Hi, blog readers. I realize I am neglecting writing in here, but I'm not gone. As a pre-Blogger back in 1996, writing in my online diary was my lifeline. Before then, a patient in a hospital was, except for small numbers of visitor, utterly alone. Four green walls, a TV with four channels and a broken remote. A tiny cadre of doctors and nurses who were kind, but busy.
So, when Stupid Facebook had become a thing and it became easier and faster to communicate with fans and friends and family, and medical professionals, the Blog became more of a task than a joy or an outlet. Happily, on Facebook, we still have our personal connections.
For you who did not, and are still lingering out there, receiving updates by email, I apologize if it seemed I took away something you cherished. It was never my intent to become a "world famous blogger" or turn it into an empire the way modern entertainers do these days. Living in the Bonus Round began as simple way for me to update my faltering health news to friends and family.
As others joined in reading, they told me they were learning the most vital information of all: What's it like to be a patient? How can I better help my friends who are patients? What are they feeling? What's it like?
We unintentionally became a sole resource for so many people, I was eventually invited to the Harvard School of Public Medicine to be on a panel of experts and play a concert. For a kid from Buna, Texas, this was heady stuff. I was being treated like someone who knows something. The doctoral student from Indonesia, the nursing student from El Salvador, and others from places all over the globe.
All of this happened because of the Blog, but also because of the accompanying "sound track," the score from The Last Session, which did not begin as a musical, but as a series of songs written to keep myself alive just a little while longer.
When Jim turned those humble, personal "last words" into a musical, and when Kim and Ronda Espy made the investment, the show launched me into a new world, one I barely knew about except through Jim's Saturday Morning Musicals, where he would don a few sheets and sing the scores to all the musicals he grew up on, and which I knew nothing about.
(The corner of the Baptist world I come from was/is culturally limited. I knew nothing about theater or Broadway, so, again, it was never my intention to become "a composer," like many who grow up in big cities, near museums and symphonies, and exposed to all the arts. It happened because I married a playwright.)
So, once AIDS became a more manageable disease and the information I could share was no different from the information anyone could get, the diary morphed into a continuation of my journey "into the Bonus Round."
Now, it was about coming alive again. Spreading the "gospel" of what it means to be physically born again. Able to sing and play and live the life you pledged to live when, at the moment of possible death, at the very bottom-y of bottoms, you asked yourself, "What would I have done differently? What did I miss out on? What did I have not enough courage to do? If I could just be allowed to live, I promise I will do it all." Bring on Peggy "Is That All There Is?" Lee.
No. That would not be all there is.
In 1995, I wrote a song called, "Connected." It was September, I think. I hadn't written anything in years. And my musical career was so weird.
In the late 70s, I had wandered out of the Baptist world and into the "real world," surviving by waiting tables (and singing and moving) at a dinner theater in Dallas, followed by several years as a "musical director" of a casino lounge show band (where me and the boys in the band would make demos after midnight in studios, renaming ourselves with every demo.
But, I had arrived in Dallas alone, having broken away from every friend and family and band member member I knew. The life I was going to live, as a newly out gay man, was a secret that had to be maintained. I couldn't tell my parents. My preacher dad, my seriously observant mom. It wasn't their fault. I made the judgment that they couldn't handle it. I ran away.
Unknowingly, this caused pain. Lots of pain in a whole lot of people. Pain I didn't know about. Because I wasn't there. I wasn't connected.
But AIDS outed me decades later. The Last Session outed me. Now I had to face the destruction and chaos I had created.
But, what about the next, younger generations of my family, the ones who did not grow up with the same homophobia that terrorized my brain every waking moment of my existence?
Now it was Facebook time. They had always heard of their "Uncle Steve" who moved away and was living some exotic life in New York City. The one who never came home for holidays. The one who never called in to say hello. They totally accepted me and understood. Some of them even came out to me or told me how they were battling for their own LGBTQ friends who felt ostracized.
I couldn't blog about all this. It was too private. I didn't know the ramifications of suddenly interacting again with my three brothers. I didn't know what emotions they harbored. To this day, I still don't really know how anyone feels. I put myself on the outside, and outside is where I will probably be for the rest of my life.
Except for the fact that I love getting to know all of them again. I want to drown in nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews. I really want to reconnect. I see their pictures every single day. Their moms and dads are letting me in. They're free from the baggage and pain of the past.
Lately, I've been channeling all these new self-reflections into songs. Digging as far into my confused state of mind as I can.
10 years ago, we moved here to New York and I decided to just learn everything I could. For me, The Last Session, The Big Voice: God or Merman? and New World Waking were just flukes. I was still a mostly unschooled -- except for two years at Baptist college -- so I turned New York into my own personal University.
Learning about choral arranging, singing and performing techniques, acting, recording, mixing, guitar, bass, movie making, film editing, photography, and songwriting! I've felt like a teenager, these past 10 years, learning how to put two words together. Those first few songs, written totally as academic exercises, are ridiculous. But I learned. Joining the Jack Hardy Songwriter Exchange, where we are expected to turn in a new song every week, was the gift of a lifetime. Deadlines are the best teacher in the world.
Two years ago, when I fell on the ice and broke my shoulder, it incapacitated me for two years, and it will never, totally be "right." But I never stopped reading or learning.
And now, I'm making videos of New York during these days of the pre-post-pandemic stages. "The time before," a subject I've written about. The blessed time before all the big stuff happens. Before businesses and cars and trucks and tourists all come flooding back in.
I've become a tourist in my own city while it gets repaired and fixed up, ready for the masses.
All those songs I was writing, finally digging into my feelings? Now they are soundtracks for this new series of videos I've been posting, Walk With Me. Each one teaches me something new about filming and editing. Plus, because I want them to reflect the moment we're living in now, I have to put them together and publish them at breakneck speed.
I realize I'm documenting an era.
Like every other project I've been successful at, it came from the desire to create, to live, to do the things I promised myself I would do on that deathbed back in 1994 (and then again in 1996).
I love the phrase "Walk with me." It is a gentle way of letting someone know you want to hear them, to know them and to reconcile and be one with them, no matter our differences.
Walk With Me. I'm still here. And I love that you are, too.