BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince everyone I meet that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way.

I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City. That is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.

Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and played the lead role in a staged reading of a play not written by myself. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve [SHACK-lin].

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jim on the Nomination of Sarah Palin.

"She looks like Gena Davis in the TV show, "Commander In Chief.

And it's the same plot."

What I think:
This nomination is about getting churches fired up and using them as recruiting vehicles for the Republican Party again just like they did for Bush/Cheney. And you can see that it's working. The religious right, which despises McCain, have finally been pulled onboard.

If he wins, she'll get a little desk off in the corner, and when the religious right leaders show up at the White House, they'll be cordially escorted to her desk where she'll entertain them and make them feel important. And McCain will never have to talk to them again.

It's brilliant!

A Historic Event: The Wall Street Journal

Though the Wall Street Journal opposes Barack Obama for President, it did acknowledge this:

We also count ourselves among those millions of Americans, of all races, who take pride in a man of African descent reaching these political heights. It is easy to be cynical about celebrating such an event in our age of diversity correctness. But America has suffered much pain over its racial divisions, and the nomination of a man of mixed racial heritage is undeniably a sign of our progress.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass would have viewed Mr. Obama's success as vindication both of their struggles and their faith in America's promise.


No, they would have seen it as a good first step.

But this was a pivotal moment in our nation's history. Whether you support his candidacy or not, this is a moment that symbolizes what this country means. That two outsiders, he and his wife, can come from the bottom of the social and economic system, and rise, through hard work and a firm set of personal values, to walk out onto a platform to possibly become the First Family of the free world.

I think it's remarkable. And even though I disagree with some of his policies, I like his approach to dealing with conflict. Find out what each side wants, and then work through to a third solution that give everyone their due.

This was a historic moment. And we lived to see it.

Shopping in the Modern Age

Bev takes her family out to Costco to buy food for the big wedding they're cooking up for themselves. They broke up into little groups and sent photos and texts back and forth.

Nine of us: Alice and Joe, Walt and I, Jeri and Phil, Tom, and Jeri's friends Meghan and Cris, who had just arrived from Boston and Wisconsin, respectively. We all had cell phones and we were all keeping track of our locations.

Jeri sent a photo to pinpoint her location:

Walt, Tom and Joe were picking up about 25 tri tip roasts while I was off looking for crackers and chips.

"NO CLAMS!" I texted to Jeri, when I realized I could find cream cheese, but no canned clams for the mandatory clam dip. You can't have a wedding without clam dip, for heavens sake!

Obama's Acceptance Speech

First of all, I hated the brown background. I felt it diminished the image of being in a stadium. Why be in a stadium if you can't see the grandiloquence of it in the main shot? It looked, in close-up, like he was standing in front of a Chinese screen or a fake firehouse.

Also, he eschewed the soaring kind of preaching he's known for (and for which McCain's horde of Rovian attack machines have been focused on in their numerous attack ads). Instead, he gave a rather wonky, totally sober and rational speech. Instead of using emotional techniques to maniuplate the listener, he calmly talked about his agenda in very specific terms.

And FINALLY he did a John Kennedy and said we could achieve energy independence with freedom from carbon fuels in 10 years. I've been waiting for three decades for someone to finally make that challenge. It's a superb way to giving us a new economy, new industry, new innovation and a renewed collective goal which will, in his words, be good for economic development and international security. Like the moon shot, we've needed someone to give our country a real and useful goal besides "go shopping and leave the war to the soldiers."

He's exactly what this country needs. A new voice. A new vision. A new sense of purpose and hope.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lunch With Celebrities!

Today, we got to do something really special. A friend of ours from Ft. Lauderdale, Bobbe Schlesinger, who we met through Charlotte Rae, invited us to Beverly Hills for a "luncheon" with a bunch of her other friends. We had no idea who would be there, but if you like celebrities, at our table were some of my favorite people in the world.

Patty Van Patten & Jayne Meadows.
Can you believe Jayne will be 90 this year?

Dick Van Patten, Marriette Hartley, Jerry Sroka.
Jerry and Jim did a children's show together 40 years ago.
Dick and Marriette did a TV show together.

Charlotte Rae.
I caught her listening to a story. I love this pose.

Nels Van Patten, Jim Brochu, Carol DeLouise, Bobbi Schlesinger, Patty Van Patten, Steve Schalchlin, Dick Van Patten, two friends of Bobbi's, Jayne Meadows, Marriette Hartley, Jerry Sroka, Charlotte Rae.Nels Van Patten, Jim Brochu, Carol DeLouise, Bobbe Schlesinger (our host), Patty Van Patten, Steve Schalchlin, Dick Van Patten, two friends of Bobbi's. Bottom row: Jayne Meadows, Marriette Hartley, Jerry Sroka, Charlotte Rae.
(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Jim Brochu pretending to be a parking attendant for Dick Van Patten.

Now, we'd met Marriette before when she and Jim gave out some awards together, but didn't really know her. Jerry, as I said, did a show with Jim 40 years ago at Playhouse on the Mall in Paramus, New Jersey. They hugged and laughed together, recalling the time when Jim's satin genie pants caught on fire when then were doing Aladdin. (500 kids all heard Jim scream, "Jesus Christ, my pants are on fire!").

(Side note: The general manager there was a guy named Bob Ludlum who kept telling everyone he wanted to be a writer. He's now Robert Ludlum, one of the most famous thriller writers in the world.)

The conversation was fun and lively with lots of theatre stories. Then, toward the end, Marriette mentioned that she was doing a Walk to raise money to help in the prevention of suicide. If I recall correctly, I believe she said she had three family members who committed suicide from clinical depression.

So, Jim said to her. "Oh, our first musical was about a songwriter who was suicidal. Takes place..."

Marriette snapped to, "...in a recording studio! I saw that! Was that you? I stayed around afterwards and met the cast, tears streaming down my face."

And suddenly, we had a real connection. It was great! That's when she told me about the "Out of the Darkness Community Walks" by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

I told her that I had met a number of people with clinical depression during my time writing this blog. And that I knew how debilitating it can be. I also met a wonderful songwriter at Kulak's Open Mic who just recently, by changing medication, got out of bed for the first time in two years.

It felt so good to make such a heart connection, and especially that the connection was made through The Last Session. 10 years later and it's still remembered.

If anyone reading this would like to help Marriette and support the fight against depression, she has a donation page here.

Steve Schalchlin, actress Marriette Hartley, actor/writer Jerry Sroka.Steve Schalchlin, actress Marriette Hartley, actor/writer Jerry Sroka.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Mom's" Homemade Southern Biscuits.

This isn't my mom, but Jim and I were lying on the bed one lazy Florida afternoon and we started thinking about my mom's wonderful gumbo recipe video. He suggested we start a new blog that featured nothing but recipes from peoples' moms. So, I made one through blogger here and stuck my mom's video on there. But I hadn't done much about the blog itself since then.

Then, this morning, I stumbled across one on YouTube. It's such a sweet labor of love. Shot at Christmastime. She's still in her robe. And we finally get to see her face at the end. Here is what is written in the intro:
Ever want to know EXACTLY how the deep South cook made her homemade biscuits? This 10 minute video shows my Mom as she, step by step, prepares her homemade biscuits from scratch. They REALLY taste like fine French pastry! Mom passed away in 2003 but thanks to the foresight of my brother David who died 9/2007 (nonsmoker, lung cancer), her art of making the best biscuits on Earth has not been lost. Video from 1996. I miss you Momma. David, meet me in Heaven's big Q&A room! RIP.
My favorite momquote: "Try not to think I'm bein' dirty."



And so, this becomes the second entry on the Mom's Recipe Blog.

(Thanks to NelnetDude who is, apparently, a very sincere evangelical man, according to his YouTube profile. But I think there's something a bit off in the wording when he says, " When my Earthly visit is over, I'm going to Heaven and take as many people with me as possible! God bless you today."

I think I know what he means, but perhaps it could be phrased a bit less ominously?)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Rehearsal, Kulak's, the Neighborhood & Chuck.

I wanted to be there so badly. San Francisco. A rehearsal hall. 250 male singers. My music.

It would be the chorus members' first time to hear it. I was so nervous back here in L.A.

I feel like "Pantheon" is the most personal work I've ever written -- and that's something coming from a man whose only two musicals are autobiographical. (duh)

So, I went down to Kulak's and was selected to go on first. I had planned to play something dark and dramatic, but instead opted for "Cool By Default." I mean an opening number should be, you know, upbeat. Or something.

I don't think it went over so well. Or no one was listening. I didn't stay long. I couldn't concentrate. Usually, I stay there the whole night, listening to the other singers, but I was too antsy. I was thinking about the chorus.

Between performers, I sneaked out and took a nice, slow walk back to the apartment. (Plus, Jim's home and I was missing him really badly while he was away).

You remember Chuck, my homeless vet friend? I ran into him a couple of times recently. Once, he saw me at the grocery store. He was working out back at the recycle bin, he said. (That's the thing about Chuck. He's not a lazy drunk. He actually works harder than most people who have actual 9 to 5 jobs. It's just that picking up cans doesn't really bring in that much.)

I saw him again when I was walking home from Kulak's. He was sitting under a bus shelter with another guy, African American whose name I missed. They were laughing and talking with each other. He, the other man, looked at me suspiciously until Chuck assured him I was cool.

So, we hung out and talked for about 20 minutes.

I think I've said this before, but having Kulak's there makes this a neighborhood for me. I wouldn't have had a chance just to run into Chuck or meet his friend. I think it's a mistake for everything to be zoned to eliminate opportunities for neighborhood interaction.

I'm saying all this because on Friday, there's going to be hearing on whether the City will let Kulak's continue operating. Right now, as I understand what I've seen on the Net, it's the Wendy Greuel, who's on the City Council, who has let Kulak's stay open.

Anyway, seeing Chuck was great. Being out on a beautiful night was great. (And the nights here are glorious. The sky has been clear. The ocean breeze is just making its way over the Hollywood Hills. The heat still in the ground warms your feet and ankles.)

And up in the most beautiful city in the world, a baby was being born. Yes, a lesbian and a gay man can have a child. (Thanks, Kathleen!)

Monday, August 18, 2008

David Byrne & Brian Eno's New Album.

Two of my musical heroes, David Byrne and Brian Eno, have made a new album together and it's only available online. They have bypassed record labels, not that any label would know how to market these two guys anyway. And to up the coolness factor, the entire album is streamed online... right here:

Kulak's, Health Update & Pantheon

The biopsy was at the end of last week, but my neck and throat are still sore from where they took tissue from the back of my throat and where they shoved the needle into my neck. In my throat, it feels like a sting/itch that won't quite go away, especially when I eat.

The place on my neck just feels sore, especially if I turn my head a certain way. I'll be seeing the ENT doc on Thursday for the results.

I'm still going to go down to Kulak's Woodshed tonight. I also still plan to sing. You can catch it live on the Woodshed's live broadcast.

This Friday, there will be a hearing to determine the legal status of Kulak's. I plan to be there to support the music space. (There is a neighbor who hates us even though we only play acoustic music in the evening).

Lastly, the rehearsals for Pantheon Bar & Grill start this week. Maybe even tonight! (I'm not sure of the chorus's schedule). Kathleen McGuire heroically finished everything by the end of the week and the only thing missing were 8 bars of music I had unintentionally excluded from my original lead sheets. Man, would I love to be there!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hemo2Homo Reviews The Dark Knight.

The Hemo2Homo Connection Movie Review
batman_the_dark_knight_poster.jpg



Homo: Hemo, since it's taken you three weeks to see the movie, I'd like to elaborate on why I went on opening weekend. (And yes, reader, hemo is the reason this is so late).
Hemo: Take it away, sir.
boywonder.jpg
Homo: Boy Wonder Drugs, I have been a comic book fanatic all my life, and it made me crazy that most of them have been so bad. Before, it would be a studio making a "comic book" movie. Campy or badly acted.
But the best super hero comics are deadly serious and very adult in their relationships, which is what makes them interesting. And too many Hollywood people think, "Comic book! Let's do something 'comic booky'."
Hemo: It's the opposite of the typical "AIDS movie", where no humor is allowed to enter.

Homo: Exactly. So, I'm amazed at how good The Dark Knight is on every level. Heath Ledger's Joker has already become iconic. I still live with the vivid image of him in that nurse's outfit, dancing in the parking lot of the hospital, pushing those buttons. It's indelible.
Hemo: Good God. Can you imagine showing up at the Infectious Disease Clinic and running into that guy?

Homo: Are you kidding? I'd PAY to see that. And the relief is that his actual death has nothing to do with the enjoyment of his performance, assuming one can truly "enjoy" watching a complete psychopath. He's so different from "Brokeback" where he was so totally authentic as a tight-jawed cowboy.
heathnurse.jpg
Patient adherence under Dr. Joker rose by 317%

Hemo: He was way more convincing than President Bush. What made his performance so striking?
Homo: Because I don't see him. I only see his character, this demented nutcase.
bush.jpg
Hemo: I'm confused- are we talking about Heath Ledger or President Bush?
Homo: Good question.

Hemo: Heath was pretty badass... but one guy stole his thunder in the Dark Knight.
Homo: Who?
Hemo: Zeus.
Homo: Who?
Hemo: This guy.



Homo: A wrestler? You sat through this entire movie and the only thing that caught your attention was some old wrestler from 1989 who once starred in a movie with Hulk Hogan?

Hemo: It's Zeus. The human wrecking machine! zeus.jpg

I really think they are setting him up as the next super villain. Zeus was only a nice guy in The Dark Knight to lull the audience into a false sense of security for the next time. It's a classic wrestling swerve-job, Homo.

Homo: You are a classic wrestling nutjob, Hemo. And as bad of a movie reviewer as you are, I used to think that at least, someday, you'd make a good straight dad. But now I hope you never sign up for those sperm washing appointments. You are one sack of DNA that does not need to be spread any farther.
Hemo: Why so serious? Wait- I know what this is about. This anger I sense in you- this darkness. And it has nothing to do with this guy.



Homo: Stop posting those things!
Hemo: You're still upset about our last review, The Happening? That I lied to you. What can I do to regain the trust that made the Hemo2Homo Connection great?

Homo: Well, the first thing I'd like you to do is to do what normal movie reviewers do. See the movie early enough that you're one of the first to be talking about it.
Hemo: I was going to see it, but I was kind of freaked out that Batman beat up his mother and sister in England. That was weirder than Heath being gone. And then I found out that "assault" in England means raising your voice at someone, which isn't very badass.
Plus, no one had mentioned that Zeus was in the damn thing.
batman-color.jpg
Homo: Either way it doesn't matter: everyone has talked it to death, even the sorta "bad" parts, like Batman's dumb sounding raspy voice processing or the way The Joker managed to attract hordes of followers even though he killed everyone who ever worked for him.
Hemo: I bet he made up for the risk with a good dental plan. Wait, has anyone made fun of The Joker's dental hygiene yet? Or the guyliner that the Mayor of Gotham City wears?
Homo: I'm sure someone has. We're always late, thinblood. People move on because it takes so long for you to get your thinblooded ass to the movies.
Hemo: ... I guess you're right... but wait: isn't that a triumph of sorts?
Homo: What do you mean?
Hemo: That we can be late in 2008? That we survived AIDS and are in good enough health? We don't have to rush out on opening weekend to see a movie like we did back when Beaches came out. We can wait, make sure a movie is worth our beans, then go see it in a nice, peaceful and empty movie theatre, where we can truly absorb a film's every nuance.
Homo: You almost had me. We're late. And this thing is starting to get longer than the movie itself. And... Oh, god.

Hemo: What? What??

Homo: As much as it pains me, I just realized that you're a genius. By focusing on Zeus, we're the only reviewers to introduce a totally unique perspective on the movie!
Hemo: See? The world needs us, Steve. Even if we live to see ourselves become the villains we once fought.
Homo: You quoted the movie! Maybe there is hope for you yet.

hemo2homo.jpg

The Hemo2Homo Connection are Shawn Decker and Steve Schalchlin.

The Hemo2Homo Connection's creators met online in 1996, and posted their first movie review in 1998. Both have been living with HIV for over twenty years, and have annoyed their friends and loved ones for longer than that.

Steve Schalchlin resides in Los Angeles, CA. He is an award-winning musician, singer and songwriter. Shawn Decker lives in Charlottesville, VA. He is an HIV/AIDS educator and the author of My Pet Virus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Test Results & Biopsies.

"The good news is that the scan showed negative activity -- that is, reacting to the radioactive sugar -- from your neck down. And in the neck region, there was a very small reaction, so I'm sure it's nothing. But, we should have it checked."

That was yesterday. So, we quickly scheduled a biopsy this morning.

"Your throat and neck are gonna hurt for a few days," my ENT doc announced with a very apologetic tone after describing what samples she would take. My first time seeing her. I'd put Diane Keaton in the role.

So, after a few shots to deaden the back of my throat and the side of my neck, she grabbed some skin samples from inside my throat followed by some procedure where she sucked stuff out of a lymph gland just below my jaw (several times).

So, we'll have the test results in a week.

Gauging from the fact that there was no activity in most of my lymph system, they've assured me that this is going to be nothing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Arthur Laurents Interviewed on NY1.

Arthur Laurents, the author of the great Broadway musical, Gypsy, is interviewed about the current production, which he directed. Two parts. In part one, he discusses his history with Patti Lupone. In part two, he talks about Jerry Robbins.





Thanks to Mark Evanier.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Show Will Go On!

Jim sent me a link to a very inspirational story concerning an actress appearing in a local production of his comedy play "Cookin' With Gus." She's battling cancer and talks about why it was important for her to continue in the play and keep their little theater in Danville, Kentucky. (I wasn't sure until someone posted the location in the remarks).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Radioactive Man!

I was in the PET Waiting Room. It's where we who have been injected with radioactive sugar go.

There was an older gentleman there in a wheelchair accompanied by a younger man, his son, I presumed. The son was holding up a magazine with pictures of the upcoming Oliver Stone movie about George W. Bush, "W."

Chair Guy: "Oh, no. Who's gonna want to see that? We've been stuck with him for eight years. He's run our country into the ground, destroyed the military, wrecked the economy -- a TRILLION dollars for Iraq? -- and now they think I'm gonna spend two hours more with him? I can't wait to get RID of him!"

I laughed.

He smiled over at me and said, "What you in here for? Got cancer?"

"Just for tests. Don't know. They're testing for lymphoma."

His eyes softened for a moment, like he'd been punched. "Well, I hope you don't get it. But you want to know what's the worst part?" he asked with a devilish glint in his eye.

I smiled, "No."

"Well, the chemo is bad but it ain't half as bad as all these damn tests, and sitting around in these rooms. It's so tedious."

We laughed together, but I was wondering what he'd already been through and how much I loved his spirit. Laughing to the end. Taking jabs at Dubya. Go, man!

I had brought a book with me ("Mississippi Sissy," which I am loving) so I could make the time pass pretty easily. I'm starting to get used to waiting. What I have learned is that the earlier you show up, the less waiting you end up doing.

I arrived an hour early and was handed a clipboard where I was to list all my medications. I groaned at the guy at the desk, "Really? Nobody told me...." Someday I need to write them all out. (The one I keep forgetting is Cozaar, which sounds like a Marvel comic jungle guy named "Ka-Zar" whose name I can't remember, either.)

Already, there in the PET Waiting Room, they had given me something to drink. "Do you want it in apple, banana or berry flavor?" (I chose berry). And the nurse, a confident assertive woman, had inserted an IV port ("You have great veins but you shouldn't let them poke this one anymore. It's got too much scar tissue.") And the white haired nurse had injected that port with the radioactive sugar. ("In the chamber, you're gonna feel really hot, in some private places, just warning you.")

What? They're going to radioactively fry my "private places?"

A large black man with a Caribbean or maybe African name and accent brought me to the PET room.

I put my book and glasses on a tray.

"Lie here. I'll get some pillows."

It was a long, narrow "bed" with sheets, foam knee supports, stretching out of a yawning circle. Not a tunnel. More like Stargate.

After putting pillow supports beneath my knees, feet and head, he took one more pillow and laid it on my forehead. "Now stretch your arms back over your head," he instructed, in essence using my own arms to lock down my head.

"Once we start, you can't move for 48 minutes. You okay?"

I felt okay at first, but then after about a minute, before they got started, I asked for another pillow to put under my hands, because the position began to feel like my arms were being pulled out of my shoulder sockets.

Soon, the procedure began, starting with my lower body. After about 10 minutes, my arms were hurting again. But I saw that they weren't in the circle, so I could shift them a little bit, which didn't help much. But I wasn't to move, so I just kept them in place and started singing the songs from Pantheon Bar & Grill in my head, beginning at the Prologue.

I took it song by song, word by word, taking my mind off my arms. By the time my upper body and head were in the Stargate, I was beginning to hurt. I thought about the Bush administration again (of course), and tried to push the image of a grinning Dick Cheney, TortureMaster, out of my head until I imagined him selling Home Torturing Devices on the Home Shopping Network after he finishes out his jail time.

I finally arrived at "My Thanksgiving Prayer," the last song in Pantheon. The Stargate was now completely surrounding my face and arms. The agony was just about to be too much when I suddenly heard, "Okay, we're done. You can move now."

Oh, god. It hurt almost as much to move my arms back down as it did to hold them in place. But after five minutes, it all returned to normal.

Then, he said, "Okay. You ready for the CT Scan?"

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Arrangements Roll In!

First of all, tickets are now available for Pantheon Bar & Grill on Dec. 1st. Since it's the 30th Anniversary Concert of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, I recommend getting your tickets now. I've even talked Piper Laurie into making a personal appearance! So, go. Buy!

And, speaking of which, the thing that has kept me in such high spirits lately, aside from the great trip to Pismo and singing at the open mics -- I sang at another in Woodland Hills on Tuesday night -- is the fact that choral arrangements for Pantheon are beginning to flood in from Kathleen McGuire, who, if you check her blog, is sitting in a house outside of Victoria, Australia, way out in the countryside.

And the house is run solely on sunlight. The solar panels are supplying all her electricity. And that would be fine except that it's dead in the middle of winter down there and she's been dealing with overcast skies. However, she wrote just now, the sun has been out for four days straight. So, the songs have been coming fast and furious.

A QUESTION:
A few people have been asking me what it is specifically that she's doing which is different from what I've done with the songs. What does an arranger do?

Well, it's pretty simple. Composing and arranging are two entirely separate art forms. Myself, I consider myself to be a songwriter, pure and simple. The demos and recordings that I've made are intentionally as bare bones as the song will allow. Piano. Voice. Maybe some bass. Simple percussion. Some strings. Perhaps some guitar. A little sax.

Even if that sounds like a lot, it's really not because I try to keep even those few instruments as simple and as close to the song as possible. Just enough to fill out some harmonies or play melodic counterpoints I might hear in my head.

And I'm not trying to sound dismissive of my own work or speaking with false modesty. Doing songs this way is completely intentional on my part. I don't change keys. I don't pad it out with layers and layers of sound. My interest in making a demo is to simply present the song itself, as purely and unadorned as possible.

This kind of simple arrangement works well when it's just me sitting and singing the songs for an open mic, for instance. Or when I'm auditioning the song for a singer who wants to sing some of my material.

But when the song is to be done by a 250 voice choir with orchestra, it needs someone with the talent, education and skills that comes with being an arranger, a talent I simply either don't have or haven't cared to develop. I am constantly mystified and amazed at arrangers and what it takes to arrange because it's not just about having a mastery of certain instruments. That's the base knowledge you need.

No, a great arranger -- and this is Kathleen in a nutshell -- tries to peer inside the head of the composer and think, "If this person knew how to arrange, what would it sound like?" A mediocre arranger just makes every song sound like what the arranger would have written if he or she had composed the music.

Do you see what I mean? It's the difference between illuminating what's there and imposing something on top of what's there.

Last night, we were talking via phone and Kathleen said, after I praised one of the arrangements, "Well, I just did what you told me to do."

Right.

I told her it's like the Monty Python "How To Play The Flute" sketch where John Cleese says, "Just blow in one end and move your fingers up and down on the outside."

Sure, on a very literal level one could say that she did what I "told her." But if that's true, why does it sound like so much more? Because it's more than simply following instructions. It's about hearing more than that and delivering it, but staying within the feel and sound of the original.

Every time she sends me a new arrangement, it feels like Christmas morning. I open the present and just marvel at the magic on the page.

PET Scan on Friday.

Today, I'm not allowed to eat any carbs at all. Only proteins and dark green veggies.

Because I've been scheduled to take a PET Scan tomorrow. That's a test where they inject or I drink or however it's done, radioactive sugars. If I have sugar in my system, then the new sugars won't be able to get in.

And I have to stay completely still for a solid hour.

Me? Still for an hour? Why don't they just ask me to recite the Constitution from memory? That would be easier.

Anyway, they're checking specifically for lymphoma, but everyone has been telling me not to freak out, that they're sure it's not that. But still...

And, of course, everything happens at once. They're steam cleaning our carpets today. Steinbeck was totally freaked out and hid beneath the bed until I could drag him out and put him in his carrier. Now, he's feeling more secure.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Who Knew From Pismo?

Travis Terry, MacbethTravis Terry as Macbeth.

Phone. Michael. "Hey, why don't you drive up the coast with me up past Santa Barbara tomorrow?" (This was last Friday.)

He pushed, "I'm sick of the city. I just want to get out of this town, and also, Travis is doing Macbeth in Pismo Beach."

"Oh, right! Shakespeare in the park. I'm in. I've never gotten to see him. Is he a good actor? No, wait. Don't tell me. Let me just experience him. So, it's outside?"

"It's in a park on a beach, so bring beach stuff. Do you sit out in the sun?"

"Never. But I have swimming trunks."

"Well, I don't know what's there or what we'll do. So, I'm bringing towels and a blanket."

He picked me up about 10am and I packed a little bag with swim stuff, some munchies. And off we zoomed, his hybrid purring like a kitty cat.

It had been awhile since we'd had a chance to just chat and gossip. Took about four hours to get there. But Michael wasn't sure which beach it was. All he had was street exit. So, we got there, and after driving around lost for about 20 minutes, we found it.

Pismo Beach.

Now, I'd heard of Pismo Beach before, usually wrapped up in a punch line. After all, it's a "P" word (and P words are funny, per Neil Simon).

We pulled up to a guard booth. The man inside asked if we were planning on driving on the beach.

(Driving on the beach???)

We looked at the beach and saw that on the left, the shoreline was packed with trucks, SUVs and cars. I don't think I've ever seen that before. To the right, were people only.
First we got lunch at a "seafood restaurant" right near the beach. I knew we were in trouble when I saw that the menu opened to FRIED SEAFOOD PAGE. It was the worst menu I have ever seen in my life. We ordered fried seafood, all of which was made from frozen fish.

Michael and I marveled, "How is it that they managed to make fried food tasteless?"

After lunch, we decided to just walk on the beach. The sun was not quite beginning to set and it was a beautiful day. Michael had the sun screen still in the car, but this wasn't going to be our camping site, so we'd just walk for a few minutes -- which turned into a couple of hours. We walked for a good three miles and back, down to a pier we saw stretched out over the water.

Took a little longer than we anticipated, but the water felt good on our feet (though there was a yellowish tinge to the surf -- we didn't know if it was pollution or some kind of yellow sea foam. We imagined getting back to the car with our feet melted off the skeletons).

This is the view from the end of the pier:

Pismo BeachPismo Beach Pier.

The beach from the pier:Pismo Beach
As you can tell, the landscape is beautiful with its rolling hills.

Pismo BeachMichael.

Pismo BeachPismo Beach, Steve SchalchlinMe at Pismo Beach.

I think the best way to describe Pismo Beach, aside from the fact that it was spotless, is that it was kind of like the New Jersey of California beaches. This is where "normal folk" go, as opposed to the Beverly Hills set with their fancy cabana boys and Mai Tais (though there are some hotels on the beach going for $300 a night).

Pismo BeachI liked it here. No one putting on airs or trying to impress anyone else with their yachts. Just "folks" taking a weekend from the inland territories south of San Francisco and north of Santa Barbara.
Pismo BeachPismo BeachPismo BeachPismo Beach
As the day was waning, we decided we better find out where the "Shakespeare Under The Moon" was happening, so we found an Information Booth there on the pier. As you can see in the pic, not fancy, but very nicely kept.

Pismo BeachAnd there was a poster for the "Independant Players." (And no that's not a misspelling. They have an "ant" on their main page.) They'd be up farther at Dinosaur Cave Beach, which turns out to be a smaller park sitting on some craggy cliffs.

Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach
Pismo Beach, Steve SchalchlinMichael, who reads this blog, knows that Jimmy loves to take pictures of me asleep on holiday. So, here's the obligatory "Steve Sleeping" shot at the place where we finally spread out a blanket and got ready for Macbeth (Or, as they call it in the theater, "The Scottish Play." You're never allowed to say "Macbeth" when you're in a theater. It's bad luck.)

Travis Terry as Macbeth
Happily, we did not have to play Green Room Perjury with Travis (not that there was a green room), who, to my utter delight was playing the title role. In fact, he was better than good. He played Macbeth with a solid mastery of the language, managing to make ol' Mac look both heroic at first, and then cowardly and then insane without ever missing a beat.

Travis Terry as MacbethI cannot imagine working outside like this and trying to convey character, much less keep from falling off the stage. But he did it. And both he and the excellent little rag tag band of troupers managed to hold the crowd of several hundred completely transfixed for the two hour performance. Even the kids were mesmerized by the show, as they laughed at the funny parts and gasped at the climactic beheading. Bravo!


Travis Terry as MacbethThe next morning, I saw that I had what we in the "I Love Lucy" trade call "Don Loper Red" arms, neck and shoulders. It looked like someone painted me. But it didn't really hurt all that much. And I'm so glad I was able to spend time with Michael.

It's hard, when you're a couple, like Jim and I are, to find time to hang separately with friends -- something that I think is important for couples to do. So, even though I miss Jim terribly with him still being in Florida (until Monday), I've been able to spend quality time with several of my other friends (though I suspect Jim might be bribing them to do so just to keep me out of trouble).

I know it would have been difficult for the three of us to pile into Michael's car to make that trip. So, it was the perfect little holiday. And best of all, I finally got to see Travis perform -- who, by the way, did not know we were coming. And that was my favorite part of all, surprising him so far away from home.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"It's Like Church."

Dave said to the beautiful young female singer who was at Kulak's for the first time on Monday night, "This is like church for me. Wherever else I might be singing, I come to Kulak's every Monday night."
It had been a couple of weeks, so I was excited to get back down to Kulak's Woodshed for the Open Mic Night. It's fun to hear the new songwriters just starting out and some great veterans mixing it up with the kids. And it all goes out over the net live!

But there's danger lurking. It seems that the Woodshed, which has been going for a good five years or more is in danger of being shut down because it has been set up in a place where the zoning laws permit only offices. The city would rather have a cold, dark block where no life exists than a glowing little community of artists bringing light and life onto the landscape.

Or so it seems.

We'll find out. There's a hearing later on this month which will supposedly decide its fate. There are neighbors which hate the Woodshed and want to see it destroyed.

The walk down to the Woodshed is less than a mile, so I enjoyed the cool breeze which somehow made its way over the Hollywood hills from the coast. Here, below, is a picture of the bus stop recently erected on a bus lane that crosses San Fernando Valley.

Inside Kulak's, the walls are covered in rock and folk posters from days gone by, as well as CDs, pictures, drawings, and god knows what else. It looks like someone's basement, though it's not underground. There are multiple cameras all around the room for shooting the nightly webcast.


In the back are two songbirds.

Paul Kulak sits in a room just behind the performance area where he does a live video mix every night. All the camera and sound operators are volunteers.
I sang "My Thanksgiving Prayer" and then went and chatted with Paul. He's put this place together with his own two hands. For instance, the camera tracking rails, which give him automated control from the editing room, were made with plumbing equipment.

So, we don't know what's going to happen. All we know is that we want the Woodshed to stay.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Reorganizing My Musical Life.

I decided to follow the advice of a friend who told me that when she's finished up a job, she reorganizes everything so that it feels like she's starting fresh. Seems like a good idea.

So, I decided to creep upstairs to my loft and, instead of avoiding all the stacks and stacks and stacks of paper (my usual method of dealing with stuff), I decided to bring everything downstairs into one gigantic stack, sort through it and start seeing what's there, what isn't there, and what I need to do to get it all to make sense.

But, first, I decided I needed a goal. Okay, easy enough.

Steve, in the best of all worlds, what would you like to have instead of stacks of paper?

Well, Steve, I'm glad you asked. I was thinking it would be nice to have a three-ring binder to two full of all my new songs, along with a selection of songs from my shows, which I can whip out at a moment's notice.

And why would you like to have this?

I would like to have this so that I can see it all in front of me and know what it is, exactly, that I have. After all, as a songwriter I'm always writing songs for projects that don't get made, or songs that don't fit into any projects, or songs that I've written with other people but which haven't been used. Or half-finished projects that dead-ended for no good reason.

The fact is that I don't even know what I have anymore. I don't know what I've scored and what I've half-scored.

Yes. That's it. You see, when I was in a band, we never scored anything out. We just kept our little slips of paper or napkins with chord symbols scrawled across them, and those were our songs. They mostly existed in our heads.

But this whole theater/cantata thing that's been going on for 10 years has changed things. I now start thinking about sheet music and scoring stuff out even while I'm writing the song. Crazy, no? Having stuff down on paper so you can remember what you did?

And that's what the stacks of papers are. Early renditions of lots of songs. Multiple copies of lyrics. Score paper with lots of errors and mistakes all scribbled over. Just junk.

So, I found a 3-ring binder just lying around empty, and another one filled with music that's out of date or just wrong, and I've started organizing.

So, how did the first day go?

Well, where there once were two or three stacks of paper neatly hidden away in my loft, there are multiple stacks and individual sheets of paper all over the living room, the piano and the dining room table. Like the song fairy came in overnight and left in the middle of getting it all done.

I guess I know what I'll be doing today.

(Ignoring it all and going to a movie?)