Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Action Alert from PFLAG

Sean William Kennedy was an 18 year old in South Carolina who was leaving a bar one night when Stephen Andrew Moller jumped out of a car, screamed an "anti-gay epithet" at him and killed him by punching him. When Sean's head hit the ground, his injuries were fatal. According to the Wikipedia entry,
"In October of 2007, The Greenville County Solicitors Office announced that Moller's murder charge was going to be reduced to involuntary manslaughter, since there was no malicious intent by the accused.

"In November of 2007, Stephen Andrew Moller was released to home detention upon paying a $25,000 bond. He is required to stay with his mother until his trial. The charge of murder was reduced to manslaughter not only because there was no conscious premeditated desire to kill Kennedy, but also because there is no middle step in South Carolina law between murder and manslaughter. Unable to secure a conviction for murder, the trial lawyers opted for manslaughter in order to get the violent activity onto Moller's record. The sentence carries a 0-5 years prison term, and it is likely that Moller will be released for time served."

What PFLAG is hoping to do is help local authorities prosecute hate crimes like this by passing national hate crime legislation. It's probably true that the attacker didn't mean to kill Sean. After all, he was just having a little fun, driving around town punching people he believed to be faggots in the face. A local sport? A way to impress the chicks? A way to prove your manhood?

So, a gay kid is dead and the killer goes free. Sound familiar?

I'm not one for passing around petitions, but PFLAG has set one up to encourage the Senate to pass a bill that will help local law enforcement in cases like this, where the gap between outright murder and manslaughter is too wide. Go sign it and send the link to your friends.

Meanwhile, if you're gay and in South Carolina, a killer will be released soon. And there's no legal protection for you unless he really "means" to kill ya.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Little Shakin'.

I had my headphones on and was working on a piece of music up in the loft overlooking the living room. A big truck came roaring past us outside, the kind that shakes the walls.

So, the walls shuddered. And then kept on shuddering and kept on shuddering, at first not rising in intensity. Then, after a moment, it started to rise markedly.

That's when it's most scary. Because you are on a bucking volcano and you have no control. It will intensify exactly as much as it wants to.

I immediately looked around me and saw that there was nothing that could fall on me. So I grabbed the sides of the table and just held on. In retrospect, I suppose I should have gotten under the table, but in an emergency I tend to freeze in place.

I was listening to everything downstairs. At first, as I said, it seemed more like a big truck rolling past. But then, as it picked up, I heard things start tinkling downstairs, then dishes shaking, and finally, a crash. Like something falling off the wall.

Then, just as I thought it was going to shake totally out of control, it settled down. Shuddered, then slept.

It's impossible to say how long an earthquake temblor lasts. The one today lasted, as far as I was concerned, a half hour. However, I think I heard some no-nothing "scientist" on TV say that today's lasted about 20 seconds, depending on how far away from it you are. The farther away, the longer the "roll."

I heard voices out in the courtyard. A mom was rounding up kids, her own and others. A shirtless guy in genes was looking for his cat. I hadn't met him before. Seemed nice. We looked for "Mimi" and then, when he was satisfied she wasn't lost in the courtyard, I came back to the apartment to see what might have gotten broken and to look for Steinbeck.

Finding him was easy. Under the bed, eyes wide open. But the broken thing. I couldn't find it.

I know I heard something crash. I checked the bathroom. I checked the wall in the hallway. Nothing fell. Bedroom. Looks fine. But I know I heard a crash. I had to be somewhere.

I went back into the kitchen and that's when I saw it.

Right at the top of this little pyramid of Presidential plates (don't ask), on top of the French poster of Jim's play, "Cookin' With Gus," "Les Pieds Dans Les Plats," was an empty plate holder.

I looked down at the floor. No glass. No shards.

I moved the rack with the microwave and there on the floor was the plate. I picked it up.

It was Jim's Sardi's plate. The plate I got for him with his Sardi's caricature.

Not a chip. No break at all. What I heard just sounded like a crash.

The Sardi's plate had survived. All is well.

Talked to Jim via Skype and told him everything was fine, but that we missed him. It's fun to see each other on webcam. Makes it easier to be apart, but not by much.

And that was our big earthquake adventure.

Pantheon has been delivered.

Well, it's done.

Last night, I finished up all the work that I had to do on "Pantheon" and I delivered the files to Kathleen at the SFGMC and now it's in her hands to arrange and orchestrate. It feels so good, after months, of transcribing and rearranging, to have it done and delivered.

Someone asked me what my next project is. I've actually been approached by someone to try something I haven't done before. I'll talk more about it if it works out.

But making plans? I never know what I'm going to write until it's about 2/3 done. I just let the songs come to me and then somehow they turn into something worthwhile. (Or they don't and I just stick them in the trunk for later use).

Kathleen is in Australia at the moment. I think it's amazing that we can exchange all this work while she's on the other side of the world.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We Love The Kroffts.

The greatest TV producers ever, Sid & Marty Krofft, are back in the news today in a special column in the LA Times. Jim worked with them on two series and says they're both batshit crazy. But then, that's why we loved their shows!

Sid and Marty Krofft are still pulling the strings

Sid, Marty and Jack
Krofft Picture Archive
THEIR HEYDAY: Sid, left, and Marty Krofft with Jack Wild, the young star of “H.R. Pufnstuf,” which premiered in 1969. The show’s premise — a child stumbles upon a hidden fantasy world — turned into a winning formula for the Kroffts, who also created “Lidsville” and “Land of the Lost.” There’s a new appetite for their low-budget shows.
Nearly 40 years after the psychedelic splash of 'H.R. Pufnstuf,' the bickering puppeteers believe their time has finally come.
By Geoff Boucher, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 26, 2008
Hollywood is often described as a dream factory, but really it's just as often a salvage yard. Anxious studio executives would rather bet their $100-million budgets on nostalgia than on new ideas, which is why, against all odds, Sid and Marty Krofft are back in business.

The Krofft brothers, both now in their 70s, have a showbiz story that dates back to the final days of vaudeville. But for children of the Nixon years, their name is the brand behind some of the era's strangest TV programming: shows such as "H.R. Pufnstuf," "Lidsville," "Land of the Lost" and "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters."

Those low-budget shows had rubber-costumed actors, fluorescent puppets and psychedelic sets that were by the 1980s hopelessly dated; and by the end of that decade, the same could be said of the Kroffts.

Today, though, thanks to the Hollywood appetite for all things kitschy and high-concept, the Kroffts are poised for the biggest payday of their career -- unless, of course, they strangle each other first.

"Things did get lean, but we never gave up," said Sid, 78, the smiling, soft-spoken dreamer of the two.

His brother, sitting next to him at their Studio City office, rolled his eyes. "We? I wouldn't let you give up," snapped Marty, still the deal maker at 71. "I wouldn't let us sell the rights to our old shows. That is why we are where we are today."

Read the rest here. Registration required on LA Times site.

Was Google Calendar hacked?

UPDATE: YES, THIS IS A HACK. If you get this email, ignore it.

Is anyone here using Google Calendar? I just got a note saying they were going to delete my account unless I provide them with some verifying information. But it wasn't just an email. It was actually placed there on my calendar. If this is a hack, it means they hacked into either just my account or all of Google Calendar.The update note on the calendar:
Dear Account User This Email is from Gmail Customer Care and we are sending it to every Gmail Email User Accounts Owner for safety. we are having congestions due to the anonymous registration of Gmail accounts so we are shutting down some Hotmail accounts and your account was among those to be deleted. We are sending you this email to so that you can verify and let us know if you still want to use this account. If you are still interested please confirm your account by filling the space below.Your User name,password,date of birth and your country information would be needed to verify your account.

Due to the congestion in all Gmail users and removal of all unused Gmail Accounts, Gmail would be shutting down all unused Accounts, You will have to confirm your E-mail by filling out your Login Information below after clicking the reply button, or your account will be suspended within 24 hours for security reasons.

* Username:
* Password:
* Date of Birth:
* Country Or Territory:

After following the instructions in the sheet, your account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thanks for your attention to this request. We apologize for any inconveniences. Warning!!! Account owner that refuses to update his/her account after two weeks of receiving this warning will lose his or her account permanently.
The thing is I don't have a Hotmail account. I'm sure this is a sophisticated phishing hack. It's just startling that it's sitting there on my calendar. I don't know how to email Google.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Hard Death To Take.

I hadn't seen him in 35 years but the moment his wife, Annie, finally found me and delivered the news that Dwight Franklin of Buna, Texas had died, hot tears slammed out of my eyes and burned my face, turning me into a total wreck. Hell, I don't even have a picture of him.

But when our family moved down into the deepest part of the east Texas woods, one of the few persons who kept me sane was a grumpy, long-haired, intolerably sexy guitarist singer named Dwight Franklin who was only a few years older than me.

I wrote about him once in the diary, back when I found out he had throat cancer. I can't say it better than this:

Dwight Franklin is the coolest person I ever met. He never actually tried to be cool. He simply is/was the embodiment of cool itself. And not cool in a dumb, street kid way. No, Dwight was smart. Dwight was a musician. Dwight was one of the first persons I ever met who made me realize how much I didn't know. He made me curious.

Dwight lived out in the woods near Buna, Texas in a place called Gum Slough (pronounced "sloo"). He lived in a big ramshackle house at the end of a road that wound through the slough.

When I arrived in Buna in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, it was the late 60s/early 70s. The Vietnam war was raging and my life's goal at that time was to become a hippie and live in San Francisco. However, since I was in 10th grade and the Baptist preacher's kid, the best I could do was wear Indian moccasins and engage in the ongoing Haircut Wars with my parents.

Dwight was a year older than me and I don't even remember how I met him. I think I met him because he was friends with Butch, a bass guitarist. Dwight, with his long hair, ever-present electric guitar was a god to me. I took one look at his home made studio, his ability to play the best blues and rock songs, and did everything I could to just find excuses to hang out at his place.

He even drank beer, which was very exotic to me. (I never indulged).

I think he could tell that I was a smart person but he also laughed at my naivete and goaded me into smartening up. For instance, one time he asked me if I liked jazz music. My response was that, well, at Disneyland I kinda enjoyed listening to the...

He interrupted me. "Not that kind of jazz. That's dixieland for tourists. I'm talking about real jazz."

I shrugged. In one question I learned that there was a "jazz" out there that I knew nothing about.

He also liked to read intense science fiction novels, the kind written as almost literature. He gave me one to read -- Stand On Zanzibar. It was unlike anything I had ever read at that time and it made me thirsty for smart writing.

After I left for college, I lost contact with Dwight except the occasional visit. At one point, he had a terrible accident. He was working as a lineman for the county and got involved in a bloody concussive accident with the power line that cracked his head open and left him in a long recovery. I then lost track of him, but recently we hooked up again because he's been battling cancer in his throat.

His wife, Annie, dialed my phone the other day and forced Dwight to speak to me. He was crying. He spoke to me and his voice was so weak. In his voice I heard myself back when I was near death. I guess for two singers like us, it's all about the voice. Back before The Last Session was on the boards, I tried recording a demo. On that day I couldn't reach the high note because my voice was just too weak. I didn't have the power. It was when I first really felt the touch of death hovering over me.

Immediately I realized what he was going through. We talked for about 20 minutes. I did get a few laughs out of him. Other things we said must stay between us -- and I sincerely hope this entry doesn't make him feel bad, but it wasn't until all this started happening that I began to remember what Dwight Franklin meant to me. He was part of my escape from a world I didn't feel I belonged to.

Thank you, Dwight. And by the way, it doesn't matter how weak you may feel or how much indignity you might suffer through your recovery, in my eyes you will always be the Coolest Human Being on Earth.
I hate that he wasn't famous and that you, reader, didn't know him. But I do remember what it felt like to be in Dwight's presence, and as long as I live, I will strive to be the smart, engaged person he thought I could be.

Thanks for waking me up, Dwight. Thanks for making me see that there really is a big, big world out there -- and that it's not scary. I miss you so much already. And thank you, Annie, for taking care of him.

The one good thing is that I got to tell him how much he meant to me. And he got to see that diary entry, too. Bye, Dwight. Gone but NOT forgotten. Never.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

HIV Travel Ban Lifted?

All it will take is Bush's signature, but the Hyde-Lantos Bill has now passed the House and the Senate by overwhelming margins and not only does it provide AIDS funding in Africa and elsewhere, but it also lifts the hated Immigration and Travel ban. The US, thanks to sadly bigoted, ignorant homophobes like Jesse Helms (who Liddy Dole had the GALL to want to rename this bill after) had long been the only Western country that prevented people with HIV from entering this country.

This meant that all the International AIDS meetings got held in other countries, and that people who had friends or who had relationships with PWAs were not allowed to bring them here.

It's about time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pauch Dies. His "Last Lecture" Became An Internet Sensation.

Much like the great Jonathan King at Stanford who delivered a series of videos and lectures after being diagnosed with cancer, professor Randy Pauch delivered a famous "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University for his children and, thankfully, for the rest of us.

The Last Great Jo Stafford's Secret Identity.

Jo Stafford was one of the great big band singers who just recently passed away. Her big song was "See the pyramids along the Nile..." and "I'll Never Smile Again."

She was well known for doing parody songs in her career. If you listen at this link, you'll hear the abominably bad and hilarious recording of "Staying Alive," with her husband (who played all the wrote notes while she sang a half-tone sharp).

They called themselves Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, a club act from New Jersey and, believe me, it takes a lot of talent to make music this bad.


Gypsy Rose Lee Interviews Ethel Merman.

A rare find sent to my by my friend, Doug. From the Gypsy Rose Lee talk show that originated out of San Francisco. It's interesting when Gypsy talks about her mother in this because we later learned, in an article in Vanity Fair, that her mother's last words to her, on her dying bed, was, "If only I could grab you and pull you into hell with me." Not a nice woman, Gypsy's mom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Guy Who Cared About Amancio.

In Yuma, Arizona, a change of plea has been made in the case of a gay boy, Amancio Corrales Gallardo Jr., who was murdered by an attacker, Ruben Soloria-Valenzuela, and dumped at a water run-off. (He had an onstage persona as "Delila" and was a popular local entertainer. When they found him, he was dressed Delila.)

Amancio's mother is not happy with the 8 year prison sentence with time off for good behavior, and $50,000 to the family of the handsome, friendly female impersonator.

But it wouldn't have even come to this if not for the heroic caring of a perfect stranger, a man named Michael H. Bauman who felt that homophobia was too rampant in this out of the way desert city.

When he read about the killing, he felt that no one was drawing attention to the murder, much less trying to find his killer. So, he personally took responsibility for publicizing the case, learning now to create a website, The Amancio Project, and becoming a liaison between the family and the police.

Amancio's mother speaks very little English. The killer was found because of the work of someone who just cared a great deal, proving that in this Internet age, people can have an effect on things when they just put themselves out there.

Readers of the Bonus Round are encouraged to send notes of support to Amancio and his family through The Amancio Project.

Change of Plea in Corrales Manslaughter Case

Yuma, AZ – In Judge Reeves Courtroom today the mood was somber as the Plea Agreement arrived at between the Defense and Prosecution in the case of The State of Arizona vs. Ruben Soloria-Valenzuela was read aloud. The agreement stipulated Valenzuela plead guilty to Second Degree Manslaughter with aggravated circumstances. Valenzuela will also be required to pay restitution to the family in an amount not to exceed $50,000.00.

Valenzuela will receive a prison term of eight years and nine months. He will be credited for time served since his arrest on May 23, 2007. Under the Arizona Good Behavior Statute he will be required to serve 85% of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

The "aggravated circumstances" in the plea agreement are: 1. that a deadly weapon was used in the commission of the offense, and 2. Corrales' death caused great emotional harm to his surviving family.

Judge Reeves heard the Change of Plea because Presiding Judge, Judge Gould, was out of town and the agreement will not become official until Judge Gould also accepts the plea of guilty.

Sentencing will take place on August 21, 2008, at 8:30am in Judge Gould's Courtroom. Prior to sentencing, The Victim's Impact Statement will be presented by the family. The family encourages you to attend if possible to support the family.

After the agreement was read, Mrs. Corrales, Amancio's mother, spoke in a passionate voice stating she did not agree with the plea agreement. She broke down in tears during her emotionally charged statement.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Zero Hour Breaking Box Office Records...In The Off-Season!

The great feat of Jim Brochu's "Zero Hour" is not the fact that he's breaking box office records here in South Florida. The show has done that almost everywhere it's played. It's that he's doing it in the off-season when most of the people are elsewhere.

They tell me that when you go into the restaurants around here during the winter, there is a line at the door and the places are packed. And because most of the "snow birds," as they call them, have a disposable income, the theaters do well, especially with popular shows.

But in the off-season? We have been startled to walk into restaurants -- popular restaurants -- and they are maybe four or five (or less) other tables occupied. They're empty!

So, the theaters do their best to provide programming, usually featuring well-known stars like Gabe Kaplan or others, in order to try to coax in what year-rounders are left. It usually doesn't work that well, but they give it a good effort and try to stay afloat until the on-season happens.

But "Zero Hour!" This show is packing them in. And last week, the phones were ringing off the hook. This week even more. The local press is giving him terrific coverage, stellar reviews, and every show has had an immediate standing ovation that goes on and on.

So, you might ask, why am I mentioning all this? Just to pump up Jimmy's ego or hype the show? Perhaps. But there's a story that goes untold. And it's all about show biz and the expectations that some producers have.

See, when we first started pitching "Zero Hour," there were several prominent producers who looked at wanting to do it. In fact, one very well known producer was absolutely ready to book it -- until he saw a video of the show. Suddenly, he couldn't be reached.

So, we saw him at an opening and went up to him to ask him what the deal was. He looked Jim square in the eye and said with absolute puzzlement on this face -- I'm not kidding -- "This is PLAY!"

We stared back, like, and went, "Uh, yeah?"

"Well," he announced, "no one's going to go for this."

"What do you mean?"

"I was expecting a hat and cane show!"

In other words, he didn't care how good the show was. He wanted Jim to come out like Zero and do a variety act. In his mind, no one, especially in South Florida, would ever turn out for a play! Especially one that deals with heavy subject matter and actually looks at the tragedy and comedy of Zero Mostel's life.

Then we found out later he never even watched the whole tape. He watched the first 15 minutes and turned it off. When it didn't start out with a big production number, he wasn't interested. This is how short-sighted many producers are. They think audiences are stupid. They think audiences can't think. They think audiences only want the same mindless crap over and over again -- and that's probably because it's the only thing they've been feeding them.

But we know from experience that audiences may love mindless crap or splashy musicals, but they also like to have their minds engaged. A season of theater is best when it's a mix of musicals AND dramas. Give them nothing but dessert and they'll get tired of it and quit coming. Give them too much serious stuff and they'll quit going because they want some entertainment.

"Zero Hour" is unique in that it's screamingly funny, but it's also deadly serious. It's a full portrait of a man whose life embodies the full experience of a man, a painter, proud of his Jewishness, whose art was interrupted by the black list, and who conquered a debilitating accident that almost took his leg, who won three Tony Awards and who, ultimately, was invited to the White House.

It has yet to get even a remotely bad review. It won Best Play in Los Angeles and has been greeted with stunning reviews in every city that its played.

But the only thing this short-sighted producer wanted was a hat and cane show. He was uninterested in even giving "Zero Hour" a chance.

Well, too bad for him. Because the producer that did pick it up is now making money hand over fist and as soon as the full funding is in place, it's going to hit New York like an atom bomb. That I can assure you. And we've now proven that not only does it "work" in South Florida, but it's breaking every box office record they have -- IN THE OFF-SEASON! The New York investors are going to make a mint after it hits the road on a real tour.

Sure, people come sometimes with the expectation that it's going to be a fluffy night of light entertainment, but once they experience the full reach of this play, they're clearly going out and telling every friend they have about it because you know what sells tickets?

Word of mouth.

And the word of mouth equals the reviews which equals box office records, and "Zero Hour" is a smash. And I'm so proud of Jim, I can't stand it.

So, there Mr. Producer. Next time, watch the whole tape. And stop acting like audiences are stupid children who need nothing but pablum. A great entertainment can also be like eating a full meal. You can have it all. And "Zero Hour" has it all. And we have the box office receipts to prove it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Incredible Everglades.

I just didn't have an image in my mind of the everglades. Like many people who live west of Florida, I was imagining it as a big, twisted swamp. I mean I just didn't know. So, when our friend Ralph invited us to take an airboat out with a friend of his, Jim and I, already eaten alive by mosquito bites, were almost hoping it would rain so we could just stay in and eat pizza or something.

Boy, was I wrong.

And boy, was I glad we went out. It was one of the most thrilling and beautiful evenings I've ever experienced. And I mean that seriously.

First of all, it was perfect weather. A little warm, yes. But there was a breeze blowing and it wasn't that humid (for Florida), and the sun was shining. (We'd had a big rain the day before).

I took a ton of video, which I'll edit later, but here are photos Jim took. It's truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. The everglades, as described by our boat captain, is a slow flowing river where the grass reaches up above the top of the water. What I saw was clean and beautiful, and we were able to glide over the water just about anywhere we wanted to go.

There are a few small islands that pop up now and again, but it's mostly just several feet of water which, I suppose, can get swampy if the water level is low. But just look at what we saw:

Vulture Island!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Simon's Cat in "TV Dinner."

This guy who does these videos really knows cats. I've posted his others. Now this one. It's like being home.

Wonderful Interview With Alexandra Billings.

Great reading. An interview with the fabulous and fabulously funny and talented (and beautiful) Alexandra Billings.

What advice would you give to other transgender individuals, especially younger folks, who may be struggling with their identity, or just coming out?
Be honest. Don’t make up a past. Don’t try and fit in to a world that you’re making up in your own head. If you’re a male to female transsexual, or a female to male transsexual, don’t pretend you’re something you’re not. Don’t lie to people. Don’t say to them, I’m male, I was born male—this is what I am. You’re not. You’re a transgender male, or you’re a transgender female. And that’s great. It doesn’t mean you’re not female, it doesn’t mean you’re not male. It just means you’re a different kind of male, a different kind of female. And that is a gift, so accept that. Accept what you are, and think of it as a gift, think of it as a present somebody gave you, instead of this awful, terrible thing that you have to hide. It’ll make life much easier, believe me—and much more funny.

GALA and the Fabulous USS Metaphor

Steve, Ken McPherson (Captain Closeted) and Jim.

If you could turn laughs into money, we'd have had a mountain of gold at the big GALA event down in Miami on Monday. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus performed their incredibly witty, expertly written and well-performed "take" on HMS Pinafore called USS Metaphor. And one of the featured singer/performers was my friend, Ken McPherson adapted the concept and wrote the lyrics.

All I can say is the house was rockin'! It's an sharply satirical look at the military's insidiously ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and it's available on DVD. I really recommend it for anyone who enjoys a great show, enjoys Gilbert & Sullivan and who understands how stupid the whole policy is.

I went around handing out business cards and looking for more people to sing my songs, of course.

One thing, though. Do NOT eat at the Miami Hilton breakfast buffet. It's absolutely one of the worst, most horrible dining experiences imaginable. The food was inedible, (hard, cold scrambled eggs, etc.) cost nearly 20 dollars AND they added an 18% service charge on top. No wonder Paris Hilton has so much money. They spend 10 cents on the food and pour the rest of it into her icky wardrobe.

Just go spend some money on the DVD of SS Metaphor. You'll love it.

I Love Dr. Horrible.

The newest sensation to the Net is a silly and hilarious new series featuring my total fave, Neil Patrick Harris. It's called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and he plays a feckless evil scientist trying to get into the Evil League of Evil.

And it's a musical! And it's written by Joss Whedon who apparently started it during the writer's strike. It's a do not miss. And it proves that sometimes, if you give something away for free, it can get so popular, you can end up making money off of it.

But even more, if you do something just because you want to, bypassing the corporate suits that would muck it up, you end up with something wonderful.

Full story at the LA Times

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I love Cats and, er, Lions.

This video was sent to me by a friend, Marsha. I've seen several stories like this but they always get to me. It's confirmed at snopes, where you can go for the full story. In short, these two guys bought a baby lion and raised it in their home until, after less than a year, it got too big. So, they released it into the wild in Nairobi. They visited every now and again, but finally "Christian the lion" had his own pride which he was defending in the wild.

After a long while, they visited one last time, wondering if Christian would remember them. Here's the video of their reunion. These things just make me cry like a baby.

Mommy, What's A Bridge?

The NY Times ongoing blog about songwriting, Measure For Measure, discusses the concept of "bridges" today. I love writing a good bridge into my songs, although sometimes, as the articles says, a song works without them. In one of the songs from "Pantheon," called "War By Default" (which is a rewrite of "Cool By Default") I leave out both bridges and choruses and just go with what one could call a musical version of a "run-on sentence."

There is no one way to write a song. But knowing all the different parts that songs can contain can help a new songwriter inject variety into a song that isn't working.

My favorite bridge that I ever wrote is in the song "Going It Alone" from The Last Session. It's the section that goes, "But is it such a lonely battle / Have I been so wrapped up in myself? / What about what you've been through as well..."

In writing the music for that, I went to a first inversion of the root chord, then up to the first inversion 2, which then moves to the first inversion 5 with a passing tone, so that the bridge never feels like it settles into anything too "pat." It's one of my favorite chord progressions because it's so simple and yet lush sounding and tentative. In fact, you can play the whole thing with just three fingers. A child can play that bridge.

But what it does is take the song from where it's been residing, lifts it into another place and then brings it back home when you get back to the A section.

I love simplicity, but simplicity with a little edge. In fact, that's the way I love to live life.

Simplicity with a little edge.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Father Tony Reviews "Zero Hour."

One of the most interesting persons I've met through the Internet is a guy named Father Tony (who blogs as "Farmboyz"), who is good friends with blogger Joe.My.God. He lives up north, but spends winters down here in Ft. Lauderdale. So, when I told Joe we were coming here, he encouraged us to invite Tony in case he might still be here. And, indeed, he is still here overseeing some construction on his place.

Tony wrote a wonderful review of The Big Voice while we were in the Big Apple, so I thought he might enjoy "Zero Hour." Well, that's kind of an understatement. The show has literally been selling out. Last night and this afternoon were completely full to the last seat. Tony blogged his articulate review here. Below are a few of Tony's observations. He began with a conversation the two of us had about how our respective partners do all the driving since both Tony and I have a terrible sense of direction.
...the house lights were extinguished, and from the very first second of “Zero Hour”, it became clear that Jim would drive, and that there would be cliffs, hairpin turns, dangerous intersections, and even a sideways hurdling M-15 Crosstown bus. Not to worry, he got us through the evening intact and thrilled with the ride. Be forewarned: this is not your grandmother’s one-man show. This is a startling, electrifying and explosive two-hour tour of a man who has a lot to say and doesn’t have time to make nice or to wait for us to ask the right questions...

I’ve sat through some one-man shows that are wistful rehashes that cobble together the actual bits from someone’s life without ever managing to justify the presumption that we ought to be interested because, well, we already know he’s famous. In this case, (and with this in mind, I later quizzed Jim over dinner about several lines, wanting to know if Zero had actually said them. Oh, and may I say that all those jokes about this being the land of the 4PM dinner are true. Even the nearby Coconut Creek Seminole Casino’s famous buffet closes before the show is over.) Jim has written entirely original dialogue (with an invisible interviewer seated among us) based on the frightening facts of the boldfaced Zero Mostel.

Have you ever encountered someone in a public place, someone who has a story to tell, and might be a little crazy, and it is so enthralling that you don’t want to break away, that you can’t break away, and you don’t care that you are going to be late for your destination because your plans are nothing compared to what this man is saying, and because you are smart enough to want to learn something from such a one?

That is “Zero Hour”.
Father Tony / Farmboyz is a wonderful writer, so I encourage you to check out the full entry.

MIT Bunny Letter Opener.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Questions About "Pantheon Bar & Grill".

As a writer I am always living in more than one world at once, and I've discussed this before. But there's the world, the physical world that I and everyone else must live in, but then there's the World of the Song. Or, lately, the World of the Cantata. The World of Pantheon Bar & Grill.

Because the songs are finished, and the score 99% written out (I have one short piece, a epilogue to finish), I've been writing up author's notes. There's a practical reason for this, the main one being to help the promotion people of the chorus have some material to work with in terms of publicizing the event.

Pantheon Bar & Grill has never been performed -- and it will only be performed once (so far). Yes, Kathleen (McGuire, who's doing the arranging) and I definitely plan to make the piece available for other choruses, but, for now, I'm thinking only of December 1st.

So, the people connected with the SF Gay Men's Chorus don't have any other productions to judge it by, or to compare it to. I have to find a way to tell them what it is they're promoting. The more I write, the more I understand it myself. It's like being in therapy, except the "patient" is a piece of music.

Since I haven't really discussed "Pantheon" in any depth on the blog, I thought I might take this moment to answer questions I've been receiving through email, beginning with "What's a cantata?"

Er, ah, um, good question. Funny you should ask. I was telling everyone I had a cantata long before I actually looked up the definition. Classically, it's a piece of music utilizing singers that told a story from the Bible. Bach, for instance, would write a cantata and insert it into a church service. Cantatas consist of choruses, soloists, recitative, etc.

I don't write in a classical style, of course. I'm more of a troubadour, telling little stories that add up to a larger whole. And I use the music that I know, what I grew up with -- a combination of pop, gospel, country, folk, jazz, and some blues. Rootsy, rural American music. Hopefully, a little swamp works its way in around the edges.

"So, what made you decide to write this?"

I didn't really "decide" to write it. It began writing itself. Ever since I began my blog, though it was initially focused on health issues, it was Rev. Dr. Mel White whose synthesized collection of Soul Force principles, as was taught by Jesus, Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King that grabbed my attention early on.

The more I read about the effects of violence, how it never achieves the result people think it's going to, creating only resentment and a backlash, leading to more violence down the line, the more I began to embrace the concept of "relentless non-violence."

IOW, "non-violence" is not about lying down and letting yourself be trampled.

It's about aggressively confronting an oppressor and convincing him to sit down with you at a table in order to find a third solution acceptable to both parties. It also means you cannot enter into a negotiation assuming the "enemy" is "evil." Rather, he or she should be considered misguided or ill-informed. You must also consider that you might be misguided or ill-informed.

Learning to view your opponent as human is the first step toward true reconciliation and progress.

Those larger themes have been circling inside my head for a number a years, and I found myself putting into practice these principles, but on small scales. Then, one by one, these principles began to physicalize themselves in the form of lyrics and music.

There was no set plan. No road map. Not even a realization that I was writing anything in particular. But as the songs came into being, I could sense them falling into a pattern. This is not unusual for me. It's exactly how the scores for "The Last Session" and "The Big Voice" were created.

In a way, it's exciting and in another way it's maddening. It's as if someone or something knows what the piece is before I do, and is doling it out to me piecemeal, making me suffer with anticipation.

One day, I'm sitting there at a piano with a bunch of songs, and the next day I'm telling someone I'm writing a peace cantata.

It's that simple.

"So, does this 'cantata' have a plot?"

Well, yes and no. It's more accurate to say that it has a theme arc. Divided into three sections, Part One is "Violence at Home." Part Two is "Violence in the World." And Part Three is called "The Awakening Suite."

If I were writing a storyline, you might say that it's about a person who observes violence in his or her community, steps out into the larger world to see that violence is everywhere, and then has an epiphany -- a kind of rational or even spiritual awakening -- on how to make a peaceful world.

But it's not a plot-driven piece. It's a series of stories, observations and experiences in song that each stand alone, but together, create a larger picture.

And as I was writing notes for the piece last night, I began to realize that these random stories, thematically connected, also felt like a reflection of my own personal journey and awakening, though it's not a story about me. It's about being a Lazarus person. It's about being gay, but it's not a gay piece.

I never intended for it to feel this personal. I honestly believed I was writing objectively about a subject that, while it interested me, wasn't really ME.

But what could be more boring than a disinterested observer writing dispassionately about something? Of course it's personal.

Well, I don't know if that gives you much information, but I'll come forth with more as we get closer to December.

If you have any more questions, please ask.

Another terrific "Zero" review.

Rush to get 'Zero' tickets


July 10, 2008

In the spirit of Jim Brochu's portrayal of entertainer/legend Zero Mostel, imagine the following proclamation as a shout: "Zero Hour" is a masterpiece!

Immediately you are transfixed by the eccentrically boisterous spirit of Brochu as Mostel. A teapot-shaped man with bright, intelligent eyes explains that he had a dream in which he was a baked potato. Such is the quirky, funny, poignant and engrossing world swirling about in "Zero Hour," a smashing one-character biographical drama.

Brochu, who also wrote, "Zero Hour," comes directly from the off-Broadway stage.

In "Zero Hour," Brochu's Zen approach to scripting delves deep into the spiritual core of Mostel. It is purely through the emotional being that we learn of the man's accomplishments. Brochu's storytelling is so expert that, in the end, you are a child listening to a fairy tale.

Brochu's accolades include a 2005 Los Angeles Ovation Award for best actor in a musical for "The Big Voice" and an Oscar Wilde Award for "The Last Session," an off-Broadway hit that he wrote and directed. He is also a television actor whose roles include Father James on "All My Children" and Judge Julius Weyburn on "The Young and the Restless." (Brochu also was a dancing raisin in a Raisin Bran commercial and a lemon for Palmolive, thus the spiritual connection to Mostel's dream of being a baked potato.)

But who, precisely, was Zero Mostel, the Jewish New Yorker whose humble beginnings imitating a butterfly at the Café- Society in Manhattan led to a career as a professional comedian and later to stardom?

Eccentric and driven, compassionate and zany and proud of his roots, Mostel was the kind of man who could initially scare or cajole acquaintances into psychological conundrums or good naturedly tease as he does a New York Times reporter whose portrait he madly paints during an interview about his life. ("I see you've had a human bypass!" is an introductory greeting.)

As a child, Mostel was a painting prodigy.

He would copy the works of the great masters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the play, he dubs himself a "Mosteletic" painter of 10,000 works who performs comedy to finance his art.

Mostel's persona lingers in the psyche of baby boomers and their parents as the Tony Award-winning actor who, in the early '60s, starred as Pseudolos in the Broadway musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." He also played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," popularizing the sounds of a cantor in the iconic song "If I Were a Rich Man."

Part of what makes "Zero Hour" so funny is the way Brochu, reminiscent of the late comedian Sam Kinison, peppers his impersonation with choice words, delivered at high volume to evoke the comedy and the pathos of Mostel's life.

Directed by Oscar-nominated actress Piper Laurie, "Zero Hour" is full of suspense, sorrow and hilarity. It scores 100.

"Zero Hour" runs through July 27 at the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road in Coral Springs. Call 954-344-7765, or visit www.stagedoortheatre


Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Birds in the Backyard.

There were a couple of long beaked birds in the backyard here in Ft. Lauderdale. It's an American White Ibis.

New York Songlines

My friend, Gabi, pointed me to a fascinating and well laid-out website called "New York Songlines." (The title is based upon the method aboriginals found their way around the outback, by memorizing songs based upon land features.)

The website doesn't feature songs, but what it does do is look at each block of Manhattan, building by building, detailing the history of each corner -- and it's laid out so you can go from block to block, north, south, east or west. You can read how each section was named, and what buildings were there, how the current buildings were built, named and who occupied them.

Here, for instance, is the Brill Building:

Brill Building

1619 (corner): Built in 1931 by developer Abraham Lefcourt, it was soon taken over and renamed by the Brill Brothers clothing store. In 1932, Southern Music Publishing Company moved here, starting the building's role as a center of music publishing that would last until 1974. (Buddy Holly met his soon-to-be wife, Maria Elena Santiago, at Southern Music, where she was a secretary.) Almost a third of the songs played on Your Hit Parade from 1935 until 1958 were published by Brill Building companies. Songwriters like Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond and Neil Sedaka got their starts here. Big Bands like the Dorsey Brothers, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway were also headquartered here. On the ground floor, the Colony Music Center, with vintage vinyl and a great sheet music collection, is a reminder of the building's glory days.

Now, someone needs to mash this up with Google Maps so one could take the virtual walking tour and see what it all looks like as its being described.

Friday, July 11, 2008

An Online Soap Dealing with HIV Education

LA Times today features an article about a new online soap opera about young gay men which features HIV education.

From its opening scene, the online soap opera "In the Moment" pulls no punches -- because, its creators say, it cannot. The show, which has drawn tens of thousands of viewers in the last few months, is a racy, unvarnished portrait of gay L.A.

It is also, at its core, about HIV and AIDS.

Recent years have brought a wave of new programs designed to reinvigorate outreach in the gay community, as well as a dialogue about men's sexuality.

There are colorful trucks that take rapid-response HIV testing to the streets. Government-funded "POLs" -- popular opinion leaders -- scour the town for other socially influential gay men and women, give them risk-reduction training and send them back into the community to spread the word. There's even a proposal to design jeans with built-in "condom pockets" to promote the idea that condom use should be a routine part of gay culture, not an afterthought.

But more than anything, said Susan R. Cohen, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's director of health education and prevention, "we needed to be where the guys are" -- on the Internet.


Hemo2Homo Reviews The Happening

The Hemo2Homo Connection Movie Review

Hemo: He has done it again: my generation's Alfred Hitchcock, Mr. M. Night Shaymalan, has delivered another masterpiece with The Happening.

Homo: WHAT??? Are you losing your mind, Hemo? Hitchcock would have never produced a turkey like this thing, which I only went because you said we should review it. What's worse is that I had heard it sucked, but my friend Ernie and I decided to go see it anyway because we were in the mood for a good/bad movie.

Hemo: Don't be a hater- you're just mad because you didn't see the end coming.

Homo: You mean I couldn't wait for the end to come. And not just of the movie. Everyone in the theatre, we were making a suicide pact. This might be the worst movie I've seen in a decade. And not "good" bad.

Hemo: When did you lose your sense of humor?

Homo: Stop it. It's tediously, boringly, amateurishly, laughingly, stultifyingly bad. One of those that's more fun to talk about later than to have to sit through.


Hemo: Worse than Indiana Jones?

Homo: It was worse than a night of summer reality TV.

Hemo: Worse than Big Brother?

Homo: Yes. I was stunned, thinblood.


Hemo: Stunned in shocked silence by the surprise twist ending?

Homo: Surprise? You mean that ending I could see coming a mile away? No, I was stunned because someone had the balls to charge money for this unintentional comedy. The first laugh occurred when they were evacuating Manhattan because they think terrorists have attacked it with poison gas.

Hemo: There's nothing funny about terrorism, Steve.

Homo: Or, apparently, scary. Picture this, thinblood: NEW YORK CITY IS BEING EVACUATED! Are the people rushing? Are they running? Are they in a panic? Nope. They're all leisurely strolling through Grand Central Station, casually getting train tickets.

Hemo: Maybe they all had bleeding disorders? Toxic gas is nothing compared to a bad bleed, especially one that's easily avoided with a modicum of caution.

Homo: Even if there was a Thinblood Convention in New York City, that doesn't mean the rest of the New Yorkers would be polite enough to not trample them. Trust me- I lived there. The calm demeanor of the public is tempered by Mark Wahlberg's wife, who is upset at him because he told their friend that she's been a bit distant.

Hemo: I thought that was a very moving scene.


Homo: Are they putting heroin into your blood products these days? The city is being attacked! People are dying left and right. But what she's really upset about is that their friend has been told that she's been a little bit disengaged?

Hemo: Welcome to my world, Homo. That's how the ladies roll. Remember, sexual preference is a choice, and it's not too late to switch teams. (note: Shawn Decker knows sexual preference is not a choice, and has gone on record as saying such.)

Homo: No thanks, Hemo. But I am rethinking this Movie Reviewer business.

Hemo: I hear ya, lately these bad movies are making AIDS seem like a cakewalk. Wait, you look like you are about to rant... are you about to...

Homo: You'd think these folks were on an AIDS Walk, without the passion! No, they're casually walking to the train, but global terrorism isn't enough drama for Marky's wife! They could all be poisoned already, but she petulantly decides to sit in a different train car so she can cool down.

Hemo: But what about...

Homo: Naturally, in this evacuation, there are lots of cars and seats to choose from. She finds the seat and gets a phone call from a guy. She picks up the phone and says -- I kid you not -- "Stop calling me! It's like you've become a stalker! All we did was eat some tiramisu!"

Ernie and I screamed out loud, laughing. At that point, we went all MST3000 on this thing, delivering new dialogue all the way through. Luckily, there were only four other people in the place... Hemo, are you still here?


Hemo: I'm back. I just googled "Eating Tiramisu", just in case it's a new phrase for an old sex act: it's not. :O(

Homo: Sex couldn't even spice up this movie, which would have been the high point of the entire badly written script. This movie ran out of ideas after five minutes. See, trees and grass are really pissed off at humans, so they're spraying gas or pollen into the air which makes people commit suicide. Once we learn this, the movie becomes a series of people killing themselves in every PG way possible. Gun shots, jumping off buildings, stabbings, lying in front of a giant lawn mower, etc. And what do you do when you are being attacked by trees, thinblood?

Hemo: Climb up a bear?

Homo: Even better: THEY RUN INTO THE COUNTRYSIDE WHERE THERE'S NOTHING BUT TREES! At one point Marky says, "Quick, get ahead of the wind!" How do you get ahead of the wind?

Hemo: You've never had Thanksgiving with my family. If you hear a certain sound, and you don't get ahead of the wind, you don't live to enjoy a second serving of mashed potatoes.

Homo: In this movie, it was the Earth that was farting. Or God. Or Muhammed. Whichever God had beans for dinner last dealt it. This whole thing was a bad imitation of a 60's rip-off of the Twilight Zone series.

Hemo: No, Steve, no. It was an homage! One master paying tribute to another.

Homo: Shawn. No. And I'm scared sick that you are standing behind this movie. And what exactly did you like about this movie, anyway?


Hemo: Well... uh... you have to admit it was kind of cool when Wahlberg started blowing up the trees and chainsawing them down and stuff.

Homo: What are you talking about? You did go see The Happening, right?

Hemo: Actually, I heard a lot of bad things about this one, too. And, since we're in a recession and all, I figured it would be wise to save the old beans, if ya know what I mean.

Homo: What?! I only went because you told me to!

Hemo: I was going to email you about my change of plan, then I thought: "How cool would it be, in the great tradition of M. Night, to have a surprise ending to this review?"

Homo: I hate you. I'm re-abandoning you as a Godchild. How's that for a surprise ending?

Hemo: Homo? Homo?



The Hemo2Homo Connection are Shawn Decker and Steve Schalchlin.

The Hemo2Homo Connection's creators met online in 1996, and posted their first movie review in 1998. Both have been living with HIV for over twenty years, and have annoyed their friends and loved ones for longer than that. Steve Schalchlin resides in Los Angeles, CA. He is an award-winning musician, singer and songwriter. Shawn Decker lives in Charlottesville, VA. He is an HIV/AIDS educator and the author of My Pet Virus.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A New "Last Session" Cast Album!

I didn't even know they had recorded one! But apparently, Brett Bernardini at the Spirit of Broadway Theatre in Norwich, Connecticut pulled some resources together and created a brand new cast album of "The Last Session" from their superb production earlier this year starring Kevin Wood.

Happy am I!

As soon as I have ordering info, I'll post it here and on the TLS website.

You Might Be A Redneck Artist If...

Play with your food!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Top Chef Carlos!

Me and Ralph.

Jim and I went to dinner with our friend, Ralph, at a really nice restaurant called Hi-Life Cafe which is run by "Top Chef" contestant Carlos and his partner, Chuck. So, I thought I'd post a few pics. I liked this restaurant because it had a nice, clean menu of food I actually recognized, and because the prices weren't outrageous.

Chuck (Carlos' partner), Ralph, Carlos, Jim, Steve.

Carlos and me.

And our adorably flirty waiter, John, was a highlight of the evening.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Made it to Ft. Lauderdale.

Took the red-eye to Florida. Slept most of the flight, but it wasn't a good sleep. By the time I got here this morning, I was dragging badly. So, I laid down and slept until 2pm. Ah, blessed sleep.

It's really good to see Jim again. I'll update with photos and stories as soon as, well, we do something!

The GALA event is this weekend, too, so I'm going to try to get down to Miami for that. If anyone reading this wants to hook up for lunch or something, let me know.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More Bleeding.

Went back to the doc this week to find out my blood test results. He said:

"I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the blood tests revealed no irregularities (except for the thick blood). The bad news is that that means we'll have to start doing more tests."

And the reason, I have figured out, that this is bad news is that the farther up the test ladder we go, the more painful and drawn-out the tests will become. Hello, bone marrow test.

He immediately sent me to the infusion center for more "phlebotomy," meaning more draining of the blood. Then, again on Thursday, where my main vein gave out and they had to repoke me twice. And then again on Sunday.

By the time I get to Jim on Tuesday -- yes, I'm finally flying out there! -- I'm going to look like vampire.

Mark and Me.

I've been preoccupied this week because my friend, Mark Janas, has been staying here with me. He's musical directing a new show here for the L.A. Theatre Festival about Lucy and Desi, and it's been fun being his host -- especially because he's been helping me a bit with the cantata, playing through some of the music I've been writing out.

Yesterday, I decided to take him on the L.A. Subway into Hollywood, where we dined at Hollywood & Highland, watched all the tourists around the Chinese Theatre (and the cute guys playing Batman and Robin), and then trained over to Hollywood & Vine to catch a matinee of "Hancock," which is a very strange movie.

The best part, though, was that he sat playing through all of Chopin's Preludes and several Etudes while I cleaned the kitchen to a spotless perfection. (There was a note on the door that they were going to do a general cleanliness inspection on the 10th -- can they do that? Just barge in and look around? I guess they can).

Next up is the bathroom. I wonder what composer works best for the bathroom?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Congrats to Amy Shapiro.

As I mentioned in this earlier blog post, something I have enjoyed throughout my career, beginning with my time at National Academy of Songwriters, is helping young songwriters learn, and discover within themselves, the passion and art of songwriting.

Only a little over a year ago, I began teaching my friend and poet, Amy Shapiro, about the art and craft of creating lyrics. Generally, poets struggle with songwriting because even though poems and lyrics look similar on the page, poems usually make terrible lyrics and lyrics are usually terrible poems. This is because a poem is designed to stand on its own. But a lyric is designed to be half a message, the other half delivered by the music it's married to.

I worked with Amy daily as she wrote lyric after lyric, sometimes one a day. And she never wanted to hear how good something was. She only wanted to hear how she could make it better. It's a difficult relationship because genuine trust has to be built up, and the new writer has to endure a great deal of disappointment as the lyric they are sure is the greatest thing since sliced bread ends up getting a thumbs down. Or the one they tossed off easily ends up being the one that gets the most praise.

It can truly be maddening because one of the first lessons you have to learn is how to discern the good from the bad. I write bad lyrics all the time, but they don't escape the confines of this apartment. And they don't upset me. I know another will come along.

Anyway, after only a few months of intense training, she submitted to the heralded BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in New York and was immediately accepted. Now, at the end of her first year, I'm so proud to announce that she won one of the the 9th BMI Foundation Jerry Harrington Awards for Creative Excellence. (One is awarded to each level of class. She's in the first year).
Above: Pictured (l-r): Librettist, Susan Murray; artistic coordinator of the Workshop and co-moderator of First and Second Year groups, Pat Cook; Advanced student, Stephen Sislen; First year student, Amy Lynn Shapiro; co-moderator of First and Second Year groups, Rick Freyer. Not pictured is Second Year student, Raymond Bkhour, who is currently in the Broadway show Chicago.

I would love to take credit, of course, but the real credit belongs to Amy, who focused and worked her butt off to get to this point. I'm a proud papa, to say the least.

And I want to make a note here. I don't teach people how to write "theater" songs any more than I teach them how to write "pop" songs or any other style or genre. For me, when someone approaches me to learn how to write lyrics, I focus on the transcendent things that cannot really be found in a book and which stand outside genre.

I don't have a set plan. I don't have a curriculum. It's all instinct. I dig into the aspiring songwriter's heart and make them listen to their own inner voice where concepts and meaning are found. We focus on storytelling and digging beneath an obvious subject to get to something deeper and more resonating. This technique can be applied to theater or pop music or any other kind of songwriting.

The technical aspects, such as form and function, rhyming schemes and patterns are things we more or less pick up along the way. (Those things you CAN learn in books).

It always makes me happy when a songwriter hears something special that I might have to give, and then inculcates that and brings it to the next level.

I used to watch the great songwriting teacher, Nik Venet, do essentially the same thing. The one thing a songwriter will never say to me is, "Well, it's as good as anything on the radio." Because that's irrelevant. What matters to me is whether the student is uncovering the things that make him or her unique.

You see, there are tens of thousands of songwriters who can construct a lyric. But what separates the good from the great is each person's own individual voice. Good or bad, it's the one thing you bring to the table that no one else can: Your own voice.

In my own songwriting, people love my work or they hate it or they're indifferent to it, but they always know "it's a Steve song." And that's why I've endured. And when I mentor a new student, it sometimes can be disturbing to them because I make them dig way deeper than any psychiatrist, but they will learn that they have a voice, and they will learn to express it.

Congratulations to Amy and to the other recipients. This is only the beginning for them all.

Zero Hour, The New Set.

Jim was having some connection problems in Florida and wasn't able to send a picture of his set until just now. The theatre's designers, Dave Torre and Ardean Landhuis, there did a terrific job with this. And it looks like Jim has a hit. After the review hit, the box office plus word of mouth has really set the phones ringing. They've extended his run until August 10. Congrats, Jim!