Sunday, November 30, 2008
It was early in the morning. The streets were almost deserted.
I stood in front of the magnificent city hall and looked across the street. There was the opera house, a gorgeous monument with Greek (or Roman?) pillars. Next to it is another building just like it.
I felt like I was in Greece or Rome. These remarkable institutions just standing there in the sunlight, a testament to the high arts.
Next to them was this beautiful modern building with a large panoramic glass front.
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.
And I was totally overwhelmed to realize that my music would be performed in this building where the usual repertoire is Beethoven, Bach, Ravel, Gershwin, Handel, and all the greatest composers this world has given to us.
I thought back to my high school days in Buna, Texas, a town which consisted of a drug store, a broken down movie theater where the rats would run over your feet, where the only traffic light was a blinking yellow light on the highway, where half the grade school kids didn't even have shoes, where all the men worked at the paper mill down the road -- a place where I couldn't even IMAGINE an opera house or a symphony hall.
Tears just started streaming down my face. The enormity of it all began to overtake me.
Now, look. Some perspective from the other side: In the big picture of serious music, I'm not really even a blip on the map. Few people know my name, really, so I don't mean to sound like I'm even close to being on the same level as the great composers listed above. That's not my point. As big as my ego is, I at LEAST know THAT much.
But I would be an ungrateful fool to not stop and breathe in this moment, this opportunity, and embrace and be thankful for this gift -- and look back to realize how far I've come.
No one knows the long road I've traveled, the little country churches, the dinner theater in Dallas, the endless number of Rodeway Inns and casino lounges, piano bars, hospital rooms, emergency rooms, funerals, and... and... places I don't even remember.
And tomorrow night, my songs will be referred to as "movements." My simple musical stories will become a choral/symphonic work in one of the most celebrated symphony halls in the world.
Even as I write this, tears are streaming down my face. It's almost too much to think about.
But it's real. It's really happening. And I honestly believe that if you look at my background and see where I came from, if there's anything I would want you, the reader, especially if you are an aspiring writer or singer or conductor or performer, to take from this, is that if it can happen to me, a person who has literally come from one of the most poverty stricken corners of the United States, who grew up learning nothing about serious music, who never saw the inside of a theatre until he was in his 20s, who barely was able to play a single Bach three part invention, it can happen to anyone who truly believes in him or herself and who writes from the heart.
I say all these things not to brag about my situation, but it's my dearest and most fervent hope that you will take this as inspiration no matter what your talent. Whether it's in the arts or in business or in education or in anything, really. The only thing holding you back is yourself.
I believe I'm here because I believed in myself and I believed that I had something to contribute -- and because others believed in me and let me know that they believed in me. I believe this, too, of every human being on this earth. Every one of us has something to contribute, a message no one else can bring.
Even if you can't be at the concert, I hope you'll celebrate this moment with me. It will come and go so quickly, but I'm going to hold it in my heart forever.
Find a mechanic open on Saturday night on a holiday weekend? The AAA people said to just forget it and wait till Monday.
Meanwhile, I can't sleep. All I can think of is the 20 minutes they've given me before the show on the stage of Davies Hall, to describe how New World Waking was born.
I AM SO EXCITED!!!
I'm also glad I don't have to perform the thing. All I have to do is just let go and let Kathleen, the chorus and the orchestra do all the work.
AN ORCHESTRA! A CHORUS! A SYMPHONY HALL! MY MUSIC!!!
It's the fantasy dream of a lifetime.
Now go get it!
Seriously. I don't want to have to hurt you.
Friday, November 28, 2008
For those who don't really know who Harvey Milk is, go to Jim Burroway's superb recounting of the moments leading to his assassination posted at Box Turtle Bulletin. And if you are anywhere near where the movie MILK is being shown, go see it as soon as you can. It's the best film I've seen all year.
As he recounts,
Thirty years ago today, on November 27, 1978, tens of thousands of stunned mourners gathered in the Castro for an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall. The sea of candles stretched ten city blocks long. At the steps of city hall, Joan Baez led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sang a hymn by Felix Mendelssohn.
What Jim didn't mention is that this was the first public appearance by the first gay chorus in the world. For me, the fact that they're going to sing one of my songs on this historic occasion means I get to play just a little part in gay history.
Back then, Harvey was fighting against a proposition that would have started a witch hunt in the public school system to get rid of anyone who is or might be gay. Backed by the loathsome words of Anita Bryant, who compared us to dogs and insisted that we would be the downfall of civilization, it's amazing to be at this moment in history where, once again, the conservative religious forces used the same demeaning tactics to strip away our civil right to be married.
So, things don't change. Only the faces change. The heated hate-filled language continues, except this time it was powered by a 20 million dollar campaign by the Mormons, aided and abetted by even more millions donated by groups led by James Dobson, the Catholic Church and other misguided souls. And, once again, the campaign was filled with lies and hateful rhetoric.
30 years ago, Harvey Milk was killed because he refused to stand down when he insisted that gay people are human beings who deserve to be treated as equals. He refused to stay in the closet and he demanded that all gay people "come out, come out wherever you are."
In his memory and his name, I hope every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person will come out to their family, workmates and friends this weekend. Make that call. Stand your ground. Let them know that "the gays" are not some mob "out there in San Francisco making trouble."
Unless and until every GLBT person comes out fully and openly, our chances of being accepted as human beings will fall just a little short.
Come out! Come out now. Come out today.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
If you're looking for great movies to see over the holiday weekend, please do not miss SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which, alongside MILK, stands heads and shoulders above anything I've seen all year long.
The sheer scale and scope of Slumdog is staggering, especially for a smaller budget indie film which almost didn't get released until it started winning audience favorite awards at the film festivals -- and has now debuted to universally great praise. If it's not nominated for and Oscar for Best Movie, it not be because it doesn't deserve it.
The story, which takes place in India, but which is spoken mostly in English, is about a boy from the slums of India who is one question away from winning the top award on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." At the beginning of the movie, he gets arrested by the police and tortured to confess that somehow he's cheated the system.
But, see, as we learn about the boy and his life (through an ingenious plot device I won't reveal), it becomes apparent that there's nothing you can do to this kid worse than what he's already lived through.
And thus we are plunged into a world that is weirdly similar to the one Americans live in, and yet wholly foreign. A parallel universe that's alternately horrifying -- think modern day Oliver Twist with a horrendous man who uses and abuses children to make money -- and hilarious, such as the Indian phone bank school where everyone takes lessons to learn how to pretend they don't live in India.
At its heart, though, this is a love story and if you have even an inch of romance inside of you, you will, like me, be streaming tears. Does it have a happy ending? Well, I said it was a romance. But I am not going to tell you how it ends. And even if I did, it wouldn't take one single thing away from how it all works out.
Lastly, I've always been a sucker for movies that feature people who come from nowhere, who have to endure great hardship. They're so much more interesting that these endless TV shows featuring rich people whose biggest problem is whether to have the maid clean the ashtrays or do it themselves.
Bring your Kleenexes and do NOT let this movie pass by. Moviemaking and movie watching -- it doesn't get better than this.
Listen to the prayer within me. Look into my grateful eyes.
May I humbly stand before you, as I reach out with my hand.
May the music bring a healing to this cold and troubled land.
As I face the burnished off'rings to the gods of pow'r and fear,
Make of me a living off'ring. Let me be your servant here.
Give us grace to face the struggle which the world yet holds in store.
Walk beside us ever loving; grant us peace for evermore.
"My Thanksgiving Prayer"
Lyrics by Rev. Peter J. Carman
Music by Steve Schalchlin
A: Yes, you can sing these songs. They were written so that people could sing them. No, you don't need a chorus and orchestra. The songs are very simple and can be sung solo or by smaller groups, and they sound just fine with only a piano or guitar accompaniment.
A: The SF Gay Men's Chorus intends to have the live recording ready by Christmas, believe it or not. They will make a recording that night, and then mix it, master it and package it in time for the holidays. How's THAT for instant gratification?
A: After we have the recording and Kathleen has finalized all the score, we will submit it for publishing so that it can be available to high schools, universities, church choirs and civic choruses. If we don't find a publisher interested, then I'll hit the Xerox machine and make copies myself.And that goes for people who just want individual pieces of sheet music. I've written out basic piano/vocal charts for each of the songs. And I've recorded demos of all the songs for people who can't read music.
A: Don't let the symphony hall fool you. These are folk songs at heart, meaning songs intended to be sung by folks. Some of them sound better when sung by a rich, trained voice. Some sound best when sung very simply. For some, you might need some rock and roll chops. For others, some Gospel or jazz chops. But, for me, as long as you sing each song with meaning and heart, you can't go wrong.
I've always loved simplicity.
A: Nope. Each song stands on its own and tells its own unique story. New World Waking is like a collage or, as I was describing to someone else, an art gallery, where each painting stands on its own, but, collectively forms a larger statement. NWW is not a narrative, and yet, somehow, each of the songs relates to the other, and by the end, if it works, the listener will be carried along by a flow of emotions that will, hopefully, at its best, help them understand the effects of violence, and encourage them to become a part of the solution.
I hope someday you'll join us.
Frankly, though, I'd be just as happy if the listener just enjoys the singing and the music. For all the "messages" that might be in the piece, we've also packed in some great entertainment.
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Remember AIDS? That insidious disease may have been pushed off the homepage of late, but it's certainly still raging. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day — and the super-talented, penguin-suited songbirds of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, on that seminal organization's 30th birthday, have a whole lot of dazzling gospel going on to remind us of that fact. Joining the chorus to clap her hands and say "Yeah!" will be the gayest dreamgirl of them all, Jennifer Holliday, and she is telling you to just try not getting inspirational tingles as she and the singers perform Broadway gospel musical king Steve Schalchlin's specially commissioned, John Lennon-inspired three-suite composition, "New World Waking! Songs on the Road to Peace." Also in attendance to present Schalchlin's new work will be actress Piper Laurie, though probably not hysterically brandishing a crucifix. (Marke B.)
(My bolding). Broadway gospel musical king?? Fine! Who knew? Did Broadway? Doesn't matter. It's in print. Must be true!
Oh, and that last reference to Piper Laurie "probably not hysterically brandishing a crucifix" is, of course, a reference to her role as the mother of "Carrie" in the movie adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie."
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Just posted: A terrific article by Richard Dodds in the Bay Area Reporter on New World Waking! When we did the interview I wasn't sure I was making any sense at all. It was my first time to discuss the piece and I felt completely inarticulate. But, happily, Richard managed to make sense of my ramblings and actually made me sound like I knew what the hell I was talking about.
Go to the website, but just in case it doesn't stay on the website forever, I'm copying it here.
Music as an alternative to violence
'New World Waking' premieres in a
World AIDS Day concertPublished 11/27/2008
by Richard Dodds
Somehow, it was the cigarette burns on the piano that made it real for him. Steve Schalchlin was sitting at the piano at which John Lennon had written "Imagine," but the context – a suburban front-yard in Washington State – didn't conjure up the historical import of the instrument. But the cigarette burns were physical evidence that Lennon's fingers once touched these keys. It was also this moment that clarified for Schalchlin what he had been working on for the past few years.
"The way I work is to start writing songs, and at some point they come together and make sense to me," Schalchlin recently said from his home in Los Angeles. "Not only was I writing songs for this piece not knowing where it was going to be done, I wrote it before I even knew what it was going to be."
But with a clarity brought about by his experience at Lennon's piano, trucked to the home of a mother and father whose teenage son had committed suicide after a gay-bashing, Schalchlin could envision a structure and a connecting message among the songs. Before long, he had a sponsor in the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, a title, and an engagement at Davies Symphony Hall.
New World Waking, with music and most lyrics by Schalchlin, will have its world premiere on Dec. 1 as part of a World AIDS Day concert that also marks the chorus' 30th anniversary. Veteran actress Piper Laurie, a personal friend of Schalchlin, will provide narration during one of the musical sections, while Jennifer Holliday will join the chorus during "My Rising Up," the pull-out-the-stops finale.
"When I heard that the chorus had gotten Jennifer, I was jumping through the roof," Schalchlin said. "We're going to tear the place apart. It will be like Hurricane Jennifer hit the building."
"My Rising Up" is written in a southern gospel style, the kind of music Schalchlin heard growing up as a Missionary Baptist in Texas. Later he became a member of Top 40 bands before becoming a piano-bar performer and the co-author of the musicals The Last Session and Big Voice: God or Merman?. The musical styles of the dozen or so songs in the 45-minute piece represent his diverse background: pop, rock, folk, jazz and doo-wop. But the concluding section definitely favors a gospel flavor, "because that's the sort of inspirational sound that choruses sound so great doing."
And it also helps convey the political, social, and spiritual message of the overall piece. New World Rising comes with a manifesto that notes that religion and politics are failing to provide role models of peace, before stating that "music can cross all boundaries, all customs, all languages, and all creeds."
Schalchlin said he "walked a very delicate line" in trying to make the songs resonate whatever the faith a listener may hold. "I made a very specific decision that each of the songs, whether or not it had a religious connotation, could be heard with equal meaningfulness whatever one believed, secular or otherwise."
The three sections that make up New World Waking are subtitled "Violence at Home," "Violence in the World," and "Awakening Suite." Religious or not, many of the songs do touch on subjects involving violence and discrimination directed toward the LGBT community.
The opening song, following a prologue, is titled, "Will It Always Be Like This?," and it was a song that Schalchlin performed at John Lennon's piano in the front yard of Alec and Gabi Clayton's home in Olympia, Wash. Their son's suicide, and their reaction to the tragedy, inspired the song. A happier ending comes in "William's Song," based on the successful efforts by Carolyn Wagner to protect her son from officially tolerated homophobic harassment in high school.
On several songs, Schalchlin turned to outside lyricists. Music historian Paul Zollo provided the lyrics for "Brilliant Masquerade," a song about the famed jazz musician Billy Tipton, who was not revealed to have been a biological female until his death. Peter J. Carman, pastor at the Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, NY, provided the lyrics for several songs, including the AIDS-related "Lazarus Come Out."
That song gives thanks for friends and caregivers who have helped HIV-positive people, an issue that has long been a focal part of Schalchlin's life. He began the long-running online diary Living in the Bonus Round in 1996 to chronicle for friends and relatives what he thought were to be his final days. Now, instead of his own illness, Schalchlin is likely to be writing about his musical projects as well as health and political issues that face the queer community at large.Guest star Jennifer Holliday.
His personal experiences with AIDS also provided the basis for The Last Session, a 1997 musical written with creative and personal partner Jim Brochu about a dying musician's efforts to record a final song before taking his own life. Following a New York run, the musical has been staged by numerous theaters, including the New Conservatory Theatre Center in 2001. Schalchlin and Brochu themselves brought their autobiographical musical Big Voice to NCTC in 2007. A member of the audience one night happened to be Dr. Kathleen McGuire, artistic director of the SF Gay Men's Chorus, and later Schalchlin told her about a piece he was creating.
"So we sat down in a little room with a little broken-down piano," Schalchlin said. "It was kind of like doing an old Tin Pan Alley audition."
McGuire quickly gave Schalchlin the green light to proceed, and she has written the arrangements for the 200-plus-member chorus and orchestrations for the accompanying Community Women's Orchestra. The evening will also include a collection of holiday songs, a performance of Kim Kuzma's new single "Guardian Angels," and an encore appearance by Jennifer Holliday singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Schalchlin is expecting New World Waking to have a life beyond its Dec. 1 premiere. That performance will be recorded for a live CD, and he's already heard from other choruses interested in the project. "All the songs can be lifted, so other choruses can perform them collectively or individually," he said. "I'm looking forward to spreading it around."
And he doesn't see the material as necessarily restricted to gay audiences. "We have witnessed the events through our eyes, and we propose that music can be an alternative to violence," Schalchlin said. "To me, this is a message from one gay man and one gay chorus to the world."
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus 30th anniversary concert will take place at 7 p.m., Dec. 1 at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets are $20-$100. Call 865-2787 or go to www.sfgmc.org.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I cannot tell you how much heart and soul that we have poured into this event, and you really have to be there to experience the emotions from the sounds, music and words. When I first heard and sang some of the songs we will be performing, I literally cried, not out of sadness, but out of sheer joy and touching emotion. The works are beautiful, fun, emotive, and life-changing.
I honestly, hope you can join me on Dec 1 for this unique event. With all of the hatred in our world these days, especially against homosexuals as we saw with the passage of Prop 8, this concert is a spiritual reminder for our community that we can and will rise up. I guarantee you will be moved.
With love and light,
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Girl moves to new town.
Meets vampire boy.
Describes (endlessly) how beautiful vampire boy is.
So, as a reading experience, I found its crimson prose to be dull and obvious. However, given its sensational popular amongst young teen girls, it provides a valuable insight into the emotional, romantic and sexual fantasies of estrogen-based life forms (and that's not a put-down; I'm just stating a fact).
So, if "Twilight" is an accurate mirror, girls wants a guy who:
1. ...at first eye contact, forgets that he ever knew or met another living female. His life didn't START until he sees her.So, how is this bad for girls? Because it gives teen boys a roadmap into how to seduce teen girls. How? By imitating the above fantasy traits.
2. ...a guy who is a loner, doesn't hang with the locker room crowd and has no friends... until he sees her.
3. ...has great breath. (This was one feature of the book that mystified me. She had to mention that he has great breath? Fascinating. A dead person with great breath.)
4. ...is the strongest human alive and could kill anyone, but he has the heart of Jesus and can't kill a fly, and if he does get out of hand, only she can talk him down.
5. ...will pledge to protect her eternally and be there for her, night or day.
6. ...will refuse to have sex with her because his passion for her is so great, it might kill her.
7. ...has infinite patience and complete understanding of estrogen-based mood swings. In fact, the crazier she gets, the more he loves her.
8. ...has the maturity of a man of 100 but is cute and naive, and shy.
9. ...has biceps and muscles of hard statuesque stone.
10. ...can't stop talking about how alive he is now that he's met her.
Stare directly into her eyes. Let her make the first moves. Keep your mouth shut. When she's completely insane, just smile and say you understand and love her anyway.
What else? Go to the gym. Don't join a sport. Don't joke with your male friends. Don't date any other girls until you've met "her."
Oh, and take breath mints everywhere.
See how easy that is?
Friday, November 21, 2008
2. Yes, there will be a "composer chat" on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall from 6:25 to 6:45 where I will be at the piano talking about the making of New World Waking!
3. Yes, Piper Laurie will have a part of New World Waking! No, she doesn't sing, but luckily I wrote some text in the middle of one of the movements. She'll be handling that.
4. Yes, they're calling each song a "movement." (I love that!)
5. Yes, the lyrics from the full piece will be reproduced in the program that night.
6. Yes, it's a week from Monday.
7. Yes, I'm so excited I can barely contain myself.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
But I was approached by documentary filmmaker Tom Murray about writing a theme for what was then called the Amancio Project, about a transgender performer who was killed in Yuma, Arizona, I couldn't get this theme out of my head. So I went to a website filled with pictures of Amancio and cut them together with my piano theme.
I don't know whether they'll actually use this for their film, but on this day, which many people have set aside for remembering transgender people who've been victims of violence, I thought it was appropriate.
You'll notice in the video I have not captioned anything. It's just music and images. But I'll tell you that there is a small portion of video of a very peaceful water basin -- a run-off from the farms. That's the place they found Amancio's body.
The flim is now called "Amancio, Two Faces on a Stone." And it's the story of how one elderly gay man found the story of Amancio's murder casually mentioned in the paper, and who taught himself the Internet, set up a webpage, connected with the mother, who didn't speak English, and then became responsible for the capture of the killer, the community aspects of the Internet making something happen not possible in an earlier era.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Five civil rights groups asked California’s highest court Friday to annul the ban on the grounds that Proposition 8 threatens the legal standing of all minority groups, not just gays.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and two other groups petitioned the state Supreme Court to prevent the change from taking effect. [PDF - 28 pages; links to all Proposition 8 documents here.]
The petition is the fourth seeking to have the measure invalidated. But it’s the first to argue that the court should step in because the gay marriage ban, which overturned the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay unions, sets a precedent that could be used to undermine the rights of racial minorities.
Phone rings. Jim picks it up.
It's Herb Isaacs of the West Coast Jewish Theatre. We were planning to attend their fundraiser tonight, a show featuring several performers. Hal Linden was the headliner.
"Hal can't go on tonight. He's got a kidney stone. Can you go on? Maybe sing 'If I Were A Rich Man?'"
Jim hasn't sung it in awhile. But, how often do you get asked to go on for Hal Linden? (Is this a new marker of our "fame?" That we can substitute for celebrities Hal Linden or below?)
He asked, "Who's the musical director?"
"I'll do it."
Gerald Sternbach is one of the best musician / musical directors / musical minds in Los Angeles. He's a brilliant pianist and a terrific arranger and musical director. Getting to work with him is a privilege. Seriously.
Then Herb asked, "What else can you do?"
He needed to fill more time. He needed 20 minutes. So, they decided he'd also do "Sunrise, Sunset."
Jim said, "Well, if you really want to bring down the house, have Steve sing 'My Thanksgiving Prayer.'"
There was a little hesitation. Then I hear Jim repeating the question he just heard, "Will it work for a Jewish audience? Of course it will work for a Jewish audience! It's Thanksgiving! It says thanks."
Herb wasn't sure. I don't think he knows me yet as a performer. And I don't blame him. A good producer never puts on someone without knowing what he's getting.
He said, "Well, can you do something from Big Voice?'"
(The show about a Baptist and a Catholic. That sent both of us over. Thanksgiving he wasn't sure was Jewish enough, but songs about the Pope would be?)
Jim laughed out loud, "Herb!"
Finally it was decided that I would sing "My Thanksgiving Prayer." Luckly, I've been rehearsing all week over at Michael's apartment (with Jake Wesley Stewart, who's going to be joining me Tuesday night at Cafe Bellissimo, BTW, on that very song. And I seem to have a lot of people showing up for Italian food and Steve songs, too! Very cool! Who knew I had fans?).
So, we drive up from the Valley to the University of Judaism, where I've sung twice before for AIDS education concerts. It's up off the 405, Mulholland.
What we notice, though, getting up higher in the hills was the smell of smoke. Fires in Chino and Symar have laid a clowd of smoke over our little San Fernando Valley. Jim was coughing just taking in a breath. The acrid taste filled my mouth and nose. I thought about my friends, Ernie and Chris having lost their apartment to fire. I don't like fire.
Inside, though, it was better. The large auditorium had a curtain on the stage. Behind the curtain was a table set up with sandwiches. And who do we walk into?
Ed Asner, Monty Hall, songwriter Marty Panzer and there's Gerald Sternbach, who is just a good looking man. That's all I'm gonna say. He's a cuddly daddy bear. And hot.
So now comes Jim's big moment. We're all kinda sittin' around telling jokes and stories, when Ed says something -- and Jim looks at him and says:
"You got spunk."
Ed laughed out loud, responded with something hilariously vulgar and I knew this was going to be a great night.
The show started. Monty Hall was the emcee. First he brought out an Israeli singer. Beautiful woman. Lovely voice.
Then, Marty Panzer told his stories about working with Barry Manilow (and then Jake would sing the song). "Even Now" he totally killed. Amazing voice this guy. And he plays piano, too!
That was followed by Ed and this actor friend of his whose name I will chase down, doing a scene from a play about the Jewish composer.
That was my cue. After my great introduction -- Awards! Nominations! -- I told the audience about New World Waking! and how much the theatre appreciates its donors and supporters. And then I sang "My Thanksgiving Prayer."
Jimmy followed as the headliner -- and this is where Gerry Sternbach is so great. "If I Were A Rich Man" is an acting scene as much as it is a song. So the tempo varies, and Jim always invests himself fully in the moment. But no matter how he might cut time, speed up, slow down or pause, Gerry was right there on top as if they had been doing all their lives together.
I did shoot video, so I'll start editing that soon. But what a wonderful unexpected night!
We have spunk!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
The film opens with a series of scenes of documentary footage of gay bars getting raided by police. If you were gay or if you hung out with gay people, in the Police State that America can be when it decides "your" people are not wanted, we see normal folks being herded into police wagons.
And why were they being herded into police wagons? Because they were gay.
I remember when we visited the oldest gay bar in New York City. The patrons back then were required to face the wall while drinking because eye contact meant jail time.
This is what our lives used to be like. And it was done everywhere. In San Francisco, when election time rolled around, the police would back the trucks up to every gay bar, force everyone into the paddy wagon and destroy their lives forever. Why? So the local pols could get "credit" for wiping out "vice."
That was the world we lived in.
Then this guy named Harvey Milk came along. He was one of the sweetest persons you could know. And Sean Penn miraculously manages to capture this steely sweetness in one of the most accurate and low key performances I've ever witnessed.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay public official ever elected to a public office -- City Supervisor 5th District of San Francisco -- and for that he was assassinated by a jealous fellow Supervisor who was given a light sentence for this murder (provoking a riot in response), but who subsequently committed suicide.
What was most interesting to me about Gus Van Sant's miraculous movie was not merely the fact that it was perfectly made and acted, filled to brim with stars: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Lucas Grabeel, and so many others.
No, the miracle was how closely this movie parallels exactly what's going on now in the world of politics as, 30 years later, we are still fighting for basic human rights.
Back then, a particularly hideous man named Briggs created something called "Prop 6" which was designed to force the firing of any teacher who was gay. Back then, we had Anita Bryant running around telling everyone about how "evil" gay people are, and that "God" is deeply disturbed by our very presence.
The self-righteous leading the self-important.
But back then, Prop 6 was defeated. In our current day, Prop 8 was passed.
See, here in California we had the right to marry. But Prop 8 stripped us of that right by public vote. Since when are human rights subject to a vote?
Back then, all the establishment gays said to Harvey, "Don't protest! Don't put the faces of gay people into the ad campaigns! You'll just upset the straight people who don't like us!"
Harvey's response was, "COME OUT! COME OUT! WHEREVER YOU ARE! Get into the streets! Show them who we are! If they can't see us, they don't know us!"
But the leaders against Prop 8 in our time were just like the old establishment figures of then. The ad campaign here in California curiously pictured NO GAY PEOPLE. NO GAY COUPLES.
It was as if our own leadership were ashamed of us. Instead, we got these phony-looking treacly ads with crappy music featuring straight people looking and sounding like they were selling Medicare supplement insurance.
Funny how things never change.
Even now, as gay people are marching once again out of righteous fury at being stripped of our rights, we have people demanding that we sit down, get quiet, shut up and don't disturb the waters. We are being told, "You'll upset people. You'll make enemies."
Harvey Milk would have laughed first, then pulled out his bullhorn and cried, "MARCH! Get into the streets! Let them see you!"
I was astonished, while watching this movie, how every single argument they were having back then is being echoed right at us today.
On Saturday, I'm going to be marching down at City Hall. It will be a peaceful march. And I'm going to be doing it because Harvey Milk, who was killed 30 years ago for daring to not hide in the closet, daring to not care what the "establishment gays" had to say, for daring not to pretend that this isn't about our lives, for daring to be a proud, out, openly gay man, said it best, "Come out. Come out. Wherever you are.
As I watched this movie, I felt this low level of anger and fury building up inside of me. And I realized that things never change unless each and every person, gay, lesbian or straight, bi or trans, black, white, brown, Asian -- unless all of us come together as human beings and get in the face of the powers of bigotry and demand to be treated equally.
Human rights were never gained without cost. Harvey Milk was killed for nothing more than refusing to hide, refusing to pretend, refusing to be anything except the compassionate and warm GAY MAN that he was.
And he took it to the streets. Without apology and without shame.
We march for you, Harvey and we march for our lives. Because if they can strip us of the very basic human right to marry, they can strip us of every other right, including the right to exist.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
If you're anywhere near Allentown, PA this week, please visit the Rainbow Players production of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" starring Dean Hiatt and Jim Lamb will play three performances only.
They are super guys. I met them when we were in Philadelphia. Cute, too!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Go NOW to Devin Richards site and get his new CD. He sings "I Want To Make Music" from The Big Voice: God or Merman? and a new song, done comedically, called "Lovers In Disguise" with lyrics by Amy Lynn Shapiro.
It's the sinking feeling bordering on full scale panic you get when you can't find your HIV meds. Sometimes it happens on a trip. Sometimes it happens on the way to the airport -- like wondering if you forgot to turn off the oven.
But from the beginning, we who take these meds have been told that if you miss a day or take them irregularly, the virus will evolve and the pills will become ineffective.
So, we live in a world of clocks and time zone changes and making sure we remember to call the pharmacy at precisely the right day each month to make sure next month's pills arrive in a timely manner so that the supply chain is not interrupted.
One of the many pills that I take during the course of the day is one called Atripla. Atripla is a combination of three HIV medications, the "cocktail" as they've been dubbed. Ever since I've been taking HIV meds -- 12? 13 years? -- I've been absolutely compliant, almost never missing a dose. Being three pills in one, it's very expensive.
And each month, I refill my pill tray -- seven days a week, four slots a day -- I'm very meticulous about emptying the past month's pills into the tray and replacing the old bottle with the new bottle.
I don't put a list in front of me. I just have old bottles/new bottles, and if I have an empty bottle from the old and no corresponding new bottle in the "new," then I know the pharm made a mistake and I correct it. No problem.
Then, the next week when I'm using all new pill bottles, I just refill them into the right slots and I know I have all my pills.
This method has worked perfectly for all the years I've been taking pills. As for each individual slot in the tray, I kinda can tell when or if something is missing, even if it's jam-packed.
So, I was three days into this new tray when I suddenly had this feeling that the bottom slot didn't feel "right." Something was missing.
In fact, I wasn't even looking at it when it hit me. I was on the couch with the TV on or something, and suddenly the image of that tray slot came to me and I realized it was missing my Atripla.
I popped up and ran to the tray. I was right. No Atripla.
So, I grabbed my big bag o' pills and pulled each bottle out one by one.
How can this be? It's the beginning of the month. I searched back in my memory and definitely recalled taking two pills from last month's Atripla and placing them on top of the new ones in the new bottle (so I could throw the old bottle away).
That HAD to be there.
How many days have I gone now without my HIV med? I looked at the tray. Three days in. No! I've never missed more than one dose in a row. And now a whole month?
What did I do? Throw them out with the old bottles?
I looked on every shelf, sorted through every bottle of everything. (Aspirins from when??).
REALITY CHECK:I called the pharmacy. They said they definitely shipped it to me, according to their records. I told them my process, how I always am able to keep up with every prescription. And that I've never, ever lost any pills, especially my Atripla. But that I was also sure that it was in the package.
At this point in the process, I took a deep breath. Since the early days of HIV therapy, some people have been known to take what they call a "drug holiday" -- where they go a number of days or weeks in a row of non-med taking (for whatever reason, side effects, etc.) -- and the meds work perfectly well when they resume.
So, I calmed myself down and decided to just let fate happen as it will happen. If I can't get any, then we'll call it a drug holiday and cross our fingers. Still, I'd rather not disturb the waters. I want to stay compliant.
But, still, I was now in trouble because I didn't have any for this month.
He said, "Well, this is a very expensive drug, you know. We can't afford to give it away."
I said I totally understood and that I couldn't afford it either. So, I asked, "Do you have any extras just lying around?"
He came back to me, "I can give you 10."
Okay. Ten's good.
Now I just about two more weeks worth.
I spoke with Michael who told me about a local community of HIV positive people who help each other out when stuff like this happens.
And within a day, he found someone who had extras they could share.
Pill Panic over. Community comes to the rescue.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I bolded several parts I found especially illuminating.
Time to Take It to the StreetsAnd for those who did not see it, Keith Olberman delivers a powerful editorial here:
A national call for nonviolent direct action
in the struggle for marriage equality
Jeff Lutes, M.S., L.P.C.
Last week thousands of lesbian and gay people and their friends filled the streets of California in peaceful protest. Outraged, these upright Californians chose to take action and publicly march against Proposition 8 and the LDS Church for financing the deceptive ads that helped it pass.
First, bravo to our California friends -- their moral indignation is healthy and just. Second, hooray for those in other parts of the country who have begun to follow suit -- let us not stop until every community has mounted sustained campaigns of resistance.
Despite our substantial legislative efforts, thirty states have now passed bans on same-gender marriage. That should serve as a wake-up call to our movement -- one that forces us to consider what we might be doing wrong.
Discrimination does not begin in our courts or in our government -- it ends up there. The fear and misinformation that drives unjust legislation gets its start within society, and the primary source of the problem is the sanctuaries, wealthy mega-churches, and powerful religious institutions of this country. With gigantic and captive national audiences, both Protestant and Catholic churches teach falsehoods that cause voters to cast their ballot against the constitutional promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for their gay and lesbian neighbors.
In this election, like so many others before it, the call from the pulpit was clear: We must stop the gays. As millions of gays and lesbians had their hearts broken, some religious leaders rejoiced in that suffering. The Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County, told the New York Times "It was a great victory. We just saw the people rise up."
It's time for all of us to rise up like thousands are doing now in the Golden State and elsewhere.
We are tired of defeat, token change, defending ourselves against charges of moral inferiority, and being told to "wait" in the land we love while liberation occurs in other countries. Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged that real change takes time; yet he also warned against the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism" and instructed the oppressed to demand equality now -- not on the convenient time schedule of those doing the oppressing.
Nonviolent direct action strategies such as marches, vigils, demonstrations, boycotts, public protests, and civil disobedience, seek to create what Dr. King called "healthy tension." This constructive nonviolent tension forces those who perpetuate injustice, and society as a whole, to pause, reflect, and consider the ugliness of their prejudices and the indecency embodied in their discrimination.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." Public protests empower us and educate those who are still the victims of fear and division.
It's imperative that we remain nonviolent in our approach. Although it may provide short term emotional release, it's ultimately counterproductive to scream expletives at those who have harmed us. We must refrain from damaging property or trying to destroy the character of others and instead approach those who promote discrimination in a spirit of nonviolence. As both Gandhi and King taught, we must avoid violence of the fist, tongue, and heart and remember that in truth we are challenging unjust systems, not people. In due course, we seek to be in community with those from whom we currently find ourselves divided.
So, start organizing now. Don't wait on a LGBT rights group to take the lead. Most of the protests in California were organized by just a handful of people. You can do it too. Imagine the productive conversations around America's dinner tables if the evening news was flooded with coverage of peaceful marches in the other 29 states that ban marriage equality.
In the wake of our recent losses, let's rededicate our lives to speaking out with integrity and let's reclaim nonviolent direct action as part of that process. Let's understand that the vision of equality belongs to all of us and we are each responsible for taking direct action in pursuit of that dream. We all have the faculty to be powerful, influential, and prevailing. Let's reinvest in our movement for social change, believe in our own capacity to affect that change, and allow the boldness and hunger for justice to grow and contagiously spread to others.
Let's take it to the streets.
But it was Andrew Sullivan who said it best for me, "We will win this because we're in the right."
And we are. Same sex couples are not some weird alienfuture life form. We're just people and we love just as sincerely and just as deeply as heterosexual couples. Asking for the right to marry does not change society except in one way: It makes it more just.
My first show since my surgery. With Blake Zolfo.
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