onto Young's Web site, www.neilyoung.com, and listen to the 10-track collection in its entirety, free of charge, said Bill Bentley, a spokesman for Warner Music Group's Reprise Records.
The album will first become commercially available as a digital download beginning May 2, "and we plan to get it into retail stores as soon after that as we can get them manufactured," Bentley said.
He said the label anticipates getting the album into retail outlets between May 5 and May 15. "Neil wants this album out there as soon as possible," Bentley added.
The Canadian-born Young, 60, who has tackled social and political themes through four decades as a singer-songwriter, wrote and recorded his latest studio offering over a two-week period this month, backed by a 100-member choir, according to his long-time manager, Elliot Roberts.
Much of the album conveys a sense of outrage, vowing repeatedly in the title track "to never kill again," mocking Bush's conduct of the Iraq war in "Shock and Awe" and calling for his removal from office in a provocative song titled "Let's Impeach the President."
The album also strikes a chord of empathy with soldiers separated from their families, and features lyrics ridiculing America's consumer culture, political corruption and religious fundamentalism.
Juxtaposed to "Let's Impeach the President" is one of the album's more hopeful selections, "Lookin' for a Leader," with such lyrics as: "Someone walks among us ... and I hope he hears the call. And maybe it's a woman, or a black man after all."
The album closes with an a capella version of "America the Beautiful."
There's another review of this record here.
Let's get one thing out of the way right now: this album rocks. It's post '80s electric Neil Young at his grunge best, and of the 10 cuts on Living With War, the first eight are mostly uptempo rockers. In fact, this may be the 60-year-old Young's most crossover-worthy album yet, since many of the songs should appeal to fans of bands as diverse as Green Day and Pearl Jam and will likely be embraced on campuses across America.
I made it through the night without the codeine stomach ache waking me up. That was nice, and I didn't "leak" last night. It's humiliating and embarrassing, but I usually sleep in an adult diaper to keep from soiling the bed. I hardly ever really need it but I've had my share of accidents through all this and I don't like messing up our bed.I see now, contrary to what I wrote a few days ago, I was only now beginning to wear the adult diapers, and only at night. I was doubling up on the codeine to stop the diarrhea, but clearly, I was having "accidents" almost every night, so now I was protecting the bedsheets every night.
I was also starting to get out a bit and see all my old songwriter friends after several years of having disappeared off the face of the earth. For the longest time, my position at National Academy of Songwriters had put me in the middle of the L.A. songwriting community. But after a couple of years, being sick and mostly confined to bed, it was as if I had dropped off the face of the earth. "Rumors" were going around, but few people knew the whole story.
My friend, songwriter Harriet Schock, who has always led songwriter events in Los Angeles, had invited me to participate in a "Songwriters Campfire" the following month at a club called Genghis Cohen. It was actually Harriet who had also given me a platform some time earlier to introduce the song "Connected" in public. Harriet, who is also a songwriter teacher in L.A., as well as being the author of several hit songs, was one of the first to get behind me and the songs from The Last Session.
On the 23rd is this entry:
I heard from my cousin, S. in Arkansas today through e-mail. She hadn't heard that I had AIDS.I speculated in the diary that they were probably ashamed of the fact that I was gay and didn't know how to talk about that. However, it's never that easy. For instance, my beloved Aunt Frieda, who doesn't have a homophobic bone in her body, said she just didn't want her kids to worry about me. I countered though, saying:
Now, I ask you, if I had murdered someone, don't you think the news would have spread like wildfire through the whole family? Why do you suppose after three years, much of my family still does not know that I have AIDS?
I begged her to tell them and let it all out. I would hate to think that someone I loved was sick and I didn't even know about it. What if I were to die and they never had a chance to speak to me? I suppose I could tell them myself, but we aren't really in communication and I don't have their addresses. Hm. Stupid excuse. I suppose it would be easy enough to find them out.I note, though, that I titled that diary entry "Losing strength." Funny, but I didn't actually address my specific health concerns in the text of the entry. I notice, though, that the language in that entry is emotional and edgy. I have a feeling, looking back, that by throwing my anger at my family and speculating about their silence, I was really just avoiding having to face what was happening to me physically.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
The pro-net neutrality coalition SavetheInternet.com is launching on Monday. Right now Congress is leaning AGAINST INTERNET FREEDOM. It's important that we stay on top of this and let them know we want full Internet freedom and neutrality.
However, a powerful cardinal,Carlo Maria Martini (AP Photo/Luca Bruno), has departed from the official Vatican position. Here is the story in Sploid:
A powerful Vatican cardinal who nearly became pope last year has taken the radical position of saying it might be okay to use a condom -- but only with your spouse, and only if your spouse has AIDS, and only if you haven't caught the disease yet.The church's position on condoms, IMO, is nothing less than murder. First they make up a sin out of whole cloth and then they use it even in the face of death. The gay community learned in the late 80s that condoms, when used properly, were almost 100% effective in stopping HIV, but that doesn't keep religious ideologues from spreading lies and disinformation in the name of God.
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini's comments are seen by Vatican experts as being crazily liberal, because the official Holy See rule is that condoms can never be used.
Bible scholars have long been confused by the Vatican's strict stance on rubbers, because there's nothing in the Bible about condoms.
The Church is so furiously anti-condom that it actually runs a global disinformation campaign to try to convince people that condoms offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it surfaced in the 1980s and more than 40 million are currently infected, mostly in Africa. But Vatican officials say 25 million corpses and 11 million "AIDS orphans" is nothing compared to the make-believe sin of somebody using a condom.
April 22 is Earth Day, one of those forgotten relics of a time in our country's history when ecology and the environment were actually on peoples' minds. People say it's too late to help our planet, that global warming has reached the tipping point, that the Bush administration has turned everything over to the oil industry, that wars rage everywhere and no one is paying attention or wants to. Jim and I have the luxury of traveling the world and sometimes, when I'm really lucky, I catch this earth as it is and could be.
To the man/nature combo of Portofino Italy...
But, you know, in the bonus round, hope springs eternal.
To capturing the wind in Denmark.
The world has a funny way of healing itself if you give it half a chance. Let's give it half a chance.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Dear Joe,I am in discussions now with a young person who is totally freaked out about being gay. She says her father, who she adores and idolizes, is a strict conservative Christian and she is sure that if he finds out, she will be thrown out of the house and will be cut off from the family she loves.
I found your blog today after googling for items about Exodus, the ex-gay organization you wrote about yesterday. I am a mom in Texas and I keep an eye on whatever Exodus is doing, because you see Joe, I found some of their materials among my son's personal items after he took his life in 2002. Joe, he was only 19 years old and he was just the sweetest boy you'd ever want to know. My son had problems, yes, but his father and I (we are divorced) both feel that the Exodus people took advantage of his confusion about who he was. Even though he knew that we loved him, they helped him hate himself. Please don't stop writing about Exodus and the terrible, terrible harm they do to young people. I miss my boy so much.
Just a mother, Texas
It's not that she's that uncomfortable about being gay. It's that she knows her father will never speak to her again. She said to me that she has, on more than one occasion, thought about suicide so that she can just never have to face that moment when he finds out.
Frequently, conservative Christians approach me and wonder why I can't take a "live and let live" approach to their attitude about homosexuality and this is it. Because they have been misled by a fundamentalist and literalist homophobic approach to the Bible, they are driven into this kind of anti-gay hatred that they don't even know is hatred. Instead, it seethes and boils beneath a "love the sinner, hate the sin" lie they tell themselves. I don't doubt their sincerity, but "they know not what they do."
I want to grab these parents and shake them and make them grow up and get into the 21st century and make them stop listening to the seuxal mores of 2000 year old civilization of desert dwellers who thought sperm held all the life and that women were nothing but "fertile soil." It's all so very, very wrong.
Kids and adults die because of this theology. And still they lie over and over about how people can "change." News item for the clueless, you cannot turn ungay. Period. It won't happen. Your kids are not going to turn ungay, and if you're gay, you are not going to turn ungay unless you're already bisexual and you want to suppress your gay side. But suppression is not change.
This is a life and death situation. Choose life.
Here's a link to the American Psychological Association Question and Answer on sexual orientation. (Thanks, Kibs).
The Broadwayworld newsletter, which I love receiving in my email every morning, pointed me two webcasts available from the NY Public Library. One features Broadway director Hal Prince. (In the photo above, Hal Prince (center) directing Jack Gilford and Lotte Lenya in the original production of Cabaret, New York, 1966. Billy Rose Theatre Collection (Friedman-Abeles Collection).
The other is a Master Class featuring Broadway singer Barbara Cook. For anyone who loves theatre, these are treasures.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I've lost too much weight. I think I'm down to 140 (and I stand 6'2"). It may be time to go to a hospital and get TPN, which is food they put directly into your blood.No one, at this point, had said to me, "Okay, you probably only have a few weeks left," so it wasn't something I dwelt on. My focus was One Day At A Time -- and I mean that literally. If I had a good day, then it would seem to me, living squarely in that moment, that it was an indication that I was on my way back -- after all, I had already come back twice before. And if I had a bad day, it was just something to get through.
For instance, on the 20th:
A perfect day yesterday. Got up nice and early, ate rice and bananas, made my diary entry, took my shower, went to Bob-A-Lew, started making tape copies of the show, felt like a million bucks -- no residual pain, no nausea, etc. In fact, I felt like I could bench press the whole office and few others down the block.Looking back, I don't know if that's pathetic or sweet, that I would view a day like that as a "Superman" kind of day, where the only thing I could hold down was BRAT (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) and CODEINE (all to stop the diarrhea), and I considered 10-2 to be a full day of strength even though I needed that little four hour nap.
About 2pm, I started to feel tired, so I obeyed my body's message to me, went home and fell asleep on the bed...Slept all afternoon and woke up about 6:30. Had more rice, did a little computer work and then back to bed.
Now, if that's not a perfect day, I don't know what is.
The first emails from the outside world are beginning to arrive, also. People I don't know are starting to find my diary.
One new friend is a very devout born-again Christian who approached cautiously at first. He said he would link to my page from his, but only if he could put a disclaimer warning that there was gay stuff here. I invited him to do so, of course. But I also told him that if I put a link from my page to his, I would have to put a disclaimer warning that he was a Christian. He linked me without the disclaimer.I wish people like my old friend, T, could learn this lesson, that we can respectfully disagree with each other without declaring war. On the other hand...
Thinking back, I think this "friend" I made back then might have been Randy Thomas, who has since then become one of the main spokespersons for Exodus International, the "exgay" organization. Randy and I don't speak with each other these days. Once he made the leap from friendly conservative Christian to Warrior Out To Destroy All Gays, he didn't like it when I recently voiced a few objections to his "ministry," which, these days, consists of lobbying Congress to deprive gay and lesbian people of their civil rights.
When I confronted him on his efforts to disturb my own personal life and home, he accused me of being selfish. "You gays think this is all about you," he said.
"What are you talking about?" I countered, angrily. "You're whole agenda is STOP THE HOMOS! It's plastered all over your website. When you testify in public, your only message is 'Stop Gay Marriage!' You'll pardon me if I accidentally noticed your actual words. So, yeah, I think this is all about us."
Randy and I have a few more encounters over the years. Each time we meet, I'm totally optimistic that our differing sides can find a reasonable place at the table together. Even today, I still believe it -- or, at least, I think we could if not for the interference of political forces and Big Money from the TV evangelists. It's like that scene in Network, "You are messing with the primal forces!"
When politics and faith mix, faith nearly always loses, or else becomes a twisted, sick version of itself. Even Jesus knew this, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Render unto God what is God's." Ah, but we never learn, do we? We race into Iraq in order to make them more secular while fighting here at home to make our government more religious. The ironies abound.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
(I enjoy helping other songwriters. But I do this by digging into their souls, forcing them to confront the stuff most people avoid. If writers don't do this, then they are boring and their writing is vanilla and their potential unrealized. At least, that's my philosophy. I scare a lot of songwriters.)
Looking back at the diary entry of April 19, 1996, I start to get a notion of why people think I'm just bit out of my mind. It starts out:
You're not going to believe this but yesterday I had yet ANOTHER kidney stone. Only this time it was on the right side.And so what did I do? Well, I was completely not going to go through the hell of the ER again like the last time. I was, as I said, "working" at Bob-A-Lew Music. I wasn't actually an employee, but I got up everyday, took a shower and went down to their offices (Kim & Ronda Espy) as a type of physical therapy. This was my second attempt at bringing myself back to life by doing a dayjob in an office. (The first attempt was a year earlier when I did reception and filing at a music agent's office with my friend Jim Durkin -- that ended abruptly when I became too sick and was hospitalized).
I look back and realize I was relentless. While others around me were dying, I simply refused to give in. I might be wearing diapers, but I was determined to will myself back into health. One way of doing that was to "work" in an office. That's why, once I was back out of the hospital, I called Kim & Ronda and asked if I could just come down there and do something, anything. Sweep the floors. Whatever they needed. Luckily, they did have some actual work that needed to be done.
They had stacks and stacks of papers filled with numbers -- and these numbers had to entered into a computer. It was busywork. The kind most people hated. But I liked just having a monotonous stack of work that required little more than simply typing numbers because, as weak as I was physically, all it required was for me to sit and type.
But also, as I mentioned before, they made use of this skill I developed while at National Academy of Songwriters. In the music business, it's called "Creative" -- yes, that's the technical term. Dave Robyn Woeckener was my first victim. I had discovered him at a big songwriter song evaluation event and invited him to pay a call at the office. In our first meeting, I basically had Dave -- who's a really butch, straight boy rock and roller -- crying like a baby.
I don't mean to make people cry, but I was excavating his soul and forcing him to confront a lot of pain he had been suppressing and keeping out of his music. The result of that meeting was a song called "This Ain't Good" which eventually got him substantial radio airplay and is one hell of a song.
Anyway, 10 years ago, I had another kidney stone. Refusing to go to the ER, I happened to have some Tylenol 4 with Codeine, so I took a few, then laid on the bed, doubled up and drank water until the stone passed. Okay. That's not so unusual. That's pretty much the only way to get rid of a stone. But here's where I look back in amazement at myself and wonder, "What the hell was I thinking?"
I was determined to see David Robyn play tonight.That's right. I was sick as a dog, dying of AIDS and I had just flushed a kidney stone out of my system after lying in bed in pain all day long. And what was on my mind?
Going out to the club to see Dave so he could see how proud I was of him singing this song, which I considered the first song of his career. (He'd been playing and singing and writing on stage for 10 years before this, but I didn't care).
So, last night at Sara's show, I saw Dave, gave him a huge hug and reminded him that it was 10 years ago today that he played his first gig singing that song. Dave eventually also wrote a song about me which he called, "Learn How To Fall." Isn't that a great title? It was one of the greatest honors of my life.
Learn how to fall.
I caught him the other morning and gave him a treasure trove of our saved-up cans. (His eyes turn to saucers when I have a lot of them). But Chuck wasn't in a good mood that morning.
"I got ticketed," he announced.
"Yeah, I gotta go to court. And it's gonna cost me five hundred dollars."
"FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS??"
"EXACTLY!" He said, laughing and spitting at the same time. "How am I supposed to come up with that?"
"Well, how did it happen?" I asked.
"They trapped me. And I was stupid. I shoulda seen it. See, it's illegal to take cans from the city trash cans."
"Yeah, I remember you told me that."
"They set up a dumpster and then put a bunch of cans and bottles on top of it. Then, they wait for you to pass by, see the cans, grab one. And pow! They ticketed me for stealing from the city, pushing a shopping cart..."
"It's illegal to push a shopping cart?"
"See," he explained. "Most of the cops around here. They know me. I know all the guys that drive the garbage trucks. They know I don't cause trouble. I take showers. I always try to have clean clothes, even though the clothes get greasy from the edge of the bins..."
And it's true. Chuck never smells. He never bothers people. I remember it took me a few times of saying hello, passing him by as I was jogging, for him to even acknowledge me. He's very respectful and tries to stay as invisible as a person pushing a shopping cart full of cans and bottles can be.
"So this city council woman. She hires a guys full time to do nothing but harass homeless people. They've been shipping them in from all over the city to the shelter up north of Vanowen."
"Well, what are you gonna do?"
He got a gleeful look in his eye. "I'll go to court but I'll make sure the cop has to be there. And I'll make sure the city council woman has to be there. I can't pay this."
I felt woefully inadequate standing there giving him my soda cans.
"I am so PISSED at myself! I knew it was a set-up. I just wasn't paying attention. The bin wasn't in the right spot. I know all the bins around here. I got reckless."
"So, wait a minute. You're telling me that they've hired someone to do nothing but set up phony trash bins. Then they bait the bins with bottles and cans sitting on top, waiting for homeless people to grab the bottles so they can give you a ticket for stealing from the city?"
He looked at me and smiled knowingly. "You got it. I'm so pissed at myself. It's a war on the homeless and they got me."
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Quoting from the article:
Brian wears sunglasses to hide his gray and lifeless left eye—damaged, he says, by kicks and blows with a board from Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton. Brian, 44, is gay, and Banton, 32, is an avowed homophobe whose song Boom Bye-Bye decrees that gays "haffi dead" ("have to die"). In June 2004, Brian claims, Banton and some toughs burst into his house near Banton's Kingston recording studio and viciously beat him and five other men. After complaints from international human-rights groups, Banton was finally charged last fall, but in January a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence. It was a bitter decision for Brian, who lost his landscaping business after the attack and is fearful of giving his last name. "I still go to church," he says as he sips a Red Stripe beer. "Every Sunday I ask why this happened to me."
Though familiar to Americans primarily as a laid-back beach destination, Jamaica is hardly idyllic. The country has the world's highest murder rate. And its rampant violence against gays and lesbians has prompted human-rights groups to confer another ugly distinction: the most homophobic place on earth.
In the past two years, two of the island's most prominent gay activists, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, have been murdered — and a crowd even celebrated over Williamson's mutilated body. Perhaps most disturbing, many anti-gay assaults have been acts of mob violence. In 2004, a teen was almost killed when his father learned his son was gay and invited a group to lynch the boy at his school. Months later, witnesses say, police egged on another mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. And this year a Kingston man, Nokia Cowan, drowned after a crowd shouting "batty boy" (a Jamaican epithet for homosexual) chased him off a pier. "Jamaica is the worst any of us has ever seen," says Rebecca Schleifer of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch and author of a scathing report on the island's anti-gay hostility.
Schwarzenegger Signs Bill to Track HIV Cases by Name
By Michelle Keller
Times Staff Writer
April 18, 2006
Epidemiologists tracking the spread of HIV in California will begin using data based on patient names rather than relying on a flawed code-based system under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The shift will ensure that California continues to receive more than $50 million annually for HIV/AIDS care from the federal government, which has ruled that code-based reporting is unreliable. With at least 38 states already signed on to use patient names, California is one of a handful of states still using alphanumeric codes to identify HIV cases.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nell Soto (D-Pomona), unanimously cleared the state Senate and Assembly and was lauded by health officials around the state.
"This is a historic moment in time in fighting AIDS," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "We're aligning the way we handle AIDS to how we handle all other public health issues."
Under the code system, enacted in July 2002, healthcare providers and labs reported HIV infections to local health agencies and the state Department of Health Services using codes created from birth dates, gender and elements of the patient's last name.
The practice of using codes was created to ensure patient confidentiality, but proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare for health officials. County health departments have reported difficulties in exchanging data with doctors and duplication of HIV cases. Sorting out errors, argue proponents of the bill, has proven to be both expensive and time-consuming.
Last night wasn't a great night in that I had some vomiting and diarrhea, but I think it might be this new drug, Mepron, which is like a thick yellow liquid. It's supposed to be effective against some parasites. (I've tested positive for microsporidia -- then negative last year after doing some alternative therapy).
Hmm. I had forgotten about the fact that I had tested positive, used some kind of alternative therapy for these parasites, possibly gotten rid of them and was now speculating that they might have returned. What was happening was my t-cells were crashing so it was opening up my body for all kinds of infections and infestations. In this case, I had something called microsporidia, defined as:
Microsporidia are obligate intracellular parasites that have been recognized in a variety of animals, particularly vertebrates. Typical sizes of the spores range from 1.5 to 2.0um in humans. The infectious stage, the spore, contains a coiled polar tubule, which is an extrusion mechanism for injecting the infective spore contents into host cells.
There was no cure for them then. And it seems that they:
do not respond to albendazole therapy. For the most part, therapy for microsporidial infections is difficult, at best.
Yes! Albendzole. That's what I took to get rid of them before. It works on other parasites, but is "iffy" when it comes to these things. Microspiridia are in the environment everywhere. You probably have some in your system right now, but because, assuming you, reader, have a healthy immune system, your body is able to kill them off easily. That's the thing about AIDS. It destroys your body's ability to kill bad things off.
What I did know was that my diarrhea was constant, and now I was drinking some hideous thick yellow gunk that was making me vomit.
But what was my mind mainly focused on? GETTING OUR SHOW TO NEW YORK! (At this point, to say it was a pipe dream is the understatement of the year; we had done only a staged reading at the Hollywood Roosevelt and the computer I was using was a gift from Kim & Ronda Espy, who knew I had gone quite techno-crazy in love with this new thing called the "Internet"). So, sitting there on the couch wearing an adult diaper...
The best thing that happened was that Al Martinez, the columnist for the L.A. Times came over and interviewed me for a column. He loved the tape I sent him and said his wife was stunned by the material. We had a great time together and by the time it was over, he said he was going to write something really great. I think he wants to see this show on just as much as we do. IT WAS THRILLING!!!And, thus, I crossed my fingers for our first mention anywhere in the press. I remember now that I used to read his column all the time and he, somewhere, had possibly mentioned AIDS. I don't remember. So, I sent him my little 99 cent demo tape of me singing the songs from TLS and I told him that I was a guy with AIDS who had a "web page" and who wanted his show (which was, at this point, nothing but a script and a solo piano/vocal tape) to go to New York!
Then I finished this entry with an apology and a pledge to the reader:
I hope it's fun reading good news as opposed to the bad. I started this online diary when I was at a low point so if you've gotten to know me through this, you don't even know how great a life I've been living. Hopefully, I can continue on this path of health and excellence. Want to see a life well-lived? (So do I). I'll do my best.
Through it all, no matter how bad it got, I was determined to live. And, in a sort of sadly comic way, I was determined to make sure my readers were going to have a good time and not have to deal with all my misery. I loved delivering good news. I was determined to survive and to succeed -- not an easy thing to do sitting in a soiled diaper. :-)
And the great parallel here is that I'm doing it again. For the past three years, I have had one laser goal in mind: to get The Big Voice to New York in a full sit-down production. Do we see a pattern?
Monday, April 17, 2006
On April 17, 1996, the diary heading is "Great Day." I made note of the fact that Jim has just said to me, "The old Steve is back." The reason the old Steve was back was that it was the first night in several in which I wasn't in pain.
In the days just before this entry, I had had a horrific night. It was a kidney stone. What I remember from that night was being in absolute agony. Not ever having had one before, it was the worst torture I'd ever experienced. I woke up in agony and finally told Jim that I needed to get to the hospital. In the hospital, what I remember was how s.l.o.w.l.y. the nurses moved. How s.l.o.w.l.y. the doctors moved. They wouldn't stop the pain. First they put me on a very cold metal table to take x-rays. So, not only was I in pain, but I was shaking and shivering, freezing, on that table.
Then, once the stone was diagnosed, the nurse calmly took me back to the examining room and said I could have some pain medication. What I recall is how time slowed down as I watched her pull. out. the. needle. And then draw. the. medication. And then w.a.l.k. o.v.e.r. t.o. m.e. And the s.l.o.w.l.y. p.u.t. t.h.e. n.e.e.d.l.e. into the I.V. d.r.i.p.
I literally was subdividing seconds in my mind as she so glacially moved to help me, until the first flush of relief hit my veins. Never have I experienced this kind of utter agony. And what KILLED me was her total indifferent attitude to how all this was affecting me. MOOVE!!!! I wanted to scream, but I didn't. Or maybe I did. I don't know.
Finally, though, at some point, the stone must have passed because, by the time I made my April 17th entry, I was feeling back to "normal" -- or what passed for normal at that time. (What was actually happening was that I was on a long, slow slide downhill and it would be months before I began to come back to life.)
The other thing that was happening was that the AIDS drugs which I had been taking were failing utterly. My viral load was through the roof, my weight was crashing and if you look up the page a bit, you can see that we are discussing a "new" AIDS experimental medication called Crixivan which was just becoming available, and which showed fantastic results, so it was being fast-tracked onto the market. Unfortunately, there weren't enough production facilities to make the drug available to everyone, so the news was that a lottery was being established. Everyone would put their name into the lottery.
10 years ago today was also my first appearance at Cal State Northridge to speak to a religion class. Since then, I've appeared almost every year, but back then, with the songs from The Last Session barely written, and me being able only able to stand up for a few minutes at a time, I brought a boombox with me and played tapes of the songs as I told my story.
One thing I remember from that class was asking how many students had email accounts. Only about a third raised their hands. Can you imagine that now? People are practically born with email accounts. My online diary, being one of the first on the Net, was a pioneering venture. Even among college students, I was ahead of the game.
And if there is to be an acknowledgment of God in the Constitution, the question naturally arises as to which God is to have this honor. Shall we select the God of the Catholics - he who has established an infallible church presided over by an infallible pope, and who is delighted with certain ceremonies and placated by prayers uttered in exceedingly common Latin? Is it the God of the Presbyterian with the Five Points of Calvinism, who is ingenious enough to harmonize necessity and responsibility, and who in some way justifies himself for damning most of his own children? Is it the God of the Puritan, the enemy of joy - of the Baptists, who is great enough to govern the universe, and small enough to allow the destiny of a soul to depend on whether the body it inhabited was immersed or spinkled? What God is it proposed to put in the Constitution? Is it the God of the Old Testament, who was a believer in slavery and who justified polygamy? If slavery was right then, it is right now; and if Jehovah was right then, the Mormons are right now. Are we to have the God who issued a commandment against all art - who was the enemy of investigation and of free speech? Is it the God who commanded the husband to stone his wife to death because she differed with him on the subject of religion?
Sunday, April 16, 2006
(Click on the image for large version.)
A Happy Easter -- or happy pagan holiday of your choice :-) -- morning to all. The great thing about spring celebrations is they remind us that life is a cycle of birth and rebirth. I believe strongly that when we forget to lay aside old prejudices and myths and accumulated garbage, they will clutter up our hearts and minds and lives.
Let the old ways die. Clear out the junk. Let the new day bring on new visions, new clarity, new love, new hope and new cheer.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
During the trial, it was discovered that Dan actually has (horrors!) a research assistant! And even more, that this research assistant is his wife, Blythe!! (Additional horrors!!) This piece of "news," apparently, was enough to send the spinmeisters out of the minds, accusing Dan of, among other things, relying on his wife for information about church and art history. (gasp!) Suddenly, Blythe became this dragon lady leading poor, sad Dan around by the neck -- the power behind the throne.
The reason this struck me as ironic is that this is precisely the ACTUAL point of Da Vinci Code. While the press got all hot and bothered over the "Was Jesus Married?" subplot, they totally missed on what the book was really about -- i.e. the foul and disrespectful way the Church has treated women. In a way, it only makes Dan's novel that much more relevant. This misogynistic patriarchalism, so ingrained in our culture, continues blindly striking down any woman who dares have a brain or an opinion.
As many of my readers know, I met and worked with Blythe years ago. More, I was the person who hired her at National Academy of Songwriters. I was there when Dan and Blythe met. In fact, her position as "Artist Development Director" was a position I created out of whole cloth just so I could keep her around. The misinformed biographers who have labeled her as "power broker" who could "have any young writer she wanted" is such a stupidly ridiculous description of our work there, that it's beyond laughability. We were not power brokers. We were beggars at the gate of the music industry.
National Academy of Songwriters was a non-profit organization. Blythe's position was a volunteer position, although I think she might have eventually been paid for her astounding work. What we did there, and why I created that position, was that we wanted to help young aspiring songwriters get a stage and voice in the empty hair band scene in Los Angeles of the late 80s/early 90s. Before we put on our showcase, which was called "The Acoustic Underground," the acoustic songwriting scene in L.A. was totally and completely dead. There were no acoustic clubs, the last one having just closed, and there were no coffeeshops or bookstores featuring singer/songwriters.
What we did was create a scene out of whole cloth. It was created out of necessity. Most singer/songwriter showcases were ridiculously long events because these guys would drag out their drums, their amps, and everything else, creating a half hour break between sets. It was boring. So we decided to make a rule: No drums. No set-up. No amps. Walk on. Sing two songs. Get off.
It was brilliant. By the time Acoustic Underground peaked, we were playing to packed houses at the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. and were holding contests and showcases. When we began our shows, the idea of songwriters with acoustic guitars was so far off the radar screens of industry reps, that we seemed to them to be insane. But what actually happened was suddenly all these songwriters threw off the chains of all that equipment and started writing SONGS again. In just a few years, coffeehouses were springing up all over the city.
Everything changed because we created something out of nothing. And it was Blythe who sat there, day after day, listening to tape after tape, flagging the good ones and bringing them to my attention so that we could put on a show. The most notable songwriter to come out of our offices, by the way, was a Sony artist named Dan Bern, who has made many critically acclaimed records and who plays folk arenas all over the country.
My point is that the Blythe I knew is the same woman now. She's an industrious, hard-working, totally serious, incredibly beautiful woman who fell in love with a writer and who, like any great partner in any great marriage, supported and believed in her husband. It's no different than how I believe in Jim and he believes in me.
The real story is that Dan and Blythe have a perfect partnership and a brilliant marriage. Theirs is a love story. They worked hard. They struggled long. They earned their way to the top of the book publishing world and I hope they keep and spend every last dime they make on themselves. They are kind, modest, generous, compassionate people. What is their sin? Why are they being attacked and abused and treated like thieves? Because they finally found commercial and financial success. That's their sin. So, now they get to be everyone's favorite punching bags.
In fact, they lead a quiet life in their home, away from the world. They are not fame whores. They don't throw themselves in public. They didn't hire press agents to get themselves in the tabloids. They have earned their way and they deserve to be left alone. They do not deserve to be treated like criminals. The writers who sued them, whose book was long forgotten, have made millions in new book sales because Dan credited them in his work. And how did they repay this? A lawsuit. A dangerous lawsuit that, if they had won, would have changed publishing forever. Read here for more information on that.
Before The Da Vinci Code, Dan wrote a book called "Digital Fortress." He was so excited by having had it published, and he told us he was so inspired by Jim's and my musical, The Last Session, that he sent me one of the first copies. On the leaf, just inside the cover, Dan wrote, "To Steve, my hero."
No, Dan. You are my hero. For standing with dignity in the face of greedy people who want to tear you down. For standing by and defending Blythe when every little busybody wanted to tear the two of you apart. And Blythe is my hero, too, for being exactly the kind of partner every man would ever dream of.
(For the record, I have turned down all reporters wanting me to talk about Dan and Blythe. This is the first time I've told our whole story. I have been keeping silent through this whole ordeal out of respect for Dan and Blythe, but with all the lies and hypocrisy and crap being said about them, I finally decided to speak out. I couldn't hold it in any longer.)