Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Thoughts

The Easter Story is one of rebirth. It reflects the fact that life, itself, is a series of rebirths.

We learned, while traveling through Egypt, that each night, for the ancient ones, it was like the death of the sun. No promise that it would come back the next day, because it was killed. Like maybe how a pet feels when its human walks out of the house and closes the door.

A Methodist minister friend of mine is writing a different “This is a new day” greeting every morning for a year.

It’s also an element of everything that I write. It's what New World Waking is all about.

I told the very legendarily depressive (and much beloved) L.A. songwriter, D. Whitney Quinn, about my habit of looking for the silver lining in the cloud. He quipped back, “I find the cloud in every silver lining.”

Even this moment, as I prepare to go to Portland, as I face this 60th year on earth, I find myself changing and morphing, and growing and learning, and asking myself what’s next?. It’s medicine I prescribe for myself because that fury for living, for staying alive, reaches down into you, right at the cellular level, and creates health. That's a scientific fact.

This Sunday we’re going to perform a more formal arrangement of “My Rising Up,” from New World Waking. But instead the choir improvising the back-up harmony, which is great fun, but sometimes messy, Mark Janas and I found this arrangement we did together back when I first started learning under him. I remember not singing it well, at the time because Mark played and, without my piano, I felt a little lost.

This time, he put me at the piano. Maybe I'll get it right.

Mark, with his classical training, brings to these arrangements, a little more sophistication. Something a little more concrete than merely “Ya’ll sing!” It’s also an arrangement that other choirs can perform. Not good to send a folded up lead sheet written on a napkin to a choir. “Here’s the chord symbols and the words! Good luck, kids!”

Rebirth also means wanting to staying alive.

One of the things my doctors have done is let me know that my strict compliance practice -- doing every shot, taking every pill at the right time of day, some on food; some not on food, etc. -- is what excites them about treating me.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have a doctor who’s having to watch patients get worse or die because they won’t take their medication or eat right. What can the doctor do, in that case, but either scold them or just shrug and feel sad?

I'm a chemistry experiment under controlled conditions!

But it's because no matter how I'm feeling, I always have one eye on the pill tray and one eye on the clock. I am choosing to live, and to do it with as much energy as I can manufacture.

From “When You Care,”

You can live every day
You can die every day

Rebirth is not about waking and feeling different.

Rebirth is about waking up and doing different. Or, differently. Whatever.

Feelings come and go. Feelings aren't fact. What you say, do and eat. Those things are fact.

And whether you’re secular or religious or an atheist, or somewhere in between, the principle is still there, a universal truth. That I am what I do. And that every single day, I make that choice to live or die.

I will discover “what’s next?” for me as it’s happening.

BTW, I’m coming along very well on my Shakespeare. I’ve been practicing the famous “Tell sad stories of the death of kings” speech from Richard II on Jim. He just keeps turning the TV up louder.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

What Would Be Your Super Power?

I love this from Chris Gillebeau, writing about creative artists (but, really, about us all)
Long ago I wrote about my ideal superpower. It’s not the ability to fly or the power of invisibility—as awesome as those would be. 
My ideal superpower, if I could have anything, would be the ability to always know the right answer to what’s next.
Then he continues with a great list of how to make that happen, beginning with making lists.

My ideal superpower would be the power to make lists. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Healing Power of Harmony and Vibrations While Singing.

I love singing in a choir. We were rehearsing for Easter morning service. We are a small band of mighty warriors, our little choir. And Mark Janas, our conductor has us doing the Randall Thompson "Alleluia." Which is pretty much THE "Alleluia."

There's really nothing like filling your lungs and exhaling great choral music. It just sits there in your chest and vibrates.

And there are more than a few people in this choir whose voices blend with mine so exquisitely, we become a single voice and it actually resonates, physically, in our bodies, and the other singers can feel it and hook in -- or maybe we were hooking into what they had already found.  It's as if you're inhabiting some parallel dimension of sound.

The audience will feel it and hear it, too, by the way, especially when they get caught up in the gorgeous stone arches of Christ Church Bay Ridge sanctuary. It starts sounding like bells. It's magic. It's transcendence.

And why not? Why wouldn't celestial corridors open up with those vibrations? Even if you eschew metaphysical symbolism, it works just as well, in theory as a science. Something goes on there. Between singer and singer. Between singer and audience.

We also rehearsed a special choral version of "My Rising Up," which Mark and I arranged together back when he first became my musical mentor. Putting me at the piano, I started off pounding away, as usual, my foot stomping. After a few stops and starts, he informed me I was really pushing the beat; to get the beat out of my foot and into my head.

What? There's other people in the room?? I'm partying up there! Dancing! And that's good. I can do that. But when it loses its musicality because it's going too fast, then that's not good, either. It loses something.

After that, I went over to the Players Club because Jim was performing in a staged reading of Ibsen's "Ghosts." He was very proud of himself. There was an British actress in the cast who asked if he was from England. Oh, those Brooklyn boys. They'll fool you every time.

I also met a cellist named Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, who more or less improvised music before the show and leading into each act. (She may have done more, but I was at rehearsal). She has a group of classical musicians and actors who will perform a salon in your living room, much like it was done back before electronics became our primary source of home entertainment.

When I told her how much I love the cello, she held it like a sweet friend and said, "When I was young, I just thought of it as a person. It has a neck, a body and it has the same range as the human voice. It's a person singing." When she began classical training, later in life, she said to herself, "Well, I've been doing this all along."

I love the simplicity in that.

The point of all of this is that each of us has the capacity to create that kind of harmony, and when we do, it creates all kinds of healing within the body. It's measurably therapeutic, whether it's the voice or the cello or whatever thing you love to hit, thump or play.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How Not To Recruit A Blogger.

I was on a conference call. Very corporate. People logging in. Beep. “Hello, I’m …” Beep. “Hello, I’m...”

I had been contacted by a person I’ll refer to as Email Girl who welcomed me after I beeped in and said the others would be joining us soon. In her initial email, she had said she was from a “health advocacy” website and were looking for AIDS blog content. She had said there would be no money in it, but if money was made, by any chance, it would donated to the charity of my choice.

I had said yes because I always say yes to things. (I now call it the Marvin Hamlisch Rule. At the remarkable memorial service for him, which we kinda, but not really, sneaked into, it was the one thing everyone said about him that stood out to me. He never said No to a fundraiser or to meet with young talent.)

This call was to gather all the potential bloggers together for more information and instructions.

Beep. “Hello? I’m...” All of these voices were alien to me.

The sound wasn’t great, so I didn’t quite catch their names. I wasn’t even sure how many others were on this call.

Email Girl then introduced another person, “Legal Girl,” another youngish female voice, who was there to answer questions and make sure Email Girl got all the terms right. They said they were starting the Power Point, which was supposed to show up on my computer, but it didn’t, so she read what was on each slide.

Reading from the rules, which sounded like a student's homework assignment of a boardroom presentation, we were to have two blogs ready before a certain date, and then three more at a certain date. Second, in our submissions, we couldn’t mention any brand names. We couldn’t point to outside links. No products.

I pictured her slideshow as she read along, imagining it decorated with little curlicues. Title cards. Deadlines. Assignments. Suggestions for holidays. All for February. “How about one that’s themed for Valentine’s Day?” She helpfully suggsted/read.

After each point, she would ask, “Are there any questions?”

None of us said anything. I couldn’t think of a question because I didn’t know what was going on. I think the others, like me, were not aware that we were suddenly the staff of a publication, complete with deadlines. I thought they just wanted a few blog entries.

Bullet point by bullet point, to the deafening silence of the people on my side of the conversation, Email Girl plowed on.

“Are there any questions?”

It was shocking to be pushed into this kind of corporate environment.

She continued down the chart.

After several long silences, a male voice, FINALLY -- obviously from our side -- asks “Is this some shell corporate thing? Cuz I’m not writing for some medical corporation. I’m outta here.”

Beep. And he was gone.

Okay. That was interesting.

It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one sitting here wondering what the hell is going on.

Previously, I had looked around the website provided in the email, but it looked like one of the sites set up to promote the Spielberg movie, A.I., pretend corporate websites that had clues to the world of the movie, all filled with smiling people and shiny buildings. Very little beyond the front page.

Anyway, after Angry Male beeped out, I could feel the tension is rising on our little call. Email Girl soldiered on.

It was just all happening so fast. We were zooming through the bullet points. And after each, “Any questions?” the rest of us would sit there in absolutely bafflement.

I kept thinking that I bet the Corporate Girls think we’re a bunch of dumb asses who can’t even think of a simple question to ask.

After another announcement that we couldn’t “promote” anything, name anything or sell anything. Someone else finally spoke up. An older female voice, Activist Woman.

“Does that include wristbands?”

Email Girl is now puzzled. Whispering. Legal Girl leans in, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

Activist Woman continued, “...because that’s central to what we do.”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

The next bullet point was that no money was involved, but that if it were, “we can’t pay you.” She continued, “We’ll let you know which charity we’ve chosen in a day or two.”

Activist Woman asked, “In your email to us, you said it would be a charity of our choice. I run a charity. We always need money. Can I not direct funds to it?”

Legal Girl answered, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

Another few questions were raised, each time answered with, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

I finally spoke up. I couldn’t bear it any longer. As nicely as I could, but I’m sure with an edge I had no power over, I said, “I have a question. Who are you?”

A little silence. Email Girl starts to read from the WHO WE ARE paragraph that I had already seen. “We are a new health advocacy website...”

A little more edgily, I asked, “Yes, I get all that. But who are you?”

I wasn’t looking for a mission statement. I wanted a name. I wanted to know a person behind all this.

I have learned from my not very brief foray into the corporate world that corporations cannot “do” anything. A person has to do it. That person may represent the corporate entity, bla bla bla, but it’s people who actually do things. I wanted a name.

“We’re a group of health advocates...”

I said, “Look, I’ve been online with AIDS since 1996. I’m happy to share whatever you want. But I don’t know who you are.”

“We’ll get back to you on that.”

Now I’m starting to just get pissed. They were the ones who asked ME to be a part of this. I didn’t go looking for them.

She went back to the bullet points and repeated, “No products can be mentioned. No websites or items to sell. can be mentioned.”


“Any questions?”

I looked back at that email thank you note and realized that we had been blind copied. So, even if I wanted to communicate with my fellow bloggers, who will be contributing the actual content, I couldn’t. I did’t know who they were, either.

I get credit for being an AIDS activist, but my health doesn’t allow me that kind of time and energy it takes to get down into the community on a street level. That’s why, instead, I do fundraisers for food banks, like we did for St. Clement’s.

I’m guessing the others on the line were serious grassroots workers for whom time is precious.

Email Girl is going over scheduling. And we have to “deliver” three by a certain date and then two more by a certain date.

After Legal Girls’ fifth, “We’ll get back to you on that,” I gave up listening. Bla bla bla, they went on, but that was it for me.

Finally, the call ended.

I haven’t heard from them since.

And I still have no idea who they were.

Jimmy the Juiceboy Plays the Palace.

Last Tuesday, I cried on the bus all the way to the foot doctor. Luckily, it was cold and rainy, so I didn’t stand out, not that I would have cared.

Patrick Corbin & David Grenke

I wasn’t sad. I was reliving a work of art, a ballet for two men that I had seen the night before at Broadway Backwards, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at the historic Palace Theater. Called “Vespers,” it was danced to the music of the Tom Waits’ song, “Tom Traubert’s Blues,” which is one of my most favorite songs/recordings of all time.

On the bus, I kept hearing the song in my head, getting the verses all tangled up, living inside the song, Picasso style, and all the while remembering the dance, and crying at the dance. It was a man trying to bring his dead lover back to life. But the dead lover is like a puppet with no strings, so his agony increases.

And all the while, Tom Waits is singing in this mournful voice, a string orchestra behind him.

“Wasted and wounded
It ain’t what the moon did
I got what I paid for now”

“Waltzing matilda
Waltzing matilda...”

Even now, as I recall the scene, I’m driven to tears. The need, the urge, to bring someone you lost back to life. And it almost works. You catch a glimpse of their smile. Almost hear their voice. Remember their eyes. You think of something they’d do. But, ultimately, they slip away. They don’t come back to life.

It was a stunningly unexpected moment in a mostly hilarious show. The Broadway Backwards “gimmick” is men sing women’s songs, women sing men’s songs. Broadway “legend” Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “The Man I Love,” for instance. 

Brian Stokes Mitchell. Photo by Danny Roberts for
Or Judy Kaye and Anita Gillette singing “Two Sunny Rooms.”

Photo by Danny Roberts for
Writer/director/choreographer Robert Bartley wrote a hilarious and dramatic through-line with scenes involving Jim Brochu and Broadway star Tony Sheldon.

Jimmy was playing the Palace. Jimmy the Juice Boy. That’s what Cyrill Ritchard called him during the time Cyrill played "Sir" in "Roar of the Greasepaint" on Broadway and Jim was selling orange drink in the back of the theater.

Jimmy the Juice Boy playing the Palace. Judy played the Palace. Ethel Merman played the Palace.

“And even better,” he said, “I’m playing the Davey Burns part.” That’s the “character man” role where you go in, get the laugh, steal the show and exit.

Longtime friends, Tony played an activist who lost his lover, “Arthur” to AIDS. Jim played the friend who loves him. Tony and Jim were so good together. When I told someone that they end up together, they asked if I was jealous. I said, “It’s acting!”

Jim Brochu & Tony Sheldon.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff for
Mostly, though, it was a night of laughs and great fun. And great Broadway stars singing (and sometimes tap dancing; Karen Ziemba doing “Go Home To Bonnie Jean” in a lesbian bar: priceless) to songs they’d, otherwise, never get to sing or perform, especially to a full orchestra and a stage full of other dancers. 

Or Tituss Burgess tearing the house down with "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls.

Tituss Burgess.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff for

There was this magical moment that happened, too. We had been inside the Palace Theater all day long for the tech of the show, not knowing what it was like outside.

So, just before curtain, as the audience was filing in, I went into the lobby and looked out through the glass doors. A sudden snowstorm had hit and it felt magical to see the huge snowflakes lit by the lights of Times Square.

After the show, one our friends, in the glittering lobby, asked if I’d seen the dressing rooms and were they glamorous?  I hated to break her heart, but it’s New York. Jim and Tony were sharing Anthony Warlow’s dressing room. He is currently playing Daddy Warbucks in a revival of Annie. I was on a small couch, sitting up but resting after the long day, when suddenly, CLANG! BANG KLANKBANG! The ancient steam pipers. Sounded like gangsters were coming up the steps. And the layers of paint are so thick on the bathroom door, it won’t close all the way.

I love New York.

I love these old places.

I had gone out onto the darkened stage, late afternoon, after everyone had been dismissed, before the show, and looked up at the levels of seating. 1700 people crowded in on you, looking at you. A focal point so perfect, it takes your breath away.

For a performer, it’s elixir.

The lights were mostly off, but I could see the balconies.

Remembering the amphitheatre in Ephesus, I I planted my feet and sang a note.

And then sang another. I sang at the Palace! Just as I finished, a woman’s voice spoke. She was the conductor/musical director. I introduced myself and told her how much I admired conductors. I get so caught up when I sing, that I sometimes can’t even remember what I’m supposed to be playing on the piano.

All the people doing this are volunteering their time, or as near to volunteering as is legally possible.

Full orchestra. Lighting. Sound for an enormous number of people coming and going. Choreography. A company of singers and dancers called The Broadway Backwards Ensemble, who were awesome and beautiful, including my “teacher’s pet” rival at church, Danielle Erin Rhodes.

They also used The sets from “Annie.”

And curtains! The ruffled one is called the Austrian. “Bring down the Austrian!”

During the day, everything was rehearsed out of order, like shooting a film out of order, and none of us knew how it would play that night until it did. And because Jim and Tony had a throughline, it made it difficult for them to remember which scene was in what order, which is important because those are the words you’re gonna be saying.

Jim Brochu & Tony Sheldon
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff for
That night, during the show, I was sitting next to another great character actor, Richard Bell. Dicky. One of Jim’s oldest friends.

Two seats over from me sat Marge Champion. At 94, the smartest and most wise cracking of us all. Marge and Gower Champion were the dancing couple of the 40s and 50s. Gower became one of the great Broadway directors. Marge is a legend in this town. Runs around town like a teenager.

She had on a velvet black hat with one jewel. Like royalty.

I wrote Bob Bartley a note afterward and said, “You’ve just written, directed and choreographed the best Broadway show of the season.” Because he had.

And even if it was one night only, Jimmy the Juiceboy got to play the Palace and boy, oh boy, did the Palace love Jimmy the Juiceboy.

Tony Sheldon & Jim Brochu.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff for

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Manhattan Video Diary March 2013 Pt. 1

So much going on, I had to divide it into two parts. A birthday party for a friend and Jim directs a 30s cabaret. And much, much more.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Robert James' Stunning Version of "Going It Alone"

When Robert James wrote me through Facebook, I didn't know him. He was an enthusiastic fan in England who had seen the recent extraordinary production and wanted something, anything to help extend the experience. So, I sent him a souvenir.

He followed up by saying he wanted to record "Going It Alone." So, I sent him the music and a back-up track. Little did I know that he would follow through with a gorgeous, deeply emotional version which he immediately uploaded to SoundCloud for all to hear.

So, I'm sharing with you. Thank you, Robert, for your persistence and for your love for The Last Session.

A Dream Come True.

Tonight, Jim Brochu will play the Palace.

This year's line-up of celebrity performers has been collectively nominated for 34 Tony Awards, 25 Emmy Awards and two Oscars.

The line-up includes Academy Award winner and four-time Tony Award nominee Estelle Parsons, five-time Tony Award nominee Jan Maxwell, four-time Tony nominee and five-time Emmy nominee Victor Garber, five-time Emmy winner Doris Roberts, two-time Tony winner Judy Kaye, Tony winners Len Cariou, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Karen Ziemba, two-time Emmy-winning comedian Bruce Vilanch, Tony nominees Daniel Breaker, Malcolm Gets, Anita Gillette, Tony Sheldon and Josh Young, and Ward Billeisen, Stephanie J. Block, John Bolton, Jake Boyd, Jim Brochu, Ashley Brown, Tituss Burgess, Robert Creighton, Jose Llana, Kyle Dean Massey, Stacey Oristano, Eve Plumb and Howie Michael Smith.

The evening also will include a performance by teenage spoken word sensation Noah St. John. Noah, a high school junior , recently gained national fame after winning the top storytelling performance prize from NPR's "Snap Judgment" for an inspirational poetry slam about his two moms.

Creator Robert Bartley will again direct and choreograph this special evening. Amy Jones serves as co-choreographer.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do Something Free For Someone.

Chris Gillebeau has proposed a social experiment. The idea is that you offer something for free. Something you do really well that someone else might need. From his blog:

So here's how it works. Figure out something you'd like to give away for free. Do you have a skill you'd like to offer -- something you can help someone with?

Is there something of value that you no longer want, but someone else could put it to good use?

Is there something you sell that you can give away to a few people, or to everyone on a certain day?

If you sometimes charge money for this free thing, that's OK -- nothing wrong with making money! Many people in our community are self-employed. I'm gearing up for my own overdue product launch in a couple of weeks.

But this is all about helping someone for free. So for this experiment, make sure you really offer it with no strings attached.
So, I offer songwriting. If someone would like for me to help them write a song, totally for free, that's my gift.

Do Something You Believe In?

Every time I get one of the daily emails from Seth Godin's blog that vibes with me, it's amazing how deeply resonant it can be. The Moment of Highest Leverage reminded me of when I began writing the TLS songs. Seth says:
You’ve already won (or you’ve already lost). Right now, you can choose to do what’s in your heart, you can bring your real work to the world, instead of a lesser version, a version you think the market wants. After all, what do you have to lose?
At the time, I thought, "Well, screw it. I'm gonna die soon anyway. Might as well just put it all out there and who cares if it's a song Clive Davis would give to Whitney Houston?" (Which, at the time, was what every songwriter in L.A. was trying to do, which is why so many bad songs showed up in our workshops and seminars.)

Just tell the truth. And, most of all, write something YOU believe in. Not what you think everyone else may want. What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Want to see the movie I'm in?

LIMITED TIME ONLY. Check out all the movie shorts made for LoveFest 2013. Ours is called "Perfect Timing."

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Test Result: Benign.

Just a quick note. Got the results from my biopsy. The wart on my foot is benign. (whew)

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.

Our friend, Rick McKay's follow-up to his sensational documentary "Broadway: The Golden Age" is soon to be upon us. Can't wait.

Friday, March 01, 2013

February 2013 Video Diary

This month's diary features Jim running off to Florida, Steve at home writing music, two doctor visits, a film festival and cleaning out a box with all the original documents -- drawings and lyric sheets -- from The Last Session. And, yes, most of it two seconds at a time.