BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.

I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- which 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 playing 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] and we're just getting started.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Two Sold-Out Shows at TRADITIONS FAIR TRADE Cafe.

I'm about to get on a plane, but I wanted to thank PFLAG-Olympia for the chance to sing with the hilarious and talented Righteous Mothers (warning: link automatically plays music) this weekend. The Traditions Fair Trade was packed to the rafters for both shows, and I don't think I've ever experienced a more moving and loving concert than we had this night. And when the Righteous Mothers joined me for my three finale songs, we KILLED. Wow, did we sound good.
TRADITIONS FAIR TRADE Cafe and gift shop from the outside at night.
"Fair Trade" means clothing and crafts from poor, indigenous peoples all over the world,
bought directly from the makers and not through a middle man.
This way more money goes to the ones who make the items.

Peeking in the window of TRADITIONS in Olympia, Washington.




The Righteous Mothers and I played this room.
They have music and food every night.

The pianos was beautiful. And in tune!
More indigenous folk art on the walls for sale.

Here's a poster explaining "Fair Trade."
It's a creative way to use capitalism, isn't it?
On this page is a selection of items they feature.

Here's the "kitchen."

I loved the big pot of soup boiling. You order there at the counter.
They bring you your order.
It has a great turkey sandwich, but they also have vegan and vegetarian offerings that were quite tasty.
The black bean enchiladas were savory and delicious.

Gabi threatened to sing.



Tibetan singing bowls.
Cup one in your hand, Then use the mallet to create a ringing sound.
Many massage therapists use this to kind of clear the mind,
using music to create a healing environment.
The Righteous Mothers do a sound check.
We did a show together two nights. I'll describe them in another entry. They've been singing together for 30 years, I think. Their folk sounding songs use a lot of narrative and usually comment on social issues.

I found them on Spotify this morning. Check The Righteous Mothers – Louise And Roger  I tweeted it this morning under #SongsIWishIHadWritten.

This clothing lasts forever. Nothing shoddy or worn.
It may not look fashionable, but it's as couture, in its own way, as anything
else hand stitched.
There's an idea for the TV show, Project Accessory.
Design a look using only Fair Trade clothing.

You could spend hours in this store and still not see everything.
I saw this stack of hats.
I've never worn a hat -- or, if I did, it was for short periods of time.
I'm so tall, that hats just look stupid on me, usually.
Also, my head is very big, so most hats don't fit.
But when I see a stack of hats...

I don't know. I might be rockin' this hat.

Hmmm.

Q likes it!


The brown one fits a little better.
Maybe the black one is a little too Herman Cain.

That's one of the Righteous Mothers, Clare Meeker.
I was walking all over Hell's Kitchen last night after I got home and I was wearing at least one of these hats. I saw myself in a mirror and I think I look like a hillbilly but my friend said it looked dashing, very Indiana Jones.

Hmm. A Hillbilly Indiana Jones. I can do that.




Friday, January 27, 2012

Article in The Olympian.

Wonderful article by Molly Gilmore about my close relationship with Olympia, Washington.

“I have a special emotional connection to Olympia,” said Schalchlin, a lyricist, composer, pianist and actor who’ll perform this weekend at two benefit performances for Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays.
Read more here: 

Tonight in Olympia.

Had a great rehearsal yesterday with the Righteous Mothers. Am feeling a bit under the weather, though. So, some to the show if you're in the Olympia area and we'll see if my froggy throat will survive!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Day At Manhattan School of Music.

Yesterday, I witnessed a number of impromptu mini-cabaret performances that left me riveted in my seat, tears just streaming down my cheeks.

It was the birth of something remarkable. Sadly, I do not have video.

Oh, I brought the camera. It was lying on the turned-around piano, fired up and ready to go. But it I had turned it on, the magical things that happened wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have happened.

When I say impromptu I mean that I didn’t know it was going to happen, and neither did the singers, themselves.

It wasn’t some cabaret convention with ladies in gowns and men in tuxes. I went to that, and it was great and all, but this was not that. It was on the sixth floor of a faded-mansion Manhattan school room on the west side “in the hundreds.” Something called the Manhattan School of Music, and I was the guest “lecturer.” I even wore my good suit and pretty red tie, decorated with music staffs. A man in the elevator tried to sing it.

“This used to be Julliard, you know. Until they built Lincoln Center. The people who have walked these halls.” Mark Janas, escorting me down the hallway lined with framed pictures of men in tuxes and women in gowns, all playing cellos or violins or pianos. Or singing. Did that say Toscanini?

We pass a room where the door is open. I peer in and I’m looking at an orchestra tuning up.

Mark says, “It always it thrills me to see that.” I immediately thought of those old cartoons where someone opens a door, and whole city appears. I wondered how big is that room and what it must sound like to sit and listen to your own private orchestra.

We get into an ancient elevator. At first, it won’t move, so Mark forces the doors open and lets them shut again. It moves. 6th floor (the top floor).

The room is large and airy. Walls bare and aged. Tall windows. Shades drawn halfway down. Chandeliers with tiny lights, glaring. Outside, it was gray and cold. A beautiful church spire, probably Episcopal, was near.



Mark again, “You’re gonna like this piano. It’s big.”

At the other end, a concert sized Steinway on a small stage, elevated just a foot above the main floor. Parquet. Facing sideways.

We piled our coats beneath the piano to dampen the sound a bit.
“Let’s turn the piano,” he says, “and put the students around you.”

I recall another time when I was invited to a class, where the students were there, mostly, because it was an easy credit they could report to their parole officers.

Young people are tricky.

Sometimes they look bored at you, or like you’re going to tell them their family just died in a car crash.

But when they’re open and available, when they’re eager and responsive, when they look hungry and curious, it all has to happen so spontaneously and unselfconsciously, that you don’t know it’s happening until it’s happening.

A few of them are already there. 9:30 class.



They don’t know I’m coming. Mark didn’t invite me until yesterday morning. I had performed a song Sunday morning in church that I had worked on with him and Andy Gale this past Saturday in their “Acting the Song” workshop.

“At A Hospice, In The Atrium” is one I had actually sung before, and posted on YouTube. Back then, it was when the song was first written, and I was unsure of the lyrics, stumbling over them a bit, making up the chords as I went along. But the song is so meaningful to me -- one I mulled over for years before finding a way to write, that I posted it anyway. It’s gotten less than a hundred hits, so it doesn’t matter anyway.

(As I write these words, I am preparing to do a concert in Olympia, where I will be singing in a folk cafe. I have always felt like I”m more folk singer than theater or cabaret artist, but really, in an auto-tuned world, these are lines are dissolving.)

I asked Mark what it was that he was teaching, what’s the curriculum? He said the class is a kind of outreach program to the community, but it’s more than that. He’s teaching these opera students to sing jazz and standards, and then do programs for some senior centers, plus they actually write a children’s opera, parodying themes from various operas that teach about opera, and they perform it to school kids. It’s a lot of work.

I’m more than sure there are some students who might feel something like this is a little beneath their dignity, to sing standards? But more than that, as a listener, opera people singing standards can be nails on the blackboard.

Everyone piled their coats under the piano to help muffle the sound. Then we took all the chairs and put them around the piano in an arc.

What Mark wanted from me was simply tell my story and sing some of the songs, illustrating the healing power of music, and the fact that it’s a calling. That lives are changed. Even if you’re cast in the worst show, in the stupidest part, someone will have needed to see that.

I began with “Connected,” the song that saved my life. The song that gave birth to The Last Session. The score that kept me alive. I told them about my online diary, among the first of its kind, about performing with an IV port stuck in my arm.

Then, I started “Lazarus.” I wanted to hear them sing. And, frankly, if I were one of them, I’d be wanting to sing, too. They caught on pretty quickly, with Mark’s help. But it felt only okay. I think we were all just feeling each other out, trying to figure out what it was we were trying to learn from another.

At one point, though, as I was singing “Going It Alone,” one of the girls bounded out of the room in tears. She told me later that it had to do with her mother and cancer, and needing to be strong.

Finally, after about an hour, we took a break and Mark had the idea to tell them to think of a story from their own lives, and then tell that story as an intro to a song.

Well, they came back. One girl got up and told a story about wanting to find her birth mom. How she had registered her name and was hoping someone from the family was also registered. And then she opened her mouth and sang... “Skylark, have you anything to say to me.”

And I was done.

Tears streaming down my face. And then, to top it off -- how well we can be moved by performers with nice intentions but no real singing skills -- she could sing. She could really, really sing. So, I couldn’t escape. She had me in her thrall.

Then, another girl. She remembered being a young girl, in the car. Her mom tells her that she’s pregnant and that this girl will have a brother. She remembered being angry and petulant at the intruder who would take her place. But when the baby brother came, he became the number one person in her life. Then she started singing, “There were birds on the hill but I never heard them singing...”

And, once again, I totally lost it.

And on THAT SONG? Geez, I’ve heard that song so much in my life, if you had told me what she was going to sing, I would have exited the room. A chestnut!

After a few notes, though, Mark stopped her. It was very operatic sounding in the original key. He said, “Let’s lower it and put it in a conversational key.”

Now, that was a term I had never heard before. Maybe he made it up on the spot.

A conversational key.

And, whoa. Phenomenal. Moving. Gut wrenching.

Lesson learned. Any song can work if you give it context. And great cabaret singing is really about telling a very real, personal story. The truth.

I had said to them earlier, “You live in a world that is filled with bullshit. Everything runs on bullshit. Tell the truth, sing the truth, and heads will snap in your direction.

Well, next it was one of the boys. Then another. Each one more emotional and amazing than the last, but all equal on their own terms, if you know what I mean.

One girl, a blond, very pretty. Raises her hand. I feel that I don’t have anything special to say. I mean, especially compared with your story.

“Well,” I told her. “Feelings aren’t facts. You are enough. What you’re experiencing is what everyone experiences who tries to get into the arts. ‘Who would care about me or my story?’” Mark told her she could stand up and use that feeling as an intro to a song.

The experience of the whole morning was so singular and, frankly, transcendent, that I never thought to pick up a camera, not even to just do a group shot. That’s when you know you’ve had a special time, like when audiences would let “Going It Alone” fade into silence.

At the end, I told them, very honestly, that what I heard that morning was as good as anything I have ever heard on a New York City stage. And that’s saying a lot. And I meant it. And I’m so grateful that Mark gave me the opportunity.

I believe all of their performances this year are going to be more or less open to the public. And I believe they’ll be singing at the open mic at Mark Janas The Salon on Sunday nights. I honestly cannot wait to hear them sing again.

But that birth. Yesterday morning. While it was unique, and couldn’t be replicated exactly, it will happen again. As Mark and I both emphasized, nothing they did was hard or complicated. In fact, the idea of stepping onto a stage and being honest is as obvious a notion as drinking water.

But, from experience, he and I knew that the ease with which these students made that transition was both remarkable and inevitable.

Like life should be. Remarkable and inevitable.

At A Hospice.


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wikipedia Definition of an Actor.

Jim's agent called the other day and said, "Go to Wikipedia and do a search on the word 'actor.' See what you find."

Naturally, our thought was that there would be the standard definition and history, as well as some examples of great actors, such as Edwin Booth or Lawrence Olivier, Merle Streep or Liz Taylor.

Instead, there was this:


I swear I had nothing to do with it and I have no idea how it got there. But there we are, the Wikipedia definition of "actor."

Our actor friends here keep asking, "How did you pull that off?"

But then, my friend, Linda, reminded me that we had actually seen this page before, years ago. But I guess it just didn't register with me at the time. And, of course, anyone can change Wikipedia. So, maybe it will be gone tomorrow. Who knows?

But, how "universe is trying to tell you something" is that?

Jim Brochu's Zero Hour. Toronto Feb 8-Mar 11.

Jim Brochu is bringing Zero Hour back to Toronto for four weeks. Bathurst Street Theatre. Get ticket info here.

Heading to Olympia.

JANUARY 27-28, 2012 8PM
TRADITIONS CAFE
THE RIGHTEOUS MOTHERS and SHACK
OLYMPIA, WA

I'm getting very excited about singing Olympia. I think I mentioned that I have been a student again, taking classes with Andy Gale and Mark Janas. I honestly think I've never met anyone with as good an eye as Andy, for helping singers loosen up and deliver a song with intimacy and conviction.

I began the classes at the end of last year, and have continued them through the new year. It's a pretty simple set-up. Mark on piano. Andy and the other classmates in front of you. And you get up and sing. The terrifying thing for me, at first, was just getting used to someone else playing my songs for me. I'm so used to setting the tempo and created the whole moment.

But it's also limiting to be sitting at a piano, so it's a great exercise. I had never thought about auditioning for anything until this class. I would never have had the courage. But now, I think I could probably go into any audition and nail it, meaning have a terrific audition. (Getting the role, itself, is a whole 'nother thing that depends on factors not in one's control, such as height, looks, age, size, vocal quality, etc.)

I wish I had had the forethought to tape these sessions -- and I've even been carrying my camera around with me but I'm so caught up in the moment, I forget it's in my pocket.

What has happened, though, over the two months of training, is that my confidence is building. I don't know whether it's being southern or small town or what, but I tend to be really shy when singing. I can fake it pretty good, usually, like when I got nominated for a best leading actor in a musical in Los Angeles -- what was up with that?? -- but sometimes I can't. I never had this kind of training, the kind of intense training that good actors undergo as they work to get their break in the biz.

But, in Olympia, I get to just be myself at the piano. I'm gonna bring a list of songs and then just go for it. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Internet Blackout


I went to Wikipedia and, instead, found my congressman.

I hope others will do the same.

The media spokespersons say they only want to ban sites that only do "illegal" sharing. But how long till ideas become "illegal" and suddenly, like China, you have a long list of government people sitting at desks deciding which sites can stay open and which will be blocked.

The Internet must be free. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Here's to Mel White on MLK Day. (Edited)

(This entry has been edited. See below. But the original language is intact.)
Mel White, Soul Force.
I have been enjoying conversation with some political types who are very passionate about their beliefs, that the system needs to be replaced. Interestingly, some of these are hard core right and some are hard core left. I like drifting between worlds. You learn more that way. I, myself, have been called an activist, but I prefer to think of myself, because of my health limitations, a musical tactical support system.

If there's a hospital set up between warring camps, you'll find me at the out of tune piano, singing for the patients.

But in these discussions, too often the talk is violent. The words violent. The anger misdirected to people, rather than to injustice itself. "They are evil" is meaningless in a world where any of us in that position might be acting exactly the same way. Conservative Christians consider this evidence of a fallen world. Naturalists will simply say that it's animal instinct. A distinction without a difference, I fear.

The other morning, one fellow was particularly angry and he was speaking so harshly, I kind of corrected him on having "violence of the tongue" toward his opponents. I sent him to this link, called an Activist Guide, Mel White's soul force.

On this day, celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, I thought it might be useful to bring forward the set of principles of non-violence that guided me when I participated in a March on Lynchburg to stand up against what we believed was an incorrect and damaging image that Rev. Falwell was painting of us.

Looking back, it seems absolutely bizarre. Jerry, at the last minute, refusing us the meal he had offered. Us sitting at round tables for 10, with nothing but bottles of water, interspersed with members of his congregation. I wonder what ever happened to the girl sitting at my table that day? The one who loved her estranged gay brother so much -- "He's the one who led me to the Lord." -- but who felt torn between her angry parents and her resentful brother.

Victims of the culture war.

Mel doesn't get a lot of attention. He is a humble, kind man. His work synthesizing the principles of Gandhi and King to create "Soul Force" is an outstanding achievement.

That some activist group furthered his work is a testament to his devotion to justice and his Christian faith.

EDIT UPDATE

This essay has been criticized by people from both the right and the left. Someone on the right said that I was playing the victim card, especially using language like "culture war," etc. And someone from the left agreed with him that in using this terminology as a metaphor for what is, essentially, social and political differences, I was cooperating with war.

And, you know what? I totally agree. Now, should I change the essay above or just let this edit speak for itself?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Quietude on the Blog.

I have been rather quiet on this blog because a lot of what I used to do here I now just do at Facebook. Pointing to articles, linking, etc.

Back in the Old Days of the blog -- back in 1996 -- when I was trying to narrate my death, I would reach  moments of reflection and suddenly declare and "end to book" two or whatever. I divided my life into volumes which I can now go back and examine, something I haven't done yet.

But the point is that I have been personally attending to some health issues, nothing serious. But I've also been writing some music. It's a new song that I'm submitting to someone, so I don't want to jinx it by talking about it and then getting rejected. My RT friends know about it and have heard various versions of it.

Additionally, I've been taking performance classes with Andy Gale and Mark Janas, and preparing for the concert with the Righteous Mothers in Olympia.

We have kinda been going out a lot, but it's mostly to meet people and network. We'd already rather be home plopped in front of the TV, but business is business.

Anyway, a great new year to you, dear reader. And may we all survive survival.