BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
If my life was a game show, I'd be in the Bonus Round. I almost died. Didn't die and now... The Bonus Round, where time speeds up and the prizes are better. For my 60th birthday year, I recorded an album, I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which debuted on June 7. 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, The Songwriter.

Monday, July 31, 2006

10 Yrs. Ago: Breaking Free

Me with Chip Esten doing "Friendly Fire."

Ten years ago, if you'll recall from our last update, I had just been implanted with a PICC line. Each day, I was hooked up to a feedbag of fluid intravenously for 14 hours a day because my digestive system had stopped working. The new drug, Crixivan, had just arrived in the mail, and the Zephyr Theatre had given us a go-ahead to put up a workshop of our little musical about AIDS called "The Last Session."
Marjory Graue enters as Vicki.

Since that update, we had cast the show, rehearsed it and were now performing it.

Gideon: Me
Buddy: Charles Esten
Vicki: Marjory Graue
Tryshia: Francesca P. Roberts
Jim: Doug Tracht

Each day, I would rehearse the show, go home, hook myself up to the feedbag (which I named "Louie"), try to sleep, wake up, unhook from the bag, race down to the theatre, rehearse, take my pills, go home, hook back up, sleep, etc. There was an entry port on my arm for the bag which had to be protected when I showered (which was a real pain). A nurse would come by every few days to check on the port, make sure all was going well, and then, everyday, we would start over again.


Francesca P. Roberts as Tryshia.

I, who had never written a musical and never acted on a stage (except once in high school but that was kind of a joke) was starring in the musical. Everything was happening so quickly, I could barely keep up. But I did keep this diary going. I wrote about everything. About what a terrible actor I was. About how difficult I found it to learn lines. About how amazing the other actors were. About how I was still gaining weight. I was even eating food again!


Doug Tracht as Jim.


Finally, we had a dress rehearsal, ticket sales were astonishing -- we sold out our opening weekend, and we had our opening night.

Playing "Buddy" in this production was a guy who would go on to quite a bit of TV fame here in the US. His name is Chip Esten and he was frequently in the USA version of an improv show called "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Just last night I was reading that he was being added to the cast of NBC's "The Office." (YAY, Chip!)

Chip and I shared a dressing room. From the diary:
Chip gave me some encouragement, too. He knows -- they all know -- I have no experience acting and as we were just running over a few lines and checking with each other about some things, he noticed I "read" a line a certain way -- the way I usually did, and he reminded me of something he had told me before. He said I should not try to do it the same way everytime. It was a scene where I was finally giving Buddy a break and trying to loosen him up. Chip said if you feel sorry for me, then do it that way. If you feel like you need to make me laugh, then do that. Just let the moment happen.

I don't know what it was about that instruction, but it just released me. Suddenly I realized that now that we had the words down, the rest was just playing the scenes "in reality." Letting our emotions change depending upon how each of us feels or plays the scene. Like kids, really. Just being there in the moment, one hundred percent and following along, but never truly repeating yourself.
All the actors in the cast knew I felt really insecure about doing this. But they made me feel like they were right there with me, and that I should just relax and enjoy the show. But, actually, I was scared out of my mind. I felt so lost on that stage, so vulnerable. But then, so did Gideon. It all worked.

Our opening night was one of the greatest nights of my life. Everyone laughed. Everyone cried. We received an immediate standing ovation. I remembered my lines. And it's funny reading back about it because, in the diary, I am describing lines of dialogue -- even whole scenes -- which Jim eventually cut. For instance, there was a this long scene with Gideon and Jim that opened the show before I ever sang the first note.

As the weekend progressed, I remembered when we got a call to the box office from some stranger, a "Beverly Hills-sounding" lady, "Is this the show everyone is talking about?"

On July 24, there was another landmark day. My PICC line failed. Nothing we could do would unclog it. I had one week's worth of TPN to go. The choice I had was to go back to the hospital and have it re-inserted for the final week, or just pull it out of my arm, cross my fingers and see if my digestive system had started working again.
I called Lifeline and they said there was some kind of super unclogging solution they could try, so they sent the nurse who did everything but send a Roto Rooter up me, and nothing worked. She declared the line officially blocked and with one smooth motion, pulled the entire catheter right out of the hole in my arm. (It wasn't painful, just weird feeling.) Then she put a little gauze and band-aid on the site and it was over.

The first thing I did after the nurse left was something I haven't been able to do the whole time I had the PICC line in. I took a long hot bath. With a catheter in your vein, you can't get the site wet or expose it to steam for any prolonged period. So it was always a quick shower wearing a long plastic glove to cover up my whole right arm. But not today. I got in the bathtub and just luxuriated. I even found some of the fancy bath stuff my Aunt Freida gave me. It was absolutely heavenly.

On the 25th, Chip was cast in an episode of Star Trek, so an actor named Steve Prince came in a substituted for him, doing a spectacular job. It was my first time to work with an understudy!

On July 29th, I was given the first vivid illustration of how this show was going to begin changing people and lives -- people from totally different walks of life. There were two stories in this entry. Here's what I wrote:
Julie Horton and her 13 year old son came to one of our performances last week. Julie is this incredibly beautiful woman who used to work at ASCAP. She left there a couple years ago, though, when her husband developed cancer and subsequently died. Gaylon Horton, her husband, was one of the most beloved figures in the music industry in Los Angeles. He was a man with no enemies and he was very close to Kim and Ronda at Bob-A-Lew who are involved in The Last Session.

Part of Gaylon's "therapy" was to undergo radical radiation treatments which destroyed his immune system and for the last months of his life, he virtually lived in the AIDS ward in one of the hospitals here in the Valley. This was all happening around the same time that I was having my first opportunistic infections with AIDS, so Julie always tried to keep up with how I was doing also.

Eventually, Gaylon died and they had a wonderful memorial service (which I was too sick to go to at the time) and Kim and Ronda helped set up a fund for both Julie and her son.

Julie wasn't sure if she and her kid could "handle" our show because she knew it would bring up a lot of memories they had put behind them, but they came anyway and sat right on the front row. I haven't spoken to Julie, myself, but Ronda said Julie told her a couple of things. The first was that they did do their share of crying and remembering -- but that they felt it was good for them to do so. But then she told Ronda this:

Her boy (whose name is Adam) and his 13 year old friends had taken, recently, to calling each other -- and everyone else they see -- "fags." Julie had heard them and was wanting to say something, but she hadn't done so yet. Well, after coming to see our show, Adam was very excited to come up afterwards and meet me. Ronda brought him up. Apparently, he really was moved by the whole thing.

The next day, Julie was driving her son and his friends around when one of them called the other a "fag." Adam immediately said, "We're not going to use that word anymore." The others taunted him, asking, "What are you, a fag lover?" He drew himself up and said quietly, "One of my friends is gay and has AIDS and has written a show about it and we're not going to use that word anymore."

And that was that.

Story number two: The Street Kids & The Sunglasses

On Saturday night, we had a group of runaways from the Covenant House as guests in the audience. They were very street tough kids, covered in tatoos and attitude...

Over on stage left, there were two of the toughest sitting kind of apart from everyone else. One had dark sunglasses on and they were more or less sprawled all over the seats. Toward the end of the show (and I didn't see this, but both Chip and Ronda did), the one without the sunglasses began to get kind of emotional. He was starting to well up and cry.

Without blinking an eye, the one with the sunglasses slipped them off and handed them to his friend who quickly put them on so no one could see his tears.

And we had one more weekend to go.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

How Jim Creates the Zero Mostel Combover

Here we are backstage at "Zero Hour" where I question Jim about how he creates the famous Zero Mostel combover.

Friday, July 28, 2006

News on Zero Hour Plus Video


Jim's play, Zero Hour, has been extended for two weeks here in Los Angeles.

It's going to be featured soon on National Public Radio.

Many of the performances are selling out and he has received rave reviews from every critic, along with Critics Pick designations from the LA Times, LA Weekly and the Desert Sun.

The show has been praised on every level. The writing, his performance, the emotional impact. Everything. But I think the responses that have meant the most to him have come from Zero's friends and co-workers. All of them have either stayed afterwards to talk, or have written emails, gushing with Zero stories and thanking him for bringing Zero back to life.

Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara.

Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara came. Theodore Bikel, one of Zero's closest friends came. Theo wrote in an email, "Thank you for having brought back to us the memory of a volcano that was thought to be extinct."

Doris Roberts.

I also sat in the back last weekend and took some video. Zero was mainly known as a stage actor and as the original Max Bialystock in the Mel Brooks movie, The Producers. But Zero had a very tough life. In the play, which is structured like an interview with a reporter, the reporter has been trying to get Zero to talk about the most painful period of his life, the Hollywood Blacklist during the 50s where he was accused of being a communist. Zero holds back during the interview, but finally, goaded into cutting loose, he finally lets go in a rage of anger:





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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Just as good as straight people??? SHOCKING!

One of my favorite news blogs, ExGay Watch, which is very fair to the exgays and Exodus International (even though they hate being held accountable for their words and deeds, though they seem to think everyone else should be), notes this morning that Exodus President Alan Chambers said this, about a new ad campaign by gay groups promoting civil equality in marriage, "“I think their long-term goal is to portray themselves as equals, as people who are the same as heterosexuals...”

Yes, Alan. I think I am equal to straight people. Yes, Alan. I think my 21-year relationship with Jim is just as good as, totally equal to, your marriage. I know you people worship at the altar of heterosexuality -- and god knows I love my heterosexual friends -- but my true friends, the ones that actually love me, are more interested in making sure Jimmy and I have a secure home than getting a paycheck from a right wing Christianist relgiopath like James Dobson.

SHOCKING! OUTRAGEOUS! IMAGINE SUCH A THING! THAT I WOULD DARE TO IMAGINE MYSELF TO BE JUST AS GOOD AS ANY STRAIGHT PERSON?? Watch this video below. Imagine this being you, Alan Chambers. No, don't. What would be the point? If you did the right thing, you wouldn't have a job anymore, would you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Coming onto the Phelps

Anyone who keeps up with anti-gay religio-nuts knows who the Phelps clan is from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. This video is from an Australian comedian pretending to be a reporter who starts interviewing one of of the Phelps' men -- but then suddenly starts coming onto him, telling him how lovely his voice is and how firm his buttocks are. Watching the Klan -- er, clan, none of whom seem to have ever developed a sense of humor, circle around their guy to protect him from the "pervert" reporter is wickedly funny if you enjoy ridicule. Oh, and I do.

The guy being interviewed is the crazy husband of the wacked out woman who recently was on Fox News being yelled at by the Fox reporter, one of the more famous viral videos that made the rounds this past year -- you know, where Fox News pretends to be "fair and balanced" by going after only the most obvious psychotic reliopath.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Process of Creation

KC Bowman

Know what I love about working with Ned and KC is that anything goes. For instance, KC was asking me how I happened to write "Cool By Default." I told him the lyric came from a conversation I had with someone who accused me of being "cool." I responded that I have never been cool in my entire life, but that the rest of the world has gotten so damn lame, I'm suddenly cool by default. (SONG IDEA!)

Then he asked me how I wrote the music. So I told him it was totally a crass thing. I had been on a plane talking to a club DJ who spins discs at these exclusive "six months ahead of the curve" high class European tweaker discos. I asked him, "How many bpm?" He said, "130." So, when I was ready to write the song, I set my bpm for 130, hit the kick drum on every beat, wrote in a snakey bassline and constructed the song from the bottom up.

KC immediately yells, "NED! GO RECORD A DRUM TRACK!"

So, Ned goes into the studio, records a drum track and the next thing you know, Ned, KC, Kag and I are walking down the street in the middle of the night writing lyrics based on a melody Ned thought up. The title came from something Ned yelled at the end of his drum track about "Rock star..." something.

And that's how songs get written. You just think of an idea or a rhythm or whatever comes into your head and you start writing, and you don't stop until you're done. The thing about writing, for me, is that I work in a lot of different areas of music. Whether I'm writing a big theatrical ballad for someone like Petrina Johnson, or a soulful, gut-wrenching piece for Alexandra Billings, a revelatory or comedic number for Jim & me, an inspirational piece for choir or edgy rock and roll numbers for Preoccupied Pipers, all of these things are real to me. They all represent parts of what I've done as a musician -- and reflect that life I've lived. They're all real.


Kag:

Ned:

Sunday, July 23, 2006

SF: Hot By Default

KC the rock star and the papparazzi.

Me pretending to be cool.

I made it to San Francisco without incident and settled in at Ken's. We were two chatterboxes for the first day catching up on everything. It's funny but even though we chat or phone nearly every single day, there's nothing like seeing someone in person. I brought my video camera but didn't bring the specific cord that downloads into my laptop, so pictures will have to come later.

Later that night, we had dinner with our friend, Ben, who was limping a bit because someone smashed into his motorcycle and broke his leg. He's on the mend now, but apparently it was pretty bad there for awhile.

The weather, though, has been hot! Since San Francisco is used to being somewhat chilly, even in the summer, this has been quite strenuous on everyone, especially since many of the houses don't have air conditioning. They've never really needed it. Luckily, it cools off at night with the sea air blowing in, but it just does not feel like San Francisco right now. See Piper the Dog trying to get cool by sprawling over the couch?

Ken is a big a gadget guru and since I love gadgets, we spent a good deal of Friday playing with his toys, particularly a software program and a green screen.

On Saturday, we both took the BART train to Oakland to record "Cool By Default" with KC and Ned AKA Vinny's Vipers AKA Preoccupied Pipers. Neither KC nor Ned are "cool by default." They are simply uncontestably, cool on levels most people can't even dream about. KC is a crack musician, bass and guitar -- and Ned is a power drummer who is the kind of percussionist you want behind you on a stage. If I could put together a touring band, these two would form the core. No questions asked.

(At one point, KC said, "Hey. Want to hear what I've been doing the past couple of days?" "Sure," said I. He put on a recording, and just as casually as you please he said, "I was doing a note for note take-down of a Partridge Family song, recreating it from the bottom up, including vocals."

A note for note rendering an obscure Partridge Family song. See? Madness and genius are simply two sides of the same coin.)

The recording studio, as they've constructed it, sits in the KC's backyard. No air conditioning. So, as the day got hotter, we would dash into the studio, record what we wanted to get done, and then race back out into the shadow of the shade trees and cool off. It was beautiful.

All day long, Ned, KC, Ken and I added layer upon layer to the song beginning with about 16 tracks of percussion alone. After the bass, guitar and lead vocals were added, KC said, "Okay, now we start sprinkling the fairy dust." And we added weird background vocals, marching, cowbells, shakers, Fender Rhodes, organ, lead guitar, and I don't know what else.

That was topped off with a barbeque, some total comedy madness in the kitchen using fruit netting -- Ken won the prize for wacky costume on that one -- a nap and then, at the end of the evening, Ned laid down a drum track and we, along with another member of Preoccupied Pipers, wrote yet another song and recorded the vocals. I got home about 11pm and then slept like a baby.

The next day we took Piper out for a walk in the park but it was so hot. Everyone was out there and there was hardly any place for us to sit in the shade. I'm so glad the Republicans have their list of scientists telling us that there is no global warming going on. Otherwise, I might have felt like it was hot or something.

More photos! The big black and white ones were taken by Ned. The others are screen captures I did from video I was shooting, so they're not the greatest quality, but hey, who cares. It's too hot to care.






I don't know how to explain these last two images except to say they will make into the video of "Cool By Default."

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Great Big Hall (Studio version)

I spent most of the day finishing the instrumentation and vocals for the studio version of "The Secret of the Great Big Hall" which Petrina recorded here earlier this week. Then I mixed it and cut the video together which, this time, just focuses on her. She's such a good singer who really sings from the heart. I loved just focusing on her beautiful and expressive face. Best of all, she is NOT lip syncing. This is the real deal.



Tomorrow I'm off to San Francisco for a recording session with the Preoccupied Pipers. Who knows what kind of mischief we'll get into!

Strength for the Journey

If you haven't read the incredible story of my friend, Michael Sugar, and our visit to the Hollywood United Methodist Church, then go there. It was a beautiful and transcendent moment, and it provides the backdrop for our trip into the mountains yesterday. The occasion was an invitation from HUMC to visit their retreat for people living with AIDS called "Strength for the Journey." These camps are sponsored by United Methodists all over the country and have been a source of strength and life for thousands of PWAs. I told them I would love to visit but only if they'd let me sing (of course). Michael got off work a little early and drove me. But first we had to visit Warner Bros. studios where Michael had to get a few things. I took this picture from the outside because we're not allowed to take pics inside.

The camp wasn't that far away. It was in the Angeles National Forest at Camp Colby, which is run by the United Methodist Church. In fact, it only took us about an hour to get there. Michael was shocked that I had never driven up into these mountains. He said it snows there in the winter. Gotta love Southern California. It can be 70 degrees and sunny. Drive an hour and you're in the snow. This being summer, though, it was not snowy. It was warm and bit moist.

As we approached our turn-off from the main highway through the Forest, I saw this beautiful, craggy peak. (Click on the photo to see it big. It's worth it.)

Another view of the mountains:
Finally, after letting car after car pass us -- we were NOT in a hurry through this beautiful country -- we found the little trail down to the camp.
The trail led us directly into the center of the camp. It was absolutely beautiful, with a little creek running through the center. The sound of the wind in the trees and the water splashing at our feet was pastorally breathtaking.

This is the dining hall. When we arrived, they gave us a very nice meal.

With time to kill, we wandered about the grounds. Here is an old gravestone left by the family who first lived here, the Colbys.
Cabins:A swimming pool!
A totally adorable guy who gave massages, holistic therapies, yoga, etc.

Michael joked, on the way there, that if he saw any crosses -- he being Jewish -- he would run the other way. Instead, he posed in front of the big white cross that overlooks the valley. So nu?
And this is me with retired senior minister, Ed Hanson. He was talking to Michael when I snapped this photo.
So, I sang my concert. They had a little keyboard there which was not easy to use, but I made it work. Ed told me that in the earliest years of the epidemic, when most of the people with HIV were white males, that was largely the make-up of the camp. But nowadays, most of the participants were from the inner city, there on scholarship. He said many of them come from communities where they are not only not allowed to be "out" as gay, but they also can't disclose their HIV status.

There were also a number of women and a sprinking of younger kids.

They seemed to really get into my concert, laughing along with "Friendly Fire" and "The Closet," crying along with "Going It Alone" and "Save Me A Seat," singing along with "Lazarus Come Out." I felt really good when most of them came up to me afterwards, many with tears in their eyes, giving me hugs and thanking me for coming out to sing.

I know that they will need all the comeraderie and "strength for the journey" that this camp provides as they bond with one another and share experiences. Because I know that many of them are going to go back into "the real world" where life is difficult, where they will be battling against homophobia, AIDSphobia, drug addiction, poverty and a host of challenges, none of which help when you're facing a day to day battle with a relentless virus that wants nothing more than to eat you alive.

God bless them all.

ADDENDUM: David Ray reminded me in the comments that as we were driving home last night, following him (thank god -- it is DARK in the woods), we honked the horn just as we approached the main road and asked him if we could just stop for a moment, turn off all the lights and look at the brilliantly starlit night sky. It's a scene we in the city don't get that often. Funny how you have to remember to take a breath, a moment, to look at this magnificent creation and just stare in wonder at the gift that's been given to us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I'm Tired of Saying Goodbye

On our last trip, you might remember that I met a great singer from London named Petrina Johnson. We posted a video of her singing a new song called "Secret of the Great Big Hall." While we were cruising, Petrina gave me a title for a new song based upon a broken hearted experience she had gone through in the past. So, I wrote the main part of the song on the ship and we performed it for passengers. But it wasn't finished. This past week, she flew into L.A. for the express purpose of recording the finished version of the song. We took one day up here in my loft to record it. I also turned on the video camera to catch her live performance on tape. Here is the finished mix and video:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

DREAMGIRLS!

Go Hone!

Alexandra Billings tells the story of a very hit, sweaty and exhausted woman in Chicago protesting the Gay Games (our version of the Olympics) in this sadly weird blog entry.

AIDS IS THE ANSWER! GO HONE!

Hone?

Why are so many Christianist homophobes so helplessly illiterate? And why do they feel the need to interfere in our lives? I wonder how many people have looked at a hate sign and said to themselves, "Oh, THERE'S the religion *I* want to belong to!"

Monday, July 17, 2006

While My Ukulele Gently Weeps

I thought this was a joke, but it turns out to be an absolutely beautiful rendition of one of the Beatles saddest George Harrison songs. He's sitting in Central Park where there's a memorial to John Lennon. Just listen to it. For some reason, with all the war raging around the world, this just felt very mournful and appropriate.

Why The World Is In Flames

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You ‘Axis of Evil’

By FRANK RICH

July 16, 2006
NY Times Op-Ed Columnist

AS American foreign policy lies in ruins from Pyongyang to Baghdad to Beirut, its epitaph is already being written in Washington. Last week’s Time cover, “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy,” lays out the conventional wisdom: the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, upended by chaos in Iraq and the nuclear intransigence of North Korea and Iran, is now officially kaput. In its stead, a sadder but more patient White House, under the sway of Condi Rice, is embracing the fine art of multilateral diplomacy and dumping the “bring ’em on” gun-slinging that got the world into this jam.

The only flaw in this narrative — a big one — is that it understates the administration’s failure by assuming that President Bush actually had a grand, if misguided, vision in the first place. Would that this were so. But in truth this presidency never had a vision for the world. It instead had an idée fixe about one country, Iraq, and in pursuit of that obsession recklessly harnessed American power to gut-driven improvisation and P.R. strategies, not doctrine. This has not changed, even now.

Only if we remember that the core values of this White House are marketing and political expediency, not principle and substance, can we fully grasp its past errors and, more important, decipher the endgame to come. The Bush era has not been defined by big government or small government but by virtual government. Its enduring shrine will be a hollow Department of Homeland Security that finds more potential terrorist targets in Indiana than in New York.

Like his father, George W. Bush always disdained the vision thing. He rode into office on the heels of a boom, preaching minimalist ambitions reminiscent of the 1920’s boom Republicanism of Harding and Coolidge. Mr. Bush’s most fervent missions were to cut taxes, pass a placebo patients’ bill of rights and institute the education program he sold as No Child Left Behind. His agenda was largely exhausted by the time of his fateful Crawford vacation in August 2001, so he talked vaguely of immigration reform and announced a stem-cell research “compromise.” But he failed to seriously lead on either issue, both of which remain subjects of toxic debate today. To appear busy once he returned to Washington after Labor Day, he cooked up a typically alliterative “program” called Communities of Character, a grab bag of “values” initiatives inspired by polling data. That was forgotten after the Qaeda attacks. But the day that changed everything didn’t change the fundamental character of the Bush presidency. The so-called doctrine of pre-emption, a repackaging of the long-held Cheney-Rumsfeld post-cold-war mantra of unilateralism, was just another gaudy float in the propaganda parade ginned up to take America to war against a country that did not attack us on 9/11. As the president’s chief of staff then, Andrew Card, famously said of the Iraq war just after Labor Day 2002, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” The Bush doctrine was rolled out officially two weeks later, just days after the administration’s brass had fanned out en masse on the Sunday-morning talk shows to warn that Saddam’s smoking gun would soon come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

The Bush doctrine was a doctrine in name only, a sales strategy contrived to dress up the single mission of regime change in Iraq with philosophical grandiosity worthy of F.D.R. There was never any serious intention of militarily pre-empting either Iran or North Korea, whose nuclear ambitions were as naked then as they are now, or of striking the countries that unlike Iraq were major enablers of Islamic terrorism. Axis of Evil was merely a clever brand name from the same sloganeering folks who gave us “compassionate conservatism” and “a uniter, not a divider” — so clever that the wife of a presidential speechwriter, David Frum, sent e-mails around Washington boasting that her husband was the “Axis of Evil” author. (Actually, only “axis” was his.)

Since then, the administration has fiddled in Iraq while Islamic radicalism has burned brighter and the rest of the Axis of Evil, not to mention Afghanistan and the Middle East, have grown into just the gathering threat that Saddam was not. And there’s still no policy. As Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution writes on his foreign-affairs blog, Mr. Bush isn’t pursuing diplomacy in his post-cowboy phase so much as “a foreign policy of empty gestures” consisting of “strong words here; a soothing telephone call and hasty meetings there.” The ambition is not to control events but “to kick the proverbial can down the road — far enough so the next president can deal with it.” There is no plan for victory in Iraq, only a wish and a prayer that the apocalypse won’t arrive before Mr. Bush retires to his ranch.

But for all the administration’s setbacks, its core belief in P.R. remains unshaken. Or at least its faith in domestic P.R. (It has never cared about the destruction of America’s image abroad by our countenance of torture.) That marketing imperative, not policy, was once again the driving vision behind the latest Iraq offensive: the joint selling of the killing of Zarqawi, the formation of the new Maliki government, the surprise presidential trip to the Green Zone and the rollout of Operation Together Forward to secure Baghdad more than three years after its liberation from Saddam.

Operation Together Forward is just the latest model of the Axis of Evil gimmick. In his Rose Garden press conference last month, Mr. Bush promised that this juggernaut of crack Iraqi troops and American minders would “increase the number of checkpoints, enforce a curfew and implement a strict weapons ban across the Iraqi capital.” It’s been predictably downhill ever since. After two weeks of bloodshed, Col. Jeffrey Snow of the Army explained that the operation was a success even if the patient, Iraq, was dying, because “we expected that there would be an increase in the number of attacks.” Last week, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, allowed that there would be “adjustments” to the plan and that the next six months (why is it always six months?) would be critical. Gen. George Casey spoke of tossing more American troops into the Baghdad shooting gallery to stave off disaster.

So what’s the latest White House strategy to distract from the escalating mayhem? Yet another P.R. scheme, in this case drawn from the playbook of fall 2003, when the president countered news of the growing Iraq insurgency by going around the media “filter” to speak to the people through softball interviews with regional media outlets. Thus the past two weeks have brought the spectacle of Mr. Bush yukking it up at Graceland, flattering immigrant workers at a Dunkin’ Donuts, patronizing a children’s lemonade stand in Raleigh, N.C., and meeting the press in such comfy settings as an outside-the-filter press conference (in Chicago) and “Larry King Live.” The people, surely, are feeling better already about all that nasty business abroad.

Or not. The bounce in the polls that once reliably followed these stunts is no more. As Americans contemplate the tragedy of Iraq, the triumph of Islamic jihadists in “democracies” we promoted for the Middle East, and the unimpeded power plays of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they see reality for what it is. Gone are the days when “Mission Accomplished” would fly. Barring a miracle, one legacy of the Bush Iraq-centric foreign policy will be the mess that those who come next will have to clean up.

ANOTHER, equally significant, part of the Bush legacy is already evident throughout Washington, and not confined to foreign policy or the executive branch. Following the president’s leadership, Congress has also embraced the virtual governance of substituting publicity stunts for substance.

Instead of passing an immigration law, this Congress has entertained us with dueling immigration hearings. Instead of overseeing the war in Iraq or homeland security, its members have held press conferences announcing that they, if not the Pentagon, have at last found Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (degraded mustard gas and sarin canisters from the 1980’s). Instead of promised post-DeLay reforms, the House concocted a sham Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act that won’t do away with the gifts and junkets politicians rake in from the Abramoffs of K Street. And let’s not forget all the days devoted to resolutions about same-sex marriage, flag burning, the patriotism of The New York Times and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Before long, Congress will be leaving on its summer vacation,” Bob Schieffer of CBS News said two weeks ago. “My question is, how will we know they are gone?” By the calculation of USA Today, the current Congress is on track to spend fewer days in session than the “do-nothing Congress” Harry Truman gave hell to in 1948. No wonder its approval rating, for Republicans and Democrats together, is even lower than the president’s. It’s not only cowboy diplomacy that’s dead at this point in the Bush era, but also functioning democracy as we used to know it.

Japanese Circus Flies!

I can't help but post this. It made me laugh. Not just because of Japanese TV makes me laugh, but also because... well, did you think you couldn't train flies to perform circus-style?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The dog says 'moo'

Springs is the target of a new public interest campaign
by Cate Terwilliger ~ The Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly ~ July 13-19


Moos to you: Norman is the face of the “Born Different” campaign.
As opposing groups work to sway voter opinion on same-sex unions, a puppy named Norman wants Colorado Springs residents to discuss a simpler question: Are people born gay?

The freckled visage and comical "moo" of the 10-week-old Brittany spaniel is popping up on local billboards, buses and street posts, and in theaters. Norman also stars in radio and television spots.

He's the face of an unusual effort launched exclusively in the Springs last month by the Emmy-award winning Public Interest, the nation's leading nonprofit creator of social-awareness campaigns.

Filmed locally, the "Born Different" campaign tells the story of Norman, who differs from his littermates in one way: He moos. Five 30-second television spots trace the floppy-eared protagonist's journey from pariah pup through reparative therapy (a bulldog vainly tries to teach Norman to bark) to adored adoptee of a woman who rescues him from the pound.

"Obviously, Norman is a metaphor," says campaign spokesman Bobby Rauzon. "Too often, these types of discussions [about homosexuality] are overcome by political agendas, or it becomes an issue of marriage or religion ... We're interested in having people think of this in personal terms."

The spots reference borndifferent.org, which expands Norman's story into an overview of homosexuality in other animals and in humans. The Web site's narrative makes the campaign's premise explicit: "You can't change the way you were born. If you disagree, ask yourself this one simple question: When did you choose to be straight?"

Born Different creators tested the concept earlier this year, says Doug Allenstein, an executive producer with Public Interest.

"We met with people in Colorado Springs and asked them, "What do you think of this question? Is the Springs receptive to having a conversation like this?' And people from all walks of life and all across the political spectrum agreed it was the right time to try to talk about this."

The campaign targets neither religious fundamentalists nor gay-rights activists, but a "fat middle zone" of heterosexuals who have never seriously considered the nature of sexual orientation.

Norman's softly humorous story presents "a very easygoing conversation starter," Allenstein says. "Our hope is that people would be sitting around a card game or having lunch with friends, and someone might just bring it up, and folks would talk about it."

The $900,000 campaign, which ends in August, is funded through a grant from the pro-gay, Denver-based Gill Foundation. It targets Colorado Springs because of the city's history as a battleground in the gay-rights movement.

Yet Allenstein calls the timing of the campaign — which coincides with efforts to land competing same-sex union measures on the state's fall ballot — "unfortunate."

"It just flat-out doesn't have anything to do with anything legislative or political," he says. "The impetus was simply to try a creative approach to delivering a message and beginning a dialogue in a community.

"There isn't anything to debate, or anything to fight. ... Norman is a good, wholesome dog with a very easy message to deliver."

— newsroom@csindy.com

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

and see the “Born Different” campaign website: www.borndifferent.org

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What's He Hiding?

Girls! Girls!

On TV, Everyone Hears You Scream (Like A Girl)

On the show Scare Tactics, there was this one episode featuring an animal rights activist who's hired to clean out a place that's been vacated by unknown scientists who've been doing animal testing. I remember seeing this when it was first aired. This guy screams bloody murder when he sees...

Friday, July 14, 2006

My New Song: Cool By Default

What kind of world is it that has become so lame that you end up cool by default?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

LA Times Raves about Zero Hour

For all the kind words said about "Zero Hour," the one review we wait on pins and needles for is the one from the LA Times. And it's a rave! Can I just say how relieved we are, and happy!!??
By F. Kathleen Foley, Special to The Times:
Presented by the West Coast Jewish Theatre and directed by Paul Kreppel, "Hour" captures Mostel's rich contradictions in a loving but unvarnished homage as entertaining as the man himself.
Brochu seems almost fatefully destined to play Mostel, not only because he knew Mostel and can bring a deeply personal perspective to his portrayal, but because he is an almost uncanny physical match for his subject.
She thinks that it occasionally gets a bit worshipful and, like the other reviewers, feels his rendition of "If I Were A Rich Man" is out of place, but then she continues...
But that's minor in light of Brochu's otherwise fine writing, which highlights the central events of Mostel's life — including his McCarthy-era blacklisting and his recovery from a devastating bus accident — without ever-belaboring chronology. In a subtly bombastic turn, Brochu reintroduces us to the funny, fantastically contrary Mostel. In all his biting intelligence and imperfection, he has been sorely missed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

In this interesting review in Salon of the book "Straight to Jesus," about an exgay residential program in San Francisco, we learn that the author discovered several interesting things about life as an "exgay" which I have been talking about for a long time:

1. "Exgay" does not mean "heterosexual."
"Contrary to what the Christian right proclaims, ex-gay programs operate more like 12 Step regimens than like psychiatric treatments for, say, depression or bipolar disorder. Worthen and other gurus of reparative therapy often speak of homosexuality as a form of addiction, and just as AA holds that an alcoholic is never really "cured," only "sober," they caution that relapses or "sexual falls" remain an ever-present threat to the devout ex-gay. AA members refer to themselves as alcoholics even when they're not drinking, and, Erzen believes, "ex-gay" is a similar identity group, an unsettled and perilous condition rather than a firm relocation to heterosexuality.

"Recovery and relapse are built into the creation of an ex-gay identity," she writes, "and sexual falls are expected. Rather than becoming heterosexual, men and women become part of a new identity group in which it is the norm to submit to temptation and return to ex-gay ministry over and over again." That's one reason why the sex scandals involving Exodus leaders don't discredit the therapy in their eyes.

2. The political religious right were latecomers to the "exgay" movement.
"Erzen writes that Christian right kingpins like James Dobson (director of Focus on the Family) usually either ignored ex-gays or treated them as an "embarrassment." But when the Christian right made anti-gay activism a keystone of its agenda in the '90s, it needed ex-gays as evidence. If homosexuality is innate and unchangeable -- as some, but not all, gay activists insist -- then laws and practices that infringe on the rights of gays and lesbians can be likened to the injustices suffered by African-Americans and other ethnic minorities. But if the Christian right can succeed in characterizing homosexuality as curable and therefore a "choice," gays and lesbians couldn't claim they were being discriminated against.

"A few key leaders of the ex-gay movement were willing to go along with this, and were made poster boys and girls for their cooperation."
This is an important point to discuss. Early on, the exgay movement was shunned by conservative Christian churches.
"Despite the Christian right's insistence that they "love the sinner, hate the sin," it seems that the homophobic faithful just don't want to share their chapels with people whose past sex lives gross them out. The ex-gay movement, Erzen writes "envisions itself as a pocket of resistance and tolerance" by comparison, a view that would surely startle the gay protesters who picketed the ministry in its early years."
In other words, even though the exgays had "renounced" homosexuality, the mere fact that they had EVER engaged in same sex behavior so grossed out conservative Christians that they weren't welcome in Christian churches. Unlike, say, former alcoholics or former adulterers, the inherent homophobia in the Christian community (which still exists in abundance) led these congregations to shun formerly gay people.

HERE IS THE POINT: They were UNINTERESTED in exgays until THEY LEARNED THAT EXGAYS COULD BE USED AS CANNON FODDER TO DESTROY THE IDEA OF GAY RIGHTS.

This is the condition of present day conservative Christianity when it comes to homosexual persons. EVEN IF WE DO decide to change, we are worthless in their eyes unless we can be used as a political tool against happy, healthy gay and lesbian persons.
What they all seem to have experienced was rejection from the churches and communities they grew up in, which explains their mistrust of the Christian right. "Most of them can't handle the truth," one man told Erzen. "If you're in the church and you're a drug addict, murderer, whatever, guys will come up to you and slap you on the ass. But if you state that you struggle with homosexuality, you get the whole pew to yourself." Some of the men at New Hope had asked their fellow congregants for help and prayers, only to be shunned or told they were possessed by demons. Some didn't dare to speak of it at all.
This sounds like an interesting book. The review states that it takes a compassionate look at these poor folks who are struggling with their sexual identity and their faith. I used to be in that position so I know what's it's like. I'm just glad I got over it.

I just wish the exgay movement would leave us the hell alone. But, clearly, unless they kowtow to the political forces dominating the anti-gay political agenda, they will find themselves once again thrown out into the street with the rest of us faggots.

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First Reviews Roll In

(Photo copyright by Michael Lamont).

The first reviews from the Internet have begun rolling in for Zero Hour. They are very, very good. Not just because they praise both the show and Jim's performance, but because they articulate very well what the show is about. They also give some excellent critiques about how the show could be made even better. This is something Jim was really hoping for since this is the first incarnation of the play. Like "Big Voice," even though we were very proud of its first outing, it became so much better after we had a chance to get it on the stage and play it in front of audiences. Plays and musicals are living organisms that grow and evolve, especially in the hands of people who look for those ways to focus, sharpen, and deepen the experience.

This morning, Les Spindle reviewed it for Theatremania.com. He began by describing it as "entertaining." Then looked at it more deeply, both in the text of the play and in the challenges of bringing Zero Mostel to life. He was not an easy man to like. Loud, bombastic, rude, hilarious -- all these things. You can read the review for yourself, but the last paragraph really says it all:
There is still much work to be done before Zero Hour becomes the gem it could be. But even now, its mix of something for everyone -- comedy, tragedy, showbiz history, and nostalgia -- results in a fresh and inventive piece.
Over at Talkin' Broadway, Sharon Perlmutter's review is equally glowing.
First, it's funny - sometimes tremendously so. Once or twice, I found myself not only laughing out loud, but shaking at the memory of the joke several minutes later. This was particularly true when Brochu reenacted small bits of Mostel's nightclub act, but Brochu also got laughs with Mostel's quick-witted smart-assery during the interview. ("Jewish dietary laws are very strict. Pork and shellfish may only be eaten in Chinese restaurants.") But this Mostel doesn't always go for the laugh; his temper can ignite instantaneously, and sometimes his quick shifts from open and friendly to full-voiced insanity are themselves funny.
She also takes time to talk about how the play is also a very serious drama, especially when it discusses Zero and the Blacklist of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
It is an intentionally subjective and painful recounting of a time in our history when careers were destroyed, lives were up-ended, and the artistic community was decimated. Brochu's Mostel talks about blacklisting with no less intensity than he would speak of the Holocaust. And although this sort of exaggeration is often, by its own overstatement, unpersuasive in reasoned debate, it works here, because Brochu has it come out of the mouth of a character who is so unrestrained in his speech under any circumstance, and who was so personally victimized by blacklisting, he pretty much dares you to call his reactions invalid.
She quibbles a bit with a couple of the choices Jim made, but agrees that it's a "potent" piece of theatre "with something to say."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Video of the Day

Does this kid have bones? Or joints?

Mark Evanier Reviews Jim as Zero



In his blog this morning, writer Mark Evanier reviews Jim's performance as Zero Mostel, beginning his write-up with a confession that it can be dangerous to have to review a friend in a play because if it stinks, you might have to use one of the non-committal "You should have been out front!" comments -- or, as someone once called it, "Green Room Perjury." But, Mark writes:
Fortunately, I needed no such dodges last night when I saw my pal Jim Brochu in his new one-man play, Zero Hour. Jim knew the late, great Zero Mostel and has now managed to magically — don't ask me how — turn himself into the guy...

During the two-or-so hours Zero discusses his life, his capricious stardom, the tragedy of blacklisting, the near-tragedy of a bus accident that almost cost him his leg, his marriage, his fatherhood, his major roles, his painting and most of all, his anger. The play is at times very, very funny and — at times — very, very sad. Best of all, Jim captures the basic absurdity of the way the man thought, rambling from topic to topic, going from non sequitur to non sequitur and having them somehow flow logically from one to the next. It's probably as close as you could ever come to spending time with the genuine article...

Should you be in or around Hollywood through mid-August, I suggest you go.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

IN Magazine: Star Returns as Zero Mostel

The first articles about Jim hit the press yesterday. IN Magazine, which is a gay publication is online with its article entitled, "Star Returns as Zero Mostel." By Christopher Cappiello:

Actor/writer Jim Brochu won a best musical Ovation Award last year for writing The Big Voice: God or Merman and also snagged a best actor nomination for the same show. Brochu returns to the L.A. stage in July with Zero Hour, his original solo show portraying larger-than-life Broadway legend Zero Mostel.

Mostel is best remembered for originating the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, but he also won Tony Awards for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Film fans may know him as the original Max Bialystock opposite Gene Wilder in The Producers—Mel Brooks’ 1960s film that spawned the musical sensation.

Zero Hour is set in 1977, at the end of the oversized musical star’s life. Audiences meet Mostel in his Chelsea art studio in Manhattan, where Brochu reminds us that Mostel considered himself a painter who supported his art by doing theater. The play includes memories of Mostel’s impoverished childhood on New York’s Lower East Side, his early career in stand-up comedy, and his eventual Broadway superstardom. Zero Hour takes place as Mostel is preparing for the Philadelphia pre-Broadway tryout of a new musical called The Merchant, based on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Mostel ultimately performed one preview in Philadelphia before dying of a heart attack at the age of 62.

The big shoes (and pants!) of Mostel are a good fit for the large and loud Brochu. He wrote and starred in The Big Voice with his real-life partner of many years, Steve Schalchlin. The two-man musical traced both gay men’s paths through the treacherous terrain of their respective childhood religious upbringing: Schalchlin’s Southern Baptist roots and Brochu’s Brooklyn Catholicism. The pair also penned the multi-award-winning musical The Last Session, about a pop singer living with AIDS who decides to schedule one last recording session before planning suicide.

West Coast Jewish Theatre presents Zero Hour from July 5-Aug. 13 at the Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., in Hollywood. For tickets and more information, call (323) 595-4849 or visit www.westcoastjewishtheatre.org.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jimmy's Dress Rehearsal

Last night, July 4th, while fireworks were going on all around us (illegally) in downtown Hollywood, Jim was performing his dress rehearsal for "Zero Hour" for a very small invited audience. It would be his first time to actually run the entire play from beginning to end. The set is up but not finished. Some pieces are missing and it hasn't been painted yet. There is a sound cue or two missing, but it didn't seem to matter to the few of us sitting there, totally mesmorized by his performance.

When he first turned into the spotlight, the audience gasped at how much he looked like Zero -- how he was able to utterly transform himself.

I took these shots during the show. (All photos are clickable).

Earlier, as they were getting ready, I caught this shot of tech director, Danny, who also has some dialogue in the show (from the booth):

While they worked, I decided to walk around the area a bit and show you what's in the neighborhood. The show is at the Egyptian Arena Theatre, which is situated just behind Graumann's Egyptian. (You've heard of Graumann's Chinese? Same guy). This is the spectular walkway of the Egyptian, which has been fully restored to its glory days.Back over on Las Palmas, just behind the Egyptian is the marqee for the Egyptian Arena. Not quite as glamorous, but still, it's the Egyptian!

Right down from there, on Las Palmas, is the First Baptist Church. Who knew Hollywood has a First Baptist Church?

Right across the street is a very trendy nightclub called "e". You can tell it's trendy because it uses a little "e" and the logo has the "e" in a box in the lower right hand corner. (Please try to keep up. These details are important.)

Next to "e" is Micelli's, a landmark Italian restaurant.

And right around the corner, there on Hollywood Blvd. is the star for Thomas Edison, the guy who invented all this movie stuff (and who famously said there would be no use for it).

Walking up the block we see a museum of Guiness world records.
Look right and there's the famous red ribbon on the Hollywood United Methodist Church.

This is the corner of Hollywood and Highland. I'll take more photos of this later. But just a few steps down is the Kodak Theatre where they do the Academy Awards.

Across the street is a landmark you'll see in a lot of movies, the famous "Souvenirs of Hollywood."

Across from there, looking south, I saw Kirstie Alley eating this building. It's always fun to see celebrities in Hollywood.

The Wax Museum is on the north side of Hollywood Blvd. as we make our way back to Las Palmas.There, we see Jack Black and King Kong in the lobby. I wonder if they running from Kirstie Alley?

T-Shirts! 5 for $10. If you get one in XL, it will be baby sized after one washing.

Turning back down into the Egyptian, there was a bandstand set up for a July 4th party and who did I run into? Songwriter and performer Stephen Bishop!
After the show, I caught actor Paul Ainsley who came with our friend John Sala. Paul and Jim were on an episode of "Wings" together:

And last, but not remotely least, is Herb Isaacs, the man who made all this possible. He's the artistic director of the West Coast Jewish Theatre.Zero Hour begins formal previews tonight and then opens on Friday night.