Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Health Regimen Is Working.


It's such a funny fragile thing. 

When you're young, you really don't give it much thought. Everything just works, and it's all very resilient. Hurts get kissed away. Broken things mend. 

I don't think, as a young person, or even in my prime, in my 30s, was I ever concerned about my health. Maybe it's just not in the DNA of the my generation. Given much, we just consumed. And being from the South, it was usually fried.

So, as my diabetes has become more out of control, I've been testing my blood constantly. With Jim gone, I've had a chance to really focus on what I eat, and how much. I've also been doing light exercise. Squats and push-ups. And brisk walking.

And it's all working. My blood sugars had been hitting in the 180s and 190s.

This week, it was in the 80s - 110s, pre-meal.

In fact, it's been so good, that last night it was 68, which is borderline too low. In fact, 70 is where the doctor wanted me to start lowering the insulin dosage.

I've stayed mostly close to home. Cooked every meal myself, except for one night when I ate ONE piece of pizza (as opposed to devouring half the pie), and food off the Halal cart down on the corner -- chicken over rice (to which I add broccoli).

I've also been doing food prep work in the mornings. I've never thought about "food prep," to tell you the truth. But the fact is that since I'm a writer, I'm typing or playing the piano, and totally lose sense of time. Then, when I want to eat, I don't want to think about it. I just want to reach out, eat, and go back to my writing pod.

So, since, from the TV cooking shows, I learned about blanching, I go out and get fresh broccoli and asparagus from the farmer's market down the street. And each morning, I blanch it and keep it in the fridge alongside the chicken breasts, chopped turkey, and lean meats. I also chop up the salad mixings, which consist of dark colored lettuces and spinach. And I got some non-fat, non-sugar dressings.

It's really nice to have it at my fingertips when I don't want to pull myself away from my project.

But the time invested to carefully think about my diet is a new thing for me, even now at the age of 58. And my whole being is fighting against it. 

How I want to just pig out on pizza.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adele's 60 Minutes Interview.

In this interview, Adele -- who is the biggest-selling singer/songwriter in the world right now -- said she wrote the songs from this last album for herself. It was stuff she needed to write to make herself feel good. It was not calculated, in terms of "trying" to write "hits." It was just a sincere cry from the heart, so to speak.

And that took me right back to the day I wrote "Connected," which was the snowball that created the avalanche called "The Last Session." (Big announcement coming soon. I promise.)

I remember that day so vividly, even as sick as I was because, after all the workshops and seminars I ran at National Academy of Songwriters, with "professionals" telling everyone to eliminate as much "personal detail" as possible, "so Whitney Houston can sing it," I said to myself, "I'm going to write a song that breaks every rule they've been laying down. I'll fill it with details that only my family and friends could possibly get.

IOW, I made a conscious effort to not write a hit song.

It became the biggest song of my career, except maybe for "Going It Alone," another song written purely and completely from the heart, with no regard for how anyone else might take it.

For years now, I've been giving this advice to young writers who approach me. Basically this: Don't write what you think other people might like. You'll be wrong every time. Instead, sit in a quiet room and ask yourself, "What would I most like to hear?" And then, write that.

It's tragic and sad what Whitney Houston did to herself. I don't know what demons haunted her, or what pain she was feeling that she could allow her life to fall so completely apart. Adele, who is a hilarious and witty woman, seems to have figured out how to get over things. Write about it and then purge it with the healing power of music.

Whitney Houston's death seemed more like the anticlimax of a play for which we already knew the ending. Even alive, she wasn't the Whitney her fans knew or recognized. I genuinely hope Adele is as real as she seems to be. I love that she is uninterested, in her shows, of doing anything but standing there and singing. That, for her, it's all about the music, and only the music.

I contrast that with Madonna's half-time show, where it wasn't about the music; it was about the spectacle. A body double could have been doing that routine and I bet we would have gotten the exact same show.

But, no double could stand on a stage and do Adele's show. Only Adele. She's the real thing. She's not famous for being famous, or for being naked, or for being a press whore. This is the first time I've even seen a full interview with her -- and she's as wickedly ballsy in the best Brit way as I was hoping. Shy, petrified of being on a stage, I think she rare and wonderful. Because her music is rare and wonderful. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Valentine's Day Gift.

Being alone in New York on Valentine's Day is not something I gave much thought to. As I've mentioned before, Jim and I aren't that sentimental about dates, holidays, birthdays, etc. Not that we don't acknowledge them -- even if just on the morning they occur -- but this policy has kept us both of us out of trouble, and free from the last minute panic of trying to think of something.

So, it wasn't like I was feeling forlorn on this cold New York City night, as I stepped into the 2 train heading uptown to 96th, where you change to the 1, get off at 116th St., and walk four blocks north. Okay, maybe a little bit I was wishing Jimmy would be here to see and hear this, the Discover Opera! group from Manhattan School of Music singing a Valentine's Day cabaret.

And, BTW, it's ironic that on this night a heterosexual couple would be singing our personal love song from "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" because the press release was going out announcing Jim's participation in a benefit concert called "Broadway Backwards," where he'll be partnering with Harvey Evans, to sing a song made famous by women -- which is how "Broadway Backwards" works. Women sing men songs, or gay couples sing love duets from classic musicals.

Wouldn't a straight couple singing "How Do You Fall Back In Love?" qualify?

Well, it did for me this night.

A Valentine's Day concert where two young people would be singing a song I wrote for Jim. How much more romantic could life get?

And, btw, Brad Lassiter and Maren Clair Weinberger were INCREDIBLE this night. They sang magnificently. I should add that the rest of the cast were also spectacular. Mark Janas, the musical director, and Andy Gale, the director, really outdid themselves. Lucky, lucky kids to have such great professionals so early in their careers.

How do *I* get into Manhattan School of Music??

Entrance to Columbia University, near the Manhattan School of Music.

A quick chicken gyro before the show.
Steve with Maren Clair Weinberger (who sang the  "girl" part of "How Do You Fall?")
Steve with Brad Lassiter (who sang the "boy" part of "How Do You Fall?")

Steve with Matt Montana.
Steve with Rachael Hirsch.
 I would have taken more photos with the other cast members, but it was too dark at the restaurant for my camera. It doesn't have a flash.

New Diabetic Meds and Regimen.

Saw a new endocrinologist last week because my blood sugars were out of control, again. So, they changed me from pills and two shots a day, to a single shot of the basal insulin, plus three shots a day of regular insulin. And I have to test constantly.

So far, I've been doing well. But, man, it feels like more and more chains are being put on me. I can't leave the house without insulin in my pocket, testing equipment, watches, etc.

But, every time I start to bitch and moan about it, I think back to a time when people did not have insulin. Or when insulin had to kept cold until usage. Or measured out in syringes.

Now, with these fabulous new pen devices, all one has to do is stick the insulin in your pocket, twist the end to measure the amount, and go for it.

So, I will not bitch about my new circumstances.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Photo album: Restaurant Row NYC

46th street, also called restaurant row.
We're on a quest to find Jake!

Russian restaurant.

Several Italian restaurants.

Here's where Jake works. 

And there he is!

Manhattan School of Music (again)

So, after I sent Jim off to Toronto, I was sitting here wondering what to do. Not that there isn't always another song to write, or another arrangement to put together, but I kept thinking about my time at Manhattan School of Music a couple of weeks ago, and how much I enjoyed the students.

Not just because they have spectacular voices -- they do, and that's no joke -- but I just love the whole academic atmosphere. It probably comes from having negligible formal training, myself. Two years at a Baptist college doesn't impress people much, especially those who've graduated from places like Julliard with doctorates, etc.

But, all my life I've been an inveterate learner. I always want to know more. I am always seeking a way to educate myself, especially if I can do it by trading out favors for mentoring.

So, I called Mark Janas and asked if I could just sit in again on his class. I knew they were putting together a cabaret show, to be performed this coming Monday, and I wanted to see how they were doing.

Well, when I walked into the room, wearing my new hat, of course, they all applauded spontaneously! I felt so honored!

Mark's curriculum, as I stated before, is to get them out of their comfort zone as opera singers and teach them to bring those skills to popular music, such as the American songbook in a special community outreach program.

He's brought in the great Andy Gale to direct and coach. Usually, opera singers have a great deal of trouble "down-shifting" into pop music. It's a completely different technique, to turn window-rattling power into the more conversational art form that cabaret and pop singing demands.

Well, unbeknownst to me, two of the singers, a male and female, Brad and Maren, decided to sing "How Do You Fall Back In Love." Somehow, through links that I thought were long dead, they got a copy of the song in a much lower key -- probably one I had thrown together for someone else -- and were already learning it.

Unfortunately, the piano part is all wrong because, down about a 3rd, the piano part needed to be re-voiced to make any sense. It was all too muddy. Mark, being the musician that he is, was figuring it out on the fly, but that motivated me to come home and see if I could re-voice this thing and get it into better shape. A tedious, time-consuming act. But one that needed to be done.

For one thing, the piano part that was on there was basically a directly transposed transcription of what I improvised six years ago, when I wasn't sure how to write out score. The part itself was already messy and inconsistent. Also, some of it was just plain wrong. For instance, I had copy/pasted some of one of the verses into the wrong measure, so everything was off by one measure about halfway through. If Mark didn't know the song, he'd have been totally lost.

So, I began rewriting yesterday afternoon. Fell asleep. Woke up early and kept at it, finally finishing about 10 AM.

I got on the subway and took the 2 train up to 96th, then the 1 local to the 120 block of Broadway, back to the school. Mark had already signed me in, so I raced up to the room 607, which was a much larger studio, with a Bechstein piano. They were already in the midst of rehearsal -- Andy doing the staging and directing.

Andy Gale directing.

Got there just in time to deliver the new arrangement, but not in time to hear it. Luckily, tonight, Friday, they are going to do a full rehearsal. (I would go again this morning, but I have a doctor's appt.).

For those in the NY area, I think the Monday night performance is open to the public. I don't have the details as I'm writing this. But please let me know if you'd like to come. I think it may even be free. You will not find a better collection of singers on a single stage (esp. at this price).

What I wanted to tell all the students in this class is that I've rarely seen the combination of extraordinary voices combined with a willingness to learn, and an openness to being molded, devoid of diva-ism, that I've seen in this group. I want to sit them down and say, "Hey, look around. This only happens a few times in one's lifetime. Mark it. Grab it. Remember it."

Thanks to Mark and Andy, who are coaching them to performances far beyond their years of experience. And, because they're put in those thousands of hours of learning how to sing, learning the mechanics of their vocal instruments, they'll be able to audition and get work immediately. I'm so thrilled to be a part of it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Theater District NY. 7 FEB 2012

Talk about a cast.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is possibly the greatest living American actor.
Andrew Garfield, one of the hottest. 
This is a trimmed down version for Broadway. The original opera is 4 hours.
They use most of the songs, but turn the recitatives into connecting dialogue.
It's worth it just to see Audra.

And on the same street, this new production is opening.
It's apparently a new musical using lots of Gershwin music.

She works a lot. 
Ricky Martin is the reason this is happening.
Ricky Martin as Che Guevara? Gotta love Broadway.
A musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is here at the Palace.
Coming soon: Ghost, the musical.
Back to the left, Phantom is still running, but the new color is blue.
Godspell just reopened with a Glee-like production.
The thing I notice the most, walking around, is that most everyone you run into is a tourist. The atmosphere is like a carnival. The created a big plaza in Times Square, and now everyone goes there. All the Broadway theaters are within walking distance of Times Square.

I believe they had a big successful run in London.
This is new.

Oh my lord. Look at THAT cast!

Another new musical adaptation of a movie.

Meanwhile, after Daniel Radcliffe's long, successful run,
they put hot boy Darren Criss from GLEE into this.
The girls were stacked up for blocks.
Now, Nick Joans has settled in for a long run.

This is where you get the discounted Broadway tickets.