BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
If my life was a game show, I'd be in the Bonus Round. I almost died. Didn't die and now... The Bonus Round, where time speeds up and the prizes are better. For my 60th birthday year, I recorded an album, I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which debuted on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Missing: Joey Lynn Ofutt

My adopted godson, Jason Hungerford, has posted a notice on his website that his aunt has been missing for two weeks. Of course, everyone is terribly stressed about this and he asked that his friends post a notice about her.

MISSING: Joey Lynn Offutt

FindJoey.org

Cue to Cue.

Yesterday, with the New Conservatory's excellent crew, we did a cue to cue tech rehearsal. This is where we go from lighting cue to lighting cue, setting each one up individually to get different "looks" for each scene. We really are enjoying working with these folks. I'll have pics and names for you soon. But they are lovely, fast and creative.

Stupid us, though, we forgot our sound cues. So, we contacted our folks back in New York who quickly overnighted us a disc. I felt like a total idiot. And the other thing we forgot to pack was socks! I had grabbed a bunch of unwashed socks and threw them in because we planed to just do laundry here -- which we did yesterday morning -- but only a few of them actually match.

I don't know how I missed that. I never forget to pack socks. I think what with packing up the cats and everything else, it was just one of those things that slipped through. (Well, counting the sound cues TWO of those things that slipped through).

But socks can be bought and the sound cues arrive today.

We're going to try to do this show acoustically. Though it's a sizable house, the only microphones they had were the kind that wrap around your head and stick in front of your mouth -- "like Madonna," everyone kept saying. And Jim just felt it put a barrier between us and the stage. Luckily, the seating here is very comfortable and has a very high "rake," so the audience is closer than it seems.

Hey! Ethel never needed a mic! Why should we? (And, truthfully, even in New York David Gotwald was careful to keep the sound level way down so that few people even knew we were mic'ed, so that's how our show has always been played.)

The lighting instruments here are very good, also. Jim remarked that this might be the best lighting we've ever had on the show. So, it's nice to know we're going to have a superb looking show.

This morning we are off to do a TV interview for a local gay-oriented show that plays on basic cable which everyone says is shown over and over again. Also, Ed Decker, the producer announced that ALL of the area critics are coming this weekend. Lots of seats are already being sold.

So, we hope the critics are kind. That's not something we can control, of course. All we can do is relax, enjoy ourselves, play the show the way we always have, and let it speak for itself.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Finally made it to SF.

We drove in the car all the way to San Francisco. The cats came with us! They were so good in the car. And today Joe.My.God. gave us a wonderful plug.

More to come!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Big Voice in SF Chronicle

I got a note from Bev this morning, who lives in Davis California.
So Walt walks out to the driveway to pick up the paper this morning.
He's halfway bent over, reaching for it, and the attached is what he
sees, staring up at him.


Naturally, I quickly went online and found the well-written article by Pam Grady.
"The show is very inspirational," says Ed Decker, New Conservatory Theatre Center's artistic and executive director. "It's just a great testimony to the power of love, and at the same time, this amazing homage to the temple of musical theater. It's just this interesting, fascinating, heartfelt blend of those things.

"They're in a long-term, gay relationship, which is a very big part of the gay civil rights movement right now. They've been together for years and years and years, but they're not able to tie the knot the way everybody else is able to do."

That the show catches the zeitgeist of the gay-marriage debate is a happy accident. "The Big Voice" began as a one-night-only performance when the Laguna Playhouse asked the pair to participate in a solo concert series, an informal performance that would celebrate their musical "The Last Session," which had been an award-winning hit on the Laguna stage during the 1998-99 season.

"I panicked, because I'm not a good improviser, so I sat down and actually wrote this musical, which had been in the back of our minds about growing up in different religions, but yet finding truth in the temple of musical comedy," recalls Brochu, a former San Francisco resident.

On the night of the performance, the response was tremendous; in the first act alone, all the laughs added 12 minutes to the show. That was Aug. 12, 2002. One month later, they began workshopping the production, with new songs to replace those from "The Last Session," at Hollywood's Lex Theatre before moving to West Hollywood's Zephyr Theatre. A three-week run turned into a four-month engagement, followed by stops all around the country, including, most recently, a six-month run in New York.
...
"It gave us a chance to show what a gay marriage looks like to a lot of people in small towns and the Midwest who never really ... they saw gay marriage as this challenge to their world until they met two actual people and then they went, 'Oh, you guys are just like us,' " says the 53-year-old Schalchlin. "All of the sudden we humanized the issue, and I think that's the most beautiful part of it, what has been exaggerated as a political moral war really just comes down to two people who love each other. We show that."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Writing, Writing, Writing.

The thing I've been doing the most here at home is work on songs. Amy has been tossing quite a number of lyrics at me for our upcoming musical revue, and my job has been to turn it all into music. Now, that might seem like an easy chore, but it's not just writing music. It's making the demos and then writing out the sheet music. All of this takes endless hours of literally back breaking work. It's also very intense.

Songs are like little movies. Each one is a world of its own, something I've talked about before. And I believe strongly that if you're going to ask people to give up three minutes of their time to listen to you, you better give them something interesting and gripping to listen to or they'll get bored after about 30 seconds.

Anyway, this is why I've not devoted any time to finishing the videos from the Norway cruise. Since I'll be away from home for the next month doing Big Voice in San Francisco, I won't have access to my studio. So I decided the best thing to do was devote all my time to making these recordings.

So far, we have about 15 songs ready for the new show. For me, this is amazing. Since I've mostly written my own lyrics for past shows, and since I don't write lyrics quickly, it usually takes me a long time to finish a project. So, to have a new show almost ready barely a year after opening off-Broadway with Big Voice is amazing! And I love this material. I find that it's testing my ability to widen my musical range.

For one thing, we're aiming this piece at the cabaret scene. So, I want all the songs to tell little individual, emotionally involving stories. But also, more comedic material. Amy has a great way with lyrics, as you've heard on some of the songs I've already posted here in the blog. Having a writing partner is fun because if I have an idea that she doesn't go for, then I just write it myself. I wrote a really fun opening number, for instance.

The other fun part about writing with a partner is that we push each other. When she writes something really good, then I feel I have to match it. And I'm sure she feels the same way. It's a great circle of challenges as we seek to top each song and push the level of quality higher and higher.

Someone asked me if the new show was only going to be performed in New York -- and the answer is no. My vision or plan is to start very simply with four great singers and a small band. If possible, to get the four best and hottest cabaret singers in New York for a short limited run. Then, as we shape the material and write new things, Jim is going to write a book to pull the song together, which we'll then pitch to theaters.

IOW, the idea is to start simple, build on the simplicity and let it grow naturally, keeping the focus on the singers and the songs. We want to provide material that will show them off to their best abilities and, hopefully, give them something new to sing. The problem with cabaret, as many singers have expressed to me, is that there is always a shortage of new material. Especially new material that has a modern edge to it. While it's fun to sing Porter or Gershwin, you can only do those songs so many times before you have audiences craving something new to chew on.

I'm not pretending that our songs will rise to the level of the great composers, but I do think we can bring a newer, modern sensibility along with our own specific points of view. Already, Devin Richards has incorporated three of our songs in his act. And other musical directors around town have begun asking for more material. People like Bill Goffi who plays at the Monster and the Duplex has been promoting some of the new material as I've leaked out little bits here and there.

In fact, if there are any singers reading this, pop me an email if you'd like a demo or some sheet music. I'd love to have people singing these songs.

SF Sentinel Features The Big Voice

The press releases are starting to flow! We've done three interviews with more on the way as we make our way to San Francisco. There's a terrific article in the San Francisco Sentinel by Seán Martinfield featuring screen snaps from the animation on my original bonus round site.

Crappy Day.

I had a crappy day yesterday and it wasn't anything in particular that set me off. I was yelling at Amy. I was... Oh, I know. My foot. Day before yesterday, my right foot suddenly just started KILLING me. It's neuropathy, which is nerve damage, but from the HIV meds and from the diabetes. Usually, I don't notice it much. It only affects my toes, makes them numb and weird feeling if they get too cold.

But the day before yesterday, after I went out for my run, I took a shower so that we could go out for errands, and I literally could not walk. My right foot, right around my second to the last toe, whenever I put it down on the floor, hurt so much, I couldn't put any pressure down on it.

First we went over to Charlotte Rae's house. Jim is helping her with a project, a presentation for a cruise ship. And I had to go pick up my monthly supply of meds at a little AIDS-oriented drug store down in the south of town. But it hurt so much!

Also, my endocrinologist called and said they were concerned about the results from one of my tests. Apparently, there was way too much protein in my urine, which is indicative of problems with the kidneys or something. And my A1c (blood glucose) test was too high. So, they want me to come back in for more tests, but I can't get there until next month because we are going to San Francisco on Sunday. And I need new shoes from the shoe doctor because I have to have special orthotics -- and they're in but I can't get them unless they can fit them with me there in the office, but the office is too busy, so THAT has to be put off until next month.

Gah. It's all small stuff, really. But it all adds up and I just started yelling at Amy. Now, see. I'm pretty even tempered. I never yell at anyone, but if I start yelling at anyone, it'll be whoever I feel closest to, and since Amy and I are working really closely on this new project about New York, she became the object of my indiscriminate wrath.

Trouble is I don't realize I'm doing until it's too late. So, I upset Amy and we had to talk on the phone. And that's when I realized I was so stressed out from everything.

My foot is feeling much better this morning. At least I can walk on it. And I did finish up all my doctor/medication rounds. I have a new eye doctor who is the sweetest guy on the planet. He checked to make sure the diabetes wasn't affecting the blood vessels in my eyes. Said they looked great.

I even brought my camera so that we could take some video and pictures of Charlotte, but I was racing around so much, the time ran out and I didn't get any.

I hate days like this.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blame the Gays!

Want to know why your (hetero) marriage is going downhill? This video answers the question:

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New Lube Inhibits HIV and Herpes

A new personal lubricant being developed in Australia, in early tests, prevents the spread of HIV and the herpes virus.

Implant microchips in HIV poz persons?

Want to know how to drive people with HIV underground so that they don't get tested or know they have the virus, so that they become a bigger threat to themselves and others? Do what's being proposed in Indonesia.

Lawmakers in Indonesia's Papua are mulling the selective use of chip implants in HIV carriers to monitor their behaviour in a bid to keep them from infecting others, a doctor said Tuesday.

John Manangsang, a doctor who is helping to prepare a new healthcare regulation bill for Papua's provincial parliament, said that unusual measures were needed to combat the virus.

"We in the government in Papua have to think hard on ways to provide protection to people from the spread of the disease," Manangsang told AFP.

"Some of the infected people experience a change of behaviour and can turn more aggressive and would not think twice of infecting others," he alleged, saying lawmakers were considering various sanctions for these people.

"Among one of the means being considered is the monitoring of those infected people who can pose a danger to others," Manangsang said.

"The use of chip implants is one of the ways to do so, but only for those few who turn aggressive and clearly continue to disregard what they know about the disease and spread the virus to others," he said.

A decision was still a long way off, he added.

The head of the Papua chapter of the National AIDS Commission, Constant Karma, reportedly slammed the proposal as a violation of human rights.

"People with HIV/AIDS are not like sharks under observation so that they have to be implanted with microchips to monitor their movements," he told the Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

"Any form of identification of people with HIV/AIDS violates human rights."

According to data from Papua's health office cited by the Post, the province has just over 3,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. Some 356 deaths have been reported. Papua has a population of about 2.5 million.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Best Movie Of The Year.

This week I saw a movie that I loved so much, I talked Jimmy into going a couple of days later so I could see it again. It's ironic that the most adult, most mature, best written and most beautiful movie of the year is a cartoon. And it's called:

Ratatouille.

Run. See it now before it leaves the theatre. Stunningly beautiful, tightly written without a single compromised frame, this tribute to cooking, art, the restless heart, the aspiring artist and seeker of quality, this unassuming colorful and touching movie never talks down to kids, never makes a single pop reference and never loses a moment of its charm as a tiny little rat who loves cooking and food finds a way become a chef in a top restaurant in Paris.

I'm not a critic, so I can't tell you in very much detail how good this movie is. All I can say is that I laughed a lot, smiled more, and got a tear rolling down my cheek at the end.

This is bravura, perfect filmmaking. And best of all, it's great for all ages, all sensibilities. Everyone. Brad Bird, the writer/director (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) is a genius above all.

I can't say enough. Just go. Now.

Generation Chickenhawk.

Young Republicans meeting together defend the Iraq war. Just don't ask them to go there and actually fight the war they support so vigorously.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day of Magic

I always know when company is coming over because we start cleaning the apartment. That started a couple of days ago. Up and down. Over and through, the biggest shock came when Jim volunteered to clean the bathroom. So, wanting to be the dutiful partner, I tackled the kitchen, the dishes, vacuumed the living room, the cat box area, etc.

But all the while, I'm racing up and down the spiral staircase to my loft because I want to finish writing out the sheet music to the new song "Nobody Leaves New York." Work, rest, work, rest. Jim is doing the same, between coughing and sputtering and gagging at the smell of the cleaning fluids in the bathroom. Finally, however, the apartment begins to look fit for habitation again. (I keep thinking we should get one of those nude cleaning services that L.A. is so famous for, but what do I know.)

Finally, Saturday rolls around.

Oh, remember a few days ago, I said I was going to see my old friend, Bob Malone playing his gig at The Mint? I totally missed it. Took a nap so I'd be awake for it and I slept right through. I guess my body hasn't quite adjusted from the Norway trip. Arrgh. I really wanted to see him play.

Anyway, since I missed going out Friday night, I got up early on Saturday and made my way to Ralph's supermarket to get a big vegetable lasagna because Rich & Sue Bloch, Alvin Schuster and Michael Sugar were coming over for lunch. Rich is one of the world's most prominent magicians. Sue, his wife, who assists him in his act, is one of the world's most prominent constitutional scholars, Alvin Schuster was once the Foreign Affairs editor of the Los Angeles Time and Michael Sugar is one of our best pals. He claims to work for one of the major movie studios around here, but no one knows exactly what he does. (I kid).

We had a most lively and entertaining lunch. It's always fun to hang out with people who are smarter and more talented than you are. The cats, of course, were the center of attention. Steinbeck -- all 30 pounds of him -- splays himself on his back on the floor in the middle of everything whenever there's company, and Thurber -- all 7 pounds of him -- is always begging for food.

Lots of fun stories are traded, of course. Everything from celebrity hilarity to Supreme Court hijinks to foreign correspondent highlights to us showing off videos of Big Voice fun back in New York. At one point, when Jim was playing them the hilarious video that Barry Z did of us, so Michael and I stole away and gossiped together. It's been so long since we've hung out, that being together felt like I was having a cool glass of water.

Later, after the others left, Michael and I went up my loft and I played him the latest songs from the upcoming revue. He was suitably impressed. We are both very proud of Amy Lynn, my sweet lyric-writing protege because both of us have known her since she was 19. He couldn't believe how mature her lyric writing had become.

Later Saturday evening, Rich invited us to the Magic Castle where we had a scrumptious meal and a hilarious evening of magic in the big room. Rich is truly one of the funniest men on earth. He had the audience rolling in the aisles. He also took us on a tour of the Magic Castle. Downstairs in the basement area are scattered little close-up magic performance spaces, but also these wonderful bookcases with memorabilia from Hollywood people like Paul Winchell, Edgar Bergen, and many others.

The fun part of touring the Castle with Rich is that he knows all the little secret cubby holes and trickster things that are built into all the rooms. Unfortunately, they don't allow cameras inside. There's the table that secretly revolves when the guests aren't looking, switching their drinks around, the stool at the bar that slowly sinks until the guest is looking up at the bar, bathroom with the urinal that starts to play, "It's A Small World" after 30 seconds of peeing, and, of course, the world famous ghost who plays the piano, Erma. Ask Erma a question and she answers you with a musical response.

So, no pics. But a very fun night, to say the least.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Alexandra Billings in Michigan

As long as I'm plugging people that I love, the more than fabulous Alexandra Billings is doing her one woman show in Michigan in October. I helped her with the musical direction on this and it's really one of the greatest performances I've ever witnessed on a stage.



Lampkin Music Group in association with David Fink presents

Alexandra Billings”
in “Before I Disappear”

October 5th & 6th, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. Two Shows Only

Acorn Theater, 107 Generations Street, Three Oaks, Michigan

Tickets are $30.00. For Reservations Call - 1-269-756-3879

An autobiography in story and song, transgendered actress/singer Alexandra Billings' tour de force is a hilarious, and sometimes harrowing, roller coaster journey through her complex life. From boyhood to womanhood, she paints a Picasso-like portrait of herself through the eyes of those who knew her best, and least. Not for the faint of heart, this ride takes you from
summer camping into the asphalt jungle and back alleys of Chicago and its counter culture and phoenix-like through the air to New York City and L.A.

Written by Alexandra Billings

Composed by
Alexandra Billings with Arrangements by Steve Schalchlin.

Lyrics by Chrisanne Blakenship Billings.

Directed by Mary Beidler Gearen

Nominated for an ADA
Award for Best Musical/Best Actress of the Year.
September 2006

Solo Show is a Triumph of Spirit!

Sherman Oaks Sun, October 2005

“Worth a Look!”
Los Angeles City Beat, LA. 2005

“Billings is a forthright and funny entertainer”
Village Voice - NY, 2003

“From her childhood as a boy to her
life as a woman living with AIDS, this is one amazing piece—just Alex, just
the stage, and just wonderful.”
Windy City Times – Chicago, 2003.

www.alexandrabillings.com, www.acorntheater.com, www.lampkinmusic.com

Friday, July 20, 2007

Southern Comfort in New York


For readers in New York, I want recommend a show I've heard a lot about featuring a singer who I think has one of the most magnificent tenor voices I've ever heard. His name is Scott Coulter and though he's well known in the New York area on the cabaret scene, I first heard him at the Broadway By The Year concert last month. When he stepped out onto the stage and that voice -- THAT VOICE -- filled the room, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

It's unlike the typical Broadway voice. Instead, it has a delicate, reedy edge that is purely contemporary pop/country/folk, and as I sat there listening, I kept thinking, "Oh, man. This guy needs to sing my songs." I met him afterwards and, sure enough, he had seen The Last Session, knew all about it and was very enthused about getting some material. So, naturally, with the new show Amy Lynn and I are writing, I wrote him back and said that once we are ready for New York, I was going to camp out on his doorstep and not let him out of his apartment until he agreed to be a part of it.

Anyway, the show I'm recommending is called ""Southern Comfort: A Down-Home Country Music Jamboree" featuring the songs of Vince Gill, George Jones, Trisha Yearwood, k.d. lang, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and many more.

In his email blast, Scott says, "If you missed us when we performed it last August, here's a chance to catch up. We're bringing the show to the Metropolitan Room on July 27th and August 3rd (both Fridays) at 7:30pm. Once again we'll be backed by a fantatstic country band featuring banjo, fiddle, mandolin and more. Plus, we're planning to record these shows, so we'd sure love to have you in the audience clapping up a storm. The cover is $25, and there's a 2 drink minimum. For reservations, call (212) 206-0440. We just had a blast, playing to packed houses at the Bradstan Country Hotel in the Catskills, and we want to do the same in Manhattan."

If I were there, I'd be in the front row. This is a DO NOT MISS.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Norway Cruise Part 3: Honningsvag

Busy Making Music, Seeing Doctors.

I haven't posted a lot in the past few days because Amy and I have been writing more songs. I don't know if I've announced it yet, but we're writing a new musical revue about New York City. I've even got a title for it, but I'm going to hold the title in secret for now until the piece is done. But my plan is to get four of the best cabaret artists in New York together on a stage, give them this material and let them go at it.

I'm particularly excited about the song we finished yesterday. Jim said, "This is among the best songs you've ever written." Once again, Amy Lynn has come through with an absolutely beautiful lyric and I feel so lucky to be her "mentor." But I think sometimes she's the one mentoring me. She is outracing me like mad with her propensity for sharp, incisive, witty and, finally, touching lyrics.

Each morning, after she gives me a new lyric, we get on Google Chat (since she's still back in New York) and start taking it apart line by line after I've set some music to it. The thing is that she's such a fast writer, I can barely keep up with her. And this is good!

Meanwhile, I've been seeing my parade of doctors. Dr. Ruchi, my beautiful endocrinologist says that my cholesterol and triglycerides are sky high again. So, I have to buckle down and get to the streets again. I've been lax in exercising. I admit it. And the ship food hasn't helped a bit. I'm afraid I helped myself to the ship's french fries at the grill. Yes, I know. Bad boy. But, oh well. Sometimes you just gotta live.

Dr. Tony, my regular physician, is mostly happy with me. My t-cells are at 480. Viral load is undetectable, so the Atripla he started me on is still working, though I'm still having these phantasmagoric dreams. A friend of mine who is also on Atripla asked me the other day, "Do these things ever stop?" They totally wear him out and make it difficult for him to function during the day. They wear me out, too, sometimes. But you just get used to it. Fortunately, I love dreaming.

A couple of weeks ago, on the ship, I was in the cabin when suddenly my mom and dad were there. And I knew that that was impossible since my mom suffers from terrible motion sickness. Then it occurred to me that I was dreaming. So, I said hi to them, announced that I was dreaming them and asked them if they knew how to wake up from a dream. I'm not even sure why I wanted to wake up. Probably just because I knew I was dreaming. So, I started slapping my face. Nope. Didn't work. Pinching myself. Nope. Finally, I said to myself, "Oh, well. I guess I'll wake up eventually." And I did.

It's the Sustiva that's a part of the Atripla that does it. (Atripla is three AIDS drugs combined into one tablet).

I also saw my old pal, Lynn Keller, the other day. Lynn is one of the best bass players in the business. Tiny, red-headed and full of fire, she can handle charts and play with the best of them. Lynn played on my original "Living in the Bonus Round" CD. She remembered playing out with me in concert when "Living in the Bonus Round" was a series of concerts back before "The Last Session" was even a show. This was 11 years ago. We have barely seen each other since. She told me of playing on Diana Ross' tour and, recently, she played the national tour of "Little Shop."

On Friday, I'm going to see her play with my old friend Bob Malone here in town. I can't wait. In fact, I sneaked into Bob's rehearsal at The Alley here in North Hollywood right after having tea with Lynn. I opened the door and just stared at him, waiting for him to recognize me. Bob tours constantly with his New Orleans style barrel house songs. When he came to L.A. many years ago from Jersey, I was the first person he played his songs for. It's a joke with us now, but back then, I told him he was a great musician and songwriter, but had to stop wearing "mall clothes."

See, in L.A., it's all about fashion!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Norway Video 2: Spitzbergen

Spitzbergen is a small island way above the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. We cruised north from mainland Norway to two days to find the desolate, but beautiful place. Here is the video:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Video: Geiranger, Norway

The Wizards of Oz

My friend David Ehrenstein pointed me to this absolutely wonderful article about the writing of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." If you're a songwriting geek like me, or a movie geek or a Judy Garland geek, this is a delicious find. The article should be read in its entirety because it brings out some fascinating details about the entire score, mainly that, unlike most movie or stage musicals of the time, the songs actually propel the plot and reveal character.

All the Oz score was lacking, as Arlen and Harburg moved into the final week of their contract, was the song that would establish their main character, a spunky but discontented 12-year-old girl from Kansas named Dorothy. Narrative shows of the post-Oklahoma! Golden Age of American musicals usually had a song up front in which the main character told the audience what he or she was yearning for. It became such a formula that it was known as the “I want” song: Think of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady, or “Somebody, Somewhere” from The Most Happy Fella. Years before this convention became established, Arlen and Harburg knew they needed a similar kind of musical introduction to Dorothy’s character, before her adventures spin her into Oz. It would “ground” her character before the overwhelming pageant of fantasy commandeered the story. This was an important song—it was no “lemon drop” song (although, ironically, it was the only song in the score to literally refer to them). The studio clock was ticking, inspiration was eluding Arlen and Harburg, and it was driving them both nuts.

Harburg had some ideas, but didn’t want to push them too hard on Arlen. As he told Morley Safer in a 60 Minutes interview in 1978, “I didn’t want to box him in, because when you give [a composer] a few words, a great musician like Harold Arlen starts to accommodate you.” Left to his own devices, Arlen was pulling out his carefully coiffed hair trying to find a way into the song. Frustrated with his lack of progress one night, he asked his wife to come to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to catch a movie instead. As he told an interviewer in 1963, his wife was driving the car and “as we drove by Schwab’s Drugstore, I said ‘Pull over—please.’ And bless the muses, I took out my notebook and starting jotting down the melody.” When he played the melody for Harburg the next day, Harburg said that he knew from the first eight bars that “it was not a lollipop song.” It was, however, a problem.

The melody was rangy, with its first two notes an octave apart, and Arlen had played it with a particularly symphonic intensity. Harburg recalled his first comment:

My God, Harold, it’s for a twelve-year-old girl—it isn’t for Nelson Eddy! And I got frightened—‘Let’s save it, let’s save it for something else’, I told him. He was crestfallen, as he should be. ‘Let’s put it away for another day.’ Well, we kept trying and trying for another week. I was worried for him and I called Ira Gershwin over and Ira said, ‘Harold, could you play it in more of a pop style?’

That did the trick. It was an intense, sophisticated song for a 12-year-old, but Dorothy Gale was, of course, no ordinary 12-year-old. She was, recalled Harburg in a 1963 interview, “a little girl in Kansas, which is an arid, colorless place, almost no flowers there because it’s so dry. The only thing in her life that was colorful, I thought, was the rainbow.”

In turning to the rainbow as a metaphor for happiness, Harburg also drew on decades of American songs. In 1918, a minor Broadway show, Oh, Look!, gave the world a major tune, “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”, one of the most popular of its day. (Its closing lyric runs, “I’m always chasing rainbows./ Waiting to find a little bluebird in vain.”) Ten years later, Billy Rose and David Dreyer contrived a popular hit, “There’s a Rainbow Around My Shoulder”, for Al Jolson around a similar theme. The trope had become so common that by 1932 Irving Berlin invoked it affectionately as part of a catalogue of songwriting clichés in “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee” from his Broadway show, Face the Music. Its refrain runs:

Just around the corner There’s a rainbow in the sky. So let’s have another cup o’ coffee And let’s have another piece o’ pie!

Why would Yip Harburg, a man of considerable imagination, take yet another drink from such an oft-dipped well? Part of it was his conviction that the rainbow image would be useful for the rest of the picture—especially if the Kansas sequences were shot in sepia tone while Oz used all the colors of the rainbow. (This idea had originated with Herman J. Mankiewicz, one of the first writers to tackle the screenplay.) Also, Harburg must have intuited that such an image would have seemed ridiculous and corny if were sung by, say, a Manhattan cigarette girl singing on a penthouse balcony. But for an untutored farm girl from Kansas, living in some indeterminate point early in the 20th century, the very predictability of the rainbow image speaks to her old-fashioned values and lack of pretense. And after all, mightn’t Dorothy’s Auntie Em have sung “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” to her at bedtime, once as a lullaby?

Harburg had a hard time wrapping his first lyrical ideas around Arlen’s first few notes—“on the other side of the rainbow” was quickly discarded. Eventually the songwriting process went smoothly, but the evolving song needed a “bridge”—a variation in the tune after the first two verses. Harburg suggested that Arlen employ the strange little whistle he used to call his often errant dog. This became the accompaniment to “Someday I’ll wish upon a star/ And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.” Ira Gershwin then suggested reprising “If happy little bluebirds fly . . .” as a final tag, and thus was the work of “Over the Rainbow” concluded by its two collaborators, Arlen and Harburg.

Norway Cruise Part 1

(First of all, if you click on the midnight sun pic on the previous entry, you'll click through to a high resolution shot that is an excellent desktop pic. I'll be posting a few more of those as I go along.)

We first flew to Copenhagen where I knew an old friend of mine was living. His name is Bret Perkins and he is a songwriter who moved there from the US and has found himself a nice career both performing and sponsoring songwriter retreats and "living room" concerts both abroad and in the states. I used a hotel computer to send him a quick message that we would be at this hotel for only a couple of hours. It was great fun making old acquaintance and eating actual Danish danish in Denmark.

Bret Perkins

Sadly, we only had a brief time in Copenhagen and it was raining, so I only took photos from the bus to the ship terminal. My favorite one is this one because it reminded me of the boat ride we took when we were there a few years ago. Copenhagen is a relentlessly beautiful city.

(Click on photo so see it in full).

Our first stop was a small village inside a fjord, Geiranger. Fjords were created over millions of years by glaciers cutting through mountains. Therefore, the water inlets are as deep as oceans and the cliffs rise vertically out of the water. During the summer months, the snow on the highest peaks melts, leading to numerous beautiful waterfalls. This one is called the Five Sisters because it consists of five waterfalls all flowing next to each other.
The Seven Sisters
(Click on photo for full image)

It's impossible to describe the breathtaking beauty of Norway, which is riddled with these fjords. You can't take a bad picture. Each turn led to heartstopping magnificence. And all along the way, little colorful villages would be hugging the shores. Their main "industry" is fishing and tourism. People from all over the world come here to hike, boat, dive and fish during the summer months. Click on this next picture and you'll get a hint of the awesomeness displayed.

The fjord wound for miles and miles with one breathtaking view after another. The sky was a bit overcast, but the clouds hugging the mountaintops only added to the scenic wonder.

There were many trolls walking around, of course. Mountain trolls are numerous in Norway. This one took a fondness to Jim and scooped him up in his arms. The only way I could get Jim back was to pick the troll's nose.

My grandfather's last name was "Olsen" so when we saw this ad for ice cream, I realized that I was heir to the great Hennig-Olsen ice cream fortune. I wonder if they know about me? So far, no one has sent a check. However, they do make excellent soft ice cream.

If you click on the above pic, you can see how beautiful the view is from Geiranger back across the fjord, and also see how our huge cruise ship is dwarfed by the mountains.

The small village here was lined with little souvenir shops selling, uh, fisks and fritids. Can't get enough of those. Notice, however, the roof. It is planted with grass. During the winter months, it gets very, very, very cold here. Like, COLD cold. They plant grass on their roofing for insulation.

When we finally left Geiranger and headed out to sea, the sky cleared. Here is another clickable shot of the mountains as we were clearing the fjords.


For two days we were at sea heading north. (North from Norway??). My body clock was completely off. I slept until noon, trying to get my body back to normal so that I could enjoy the sea days, but mostly I wandered around in a daze trying to get my bearings. The sea was mostly overcast, so we spent a lot of time in the fog. It would clear in the afternoons (a bit) and I was reading a really sad novel, so I feel like I was barely there.

Also, I was tired. I hadn't realized how much work I'd been doing at home and in New York trying to get the Big Voice score ready for publication. It's all hurry, hurry, hurry. At sea, there are lots of activities onboard for one's enjoyment, but mostly I ate a lot and read, slept, ate, slept, read, ate and slept. It was just what the doctor ordered.

We were also heading farther and farther north, so the sun stopped setting. Now, THERE'S something that will throw off your body clock. First you see the on the ship's program "Sun sets at 11:30pm. Sun rises at 2:30am." Then "Sun sets at 1am. Sun rises at 1:30am." Then, finally "No sunset. No sunrise."

The North Pole is at the 90 degree parallel. We were heading toward a little island, rarely visited by cruise ship, called Spitzbergen, which prides itself at being at the 78th parallel, which is so close to the North Pole, you can almost touch it. Google Earth this thing and you will see. Usually Spitzbergen is an ice ball, like in a Star Wars movie. Wall to wall white. But for just a little crack of summer, it gets year round sun and thaws out enough for visitors.

However, it's now 2am and I have no business being awake right now. Most of my Spitzbergen pics are video and I don't have the energy to upload them right now. So, I'll be back...


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Home At Last.

The fabled Midnight Sun.

After a 2 hour flight, a 2 hour layover, a 9 hour flight, a 2 hour layover and then a 5 hour flight, we got into LAX, got our car and got home at 4am.

My body clock has NO idea what time it is. But as you can see from the picture above, we had PERFECT weather for our cruise in Norway. Sometimes a bit overcast, but almost no rain, which is what people usually get (lots of rain).

When we got to Nordcapp (the North Cape), we had a party at midnight and Jim took that picture of the midnight sun. I'll be posting more things over the next week or so.

Meanwhile, we are SO EXCITED because in two weeks, we'll be performing THE BIG VOICE in San Francisco at the beautiful New Conservatory Theatre. More info soon!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Midnight Sun

We sailed so far north -- Spitzbergen; look it up, there was no satellite reception. We're at the North Cape in Norway. Online time expensive so just saying hello. It's beautiful here. And cold.