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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On...

"...and our little lives are rounded with a sleep."

I sat in Andy Gale's class yesterday, after having done Prospero's speech on my feet, loudly and bitterly saying these words, and circling around. A step or two I'll take to still my beating mind.

My beating mind.

With the rehearsals of New World Waking beginning -- soloists coming over to our apartment, the songs are springing to new life, even as I've written new ones to insert.

And it's like magic. With each new singer, the songs are reshaped by their bodies, their minds, their experiences, and now, thanks to being in the middle of a city filled with dreamers and students and magnificently trained voices, the songs are reaching moments of profundity even I couldn't bring to them as writer.

Andy said, "Now just sit and say the words." He said more and I heard, but I don't remember. What I do remember is taking time.

Taking time.

All my life, worried that I wasn't good enough, I've rushed through almost everything I've ever done. I have this persistent fear that whoever is out there listening to me would rather be somewhere else, and that they're giving me a few minutes just as a favor.

Poor guy. He tries so hard. We should let him sing a few tunes.

And that's how I was going after Prospero. A man who's lived his entire life on an island taking care of his beloved daughter, but mitreating his servants -- a misshapen "monster" and a magical sprite he'd saved from imprisonment in a tree.

But then, he realizes how pointless it is when you live your life angry and needing to get revenge. (He causes a storm to trap his abusers onto the island with him, after many years and now they're at his mercy). He survived but his humanity had not. He was so focused on power and control, he suddenly has this moment where he realizes how short life is.

Round with a sleep. We wake from a sleep. We go back to sleep.

"Just sit and let us hear you say the words."

All week long, I have been saying these words. This speech. Each morning, I rise at around 3. And walk down to another little island. Except this one is quite a bit more industrial than Prospero's.

It is, aside from having Jim in my life, the greatest place on earth. Alone with a piano for endless hours of quiet time. It is a luxury beyond all description.

As I approach the door, I actually get a little zing in my belly. The same kind I felt in my more, shall we say, sexually robust days, when knowing I opening a door with a lover inside. I still feel that way when I think of seeing Jim, after even a few hours apart from each other. That excitement that something really fun is going to happen behind that door.

Ever since this became available to me, just a few months ago, I first decided to learn a Chopin Etude. The reason was simple. It gives me a goal that is attainable, but only with hours of repetition -- especially for someone with my particular skills, which aren't that much. I can accompany myself, but the sight of, for instance, a score of a musical, that doesn't have guitar chords written over the top, leaves me terrified.

Chopin doesn't write chord names over his music.

I also bring with me a folder filled with song titles and other ideas. I have been writing scenes for a play, for instance. And it's funny. We've done some of it in class. I don't know if it's great writing. These actors have skills that make everything sound good. But in their hands, the scenes were really funny.

And I have written a lot away from the piano. But the first time, I had a piano like this, while we were working the ships, I wrote "How Do You Fall Back In Love" and the whole score to New World Waking.

Oh, god! New World Waking is suddenly upon us! I have no idea if anyone will be in the audience. Maybe it sounds like a boring night of theater. New World Waking. Ugh. I don't know. Doesn't matter. I'll give it a new name if that one doesn't work.

Flu season. I bought this and brought it down here. Lots of people play this piano. They should have easy access to sanitation.

The thing about New York that sets it apart from most cities, is that it's not only filled with the greatest talent in the world -- whether they live here or are passing through doing a show -- but that everyone wants to do things!

So, the clubs are beginning to put together theme nights, where they celebrate something, but what makes it great is that you can fill the stage with great singers. Because they want to sing!

A play isn't a play until it has actors saying the words. Without the performers, it's a stack of paper on the table.

So, you don't know what's going to happen once great singers start singing your songs.

In LA, I couldn't get anyone to sing my songs.

I love LA. But it was either I have to become a superstar performer or I don't exist.

Don't exist.

Unless I am Kim Kardashian, I am nothing.

Like Richard II alone in that cell at the end of his life. If I am not king, I am nothing.

But Prospero goes the other way. If I am not a human, then I am nothing.

Being a king is nothing. Being a magical wizard is nothing.

Prospero breaks his magic wand. Throws away his magic books and is standing alone.

He realizes that all of this was to attain that: A life well loved, in my own sentimental interpretation.

Billy Block, now in Nashville, used to tell me, as I was producing The Acoustic Underground shows with Paul Zollo and Blythe Newlon, When it comes to your music, turn your back and make something really interesting, and make them look over your shoulder.

Stop telling them how good you are and let them find you. If what you have is worthy of attention, then it will stand like a rock, outside the boundaries of time and space, the time and space being claimed by media. They don't exist.

"The great globe itself, yeah, all that it inherit, shall dissolve
And leave not a rack behind.":

Which is why living in the bonus round takes all that into account.

I know when I finish my Chopin, that if nothing else happens in my life, I am going to be able to play that etude.

And if I write a song or spin a tale or inspire someone else to push on, no matter what, no matter who, doing it for themselves, but always with an eye remembering that none of it matters,

I saw this thing about self-help gurus. I don't want to be that, though I never turn down a chance to sing and tell my story, What I want is more connection to the humans that made me. The ones who have always loved me.

And I see through the eyes of what I call the bonus round.

I had to almost die of AIDS for it to get hammered into my head for real. Some of us are stubborn.

I don't do that part well, for some reason. I think it's partly because I felt I had to leave home to survive my sanity, as a gay man, but also partly because I'm just selfish and self-centered. But at least I'm aware of it and I don't celebrate it. I, instead, try to catch myself being like that and then stopping it.

I'll be performing at the LA Lab School for their AIDS Awareness Day. Last year, we were introduced and this year some of the students will be joining in with me.

Oh, and New World Waking on December 6. Kids from their summer theater program are also going to be on stage with us.

What started this whole thing?

Oh, I got a note from someone who has just started reading the bonus round diary from the beginning.


If I sound like I'm bragging when talking about all this, I apologize. For me, it's like, "Can you believe all this is happening to me? That great singers are lined up wanting to dig into my songs?

And that almost every performance is a show-stopper. You know, it's only an hour long. I'm sure someone will think that it sucks, which is totally fine,

But I've been jumping around the apartment all week with excitement.

So, unlike Prospero, I am not done yet. I am not going to throw away my magic wand yet.

The bonus Round clock is ticking! Must reach for everything!

And on that note, I finally made a logo. That came from the University of Steve in New York Graphics Arts classes. Some day, he will be able to afford a professional. But, for now, this will do.

I know this blog makes no sense, but I'm too rushed to rewrite it and make it more professional. The piano doth call.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Photos from TRU Benefit

Yesterday, I joined a group that consisted of cast members from several companies of "The Last Session" to sing "When You Care" honoring one of our New York producer, Michael Alden.

Danette Sheppard, Stephen Bienskie, Amy Coleman & Gary Bankston.

Emcee Valerie Smaldone, Jim Brochu, Nancy Nagel Gibbs, Michael Alden.

Broadway stars Cady Huffman, Lee Roy Reams, Anita Gillette and myself.

Tickets for Dec. 6 New World Waking now on sale.

I am very excited about the new benefit production of New World Waking at Urban Stages. The cast is AMAZING and it's only $25. 

Additional lyrics by Rev. Peter J. Carman, Paul Zollo, & Avril Roy-Smith

 CAST Jeremy Abram, Maria Fernanda Brea, Jim Brochu, Natalie Dixon, Brian Dorais, Danika Dorais, Stephen Elkins, David Fuller, Bill Goffi, Kimberly Faye Greenberg, Cindy Marchionda, Steve Schalchlin, Jake Wesley Stewart, Lucia Spina, Eileen Tepper, Clayton G. Williams.

Get tickets here: 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

New World Waking at Urban Stages December 6.


New World Waking, my ongoing experimental theater/concert project, at this stage, is an idea more than it is a set piece because each iteration has been in a different form, though the songlist has remained the same. It's been done several different ways.

At Urban Stages, it will be a benefit for their Summer Youth Program, which is perfect because it begins and ends with the stories of two real life gay kids and their PFLAG moms -- one, a tragedy that ended in death. And one, a victory that transformed a school system.

 Anyway, the date is set. December 6. And now I start "casting" it,

But you know what that also means, don't you? Yes. I have to design a new logo.

The problem is that I don't know how to tag the piece.

It used to be New World Waking, a song cycle for peace. But that sounds meh. Then it became something else, and then something else. I don't remember. Or, I have them but I don't want to look at them because it's hard to describe this.

In a way, I wish I could call it a community sing. A concert and community sing. Because I do want the audience singing at the end. New World Waking, in its own way, is a call to action. A bit of theatrical agitprop, so to speak.

But community sing connotes handing out little booklets with old folk songs. Doesn't it? Does anyone actually do that anymore? Did they ever?

But there is an audience involvement I would love to implement without it seeming corny or coercive. We did it when I presented it with an acting class in Olympia, Washington. And it played beautifully.

But titles. What to call something you consider to unique. And is it a tie and tuxedo piece or is it a folks sittin' around the campfire piece?

I suppose it can be both. Which is the point.

I could also use the term "crowd source," since I've been inviting all my friends, and whoever else wants to, to join me on the stage. (Urban Stages has a lot of extra stage space for a small theater, which is why I love it, along with loving their staff and programming.)

So, we'll see. With Andy Gale, Mark Janas and Jim Brochu involved, it will not lack for entertainment value.

Maybe that's it! New World Waking, An Entertainment Value.

Gahhhh. I hate marketing. But it's what we have to do. If you don't tell someone what you have, they can't know until they see it. But they won't see it, until they know what it is.

I love show business. Either way, we're supporting a great program for youth. And that's worth it all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Catch up!

Had a great birthday party. Sheldon Harnick and Jim sang "Do You Love Me" from Fidder On the Roof with Jim singing the Golda part. Too hilarious.

Also, because our new building has a rehearsal room, I'm able to have access to a piano in the middle of the night, like on the cruise ships. So, it's exciting to be playing at 3am all through the morning.

I've been learning a Chopin Etude to increase my pianistic abilities. (Opus 10, number 1). I've been learning it for several months and finally have it memorized, but I play it at about 1/10 the speed it actually requires.

We love our new apartment. We finally feel like we have a home.

Also been singing at St. Clement's Church once a month.

And on December 6th, we'll be presenting New World Waking as part of Urban Stages' Winter Rhythms Cabaret Festival.

More soon!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Death of Steinbeck.

[I didn't know, when I began writing this diary entry that morning at 3am, that Steinbeck would be dead by the end of the night. He had had a stroke and couldn't eat. We thought about having him put to sleep, but it was a holiday and nothing was open. What you'll read was written in real time with only slight editing. As you might expect, this is a very emotional diary entry, so if you are prone to crying and don't want to do it in public, I suggest setting it aside and reading it later.]
Steinbeck asleep in his favorite place: Jim's chair.


SEPT 1 2014

He can barely walk
Tonight, for the first time, I heard him whimper
When he tried to get up
His bony hind legs like teepee sticks
Collapsing this way and that
And tonight, for the first time, I can hear his breath.
There’s a catch in it.

I can remember when he fit into the palm of my hand
On the day the man delivered him
His mother killed by a truck
On a movie lot
they were gonna bury the newborn kittens
Our friend called, “You guys want a blond boy?”
“Never turned down a blond boy in my life.”

A man the size of the doorframe
Held a tiny ball of fluff in his hands
Like in those Warner Bros. cartoons
Where the tiny kitten nustles into the back of the huge dog

He chased our feet and conquered the other cat
The previous top cat
Without the flick of a wrist

He was barely old enough to drink milk
Suckling on the folds of my fingers

Now he’s hiding in corners
And under tables
Ashamed to show his age
And his back legs fall when he tries the floor

He doesn’t drink
The kitchen seems so far away
He cannot find it
I bring him tuna juice
Which is normally like kitty crack
He turns his nose up

It’s time for him to die
And I want to help him die
But all I do is listen to his breath
Rattle in his dry empty cage of ribs

He wanders from corner to corner
Beneath chairs and tables

Just now I heard his nails haltingly
Scratch the floor in the hall on the way to the kitchen
Or to the catbox.
As if, in his fight to find comfort,
He vaguely remembered being pleasured
By the contents of something in that direction

But, halfway between them, he shlumped over
Exhausted by the effort
And tried to breathe some more

Hu- Hu- Hu- his mouth open
His lungs gasping
His tiny, atrophied muscles trying desperately
To separate that towering rib cage
And jerk some air into his lungs

Hu- Hu- Hu-
I crawled to him earlier, but it only annoyed him
And he stumbled four or five steps to get away
So, now, I just let him lie
And my heart is breaking
And rivers of tears
Are pouring out into the JC Penney carpet

Hu- Hu- Hu-
Like a “huh” but cut off.
Hu- Hu- Hu-

Wait. I can’t hear him now.
Like a ghost, he has vanished from the midway point.
It’s dark. Early morning. Before sunrise.

The A/C is humming and churning
Outside, the air is thick and moist and warm
The kind of weather I detest

I tried to go out there onto the back porch

We have a terrace which we call the back porch
Steinbeck loved the back porch.

Just to breathe and listen to the sounds of the city
On a Labor Day weekend at 3:39 am

It’s weirdly silent
the partiers have finished at the gay dance club down the street
And they’re moving; a silent pack up eastward on 42nd street
Trying to catch a cab
Sometimes, if there are too many drunk ones
The cops will come along and “loud speaker” them along

“Head east! Everyone head east! Move along”

The gay hotel is next to the police station.
Life has changed a lot in my 60 years here.
The gay hotel is next to the police station.

I can’t hear him
I don’t know if he’s trying to hide in order to spare me the pain of hearing it
Or if he is just annoyed when touched
Like, “Jeeesus, people. A little dignity here.”
The same look he gives me when I would spy him pooping in his box

He hasn’t pooped for awhile

I hear his nails on the wooden floors again
Distant. Maybe in the bedroom where Jim is asleep.
I go and make sure the door is open for him.

I imagine the worst.
That he’s in such pain, that he’s just adjusting
To find a place where it hurts the least
Like when I had those kidney stones
And had to take the horrible narcotic
Does he need a narcotic?

It’s Labor Day.

Jim found, online, people who will come
And euthanize your cat in your home
Right now, that seems so comforting

Down on the floor, earlier,
I knew we were in trouble because
He rejected my offer of water on my fingertip.
I stroked his body lightly.
I told him I loved him and that it was okay for him to go.

I know he didn’t understand those words.
But could he feel it in my stroke?
I want so badly to cuddle him and hold him
Upside down in my arms like we used to do.


Jeez. Now my eyes are burning again.
Words getting blurry

What’s he feeling?
I direct that cry, noiselessly, to God
Who noiselessly doesn’t respond

I’m not angry at God anymore
I used to be REALLY angry
Like, we’d pass a church and I’d
mentally toss a bomb through the colored glass
I could never actually do it, of course
I hate religions that feel they have to erase other religions
Don’t they realize that people,,,

Oh, who cares. Human nature.
And we do have a human nature.
We are not blank slates.
And human nature is an awful lot like animal nature.

Sometimes I want to crawl off into a quiet place

I find it here in the early morning hours
Places to vent my rage

I keep it bottled up, usually.
Not because I’m a martyr but because
I like other people.
And I want them to want to be around me
And I hate being around rageaholics.

Unless they let me laugh at their rage.
Then, it’s funny. Otherwise, it’s just

I can’t hear the cat
I don’t want to go looking for him.
He vomited up the baby food chicken puree
(a trick Jim picked up online)
Stupid Internet

Jim has been crying almost non-stop. Oh my god he loves that cat.

The games he and Steinbeck used to play
Steinbeck as a hat
The roll the cat up in the belly of the t-shirt
little orange paws sticking up
“Where’s the cat?? Do you see the cat?”

And Steinbeck
Would lie still as a sack of salt
Until he had enough
And then, he’d push his way out
At parties, they were a Vaudeville team

I want to go find him
But he wants to be left alone
Or he’s trying to save me the pain
Of watching him suffer

In all these 15 years together,
I never really knew what was going on in that brain of his
His gaze was as mysterious as a sphinx
Well, duh
I wonder how much he understood of me
It would have been the understanding of a being
That thinks in images, smells and touch
But no real language. No dialogue.
No holding his attention for a chat.

A chat with a cat.

I used to watch Jim talk to the cat
And then turn to me and inform me
Exactly what the cat had said to him.

That, for instance, it was perfectly all right
For us to go on that trip.
Daddy has to work.

And he developed relationships with the people who cared for him.
Michael. Jerzemiah. Jake. Mark. Lori and Eddie.
Lori and Eddie gave us a bag from a fancy store one time, and
Steinbeck all but live in that bag for a month

He had this way of accepting everyone.
At parties we’d throw, like back when I was similarly dying,
He’d splay himself in the middle of the room
His big fat white belly like a fluffy moon
And everyone would rub his belly
And step over him
And he would just stare at us
Or wait for someone to service his chin

Oh, god. I’m crying again.

This is the longest night of my life.

That hovering between life and death.

I remember it. Is this what Jim felt every night,
Back then
Me wheezing next to him?

This pain of this grief is almost unimaginable.
And there’s no soundtrack. I have no music on. Just the hum of the AC
And he’s somewhere going

Hu- Hu- Hu-

I get up and find him on the bed

Jim, teary-eyed, is stroking him,
“He was just lying there on the floor.
So I picked him up and brought him here."
I see Steinbeck’s little mouth open

And I go into the other room and find myself wailing.

Unconsciously, to relieve the tightness in my chest,
I start beating it. I’m beating my chest, facing the Hudson.

I go back in and crouch down and stroke his spiky back
And Jim and I are bawling and I say something like,
It’s okay. You can go.
And Jim says, It’s okay. You can go.

A moment later, Jim says, “I think he’s gone.” We look down.
Check for breathing. Can’t tell.

Then his head jerked twice.
Then his legs jerked twice.
Then his head, twice again.
Not a jerk. More like a shiver. The shiver from the Steinbeck Stretch, A comedy bit he and Jim used to do.

And that was it.
Jim said, “He peed on the bed.”
We wrap him in a towel, strip the bed.

And then we hold each other and weep. And cry out loud a little.

Steinbeck lying in state.
Special bonus video curtain call. Steinbeck and Jim singing:

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Brief Update.

Because of the death of Steinbeck, we are mostly staying to ourselves. 

But I am singing at St. Clement's again this Sunday. This time "Lazarus Come Out." If you want to join me, just show up at 10:30. 46th between 9th and 10th.

Monday, September 01, 2014