BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
Hello. You caught me at a rather exciting time in the bonus round. For my 60th birthday year, I made an album. I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which will debut on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"The License" defending traditional marriage.

People who oppose marriage equality for gay people are doing so to "defend traditional marriage." So, what if we actually passed laws enforcing traditional marriage?



h/t Joe.My.God.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Cost of Torture.

I wish I could say that I'm shocked that former VP Cheney and his daughter are actually going on the air defending torture, but that's exactly what they've been doing. Here's what an actual interrogator has to say to Cheney.

And, BTW, Gen. David Petraus, who conservatives touted as the big savior of the Iraq war, also supports Pres. Obama's decision to close Gitmo and stop torture.

Violence only breeds more violence.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"War By Default" with Lynn & JD at Kulak's.

The next song on the webcast was "War By Default." Listening to the excellent work of JD and Lynn this was great because I REALLY did not hear them on this that night.

Remember, we had no rehearsal. So, the two of them were just working off lead sheets and making up their parts as they went along. When I got to the very end, they got it perfectly. Fun!

"I Want To Make Music" with JD and Lynn at Kulak's.

In pulling together the video of the live webcast from the other night, I didn't realize how nervous I was about doing that show until I watched this replay. I felt so rushed to try to tell everything that it all just shmooshed together in my mind and I was mostly incoherent. I also flubbed lyrics.

However, what did come through, to my great advantage was the bass and guitar work. Lynn Keller is literally one of the best bass players in this town. She tours with all the big acts and shows. JD Sebastian has tasty, tastly licks when he plays. And though neither of them had played these songs with me before -- and Lynn had only just listened to them earlier that morning -- it felt like we were a band.

I wasn't aware, at the time, of what they were actually playing, though. I was so focused on remembering the words and the piano parts, and what I would say about myself to this room full of (mostly) strangers. And, in a place like that, where I'm sitting behind them, they had to guess what I would be doing at any given moment.

It could have been a disaster. Well, with other musicians it might have been a disaster. Instead, it's like magic. When I put it on and heard it for the first time, I was shocked. They were perfect. Everything rocked.

Here's the opening. "I Want To Make Music."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Last photoday for bluebirds.

From my friend, Lucycat:
I took my last shot of the nest in Bluebird Nestbox #1 today; it's always a little bittersweet to do that. But we have another nest with eggs that should hatch in around 5 days. That will be our fourth bluebird nest this year!

BluebirdNB1 20090519L 037wf

Day 13 for the nestlings in Bluebird Nestbox #1, the last photo I'll take of this nest. Fledging should occur between day 14 and 22, more likely around day 18. It's getting crowded in there! The one on the lower left looks like he's getting pretty active, and judging by how bright the feathers are, I do think it's a male. Won't venture a guess on the others.

In Memoriam with a smile.

Music historian, Bill Reed, notes, from his excellent blog, People vs. Dr. Chilledair, the passing of songwriter Michael Barr. Click on the link "Hate Song". How many old references can you identify? It's like "I'm Still Here" on acid. No, on a long night of Scotch and soda.

Sorry to note the recent passing of Michael Barr. David Ehrenstein says that Barr and Dion McGregor's "Hate Song" (from Julius Monk's Dressed to the Nines) will definitely be included---if and when---in his CD compilation, Songs That Made Me Gay.

I like to think of this little ditty as "The Curmudgeon National Anthem."
Michael Barr (born January 2, 1927 in Indiana) and died May 19 in Los Angeles,(California) from complications arising from diabetes. Mr. Barr was an American composer of traditional pop and showtunes, who in collaboration with lyricist Dion McGregor, wrote "Try Your Wings" for cabaret singer/pianist Blossom Dearie. "Try Your Wings" was also recorded and performed for many years by Anita O'Day and was featured in the 2003 film My Life Without Me, starring Sara Polly and Mark Rufallo. Together, Barr and McGregor also wrote "Where Is The Wonder", which was recorded by Barbra Streisand and featured on her 1965 TV special "My Name Is Barbra".

A Song of Peace and Gratitude.

A good friend of mine who is serving today in the armed forces sent me this note:

i was having a conversation with my neighbor who said hey i saw you on tv

and we were talking about how

disconnected the public has been

from the realities of war

i think its fueled distrust on the left

and sanitized the thing on the right

its been more like a war movie

than a war


soldier

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Allee Willis on The Reality of Being A Songwriter.

Allee Willis spells it all out.

And she doesn't even get into the missing songwriter credits on music videos, etc. It's just the reality of the business. As always, it's the person at the bottom of the totem pole who gets it the worst.

American Idol Finals. Kris and Adam.

Idol: Adam by a mile. When he sings with absolute control and walks his voice all the way to the line just before the scream takes over, that would be the envy of any bel canto opera singer. He can dial it down just as easily as he can dial it up. I don't think I've ever heard anyone do it quite the way he does. His technical dexterity is jaw-dropping. Personally, I find his "scream" the most boring aspect of his voice.

His actual sonority isn't merely remarkably beautiful, but the control mechanism in his voice is technically sophisticated and, as such, more than killer.

As for his theatricality, which I bemoaned earlier, he's just going for it and it's working. He's actually finding an identity for himself, cutting a swath through David Bowie, Rocky Horror and Alice Cooper.

That final song was absolutely the worst of all the ones they've ever chosen. Not just because it was littered with unpronounceably twisted cliches, but the melody was so insistent that it didn't give either singer a chance to breathe. After I heard that stultifyingly bad power pop arrangement, I was hoping Kris would walk out with his guitar, slow it down so that he can actually hear what he's singing, and put his soul into it.

Instead, he looked like a customer in a shoe shop vainly wailing in pain because they're trying to shove his foot into a shoe that doesn't fit. It reminded me of that bloody scene in "Into The Woods" where they ugly step-sisters hacked their feet off to get them into the glass slipper.

Except, this "slipper" was more like a contraption from SAW.

Adam should win. But even if he doesn't, he's the one everyone will remember. He's the one people will pay to see.

Coincidences & Connections.

I was talking to Zollo about the show Friday night. He has some great people playing with him, beginning with Jill Freeman at 8:30. Jill's husband is a great guitarist here in town named Joel Wachbrit. Joel sent me a letter through Facebook telling me that he played on the initial "Living in the Bonus Round" CD. My bassist on that session was Lynn Keller.

I think he was dragged into it with a, "Hey, we're gonna do something nice for this guy who's dying of AIDS."

Also, along for the night, aside from D. Whitney Quinn, supporting Paul, is Bob Malone. He plays his fusion of New Orleans barrelhouse blues, jazz and even classical all over the country. It makes me feel at home.

But when it was my job to help newcomers to LA, Bob was one of the "kids" who walked into the offices of National Academy of Songwriters for advice. I told him something very Simon Colwell-like, "Stop wearing mall clothes." His frequent bassist is Lynn Keller.

Naturally, I had to find out if Lynn was coming to the Woodshed that night. She said she would be. So I asked her to play with me. And she said YES.

Having all these different eras of my life all coming together down at Kulak's is very moving. This community helped keep me alive during a time when I was standing in line at the food bank.

The show is FRIDAY MAY 22 LIVE ONLINE or in person at Kulak's Woodshed.

JD Sebastian from songs4earth will join me on guitar. We're not going to get any rehearsals, so everyone is just gonna wing it. Just the way I like it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Singing for Songwriters.

So, I was manning camera 3 last night at Kulak's for the Monday Night Open Mic. Lisa Turner was doing her usual thing, doling out the rules for the night -- no song over 4 minutes, exit downstage (or down-rug) left, no tuning up on stage, etc. -- when it was time to draw names from the buckets. (There's a two hour time limit on the night and names are chosen randomly, one from the bucket of people buying a DVD of their performance and one from people just wanting to play.)

I was drawing the names and showing them to her, and she wrote them down in order and said them out loud. Usually, we can get about 34 people into those 2 hours, and I was number 7. The 34th person was a woman holding a guitar in the front row. Sitting next to her was a woman who looked like her mother. Grandma, who was holding a baby said, "Well, we can stay as long as the baby lasts."

Being the saintly martyr, I, of course, immediately said that I'd exchange places. (Right when mama started playing, though, baby started crying. God bless mothers.)

I managed to stand on camera 3 for 90 minutes. I was going for the full 2 hours, but about 9 or 9:15, I was starting to wear out, so I switched with Dennis. (Camera 2 operator sits.)

I wasn't sure what song to sing. I've been singing a different one each week, rarely repeating, and I kept flipping through my mind which one I would choose. So far, I've done all my "standards." Connected, Going It Alone, Lazarus Come Out, My Thanksgiving Prayer, Gabi's Song, William's Song, etc.

By the time it got to me, the room had mostly cleared of the dilatantes and newbies. Left in the room were the ones who are more than serious about their craft and art. I had, before the broadcast, just had a long conversation with Joe Hamilton, who has an almost magical feel in his virtuosic fingering when he plays guitar, about songwriting.

The others in the room, D. Whitney Quinn (who writes these dark songs with a razor's edge of suicidal humor), Dave Morrison (whose songs are like a tour of people on the buses and streets of L.A.), Lisa Turner (whose angelic voice stills the air and stops your heart), Marc Platt (who has more hooky guitar riffs in him than Chuck Berry), Julie Chadwick, Michael Mishaw, Siobhan, Paul McCarty, and so many more. Just naming them does a disservice to the others because each one has a unique quality but this paragraph would go on forever.

But it suddenly felt very warm in that room. We all listen to each other and talk about our songs. Being the last guy of the night, with all these other songwriters watching me, I wanted to sing something that was real "songwritery." Something they hadn't heard. So, I thought to myself, what song do I really love, but is so specialized that it doesn't work in every situation.

My first thought was "The Sad Lady," which is a true song about a woman who cuts herself and lives on the brink of suicide. But I knew I'd get in the middle of it and forget the words. It's been too long. Must brush up on that one. Whitney will go crazy for it. (We've already decided we want to write a show called "The Depressing Songs Ever Written" -- but only if we could also make it hilarious.)

So, I thought I'd bring out a song that I really have mostly performed as a part of Big Voice, though I think I sang it the night I was protested by the "God hates fags" offshoot in Kentucky (a moment which became another song, "Sower and Scarecrow.")

It's actually Ernie's favorite song of mine, "James Robertson." (He likes the early demo I made which sounds like it was produced by Brian Eno -- he calls is the "Heroes" mix -- "Heroes" as in David Bowie's album, "Heroes").

"James Robertson" is not a sing-along. It's a tightly constructed narrative with no consistent song structure -- I guess it's my "Begin The Beguine," Cole Porter's longform song.

The first part alternates in 3/4 and 4/4. I'm proud of the JR, but I'm also scared of it. I worry that when I play it, people won't know what the hell I'm singing about. Evangelists? Football fields? Limos? Theology?

Taking the bull by the horns, though, I went for it and I have to tell you, having a room full of songwriters focusing on every word you're singing is one of the great feelings a writer can have. I felt like I was a contestant on Top Chef, and I was serving my most proud meal to a panel of gourmands and chefs.

But being the insecure artist, it's also scary. I knew they were with me, and relaxed, when they giggled the second time I sang the name "James Robertson" and then were laughing louder each successive time. That's only happened a few times in the past. And they laughed at little things like "tiny speck from the cheapest seats."

When I got to the end, I actually heard gasping as the lyric circled back around to, "I discovered I didn't need..." I think I could have stopped the song and lifted my hands and conducted a sing-along. They were right there with me for the final two words, "James Robertson."

Ah, man. That felt good. Ego orgasm complete.

But now that throws me into a quandary about Friday night's show. I only have 30 minutes. Even with short introductions, that's maybe 6 songs tops. I wasn't planning on singing "James Robertson."

I hate making decisions. But I do love re-introducing my songs back into concert format. It feels good to know that, as powerful as I feel they are in the narrative structure of our musicals, they can stand alone outside the show.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hemo2Homo Review: Star Trek

hemo2homo-star-trek.jpg
The STAR TREK Review

HEMO: Seen any good movies recently, Hemo?

HEMO2031: Why yes, I have. Star Trek. Did you see it as well, Hemo?

HEMO: I did. And, overall, I enjoyed this film. Star Trek is the best Space AIDS movie since Starship Troopers.

HOMO: Shawn, who the hell are you talking to?

HEMO: I'll tell you- in the future. For now, just know that I'm tired of being the young, wide-eyed half of this movie duo. You and I have been working together for 10 years now, and you always get to play the part of "Wise Sage Steve", or "Mr. Movies" as they call you on the streets of Hollywood...

HOMO: No one has ever called me that.

HEMO: Not my point. My point is- I've survived over twenty years with HIV. But no matter how much older I get, you age at the same rate!

HOMO: Did you learn that heady stuff from Star Trek? What the hell is HEMO2031?

HEMO: It's me, 22 years from now. That makes HEMO2031 your current age- 55. He/me is your equal. And I brought him back from the year 2031 to review Star Trek with me.

HOMO: This will be fun to watch.

HEMO2031: Nice to meet you, Steve.

HEMO: I call him "Homo".

HEMO2031: In the year 2031 calling a gay man "Homo" is a crime that is punishable by death. If you don't mind, I'll call Steve "Steve".

HOMO: He doesn't mean anything by it, Hemo2031. I call him "Hemo." Is that okay?

HEMO2031: Sure- but no one will know what you're talking about in the year 2031, because hemophilia will be cured by then.

HOMO: Ha! Hear that, Hemo? Your kind will be extinct, and my kind will rule the Earth!

HEMO: This isn't going how I planned. Look, this is all fascinating stuff about the future, really, but can we get back to Star Trek?

HOMO: Did you see the coming attractions? Previews are starting to feel longer than twenty-two years. This time, there was a long live-action version of that puppet film, Team America, complete with a fake Eiffel Tower being destroyed by some guys dressed like Iron Man who fight some multi-colored robots from outer space who are also attacking the Vatican.

It was called G.I. Transforminator.

HEMO: The G.I. Joe guys in those suits look like the NFL robots.

HOMO: Hey, Hemo2031, if you're from the future, then you've already seen this flick. Any good?

HEMO2031: It will be deemed a classic of all time and they'll pass a law that all movies must be sequels to G.I. Transforminator.

HOMO: With nothing but robots as characters? That will be the end of the AIDS movie as we know them. Will there be a Hemo2Homo Connection in 2031? My God- I'll be 77. Will I be... alive?

HEMO2031: Yes, and yes. But the Hemo2Homo Connection will only review Michael Bay directed G.I. Transforminator movies from the year 2012 on, when President Jeb Bush signs the Michael Bay Act into law.

HOMO: That sounds like a fate far worse than death to me.

HEMO: ... so no more movies about AIDS? We should really cherish Star Trek.

HOMO: You really see this as an AIDS movie? I thought you'd see it as a horror movie! It started right at the beginning with Kirk sitting at a table with Kleenex stuffed up his bloody nose. Then came Kid Spock kicking some other Vulcan kid's ass... just like they used to beat you up in school just to watch you bleed! Fortunately, Spock's blood is green and not all AIDS-y like yours.

HEMO: I was too distracted by the green-skinned bimbo to notice the green blood. It wasn't until Spock's planet was destroyed that it all clicked for me. "There's only 10,000 Vulcans remaining," Spock said. An obvious reference to the 1980's blood scandal and The Committee of Ten Thousand.

HOMO: So this isn't just an AIDS movie? It's a thinblooded AIDS movie? Geesh. Hey, I wonder if they have Vulcan blood clogger-upper or if AIDS can be transmitted into copper-based blood? HEMO2031, any answers?

HEMO: I have a confession to make: I made up the HEMO2031 thing.

HOMO2031: Past me forgives you.

HEMO2031: Past me accepts.

HEMO: I can't imagine how cranky you'll be about movies at age 77, Homo. So what did you like most about Star Trek?

HOMO: I loved how the other characters on the bridge who channeled the spirit of the originals--and not just like extras. Each of them showing motivation, strength, innocence and fortitude. Not as much as us, and our ability to survive with AIDS. But close.

HEMO: The cast is great. My only beef with Star Trek was the CGI snow creatures scene, and the hanging on by the fingernails scenes. I hate those kinds of things in any movie, especially in one where you care about the characters. I'd rather have seen young Spock having a private conversation with his lady than watch Kirk narrowly cheat death. Again.

HOMO: Yeah, note to directors out there: The word "cliffhanger" is a metaphor. Still, you gotta give it up for a Hollywood movie with actual characters. They must have hired a gay. It's the only explanation.

HEMO: It's the only explanation for not seeing Green Alien Bimbo's ta-tas.

HOMO: Kirk did look good in his undies in that scene. Maybe his not-so-light saber and her green boobs will be in the extras on the DVD? But Star Trek was just like the Hemo2Homo Connection... it was funny! This movie made me laugh out loud again and again. It felt like the real Star Trek, not like that tired Wolverine farce.

As for the rest of the summer, I'm already tired of G.I. Transforminator.

HEMO2031: Just wait until the year 2017, when you're reviewing G.I. Transforminator 29: Rise Again of the Machines Again.

HOMO: Please, AIDS, take me now?

hemo2homo.jpgThe Hemo2Homo Connection is Shawn Decker and Steve Schalchlin. Just two guys with AIDS who like to review movies.

The creators/stars of the Hemo2Homo Connection 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 much longer than that.


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


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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Steve Writes in (Harvard) Gay & Lesbian Review.

I was speaking with Ed Decker up in San Francisco about doing some kind of benefit for the New Conservatory Theatre Center later this year, when he mentioned that he had seen me in the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide (formerly, the Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review), a prestigious bimonthly.

Am I gettin' to be a big shot or what?

They didn't put what I wrote online, since this is a subscription magazine, but it does list my name on the home page.

Basically, it's an essay about why I blog. I discuss how the simple act of putting the condition of my health -- a completely new idea at the time -- led to all the little and big miracles that followed, all the way from meeting gay parents and kids to having two hit shows off-Broadway to speaking at Harvard University to playing John Lennon's piano to having a huge musical piece about war and violence at Davies Symphony Hall.

I guess I do lead a charmed life in so many ways. Anyway, you can get this publication at higher end book stores and magazine stands, as well as ordering it online.

Improv, Gyros & Rolling Stones.

In talking about improvising my way through a concert without a set-list or even thinking about what I might say, I just found this terrific story in SEED about musician Al Kooper improvising one of the great rock organ riffs of all time.

Al Kooper didn’t know what to play. He’d told some half-truths to get into Bob Dylan’s recording session — the musicians were working on some song tentatively titled “Like A Rolling Stone” — and Kooper had been assigned the Hammond organ. There was only one problem: Kooper didn’t play the organ. He was a guitarist.

The first takes were predictably terrible — Kooper was just trying not to get kicked out of the studio. But on take four, he suddenly found his chords. Kooper’s playing was pure improv — “I was like a little kid fumbling in the dark for a light switch,” he would later remember — but he ended up inventing one of the most famous organ riffs in modern music.

There is something profoundly mysterious about this kind of creativity. Kooper didn’t have time to think — the chorus was about to happen — and so he just started banging on the ivory keys.

Back in Buna, Texas in high school, I took organ lessons from this older lady and I met one of her other students, a girl whose musicianship I respected very much. She was years ahead of me, technically. But she told me one say, with a look of profound sadness, "I don't know how you just make stuff up. I can't do that. If it's not written out, I can't play it."

The article continues about a scientific test taken while jazz musicians were improvising. They wanted to see which of the parts of the brain would light up. That's my bolding.
But it’s not enough to just unleash the mind — successful improv requires a very particular kind of expression. That’s why the fMRI machine also recorded a spike in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a fold of frontal lobe just behind the eyes. This area is often linked with self-expression — it lights up, for instance, whenever people tell a story in which they’re the main character. The scientists argue that this part of the brain is required for jazz improv because the musicians are channeling their artistic identity, searching for the notes that best summarize their style. “Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form,” Limb says. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”
You're telling the world who you are at that specific moment in time. I would argue that my friend who said she couldn't improvise also exercises that portion of the brain, though, when she interprets great writers. The emotion attached to her expression of those notes brings something new each time she plays it, with every single micro-second subject to variation.

The article said this one discovery "intrigued" them when they recorded Classical musicians improvising, that it engaged an area, the inferior frontal gyrus, usually reserved for speech, even though the musicians were not speaking with their mouths:
The inferior frontal gyrus, however, has primarily been investigated for its role in language — it includes Broca’s area, which is essential for the production of speech. Why, then, is it so active when people create music on the piano? The scientists argue that expert musicians create new melodies by relying on the same mental muscles used to create a sentence; every note is another word.
No. Not a "word." In music, there is so much more than a "word." Leonard Bernstein talked about this in his speech at Harvard. That music is metaphor. It is a word said with irony or anger or spite or whatever you happen to be feeling, a noun, a verb, a sentence and everything else all at once both when you write it and then when it's performed.

I think you can maximize that out. That an improvisational concert, where you have no idea what song you're going to do next, is also an expression of speech and of the moment.

The old inferior frontal gyrus.

It's also a kind of thrill ride.

I would wage that the inferior frontal gyrus is connected to the adrenalin system. I can only speak for myself, but when I'm singing a song, and it all feels really right, there is no time and it's way better than drinking, sex, and chocolate cake. It's over before it begins. Before you're remotely capable of grasping the moment.

But I keep thinking what if I had been in the studio with the Rolling Stones holding a guitar? I would have been worse than helpless. Here's to Al Cooper!

Prologue (shot from audience in Olympia).

One last video from Olympia: The Prologue to New World Waking.

EDIT: In the video, Jeff Kingsbury and I exchange a reference about a lyric. It's because, that afternoon, he told me that he had seen canned mixed cocktails in Japan, that he saw it as a very knowing reference. Actually, I just used them because they rhymed and I thought the line was funny.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Speaking of Birth.



Day 4 for the nestlings in Bluebird Nestbox #1

From my friend Lucycat.

"Imagine" sung at Olympia, Washington.

I didn't know, going into this that I would be singing this song. It just came out of my talking about it. I love the audience singing along. This turned into a really nice moment.

The Guy on Camera Three.

I was walking to Kulak's last night when I ran into a very attractive young lady who was walking a big-pawed black puppy. I don't know what etiquette is in these situations, but I leaned over to hold my hand down for the dog's nose, and the lady said, "She's a jumper."

I told her I didn't mind one bit. I also told her that her puppy and she would be welcome down at Kulak's Woodshed.

She hadn't heard of it, but liked the idea of a place like that, that isn't a bar or a nightclub.

I also told her there was no admission fee. She asked what my involvement was. So I told her:

I'm the guy on camera three.

I like being the guy on camera three.

I only have one job. Point the camera and try stand for two solid hours. (Regular readers know I volunteer down at Kulak's, partly, as part of my program of physical therapy.)

I'm wearing headphones, so everyone treats me like I'm an authority figure. I could be the pilot of a star ship for all the wonder in their eyes when someone wearing headphones tells them to move their feet or don't watch the monitors too much.

And now that I'm one of the singer/songwriter on-air hosts, I really feel like a bigshot. Maybe the Superman of North Hollywood.

But, really, I'm just the guy on camera three.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live Online May 22

People have been asking. Yes, my inbox is overflowing with queries from people demanding to know my next public appearance.

It's Friday, May 22. Live on the Internet from Kulak's Woodshed. But don't be late. I'm going on exactly at 8pm PACIFIC TIME / 11pm EASTERN TIME and finishing at 8:30pm. After that, Paul Zollo, my friend and co-writer of "Brilliant Masquerade" will be presenting a night of music. I'm the warm-up act.

It's a free media stream. (Kulak's requests a $10 donation to pay the bills, but otherwise it's a totally free webcast).

"Holy Dirt" shot from the audience in Olympia.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Review of My Olympia Concert.

Going into this concert, I wasn't really sure how to approach it. Since the last time I sang full-length concerts, I've written two pieces.

Back then, my concerts were, basically, AIDS education concerts. All of the songs were about living with AIDS and that was my primary identity as a writer and artist. So, in a way, I've grown and become a new person in that time. How to integrate The Big Voice and New World Waking -- and how much of each -- became my task. And there are more songs besides!

I actually tried to design a concert. I wrote up a set list and even went so far as to try writing a script for myself. That turned out HORRIBLY.

Finally, Jim said, "Just do what you always do. Put a list of songs in front of you and just sing whatever you feel like singing in whatever order feels right. You'll know what to say."

And that's exactly what I did. It was SO MUCH FUN to be out there, totally improvising between songs, and just enjoying feeling unleashed from the restrictions of a musical play (not that I don't enjoy doing theater, but I'm not a trained actor, and I don't feel completely at ease when I'm not just being myself, doing whatever comes into my head).

An online review of my Olympia concert, written by Alec Clayton (who is both a local critic and personal friend). It's possible that his opinion is colored by that, but Jeff Kingsbury, who runs the Capital Playhouse, says that Alec is a very honest reviewer. Here is what he wrote with a link to his blog where this is posted.

Steve Schalchlin’s benefit concert for PFLAG-Olympia was the most exhilarating night of musical entertainment I can remember — perhaps ever. And as a theater critic who sees plays 52 weeks a year at minimum, a good half of those musicals, that’s saying a lot.

The performance took place at Olympia’s Capital Playhouse. A grand piano, drum set and three stools fronted by music stands were set in front of the set for the currently running musical, “A Little Night Music” - scrims with birch trees and a gigantic golden moon.

Schalchlin stepped out into the spotlight, a striking figure, tall and rail thin with drawn cheeks and close-cropped gray hair, his classically handsome face now showing signs of his long battle with AIDS. He sat down at the piano and launched into a rousing, gospel-inspired anthem, “I Want to Make Music.” The audience burst into applause, and Schalchlin said, “That was the first song I ever wrote,” thus setting the mood for the night.

For the next two hours he told very personal stories in song and spoken word, effortlessly and without affectation, going back and forth between singing and talking to the audience, the music a balance between ballads and upbeat rock and jazz. He talked and sang about growing up as the son of a Missionary Baptist preacher in Arkansas and Texas, “The Preacher and the Nurse;” about the tender care of loved ones when he was hospitalized, “Connected” and “Going It Alone;” the horror and sadness of attending an AIDS support group. “The Group;” and his hilarious song about the side effects of the medications that keep him from dying, “Friendly Fire,” done as a parody of military march songs (“from the halls of pharmaceuticals to the shores of remedy” sung to the tune of “The Halls of Montezuma”).

All of those songs are from his award-winning musical “The Last Session.”

From there he went into more personal stories of a slightly different sort taken from the second musical co-written with his partner, Jim Brochu, “The Big Voice: God or Merman” (both plays with lyrics and music by Schalchlin and book by Brochu). These songs dealt mostly with growing up gay and religious.

The second act featured songs from his peace cantata, “New World Waking,” which premiered this past December at Davies Hall in San Francisco performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir. This suite of songs expressed hope for world peace, told personal stories of people who have been persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and included asking “Where is God?” in a song about a god who seems to have taken “a small vacation” while allowing a deadly virus to get in a baby’s blood.

Schalchlin’s songs are powerful, personal, uplifting, and often perhaps unexpectedly humorous. His church music background shows in the big chords and driving rhythms of his piano playing. He sings with passion and energy, and connects with the audience as if personally talking to each and every person.



Backing him on drums was Chuck Oldright and a chorus made up of Jeff Kingsbury, Josh Anderson and a special guest from the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, David Peterson. They had practically no time to rehearse or learn the songs so they were winging it throughout. Oldright, who had never played any of these songs, was able to anticipate complex rhythm changes. His drumming added immeasurably to the success of the performance. The three backup singers not only kept up with complicated lyrics and rhythms, but improvised around Schalchlin’s barbs and quips. When during the song, “The Closet,” Schalchlin sang a line about crossing his legs in a manly manner, Kingsbury and Anderson crossed their legs in unison at an exact timely moment that was improvised on the spot. And Kingsbury, the founder and artistic director of Capital Playhouse quipped in his best Paul Lyndish manner, “I don’t do backup,” reminding me of the comical scrap between two band members in “The Last Session.”



I’d like to finish with two personal notes. First, this was an almost completely impromptu performance organized by a small town PFLAG chapter. With proper promotion from national headquarters it could become a national tour, and I certainly encourage people in various chapters and at the national level to think about that. Secondly, I must include the disclaimer that I am not an impartial critic. My wife and I are longtime friends of Steve Schalchlin, and we helped organize the concert.
And I'm not impartial when it comes to PFLAG. I love what they do. I know they've saved scores of families and lives. I have more to say about Olympia, plus a little video. Not much, but something.

I WANNA DO IT AGAIN!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hemo2Homo Connection: Wolverine

h2h-wolvie-poster.jpg

The X-Men Origins: WOLVERINE Review

Hemo: Hey Homo, everyone’s all like, “Have you seen Star Trek? Have you? Huh?” It’s a recession, and I’m still counting my dollars trying to figure out if I’m going to see the Wolverine movie…

Homo: I’ve never been so disappointed in a movie in my life.

Hemo: See? Good thing I didn’t rush out to see Star Trek

Homo: No, I’m talking about Wolverine. You know, positoid, that I am a lifelong X-Men fan. Growing up, they were the superhero gays that I couldn’t be. I even put this into a song in The Big Voice. The first two X-Men movies were so good, especially the second one, because the filmmaker knew what most comic readers know: It ain’t about the action. It’s about the characters.

Hemo: Yes! That’s why Watchmen was so good.

Homo: Exactly. Your mutant abilities are finally forming, Hemo. But in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they manage to take all the mystery out of Wolverine, reducing him to a whiny little bitch, running around afraid of his big, bad older brother…

Hemo: Maybe in part two of Origins they reveal that Wolverine was born a Thinblood? It’s scary being a little brother with a bleeding disorder, knowing that at any time your big bro can erase you from existence.

Homo: That’s how it is for all little brothers. In this, he’s trying so hard to be a nice guy: THAT IS NOT WOLVERINE. That’s a whiny little bitch who hates being all mean and stuff. Where’s the fun? Where are the wisecracks? WHERE IS WOLVERINE??

So, having drained all the blood out of Wolverine, we’re treated to a movie that looks like it was made from stock footage from other “action movies” with Hugh Jackman’s face painted on the “hero.”

Tacky, dull, stodgy.

Not only that, but it’s the kind of movie where you are saying the cliched lines of dialogue along with the actors on the screen because there’s not a single original thought being expressed. And, but, for an origin story, we don’t really learn anything about what drives him. There’s a generic falling in love story. Bad guys kill the girl / must get revenge plot. But you don’t really know the girl and you don’t really fall in love with their relationship.

Have I mentioned how angry this makes me?

Hemo: Not to my knowledge.

Homo: Wolverine is a great character. It’s not right for him to be the SECOND BADDEST GUY in the story. And who’s the bigger, badder guy? My most unfavorite character in the Marvel Universe whose “power” is that his fingernails grow really long. I saw that on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I don’t need it in a super not-quite-villain whose motivations are also fuzzier than a homeless man’s belly button.

Shall I tell you how much I loathed this movie, Hemo?

Hemo: Be like the old Wolverine, don’t pull any punches!

Homo: I walked out during the end credits. Not because of low t-cells or anything- I just didn’t care about the extra scene.

Hemo: Sounds like this film should be sent off on the Starship Enterprise, to be reviewed in a future not so far away by the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guys. Thanks for saving me some money, sorry your heroes let you down.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Singing for Unity.

This morning, I was invited by Jeff Kingsbury to sing for the Unity Church here in Olympia, Washington. When I met beforehand with the minister, she, not really knowing my program, asked me if I had a song for mother's day.

I told her I actually didn't. (Now that I think of it, both Gabi's Song and William's Song are "mother's day" songs, but at the time, I was thinking more about the songs from New World Waking).

Then she asked me to tell her what I would be doing this morning. I looked at her with a totally blank expression and said, "I have no idea. I just kind of make it up as I go along."

She looked a bit scared.

So, I gave her a general outline of who I am, what I've written, etc., and then went out and hung around for a little bit.

Unity is a church founded in the late 1800s by a minister who felt that, among other things, Christianity had become so ritualized, it had lost its real spiritual power. I could try to go into it, but it's easy to look them up and let the group speak for itself. Jim and I occasionally would attend an Unity service in New York. What I like about it was that it was interfaith in the best sense of the word.

While the teachings of Unity are centered in the teachings of Jesus, one can attend and be Hindu, Buddhist, whatever faith drives you. It's not Unitarianism, but I can see some crossover.

So, I decided, once I was behind the piano, to talk about "miracles." I said that I felt I had always been taught that miracles are what come "down" from above. But in practice, I felt miracles are the things we create ourselves through simple intentions. I used the example of how, by simply putting my own story about living with AIDS up on the Net back in 1996, it turned into a chance to play John Lennon's piano -- a thing I could never have planned in advance.

Anyway, I opened with "Save Me A Seat" and immediately got a standing ovation. Then, I sang "Lazarus Come Out." Another standing ovation. This happened over and over again.

I think I was getting through.

Before I knew it, the service was over, and many were saying how excited they were to hear my music, and how they would be coming tonight for the concert.

It was so thrilling to be so warmly and generously received.

This afternoon, I sing at a PFLAG meeting. Oh, there's the car now...

Friday, May 08, 2009

How I Got To Play John Lennon's Piano

This is an interview I did explaining how I came to play John Lennon's piano up in Olympia, Washington a couple of years ago. I'll be back there THIS SUNDAY to sing a concert at the Capital Playhouse.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

My Opinion on Miss California and Mr. Hilton

Perez Hilton created Carrie Prejean.

Miss Prejean entered this contest in order to become famous. Why else would you be Miss USA except you're chasing fame as either a model, actress or news anchor?

Perez asked her the question. She answered the question. It could have been left at that. Yes, shockingly, there are people out there in the world who are personally against gay marriage. Did she go into this contest with the express purpose of becoming an anti-gay marriage advocate? I think probably not.

Perez is also in the business of getting famous. (As a songwriter, I understand the value of fame in terms of ticket sales and paychecks).

He served, here, the same function that Fred Phelps provides for gays. Phelps utters religious profanities, gets the spotlight, and everyone feels sorry for the gays he's attacked. We win.

Perez used his public forum to call her some profane name, thus giving her martyr status, and she, still in the business of getting famous, saw the opening and now has a bank of lawyers, no doubt an agent, and they are currently crafting a career for her. ("She's up for Elizabeth's pregnancy break on 'The View!'")

It's just show business.

Whether or not she loses her meaningless title, she gets more headlines which makes her more famous. The best thing that could happen to her is for her to lose her title. She'll become even more of a martyr. Then, the anti-gay spokespersons can parade the argument, "Look what happens if you even DARE to express your opinion on gay marriage!"

The whole thing is ugly and what makes me angry is that real lives are being debated. For all I know, Carrie Prejean might be a "nice" person. Hell, even Perez Hilton might be a "nice" person. But these aren't the voices I want to have dominating the debate over civil rights.

Breakfast with Ernie: "El Tepeyac"

In this edition of Breakfast with Ernie, we go back to Ernie's childhood neighborhood and a cultural institution, a restaurant called "El Tepeyac".

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Jim is a Work of Art!


For the upcoming production of ZERO HOUR at Theatre J in Washington, DC, they've hired David Polonsky, one of the Israel's (and the world's) most noted artists to create art for the shows. We had no idea this was happening. It's just magnificent.

His name is David Polonsky. From the website:

David Polonsky was the art director and chief illustrator for the Israeli animated film Waltz with Bashir, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. His illustrations have appeared in every major Israeli daily and magazine. He has created animated short films for Israeli television, received multiple awards for his children’s book illustrations, and teaches at Bezalel, Israel’s prestigious art academy.

David Polonsky's website - #1

David Polonsky's website - # 2

Waltz With Bashir (Art Director)

Happy Mother's Day

I didn't realize until long after I got out of the home I grew up in that my family wasn't very sentimental. The depth of love that came from my parents was so utterly rock solid, it didn't need or require or demand a lot of gestures. I wonder if it's part of the stoic Arkansas mountain country air. So, there was no terror of forgotten birthdays or anniversaries. (In fact, for years, we celebrated my brother, Scott's, birthday on the wrong day, thanks to my dizzy mother.)

But my folks were very clear, that once we were out on our own, our personal business was our personal business. They gave me the great gift of leaving me alone. When I left east Texas and moved to Dallas in the late 70s, and came out of the closet, I kept this life from them.

Consequently, I've never really told them about certain big decisions I made in my life. At the time, I didn't even realize how big the decision was, so it's the kind of thing that one only can view retroactively.

After high school, they worked very hard to get me a good education at Jacksonville Baptist College. I had even secured a full tuition scholarship. Luckily, the music professor there, Gerald Orr (now Dr. Gerald Orr) was a really great musician and arranger. I was a terrible piano, hating to practice. Our pianos were in trailers out in front of the boys dorm, which was L-shaped, with rooms like a motel. The girls dorm, one block over, had only one entrance.

But what I did love was the chorus and the Men's Quartet. By the end of my first year, I was arranging for all the groups. I wasn't the most imaginative arranger. Mostly, I just knew how to convert hymns and things to quartet, to soup them up a bit. And we got to sing old timey gospel quartet harmony. I put some of that into New World Waking.

But Bro. Orr really encouraged me.

So, I was all ready to go to a fancier Baptist college in Dallas. It came with a job. One of the big churches needed a choir and music director plus youth director.

I was too green to be an executive.

Or too unprepared for adult life in a city.

And I was dressed head to toe in mod, with high heeled boots, the whole geshmear.

It all ended with a dramatic speech in front of the congregation where I resigned. The actual details are fuzzy, but I was being squeezed by the pastor on one side, and his secretary on the other. I was mod and young and hip. He wanted to show me how to golf. I felt like the dumbest hick around sophisticated people. I just freaked.

So, I went back to my band. Back to the safety of Jacksonville and my $50/month garage apartment. The guys in the band were my college -- and I clocked in every day at the band office to help run the business side. Even wrote and published a newsletter for all our fans across the state.

I think I've never talked about this moment to my folks. I wonder what they must have thought. I almost feel like apologizing.

But the truth is that I was already cracking apart. I was indeed turning into an adult. And I was a 19 year old kid being looked up to by other 19 kid year old kids. I was supposed to design educational programs. Lead the adult choir. I had never led a choir in my life. Or choose a repertoire.

But worse, I was starting to get teenage crushes on the other guys. Some of them I could barely breathe when they were in the room. There was no one for me to talk to. This was a secret I kept completely and utterly to myself. I had no confidantes. And what did all this mean, anyway? I ran back to the one job I knew I could handle: playing piano and singing in the safety and comfort of the pack.

So, mom, since we've never talked about that moment, I thought I'd just put it out there.

I loved the guys in the band, and thought we were decent enough to learn and grow (which we did), but the real reason I think I ran off was out of absolute terror. I went to a place that felt safe. And that's how I ended up quitting school.

And that's also why I cried as I stood in front of the Louise M. Davies symphony hall that Sunday morning. Would I have ended up there had I gone on to school? Maybe.

I still have a ways to go before I can claim any kind of "fame." This morning on my google alert that pops up whenever my name appears in print, the headline was not "Steve Schalchlin Returns to Olympia!" It was Summer Cooking Catalogue Now Available.

I love my life. I really do.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

From Dom to Jim about Zero Hour.

Click on image to enlarge:

Dom Deluise, 75

Jim and I are heartbroken. Dom was one of the nicest persons to me. When we met, I think I was very ill at the time. We were invited to a family picnic. I was just treated like one of the family. As he became increasingly immobile, we would see Carol, but never Dom.

He was a genuinely hilarious comedian.
Dom DeLuise Dies
TMZ.com - 4 minutes ago

We've just learned that Dom DeLuise -- who starred in such classics as "The Cannonball Run" and "Spaceballs" -- died last night in a Los Angeles hospital. ...

We're told he passed away peacefully in his sleep at around 6 PM.

He was 75.



Jim, right, with Rod Steiger and Dom Deluise. Below, Dom with Dean Martin.




Monday, May 04, 2009

Music as Healing. A Speech by Karl Paulnack

Welcome address to freshman class at Boston Conservatory given by
Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory [September 2008]

"One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said "You're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan . That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around firehouses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago. I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began,as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation. Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself. What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, an watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevys. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

New Book: Pre-Gay L.A.

One of the great tragedies of written history is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have, for the most part, been erased from the record or ignored. Not the people, actually, but the fact that they were GLBT. It's why many who oppose us think "gay" was "invented" in the 60s and is some recent phenomenon.

In fact, we've been here all along. The only difference is that because we've been a constant victim of humiliation and hate, the writers of history either didn't know we were there, or pretended otherwise, or wrote about us in some code language that's almost indecipherable.

But, as I have asserted, time and again, we are a people and we have a history.

Happily, we also have people like C. Todd White who go to great lengths to document, record and write about our history.

His new book, which will be released soon, is called "Pre-Gay L.A. A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights."

I strongly urge you to order it and read it. And then get one for your local library or, especially, for young glbt people.

As Ken McPherson has said over and over, each generation of gay kids ends up having to reinvent the wheel because information about who we are, where we come from, and how we got to this exciting point in history where we are almost reaching legal parity with straight people, is a fascinating story.

But even more than being fascinating, it's impossible to know where you're going unless you truly understand where you've been. In my lifetime, I have seen us go from being completely invisible, except when portrayed in the most awful of terms, to being regular characters in movies and tv shows, to achieving the chance to marry.

It's a remarkable story. And though I know much of it, there are still things to learn. I met, for instance, Harry Hay, once long ago, but had no idea who he was. How I wish I could rewind back to that time, get on my knees and kiss the man's hand. He was a flawed human being, as we all are, but he fought for us in a time when doing so would land you in jail.

Imprisoned! For just being gay! (And in some parts of the world, being gay can still get you executed).

I urge everyone who reads this to get Todd's book. I know it's going to be great.

A Butt for Me?

"Hey!!" Said Heidi, who was over here this past weekend with her husband Tom, for her birthday. "You look good!"

I was, at that moment, bending over to get something out of the fridge.

"Really?"

"Yeah. In fact, you look real good."

Heidi was looking at my butt.

Since no one has ever complimented my butt before, I was somewhat taken aback. Why? Because I don't have a butt.

I have written a lot about the fact that the AIDS medications, while saving my life, have also caused some weird side effects, one of which is that it moves body fat around your body into inconvenient places. Or worse, moves it FROM the places that you WANT it. More specifically, my butt.

I have always had a relatively skinny ass and never gave it much thought, frankly. I'm not really that vain. I don't color my hair or pluck my eyebrows. I have no designer clothing and when the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" came out, my first question was "What's a Prada?" (Yes, I'm a bad gay).

So, when the AIDS meds took away what little butt I had to begin with, what bothered me what not so much the aesthetic, but the fact that it's downright painful to sit in most chairs unless they have a really nice cushion.

This mean that on park benches, subway stops, public transportation, theatre seating, I'm usually in a lot of pain -- and it annoys anyone sitting next to me to watch or feel me squirming and moving around trying to find a way to be comfortable for a few seconds. But that's as long as it lasts. And then I'll be moving and shifting again. People hate sitting next to me.

But it can be serious problem. For instance, when Cirque De Soleil first came to L.A., they were in a circus tent and we sat on these long benches. Well, I was in such pain, I couldn't focus on the acrobats. I was almost in tears by the time the first act ended, and I begged Jimmy to take us home. It was seriously that bad. You can laugh if you want (I don't mind), but pain is pain, and I have found myself, when I enter a room, immediately looking for the most padded chair possible. It's become second nature to me.

One source of great discomfort that's REALLY inconvenient for me are piano benches. I can last only so long on them before I'm seriously hurting. And that's a bad thing for a piano player.

Last week, I received an email from a person who works for a company called "Butt For You, Inc." She wrote, after viewing my silly animation on bonusround.com:
I was recently doing some research online and came across your website. It's fantastic. The opening alone had me cracking up! I love your sense of humor.

After reading through your blog, I thought of something I’d like to pass along. I actually work with a company that specializes in padded underwear for men and women. Because of the harsh discomforts that medical ailments bring, this item has provided comfort to so many out there with HIV, AIDS and cancer. I am not necessarily sure if this will be of interest to you or your readers, but I really wanted to share the information as many have found much relief from the padded undergarments.
I confess, through the years, I've seen products like this advertised, but I tended to dismiss them because, as you'll see if you click through to Butt For You, Inc., they're mostly marketed as a vanity product, so I didn't take them very seriously. (I also understand why they do that. With our looks obsessed culture, and people padded up their boobs or getting facelifts, it's probably the only viable way to sell things like this in any big numbers.)

And, frankly, looking at the illustrations and the photos, I confess I found them kind of silly looking.

But, because of this, I never spent money on them, fearing that they weren't really a solution to my specific problem. I wasn't really concerned about my ass looking good. I wanted something that would guarantee me some comfort. I wanted a actual clinical solution, not a silly vanity product.

I wrote back to the woman at the company and she offered a product sample, confident that if I tried them, I would like them. And then she said I could say whatever I wanted. I could make fun of them, I could tell the world if they sucked, but just to give them a try.

At first, when they arrived and I pulled them out of the package, I thought, "I'll never wear these. They look ridiculous."

But, I have to confess, from the moment I pulled them on, they were absolutely comfortable. A little weird feeling, like having something in your two back pockets, but the construction of the garment is solid. This is not like buying a cheap t-shirt that falls apart.

At first, I thought the padding was just a bit too high on the hip to work for me, but I found that once I sat, it was easy to get the pads exactly where I need them and they were firm but soft. It didn't feel like I was sitting on a lump (my other fear). I'm also found that they were firm enough to actually matter and make a difference in my comfort level.

I tried something. I went to my office chair, pulled off the extra seat pad which normally sits there and spent a day working at my desk. I spent the weekend going back and forth between my normal undies and these, and I found myself really missing the padding when it wasn't there.

It's clear that they must have spent time working on the exact right size of the pad because, in daily activity, I barely noticed them. (My fear was that they would start sagging or, while walking around, feel like I had too much stuff in my back pockets or they would start to make me sweat and get heavy).

We went to the movies. Total comfort.

Saturday night, though, was the big test. Remember I told you how Berington and I did an impromptu concert when the scheduled artist didn't show up? Well, that was 90 minutes on the piano bench. Not only was I in complete comfort on that bench, but I forgot I was wearing these things altogether. And not once did I squirm or rearrange myself to stop being in pain.

It was a miracle!

So, I confess. I love these things. They might be advertised as just a product to make your butt look good, but they function, for me, as a clinical solution to a really painful problem. They are a bit pricey, as you will see: $30 a pair. But once I saw how much workmanship went into them -- each pad is fitted into a very securely make pocket that's sewn in; you remove the pad to wash -- it made total sense. This is not a fly-by-night product. It's well designed and well constructed.

And, I have to confess, I didn't hate the fact that Heidi noticed how good my butt looked when I bent over.

EDIT: Now you don't have to ask me what to get me for my birthday. I'm a size 32-34. :)

Dating Catwoman

Dating Catwoman

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Unexpected Night at Kulak's.

Something unexpected happened last night at Kulak's.

I got there about 25 minutes early. Berington was doing sound. He was talking to two people who I think I've met before, but forgot to reintroduce myself. They were engaged in conversation. We all said hello and I went back to the fridge to get some water, said hello to Duane who was helping put out the coffee, and noticed that no one else was there. The scheduled artist for the evening had not arrived.

I went back to the control room to speak with Paul. Lorraine was there. She keeps the MySpace page and she was trying to explain to him the difference between Facebook and MySpace.

Were they in an accident?

And also why no audience? It was downright spooky.

So, I thought, well, I have this concert coming up next week and I need to rehease my songs. I find it tedious to rehearse material alone. I'll get on the piano and just start singing.

I pulled out the bench, sat down -- quite comfortably*, I might add -- and said to Berington, "I think we should test this mic." *I'll explain this in a later post.

I started singing, we did an adjustment, and he turned back to his friends as I sat there rehearsing one number after the other. Duane was on the couch. I got into "War By Default" and forgot the lyrics to the last verse, but I plowed ahead. And playing that song made me think of another song, which led to another song. Which, I realize is exactly how my concert next week in Olympia is going to go no matter how much I might try to plan it out.

What else did I sing? Right. Gabi's Song. Oh, and just as I started "Reluctant Soldier" two people, an older couple, arrived. They sat right down in the little front row theatre seats in front of camera three. (These seats are hard, but there are pillows in them.)

So, I thought, should I just finish the song as if I'm performing tonight? It's already past 8. They probably assume I'm the artist. (There is no cover charge or waitress or formal door host at Kulak's.)

Why not.

So, I go for it. I'm singing up a storm, wishing I had a little more echo on the vocal, but not wanting to spoil the moment by calling for a technical adjustment. By now there were three more people and Duane had fallen asleep on the bed.

Big finish. Excellent applause.

"Thank you. Thank you. Tonight, for some reason, the act hasn't shown up. I'm your volunteer host and operator of camera three."

I took a huge theatrical bow (to much laughter). Exit stage left.

I went back to the control room for a few minutes when we suddenly heard Berington singing. It was a Neil Young song. "Tell Me Why." Oh, god, I love that song. And Berington was singing the hell out of it. We three filed back into the room.

I'm sitting on the couch singing along, when Berington calls me up to the mic. Now arrived are a couple of guys over on the wall, an attractive woman with long, brunette hair on the couch, another guy who I think is a musician, and everyone is singing "Tell Me Why."

I'm in heaven.

I haven't played with anyone else in so long. I love being in a band.

We finish and they want more Neil Young. Berington looks at me. No problem. One of the first songs I ever learned.

"Lover, there will be another one
Who'll hover over you beneath the sun"

Birds. I love the song, Birds. And it's really easy to play. Simple chords.

Now, suddenly everyone wants Beatles.

Brunette lady loves the Beatles. Fortunately, Berington is in a Beatles cover band, The Beatunes (not a Beatles imitation band, but a band that plays Beatle songs because they love them) so I get on the piano and he and I play Beatle songs. We're forgetting lyrics and missing chords, but it doesn't matter. Everyone starts singing along.

I sing "Let It Be." He sings "Something." (Here is a link to James Brown singing it.) Then he does one of his originals, grabs a bass, and now we're starting to pop a little. Berrington is one of those players who has an instinctual ability to follow along with what you're doing. So, I said, "Okay, I have a Beatles-related story."

And I proceeded to tell them the story of the day Gabi Clayton called me on the phone and said, "George Michael wants to fly you up to Olympia to play John Lennon's IMAGINE Piano. Do you want to go?" Unfortunately, this story has a lot of detail.

Berrington sat down as I was talking.

(Note to self: Speak less.) But then, the two of us began playing "Gabi's Song," his bass gently finding its way to all the right notes. He followed all the changes from minor to major as if he'd been playing the song all his life. (I've already asked him if he would play with me at Kulak's on May 22 when I do my half hour set with Paul Zollo. He thinks he has rehearsal, but we'll see.)

Toward the end of the night, I started telling this room of Beatles fanatics about the actual physical experience of playing that piano. I talked about how sound is so much a part of music, and how the "sweet spot" of an instrument can bring a song out of me, and that to be playing "Imagine" on the piano that created it is to hear it from the source.

We all sang Imagine together, almost communally. I said, isn't it amazing how you can play the opening set of notes and everyone around you just goes, "Ahhhh." (Which led to me talking about New World Waking, which led to "My Thanksgiving Prayer.")

It was really a nice moment. We did other stuff, and then around 9:30, we hit "Get Back," with him on bass, both of us jamming out, passing solos back and forth. God, I haven't done that in years.

Meanwhile, in the booth, Lorraine was working the cameras because she's been training on the switcher.

Paul came out and said, "You know. This is what I wish I could do. I wish I could just sit down at an instrument and make music and sing songs."

And that's why he created Kulak's Woodshed in the first place. Because he loves music. It reminds me of a reputed quote by Emerson, when asked about why he writes, expecting a philosophical answer like "to save the world" or something.

But the answer was, "Because I like words."

I do, indeed, feel blessed that I can sit and play and sing music. I thank my mom every day for "making" me take lessons long after I had stopped wanting them. Because that simple act of love made last night possible. And next week in Olympia. And next month back in Florida.

Hey, I just realized it's nearly mother's day and I just thanked my mom. And why not? Thanks, mom.