Monday, October 20, 2008

Chest Congestion & Musings on Music.

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

I'll take my temperature.


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

No wonder I can't take the tropics.

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

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

How do you define yourself in a half hour?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has a piano.

It's down the street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And snow. Lots of snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is my home.

And then there's New World Waking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No comments: