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].

Thursday, October 30, 2008

SFGMC Rehearsing "New World Waking!"

Here is a sample of what I experienced hearing the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus singing New World Waking! for the first time. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'm Singing THIS SUNDAY at MCC in the Valley.

For those of you in the L.A. area, I've just been asked to sing for the Sunday morning service, Nov. 2, at MCC in the Valley. It's part of their All Saints Day celebration. They'll be running a video of people they've lost. So, I'll be singing "Save Me A Seat" as the video plays.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The First New World Waking Rehearsal.

Last night -- and I'll have video or pics later -- was one of the most transcendent and beautiful nights of my entire life.

I got to hear the full SFGMC sing my songs from New World Waking! and, as I wrote in a note to Kathleen, it was a magnificent experience.

First, she had me talk about the genesis of the work, beginning with playing John Lennon's piano, then about Gabi's Song and how Gabi turned tragedy into triumph and activism on behalf of school children. Then we would alternate. I would talk about the origins of each song and the chorus would sing it.

The first thing that made me happy was that every. song. worked. Each one was rich and beautiful. The chorus poured their hearts and souls into every number.

But it was "My Thanksgiving Prayer" that really DID it did it. And it should. Thanks to Kathleen's sensitive and complex arrangement -- a tour de force of both simplicity and complexity all at the same time -- what I told her in a note was the she took a simple song and turned it into a masterpiece. I was so caught up in it, I forgot it was mine!

I had my video camera on for all of it, so I'll post some things for you later on.

But this night is one I just wanted to mark in time.

Afterwards, a bunch of us went out and hung together, talking and laughing. It was so much fun. I got back to Ken's about 1 and was still buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. Didn't get to sleep until almost 3.

December 1st is going to be glorious. I cannot wait. And it's only a month away!

Monday, October 27, 2008

AIDS Treatment Should Start Sooner: Wash Post

Study: AIDS Treatment Should Start Sooner

Delaying treatment until a patient's immune system is damaged nearly doubles risk of dying in next few years compared to patients whose treatment begins earlier.

Tonight's the Night.

Tonight I hear the full chorus in rehearsal. They may as well bring a mop because I'm gonna be totally lost in a puddle of tears.

On Saturday I attended callback auditions for the solos. During "Gabi's Song," they had all the people there, about a dozen or so, sing the back-up harmonies -- again, my first time to hear them. And I had tears streaming down my face.

I tried to explain it to Jim later. I said to him, "It's one thing to do your own demo or recording of a song. No matter how much you try to distance yourself from the song, it's still just, in your mind, dumb ol' you."

But when a chorus of people are standing in front of you singing what you only theorized -- and when it sounds so much greater than even you imagined in your head -- then it means something else entirely is going on.

Or to put it more succinctly, I leaned over to Kathleen and said, "Wow. This sounds like a real SONG!"

I'll have more soon. All I know is that if this is how I react to a dozen singers, what am I gonna be like hearing a couple of hundred??

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just Bein' Steve.

It seems I have a reputation for being a little, oh what's the word... dizzy. No. Spacey. Maybe. Forgetful? Distracted? An idiot?

I was so careful to count out all my pills and put them in the little tray, to make sure I had everything set for my trip here to San Francisco. Jimmy even asked me if I had them all ready.

Then, I checked my wallet. Present. Keys. Present. Laptop. Socks, pants, shirts, underwear. Phone recharger. Check. Check. Check. Everything good to go. Perfect.

Saw on the news that there was a fire right on the highway to LAX. Bad sign. Getting to LAX from the Valley is difficult. The subway won't get you there because the Taxi drivers union protested. So, you take three trains and then change to a bus. Stupid and time consuming. But, there is a new bus from the Valley that only costs 4 bucks.

So Jim drove me to the bus after I made sure I had everything. Traffic was a nightmare. The airport was its usual nightmare of long lines.

I checked on the board for my 12 noon flight to SFO. No flight. But there's one at 11. It was 10:15. Then I realized... that WAS my flight. Noon was my ARRIVAL time. Boarding time was 10: 30. I had 15 minutes to get to the gate, and... a long line was ahead of me to get through security.

However, I didn't panic. I just waited patiently. I arrived at the gate just as the plane was shutting the doors. I got on. Whew.

And realized that I had filled my pill tray but hadn't put it in my bag.

Five days without my pills? Can't do it. Diabetes. Thyroid condition. AIDS. And several other conditions that require daily pill therapy or else I melt into the landscape and go into some kind of god knows what.

So, I finally called Jim. And realized that I had his bank card and he had no cash whatsoever. But could he find a way to overnight my pills to me?

And that's a day with Steve. I apologized profusely but he just said, "I'm used to it." Or, as Michael Sugar said after I called him, "Well, at least you're consistent."

I also got a phone call from Kathleen McGuire, the conductor of the Gay Men's Chorus, asking me if I could sing with them this evening. Sure!

Turns out it was a special appearance with about 30 of the chorus members singing for a benefit program at Bloomingdale's. What I didn't realize was that she was going to introduce more than a few songs from New World Waking.

My first time to actually hear the arrangements Kathleen had done.

And, of course, I forgot to bring my camera to the event, so you'll have to imagine it. They stood in front of a lighted wall hocking goods by some some fancy designer. That was kind of pretty.

Then came the songs. Wow. The arrangements are even more spectacular than I could have imagined. And this was with only about 30 people. When I go to the rehearsal on Monday, it will be with several hundred singers! I could barely breathe listening to songs.

Then I joined them on "My Rising Up" and, afterwards, many chorus members came up to me to tell me how much they were loving the music. One said that he began crying upon first hearing Gabi's Song. And he was so happy that the songs were addressing real lives and real stories.

Another chorus member said he was completely puzzled by the song "Franco Ate The Paperwork" because the words didn't make any sense to him. (They are impressionistic rather than narrative). But he said that after he started memorizing them, that suddenly they started making sense.

I assured him that they do indeed make sense and are connected in some weird way, but that it was one of the few times I venture outside traditional lyric writing to just let the lines almost construct themselves without my thinking about what they mean. But, yes, they do make sense. Kinda.

Another person said he's never seen a chorus piece where so many people were vying for solos. He said that this is a really good sign that the chorus itself is embracing it. And that made me very happy.

I am telling you all this not to toot my own horn but to make the point that when something is brand new, you can never know, as a writer, whether the material is connecting to the singers. All you can do is write it, mean it and let it go.

Several others approached me and said they felt this had all the resonance of their biggest choral commission, a brilliant piece called "NakedMan." Stylistically, the two pieces are worlds apart with NakedMan being a bit more classical sounding and musically sophisticated. New World Waking! is more pop, as that's the genre I'm most comfortable with.

So, I'm reveling in the lovely compliments and the emotional commitment of the chorus.

But, man, I am exhausted. After I got back to Ken's I could barely move. My feet felt like lead, and I remembered that I've been sick, off and on, for a month or more. With flu, then a couple of upper respiratory infections.

Being immobile for that long makes it hard to be up and about. And I realized I had pushed myself too far -- we did a lot of standing yesterday.

So, I'm going to take it easier over the weekend so that on Monday, I'll be at full strength for the chorus rehearsal when I'll hear everything out loud with the full chorus.

I cannot wait.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And I'm Off to San Francisco!

I'm going to San Francisco this weekend to see "In The Mood," a concert by the SFGMC Ensembles who are doing a show with the Seattle Men's Chorus ensemble called "Captain Smarypants," led by the witty and energetic Eric Lane Barnes -- in my next life can I please have his talent?. And then attend a rehearsal of the full chorus on Monday.

And yes, I'm very excited. In fact, as I'm writing this I have to go pee.

I'll update you from SF.

Nobody Leaves New York

Another entry recorded live -- yes, live! in one take! -- in the studio. From the "Songs You Should Be Singing" session. Sheet music is available for all you folks who just absolutely NEED to sing this song -- and I think you DO need to sing this song. Lyrics by Amy Lynn Shapiro and music by Steve Schalchlin.

The song is written from the female perspective (or gay man's perspective, pick one).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Devin Sings Steve!


If you're in New York on Nov. 10th, make reservations to catch my best buddy Devin Richards at his CD release show at the Metropolitan Room. And not just cuz Devin can sing. And boy can he sing!

But also because his CD features not one, but TWO, songs by yours truly. He sings "I Want To Make Music," from The Big Voice: God or Merman? and "Lovers In Disguise" a Latin-influenced comic number with lyrics by Amy Lynn Shapiro, who also wrote the lyrics to the song I posted yesterday, "I Don't Want To Know Your Name."

Devin's "take" on "Lovers in Disguise" is hilarious. He dons sun sunglasses and makes it all great fun.

Devin is also a tough guy, by the way. In the gaming world, he plays the role of Dwayne Forge in Lethal Action Weapon Speed Shooter Gangsta III -- no, wait. Grand Theft Auto IV.

But his amazing baritone/bass voice also has a very sweet side, and he sings from the heart. The video below is a kind of a bootleg-looking video of Devin singing "I Want To Make Music" the very night the album was recorded -- made with the house camera turned on. I added the credits and put it on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Video - I Don't Want To Know Your Name.

And the hits just keep on coming!

Marge Champion & Donald Saddler Interviewed by Jim Brochu.

This is a video we made back when we were doing The Big Voice in New York. Jim was pitching a possible interview show (also called "Watching From The Wings" -- same as his book in progress) and this was our homemade pilot.

How Jim Brochu Met Joan Crawford.

One of the best things about being with Jim Brochu is that he has led a most interesting life and he knows how to tell a story. He grew up around adults in his little hometown of Brooklyn, and his father, a widow who had a "Mad Men" association with liquor, worked on Wall Street.

Pete was handsome. All the ladies wanted Pete, but Pete was a confirmed bachelor, social alcoholic, in the Old Word sense with a kid in military school. And the two of them would go palling around together taking vacations on cruise ships. Jim could see New York harbor on the roof of their apartment building. He loved ships, especially the Titanic lore. Pete scoring with the ladies.

Pete at the Captain's Table.

This was ticker tape departure era cruising. Big parties with celebrities!

In this newest installment of his autobiography, Watching From the Wings -- chapter one is Marlene Dietrich -- he describes the moment she arrived. (Scroll down on the page).

Dad told me Joan Crawford was one of the greatest movie stars of all time - an Oscar winner - and suddenly I was interested. We formed a small welcome aboard committee, went down to the public room where Miss Crawford’s bon voyage party was in full swing and knocked on the door. After a moment, the door opened and there stood a beautiful lady in a black and white polka dot dress with a huge black picture hat framing her red hair.

I only got a glimpse of her before Bill King stepped in front of me and said, “Miss Crawford, my friends are sailing with you and I just wanted you to meet them.” Joan said a hello to no one in particular and started to close the door as Bill King put one foot inside and said, “Miss Crawford, may I kiss you.” Without seeing the reaction on her face, all I heard was a soft, sweet “No” as the door closed. We went back to our party.
Cut.

That is a movie star. Every encounter is a scene. But as much as I love his stories about the celebs, Jim has a genuinely love for the New York City of his youth. It was a world of its own. As I said, that "Mad Men" era between the fifties and the hippies. Sometimes the view can bring something chilling.
I would run to the roof early in the morning to see the new ships sail into the harbor on their inaugural call to New York, greeted by the fire boats spraying them with a rainbow-infused welcome. I even watched the Stockholm limp into the harbor the day after it rammed the side of the Andrea Doria and sank it. The sight of the ship with its bow seared off was chilling, especially after watching the footage of the great Italian liner sink the night before.
His last encounter with her would be sad if it didn't make you laugh. All through his life, Joan would write Jimmy letters about his weight. She played cheerleader to his constant assurances that he was doing better.
The last time I talked to Joan was Easter, 1976. It was the first and only time she had called just to chat. I could tell that she had been drinking and kept calling me by my father’s name, “Pete.” I would say, “This is Jimmy, Joan.”

“Ah yes, Pete. How is Jimmy? Nice boy. Too fat.”

Jennifer Holliday added to "New World Waking"

I've been holding onto some news. I found out about the possibility of it last week, and then it was confirmed two days go but I couldn't tell anyone until this morning.

Jennifer Holliday -- yes, the REAL Effie from "Dreamgirls," the original Broadway cast -- has been confirmed as a guest soloist for New World Waking!

Holding onto this incredibly exciting information was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life aside from writing the thing. Yes. JENNIFER HOLLIDAY!

Now. Come to San Francisco. Get your tickets immediately. She's going to tear the roof off the place. And if you don't know what "My Rising Up" is, just go here and listen to the choir's rehearsal from back in the Spring.

December 1st. Davies Symphony Hall. San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus 30th Annivesary concert. Need I say more?

And she's going to sing the big finale number, "My Rising Up."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chest Congestion & Musings on Music.

I'm coughing up green gunk again today and my ears feel stopped up a little. But I actually feel better than yesterday. My nose isn't very stopped up. But that could be the lingering effects of the antihistamines.

I'll take my temperature.

97.4.

Okay, I don't have a fever. But I do, apparently, have the body of a 55 year old Alaskan.

No wonder I can't take the tropics.

So, on November 18 I am singing a half hour show as the special guest of open mic night at an Italian restaurant in Woodland Hills.

How great is that? But I'm not sure what songs to play, or what to say in between.

How do you define yourself in a half hour?

11 years ago, when I left the music industry, I also left L.A.

At first, I was too sick to be anywhere. Then, later on, out of sheer luck or will power or opportunity or whatever I got caught up in Le Worlde Theatricale.

Don't get me wrong. I love the theatre world. I really do. But I think I know more theatre people in New York than I do in L.A. In New York, you go out. You hang together. You do things.

In L.A., you have to go looking for things. You don't just fall into them.

And there are subsets of subsets of community. But that takes effort and lately, I just haven't felt good. This immune system thing can be limiting, even if you think you're Superman.

What with all the blood tests and biopsies and scans and the flu and now yet another upper respiratory infection. So, I've had to stay close to home.

Jim's been here with me. He's also been sick. So, it's just been the two of us and the cat. Which is pretty much the way we like it. (BTW, he's written a new play I have no way of describing. Let's just say he's gone dark but in a Neil Simon writes the Addams Family kind of way. The characters in this play are truly despicable and I laughed my butt off reading it.)

And that's how I found Kulak's again.

No, not by reading the play. By needing to stay close to home and trying not to spend money. We're waiting on word about Zero and New York. With the stock market plunging, investors are timid.

I found Kulak's because it was close to home. It was what the doctor ordered.

It has a piano.

It's down the street.

And it's like this little magical door into a world of songwriters who are staying very close to the ground. It's a fascinating story, the history of Paul Kulak's dream. And even more relevant to my own life because Paul insists that it was my work in Hollywood, pre-AIDS, that inspired the Woodshed.

It's a part of my life I left behind when I got sick. I stopped reading trade papers. I don't know where my old friends are or whether they have jobs anymore. I instead went into the four walls of the prison of AIDS. At first, my only communication to everyone in the outside world was faxes. I was a faxin' fool, telling as many people as I could what was going on with me.

Then came the LA Freenet. Free online access. A community service using the old BBS system.

And that led to other people, like me, who were sick and broke. And I met a guy named Jerry who called himself Ghost and he was lying in a sick bed in Hollywood with oxygen cans, barely able to get around. And I would wash his dishes and go to the store for him. And we would eat Mexican food. And he wrote little inocuous porn stories to eek out a living.

Then word of something called "hotlinks" were coming and that we'd get them soon.

And somehow, in all that, The Last Session happened. The diary.

And Sessionauts. And drama. And New York! And schools asking me for information about AIDS. And gay kids wanting to know where they could go and talk amongst themselves and not get hit on by old men. And Bill Clayton. And Gabi Clayton.

And snow. Lots of snow.

And The Big Voice. And people thinking that you're rich but you know you barely have enough for the rent because that's how blue collar artists work. We live off the land. We get a job. We lose a job. Our entire lives are about how to find the next job while you keep up the illusion that jobs and money and honey flow like water used to.

But that's beside the point. Am I rambling? I think so, and I think I'll post it anyway. Maybe I shoulf put a warning at the top. No, let it unfold. Sorry, folks. It's the NyQuil.

Coming back to Kulak's, I had forgotten that I had a life back in the music industry in L.A. and that I was part of something that was very successful in and for its time.

But what people don't know is that we were leftover volunteers who did all that from scratch, $56,000 in debt and using whatever resources we found available. And one of those happy accidents was our need to showcase new talent in the most economical way. But everyone in the industry was looking for hair bands. But bands take a half hour to set up. So, we made a rule: Go acoustic using whatever you can carry onto the stage. 10 acts in one night, each doing two songs.

But no one was writing acoustic music! The last acoustic club had literally just shut down. So people unplugged and discovered again how to write songs. And we called it the Acoustic Underground.

How much of this can I get into a half hour at Cafe Bellissimo?

Going into Kulak's was like walking into an acoustic underground living room.

It was like "It's a Wonderful Life" except I get to be Jimmy Stewart and I came back from the dead and the scene is thriving with young faces, old faces, and it's still serving the community.

I had almost forgotten it was here. I had seen it back when it first opened but hadn't been back, and he even said something to me then about how it was inspired. So, I walked through the now double-wide living room and found the control room and he smiled broadly when he saw me.

And then he told the camera operators he was there because of me.

And it was a place of warmth and, literally, puppy dog tails. And you can get a video made of your song if you volunteer, or for only 20 bucks if you don't. And they pass the can around, hoping to get a few more bucks to survive. And there's coffee in the back. Drop a dollar in the other coffee can.

And inside these walls each night are incredible musicians. Some good. Some great. A few true artists. And it's a network spread out over the breadth of L.A.

On the walk to Kulak's every night, I pass a Russian restaurant (with real Russians!) with the outdoor deck, and there's always some party band playing, which I can't see from the sidewalk. On Yom Kipper they were playing Hava Negila.

And this is my home.

And then there's New World Waking.

And I think how cool it would be to sing with orchestras. And I wondered if it was possible to turn a symphony hall into a living room or a pizza joint.

And I have a half hour to put all that in at Cafe Bellissimo. I love the way it rolls off the tongue. Bellissimo! Bellississimo!!

And it part of that network arching out and interlocking with Kulak's Woodshed.

And it's here, maybe, because of a pebble dropped into the water by me and a bunch of my friends who were just trying to figure out how to the pay the bills of a drop-in volunteer songwriter organization.

It really is a wonderful life, isn't it?

BTW, the songwriter night pizza special is to die for.

McCain Supporters Fight Off Anti-Muslim Man.

I am an Obama supporter, but I thought it would be only fair to show this video of McCain supporters fighting off an anti-Muslim man at a McCain rally. Good for them. It shows that there are reasonable and respectful people on both sides of this campaign. Scenes like this make very proud to be an American.

Mr. Blackwell died.

Mark Evanier says it best on his blog:

Mr. Blackwell, who was known for issuing his annual "Worst Dressed List" and for nothing else, has passed away at the age of 86. Born Richard Sylvan Selzer, he had a brief acting career before turning to fashion design. In 1960, he came up with the idea of his list and it proved to be a great publicity-getter...which, of course, was the whole point of it.
We had a few encounters with him back when TLS won the GLAAD Media Award where he prounounced us "fashion perfect."

Obviously, he didn't look at my worn out shoes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Colin Powell Said About Muslim Americans.

General Colin Powell this morning endorsed Barack Obama, but that's not what got to me when I heard him. I confess that I watched with tears streaming down my face when he said this:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."

Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave.

And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.

And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.


Amen and amen again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I have a gig on Nov. 18!

I have a solo gig on November 18!

Today, I met with my friend, singer/songwriter Paul Zollo who is hosting night of music at a place called Cafe Bellissimo in Woodland Hills on Tuesday, Nov. 18. The show starts at 7:30pm and I'll be doing about a half hour. I attended the open mic there a couple of months ago and it's a really nice place. And the food is good!

Café Bellissimo
22458 Ventura Blvd. (1 block west of Shoup)
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
818-225-0026

Directions: from Hollywood/Downtown LA... take the 101 north/west. Pass the 405. About 10 miles past the 405, exit at Shoup (which is one exit past Topanga Canyon Blvd). Come down ramp which dumps you out onto westbound Ventura Blvd. Café Bellissimo is on the left one block past the light at Shoup.

There's never a cover charge at Cafe Bellissimo, but a $10 minimum on food or drink is requested, to support the establishment and keep the Showcase running. The food at Cafe Bellissimo is truly outstanding and they offer Showcase Nite Specials, which makes an evening at the MSSS one of the best dining/entertainment values around.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reluctant Soldier - Live at Kulak's Woodshed

This is the song I sang down at Kulak's a few weeks ago before I got the flu. It's from New World Waking! (where it will be sung as a trio) and it was written in response to the "football game fever" I witnessed as the US went into war both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where war is treated like a spectator sport or a media event that needs theme music and cheerleaders.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New World Waking! update.

As December 1st approaches, I'm getting more and more excited about the plans that the SF Gay Men's Chorus has for this 30th Anniversary concert. And that it happens just a few days after the anniversary of the martyred Harvey Milk makes it all that much more of an honor for me. I take none of this for granted.

First of all, I'm going to be flying up to San Francisco at the end of October to attend a rehearsal. It will be my first time to hear these songs with the full chorus. What they want me to do is to talk about where each of the songs comes from. (If I were in the chorus, I'd be all, "Shut that idiot up and let us sing!")

Second of all, and not least, legendary actress Piper Laurie is going to be a special guest that night. She doesn't sing, but she wants to be a part of the 30th anniversary -- and she's always been very supportive of my music. So, happy, happy!

That weekend, I'm also going to attending the Ensembles Concert called "In The Mood." These are groups within the larger chorus that go out and do their own concerts. I have heard them before and they are fantastic. So, this will be fun. If you're in San Francisco, I urge you to attend "In The Mood" with me. Get tickets here.

In the Mood - The Ensembles Concert
Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco
Friday, October 24, 2008 – 8 pm
Saturday October 25, 2008 – 2 pm & 8 pm
And there's more news to come!!

Creating Community, a musical tribute to Kulak's Woodshed



I've written a lot about Kulak's Woodshed, which is here in my neighborhood of Valley Village (North Hollywood), California. It's a place that has no cover charge, and it has featured, and still continues to feature some of the most amazing talent in the world, all of which is broadcast live over the Net.

That it exists at all is a miracle of will performed by Paul Kulak, who says he got his inspiration from, believe it or not, my own work at National Academy of Songwriters many years ago, where I, along with Blythe Newlon Brown, Paul Zollo and Dan Kirkpatrick, produced a songwriter showcase at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood.

Paul has filled this little music space with video cameras and he mans a group of volunteers who run the cameras and sound equipment. It's truly a community effort that wouldn't exist if people didn't give their time and talent and money to make it happen because, aside from the overhead costs, there are business people in the neighborhood who are trying to get it shut down even though, at night, there is nothing else open on either side or near the place.

I just don't get some people. This is one of those rare instances where an otherwise dark cityscape is given life and light and music. And if we're heading into darker days with the economy, it's even more important that neighborhood hang-outs like this exist, where the many retired folks and families and their pets, and even a street person or two, from the neighboring areas can come in from the cold and be entertained without the invasion of drugs, gangs, carousing or danger.

Paul Kulak has spent, literally, tens of thousands of dollars, having to defend the Woodshed before the city council, zoning commissions, etc. because no one can believe that someone would just put something up out of the sheer love of doing it. The legal roadblocks are staggering. But Paul is a stubborn guy who refuses to let anyone destroy this dream.

There's one guy in particular who is determined to shut us down because he has an office he uses at night next to the Woodshed, even though sound testing as shown that our little acoustic space generates less noise than the trucks and motorcycles barreling down Laurel Canyon Blvd. It's become a battle of wills, with lots of angry, dishonest and spiteful things being hurled in our direction -- and I say "we" because I've become a volunteer on the cameras and the Monday Night Open Mic has become, echoed in the words of Dave Morrison, also a singer/songwriter, "church" for me.

At the top of this entry is a musical tribute that I finished up this past week. I hope you enjoy it. It's called "Creating Community," and it's my newest song.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Big Voice goes to Allentown, PA!

Does this photo look familiar?

How about this one?

My friend, Dean Hiatt (L), a survivor of ex-gay programs, has created a theater company in his MCC church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. And they've decided to do "The Big Voice" as their first production. Jim and I feel so honored! Dean is playing Jim and that's Jim Lamb playing Steve. They're raising the money for the production on eBay and getting local vendors to donate lights and sets and costumes for the company. Here is the email he sent out a little while ago:

Thanks to our webangel, Michelle, our website is up and running. We are still making changes and adding to it, but go take a look. Everything you need to know about the company and our upcoming season will be there. http://rainbowplayers.mcclv.org/
THE BIG VOICE: GOD OR MERMAN?
We are just a afew weeks away from our opening of "The Big Voice: God or Merman?", and, believe me, things are heating up!! The performances are Friday, November 14th at 8pm and Saturday, November 15th at 2pm and 7pm. Suggested Donation at the door of $15. We also have a program for free admittance for those who can't afford to pay if you contact us and let us know.
Jim Lamb and I (and our BRILLIANT ACCOMPANIST, LAWRENCE SARWONO) are rehearsing like crazy every Friday night from 7-10pm, Saturday from 11am - 8pm, and Sundays from 2pm-8pm - also with the help of our assistant director, Bruce F. Brown (a lifesavor who heard about us and volunteered his services). We also have the help of Erica Hoelscher as our costume director (heads costume department at Lehigh Valley University) and Susan Ragusa (heads lighting at Lehigh Valley University) - WONDERFUL VOLUNTEERS!!!! And the rest of our tech staff who you can check out on our website. Please do!!
Fifty percent (50%) of the proceeds from the matinee of this show will go to F.A.C.T. (Facing AIDS Continuously Together), who does great work in PA. To learn more about the incredible work they do for, check them out at http://www.factlv.org/. In fact, 50% of the proceeds from each show we do will benefit a GLBTA or allied organization in our region or other areas of the state of PA - next year we will donate 100% of the matinee proceeds to the matinee recipients. Again, check out our website for the matinee recipients of our 4 productions for this season.
Jim and I performed scenes from "Big Voice" at Allentown Pride in the Park in August and the FACT Summer Games benefit in September. We also shared tables at the MCCLV booths at these events, as well as Reading Pride.
Am in the midst of selling ads for our program, so let me know if you have any leads. Have to have them in by October 30th.
EBAY AUCTION
Since we are just starting up, we have no budget until after our first weekend of shows. We held a fundraiser in May to pay for start-up expenses for our first show (royalties and rental fees). So, we are holding an auction on EBAY to raise money for our lights, light board and dimmer packs. Thus far, we have raised $258 - and need another $250 to cover the costs. I have been receiving donations from church members and friends and trying to get them listed as fast as possible. It takes a LOT of time - photographing, writing up descriptions, then downloading everything onto the EBAY site. Unfortunately, between working on selling program ads, getting out flyers and press releases, supervising the tech areas for the show, working on getting the lighting system installed, directing the show, and trying to get all of my lines and music learned (since I am also one of the 2 characters in the show) - as well as working my part-time job and traveling and hour to and from the Poconos for rehearsals and meetings - IT'S A LITTLE CRAZY!! Hopefully, will get a larger volunteer staff to help me out as we get our first season underway.
OTHER ITEMS
Have received and signed the contract with Paula Martinac to produce her show, "Their Town", as our second production in February. It is a comedy dealing with gay marriage rights. As of this moment, I will be directing this show as well - unless God drops someone in my path who is willing to do so, and then maybe I can just concentrate on getting our theater company more organized. Will be holding open auditions for this show the weekend after "Big Voice".
Am also in the process of finding people interested in directing, choreographing and performing in our future productions.
Am in the process of choosing one-acts for our May and August productions.
We have had great support from Panzee Press, PA Diversity Network, FACT, OUT in the Lehigh Valley, our regional MCC office, as well as some other groups in getting the word out about our theater company and our first show - for which we are GREATLY APPRECIATIVE!!
This is an exciting time for us and we hope that you will be able to attend our first show!!
Dean Hiatt
Artistic Director

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's My Daddy's Birthday!

Happy birthday, daddy!

I'm so lucky and thankful that both my parents are alive. They're really the coolest people on the planet, even though they are rock-ribbed Republican Baptists, the type that get ridiculed mercilessly in some places as being either stupid or out of touch or ignorant.

But my folks are anything but that. They are kind, smart and generous to a fault, and if they're ignorant about anything, we have a saying in the South. Ignorance can be fixed. Stupid can't.

Generally, since they know I'm a progressive Democrat, we avoid discussing politics, especially in this heated climate where everyone seems to desperate to be putting Hate on whoever they're running against, especially if they're behind (hint, hint).

What I know about my folks is that if anyone needs them, they'll be there instantly. Recently, when the hurricane blew through, my daddy, who is in late 70s, was driving back and forth every night from this damaged senior center to a town many miles away in order to transport people needing help. He's that kind of guy. He'll do anything for anybody.

I wrote, in my song "Preacher and the Nurse," that he's my hero and that I could never in a million years be the kind of man he is. I'm just glad he and my mom are still around.

Right now, with yet another stock market plunge, I think a lot of "Depression era" folks are going to be teaching us about how neighborhoods, communities of faith and others will have to relearn how to band together and support each other -- cuz help ain't gonna come from politics.

Our little church in Buna, Texas was filled with poor folks, most of whom worked rotating shifts at the noxious paper mill down the road. I learned first hand, back there, that we only have each other if we're going to survive hard times. Buna was living hard times already even without stock market crashes or full-out depressions.

And it was my daddy, Brother Neil, who was right there for anyone who needed him, including the four boys stomping around his house.

Happy birthday, old man. And thank you for being the man you are.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Fires and Friends.

A very close friend of mine, Ernie, had a terrible fire in his home and I've been talking to him a lot. He and his partner, Chris, are emotionally devastated. It happened this past Sunday and the enormity of what it all means is just beginning to sink in.

It was an electrical fire that was caused by a short circuit in the wiring of a surge protector connected to his computer. It got tangled and twisted in some way and caught fire under a big oak table. Then it swept through the whole top floor -- den, living room, bathroom, kitchen and dining room.

He had just left the apartment, too. Around 9:15 Sunday morning.

At 9:45, he was sitting on Sunset Blvd. having breakfast with another friend of ours, Danny (who's an indie filmmaker), watching the fire engines roll right past.

Scary. Horrible. But, ruled the Fire Marshal, an accident.

Ernie and Chris are modest people who do not seek the spotlight (though Ernie gave me permission to talk about them here). They're not in the show biz, but they they love movies, theater and going to concerts. Our conversations are always about art and music and politics and religion and life. We laugh a lot. Say the worst, most inappropriate things. We can be real with each other, something that's rare. And I'm writing all this because I'm thinking of them and how much I love them and I don't know how to express how utterly devastated I feel for them.

Of course, when I saw Ernie on Monday morning, what I actually said was, "How could you do this to me?!?!"

He laughed out loud, but his eyes immediately reverted back to sad.

It's what he always says to me when I have bad news. A signal between friends that you already know. Ernie and Chris are far from rich. They've spent the last 25 years together, working very hard, scrimping and saving enough to get the mortgage on this, their own place in a small apartment building.

This past July, there were married at West Hollywood City Hall. I was there, taping the whole celebration.

But, now. Suddenly, they needed a place to stay. What about their clothes? And work? Pictures? Music? Videos? Kitchen stuff? Miraculously, the downstairs bedroom was spared. But the water and smoke damage is extensive. Danny and I are gonna go with him on Friday so Ernie can see that part for the first time. The personal loss is incalculable.

But you know, they also have one other thing: a community of friends. Both Ernie and Chris take friendships very seriously, and everyone who knows them, loves them. Despite the gravity of the loss, what I saw in the faces of the friends was an eagerness to help. To do anything.

Sleeping was merely a matter of moving upstairs, thanks to Joie, who, when I walked in, had taken over talking to the contractors sent by the building co-op while Ernie sat on a small balcony smoking (and crying).

He told me, "I'm smoking again. I had just stopped."

Chris was out getting sandwiches. They assured me there was nothing I could do. Their burned apartment was blockaded.

But looking in the door, it was a black gaping maw. Horrible is its utter blackness.

They will survive this. E was already back in his office by Tuesday, though his boss offered him as many days off as he needed. They did not have fire insurance, but building itself does. So, hopefully, the basic rebuilding costs will be covered.

As for whether their "legal" marriage will survive November 4, that's in the hands of others, apparently, with this hideous Proposition 8. Fires can burn them out. Politics can strip them of their rights as a couple, but they will survive all of this because they are massively and insanely loved.

And that's something no one can take away.

Bug's Gone. This One Lives.

"It wasn't the green tea."

That's Dr. Richard talking.

"That's about coagulation. This is about your red blood cell count. And I'm happy to report it's all normal. Congratulations. No bleeding today. Come back in a month."

Yay! My blood is back to normal. And I'm over the flu.

A lot of things are happening right now with New World Waking! I will update soon.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!

Since I've been down with this flu, or whatever it is, I've not done anything except be a very good patient. Lying in bed or on the couch, sleeping as much as possible and letting my body heal.

That's why you haven't heard anything from me. Healing is boring, but it's necessary. It's been a long time since I was really "sick," in the sense of not being able to get out and do things.

I feel like a lion trapped in a cage, but with Jimmy waiting on me, bringing me lots of water, and feeding me, and me resisting the urge to bite him on the hand -- I absolutely HATE being a patient -- I'm slowly healing.

I've felt badly because I haven't been able to volunteer down at Kulak's and I haven't been able to work on music or do anything. Not that I haven't wanted to. But I know I cannot do anything until I get well.

It's crappy having a compromised immune system because when these things finally hit, they hit hard and they last a long time.

Still, today I hit 55, an age I never thought I'd see. So, all in all, it's a glorious thing. Life goes on and life is good.

Thanks for all the nice birthday wishes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

But Ya Aren't, Blanche. Ya Aren't.

From Deadline Hollywood:

She's Got Bette Davis Eyes But No Ciggy

This email is making the rounds from the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences to Hollywood's name talent criticizing the U.S. Post Office for this stamp issued September 18th. I've X'ed out the names:

From: "XXX"
To:
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2008 11:23:26 -0700
Subject: Re: Postal censorship

Have you seen the new Bette Davis postage stamp? It's a photo from ALL ABOUT EVE, and after staring at it for a while I realized there was something wrong. She has a gloved hand raised beneath her chin in a very awkward pose. They removed a cigarette from her fingers! Censorship from our Uncle Sam. Didn't they think anyone would notice? Film historians should revolt!