BRIEF BLOG INTRO: I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas who is "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- having cheated death from AIDS. (In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better.) Accepting my death changed me. Now, I'm consuming life as quickly and as fully as I can, while still taking time to breathe and appreciate every single day as an utter miracle.
I'm a man on a mission to convince you that music is a Super Power, and that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.
In 2013, I turned 60 and I created a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City (while getting great reviews). Now I'm out to redefine theater and cabaret. 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 [SHACK-lin] and we're just getting started.
Monday, September 29, 2008
It's because the Bush White House did not sell it to the American people. All we heard was THE SKY IS FALLING!
Well, no one in this country believes Bush when he says this stuff because, like the boy who cried "Wolf," his personal credibility is shot. He's played the fear card so often, no one believes him. Conservatives don't believe him. Liberals don't believe him. Independents don't believe him. Republicans don't believe him. Democrats don't believe him.
So, the entire country, WITHOUT PROVOCATION, showered the congress with emails and faxes -- all of them saying NO.
The reason it failed is because the people spoke. And if the people are making the wrong decision, then someone with some brains and personal credibility -- are there any left? -- will have to step up and make the sale.
It doesn't help that politically pure conservatives, liberals and libertarians all hated it.
Just who do we listen to?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
He was a class act. I have two bottles of his salad dressing in my fridge.By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 6 minutes ago
Paul Newman, one of the world’s most enduring and popular film stars, died on Friday of cancer, according to his spokeswoman. Above, Mr. Newman in 2006.
The scenes of Paul Newman and a blazing hot Piper Laurie in The Hustler scorched the earth back in 1961. (Naturally, Piper's character had to die for being so brazenly, naturally and unapologetically sensual). And Jackie Gleason was magnificent. What a movie!
Look at him:
Rest in peace.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Night before last, when it hit, I had actually been feeling okay, though I had detected a little "burn" in the back of my throat, plus mucus. But I hadn't had any fever and, when my doctor on Monday, looked in my throat, he didn't see anything.
I had even gone down to Kulk's Woodshed to hang out for the jam session, playing and singing a lot of Beatles songs.
Woke up about 1:30am. Sweating. My throat burning like hot coals. Every hour I would wake up, alternating between sweats and chills.
Spoke to friends who said they had also been through it. The best thing to do is stay still, sleep a lot and drink fluids. So, water, chicken soup, green tea. All day long.
It's interesting watching all the politics. The problem that's going on here is that the American public feels like it's just been ripped off. It doesn't matter what the Congress or the president does if they cannot figure out a way to sell it.
People feel like the stupid out of town tourists who just got stripped naked in a foreign casino -- who are now being told that they have to pay for the restoration of that very casino that just ripped them off.
And it did not help that when President Deer In The Headlights finally gave a speech, he looked like a prisoner of war having to read a "Death to America" confession. And I do not mean that sarcastically. Does this administration know ANY approach that doesn't involve massive shovels full of fear? Is the sky ALWAYS falling?
Or, more to the point, is it even possible to make a rational and correct decision during a "sky is falling" moment? I'm starting to think that our society isn't as addicted to oil as much as it is addicted to fear.
Or is it the cough syrup?
I'm going back to bed.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Filmed in San Francisco and featuring what appears to be a sensational performance from Sean Penn as Harvey Milk -- well, if the movie is as good as this trailer, this could sweep the Academy Awards. And I hope it is. And I hope it does.
Link to trailer in high definition.
And here it is on youtube:
Clay's story, his rise to superstardom, and now his coming out, is truly something unique. I mean remember back when he first auditioned? Here was this totally geeky, completely impossible, performer and, well, mama's boy.
His eyebrows were bushy, his hair was stupid, his glasses dorky -- and I remember Simon all but laughing him off, since, for him, looks are mandatory for an "idol."
But he had this magnificent instrument. Without this show, Aiken would never have made it. The music industry is not looking for people who look or sound like Clay Aiken. It's doubtful that even if they had, they would have been able to market him. He doesn't fit into any available formats.
The other thing that's interesting about him is that he was raised in a conservative Christian home, and that this is a source of pain for both him and his family. This is from the article:
The born-again Christian singer also reveals how he told his mother Faye he's gay four years ago. After dropping off his younger brother Brett, who was being deployed to Iraq, at Camp Lejeune, "I started crying in the car," Aiken remembers. "It was dark. I was sitting there, thinking to myself. I don't know why I started thinking about it ... I just started bawling. She made me pull over the car and it just came out."And that pretty much describes the situation for all us southern boys with Baptist families. Some family members totally embrace the fact of a person's gayness and some "struggle" with it. It's easy for some to feel cynical about Clay Aiken. He's the easiest of targets. For years, people were goading him to just come out, already.
So what was his mom's reaction? "She started crying. She was obviously somewhat stunned. But she was very supportive and very comforting." Even now, Aiken admits, "She still struggles with things quite a bit, but she's come a long way."
(And I get that. I get that we glbt persons are better, as a group, when more of us come out. That was the lesson taught to us by Harvey Milk and Leonard Matlovich. Our families need to see us. Our co-workers should know we exist.)
I don't know Clay Aiken so I'm only presuming, but I relate to him as a small town southern boy trying to live his own life -- the kind of life so many fantastize; a life he earned by being talented.)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
With a financial contribution to the Soulforce Equality Ride you will enable students and young activists to jumpstart a dialogue with school officials and bring hope and empowerment to closeted gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students at the religious and military schools that currently oppress them. You will also be helping to confront strongholds of misinformation about sexual orientation at its source.
This donation form is for making a general donation to the Soulforce Equality Ride. If you would like to sponsor one or more of our 2008 riders, please click here.
This was Dr. Richard, my hematologist who's been bleeding me for the past month or so. He was trying to describe to me why I should avoid iron, and to make sure I don't have too much iron in any of the vitamin supplements I'm taking.
"See, the body needs iron to make red blood cells just as a baker needs eggs. So, one of the things we're doing while thinning your blood is eliminating extra iron that the body needs to make more blood. Even if there's something in there saying, 'Make more blood,' it can't because without iron -- the eggs -- it can't."
"However," he continued, "your blood levels are almost at normal again. They're slightly elevated, but what I want to do is to get them to normal so we can establish an equilibrium. Then we'll see where we go from there. Have you been hydrating a lot like I told you?"
"Yes," I said, pointing to the water bottle next to me.
"No caffeine has entered my body. I even stopped drinking my beloved Mountain Dew Red."
"And try to avoid red meat and spinach -- anything that has iron."
"I hardly ever eat red meat, but I do love my spinach -- my favorite item on the Indian food buffet."
He continued, "everything is moving in the right direction. We'll phlebotomize you one more time today and then check again next week. Hopefully, this will be the last time for awhile."
Well, that was good news, anyway. This week I was ready to be a submissive patient. And all week I've exercised, watched my diet and drank lots of water.
My arm, bruised and full of holes, is doing its best to hold out under all this sticking and poking and draining. Luckily, I have good prominent veins, even if they are scarred. People looking at me probably think I'm a drug addict of some kind.
In the infusion center, they had these new chairs and I couldn't figure out how to get the foot rest to raise up. The lady across from me, a cancer patient undergoing chemo -- I could tell from the hat on her head and the hideous white liquid in her infusion bag -- couldn't figure it out either but she spoke almost no English and was shy about asking for help.
I got the nurse to show me how to do it and then I helped the lady across from me. We were kind of crowded in this little room so that when our feet were raised, the nurses couldn't pass by easily. But we didn't care. You can't sit there for three hours and not raise your feet. It's too hard on the back, especially because you can't move around very much with all this hooked into your arm.
After a couple of hours, I realized I had dozed off. A new, younger lady was being hooked up. But we both had opposite problems. She was having iron infused into her blood.
I told her they were draining me to get rid of the iron and they were infusing her to give her more. I told her I would offer some of my iron, but that she did NOT want my blood.
The phlebotomy today really took a lot out of me. I felt weak all day long, sleeping almost all afternoon. I went down to my regular Kulak's Woodshed Monday night open mic, but asked to go on early so I could bug out early. I just wasn't up to being there all night.
Happily, though, when I got home, it was time for the new season of "Heroes," my absolute favorite show on TV. Well, I also love Mad Men and a couple of others. But my superhero comic geekdom rules all.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
It's called Songs4Earth.com and if you have a talent for writing lyrics or music, or if you're a musician, studio owner, engineer or producer, the goal of the site is to hook people up to inspire and collaborate with each other to create songs for the planet to encourage people to begin taking care of our environment and to network with each other to promote "green" causes.
I sort of became the unofficial "godfather" of the site because JD says he got his inspiration from a conversation the two of us had as I was conceiving "New World Waking!" and we were talking about the power of music. As you can see, he's splashed my face all over the front page.
I'm very proud of JD's industriousness and more than a little humbled by his optimistic enthusiasm.
This is the description on the site:
Our mission is to bring together ecologically-minded singers, songwriters, musicians, and engineers from all over the world to contribute and collaborate on music which will help bring education, inspiration, hope and healing to our planet.To create, through an online community, a Music Revolution where creators devoted to a healthy world environment can connect, both in person and long distance, and record songs to raise public awareness of the necessity of green living; reducing our carbon footprint, identifying and boycotting major polluters, falling in love with Nature and nurturing Mother Earth and her plants, animals, the oceans, and biosphere.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
His name is Ray Boltz and he was tired of fighting off his same sex attractions. So, now in his 50s, he informed his wife and family (who are now completely supportive), and he was quietly living his life in Ft. Lauderdale until one day, while traveling, he dropped into an Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis after striking up a friendship with Rev. Jeff Miner. (MCCs are gay-supportive Christian churches.) Soon after, he casually sent Rev. Minder a CD.
Here is the full story at The Washington Blade.
Miner liked the Christmas CD and was so impressed he e-mailed Boltz and asked him if he'd ever thought about doing music full time.Here is how its covered in Christianity Today.
Boltz laughed as he read the note.
"He obviously had no idea who I was and I just loved that," Boltz says. "I just said, 'Uh, yeah, I used to.'"
Miner showed the CD to the music leaders at MCC Indianapolis who, recognizing Boltz's name, were dumbfounded that he'd been to their church. When they mentioned some of Boltz's hits to him, Miner made the connection.
I was reading some reactions there. It's interesting to me how many sincere people are still arguing the same circular arguments. They don't want to move from their entrenched positions. And by that, I don't mean that their theology. I mean how they discuss the issue at all. And there's very little discussion about whether there's a better discussion to be had over the issue.
The whole Ray Boltz story is interesting because of HOW Ray Boltz chose to come out. Until this story, I had never heard of Ray Boltz. Though I used to be involved in the beginnings of the Conservative Christian Music movement, my songwriting wasn't really that great back then (there are some real embarrassments). We did, however, have a kick-ass band, mostly playing in Texas. And there was a time when CCM music, called Jesus Music back then, was the most cutting edge music in the world -- and I mean that sincerely. It was a candle that flickered oh so briefly, but it did happen.
But now, as one commenter at Christianity Today put it, "It's an insular world." Me, I left it and never looked back. I have no idea who sings CCM and I don't care to be a part of that world, no offense -- not that they'd have me anyway.
But I do think it's time for everyone just just get over it.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
This is the first time I've done it in the daytime. I saw a lot of cancer patients and their spouses. At the check-in counter was a little basket of crocheted "cancer caps" for women who've lost their hair. In the bathroom over the toilet was a sign that said, "If you're receiving radioactive therapy, please flush twice."
Before going there, though, the first stop was the lab. They poked my "other" good vein but she couldn't get the blood to flow. "You have a lot of scar tissue here." Hey! That's supposed to be the vein that has the LEAST amount of scar tissue. Anyway, she painfully wiggled the needle around until she finally got a blood flow.
After labs, I saw Dr. Richard and apologized for being a "bad" patient last week. He said not to worry, that if it was something urgent or really dangerous, "I wouldn't have let you say no."
"I figured. Anyway, I'm ready to submit today."
He gave me a great big hug. (Must remember to do this more often!)
"So we'll do the phlebotomy. Then, come back in a week and we'll see if we have to do it again."
And I thought, is this going to be an endless string of bleedings? How many weeks am I going to have to do this? Forever?
With the band-aid on the first arm, I walked into the infusion center with its high ceiling and beautiful fish tank and rows of easy chairs set with pillows. I got poked again. This time farther up on my right arm over the bicep.
No scar tissue there, but it was still hard to get the blood flow and, once again, she dug around while I just gritted my teeth and tried to breathe, whining and trying to just get through it. Once the flow was established, it stopped hurting. The needle was set and, after draining me, she set up the saline solution to re-infuse.
Since there was nothing to do but sit and wait, I brought a book with me. I'm reading "Mississippi Sissy" by Kevin Sessums and I love it. I adore it. The two hours of re-infusion passed quickly. I even slept a little until the beeper went off, letting them know to change the bag.
Just then, an older woman came in with a stylish turban barely covering her wispy, almost non-existent white hair. She grabbed the pillow in the seat next to me and threw it into the chair next to that. Then she sat in that chair like she owned the place.
The nurse came in with a couple of large bags of fluid hanging off an I.V. tree.
She asked, "Now, is this the three medications or just one?"
The nurse responded, "Just one."
"Sorry I'm late. There was a car wreck on the freeway and it took me three hours to get here. Usually, it only takes two and a half."
"I did all right on that last dose. It didn't make me that sick."
I was admiring this woman's steely take-control attitude. I also realized that as I was sitting there bemoaning my fate, whining about the needle in my arm with its still prominent (if scarred) veins, I watched them as they tried desperately to find one good vein in the woman. Finally, it worked and I watched them pull blood of out her with a huge syringe before starting the infusion.
I couldn't even imagine the pain she must be in. And did I hear a single whine? A single complaint? Nope.
And I thought, you know, sometimes I just need to shut up and look around. No matter how badly I might think my situation is, it's nothing compared to what this woman was dealing with -- and nothing compared to what most of the other people sitting around this room was dealing with.
Lesson learned? We'll find out next week.
I've been good. I've been exercising and drinking a ton of water this weekend. Let's see how it goes.
And if I have to be bled, well, then I be bled.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I have a great friend named Justin Lee. We met at the dawn of the Internet on a discussion board trying to facilitate discussions between mostly religious gay-affirming and non-affirming religious people. He was this kid with this amazing mind and a great deal of ambition.
He, also being a devout evangelical Christian, created a site called the Gay Christian Network. Justin is proudly, defiantly and sometimes hilariously gay. He has been a source of great inspiration for glbt persons of the Christian faith.
Here is Justin announcing their next big national conference.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
This would be my last visit. I was so happy! I checked in and went to the lab.
The blood draw wasn't easy since my "good" veins are scarring up. Then I went to a waiting room.
While I was reading a year-old magazine, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a big poodle's nose at the entrance to the waiting area. Then it disappeared.
Then, a moment later, a big white poodle came into the waiting area. She was on a leash.
I reached out, without approaching too closely in case it was a service dog, and the owner said, "Go ahead. You can pet her."
Then I saw that he had on a vest designating him as a volunteer. This was a hospital doggy! I reached out and scritched her behind the ear.
And saw the hospital tag around my wrist.
Right. I'm a patient.
I still loved being able to pet the dog, but the moment itself was slightly spoiled.
The nurse came and took me to the exam room and took my vitals. I told her about the negative biopsy test results and how I'd probably not be seeing her anymore. We hugged goodbye.
Dr. Richard came in. More hugs!
I felt sad that it would be our last time. He's very caring. He really listens. And, well, he's a very handsome man with a brilliant smile. I like him a lot.
"So," I said excitedly, "the test results were negative!"
"Yes, but that doesn't tell us everything."
"We'll need to do new scans in November. After all, you did have activity in this throat area and it could have just been a passing virus or a sore throat. But we need to see if it's still active when we test again."
I think I slumped.
Then he looked at CBC test results from when I waked in, "Your hemoglobin is high again. It's 18. I need it down to 15. Let's go ahead and schedule a phlebotomy for today."
I was just so caught off-guard. I've been so compliant up to this point. I've been a really good patient, eating well, getting back into my exercise routine, taking my pills with absolute regularity, getting all the bleedings, the scans and the biopsies...
And for a few weeks I've felt so totally normal. Going out and singing. Working on New World Waking, etc.
And now I was so instantly a REAL patient again. Not just the armband, but the bleeding room, more tests.
I didn't want this. I didn't want to be a patient today.
Then I did something I don't think I've ever done before. Or maybe I have. Who knows. I just told him no.
I said, "I just can't. I can't do it. Not today. Can't I just run more and drink more water?"
"Running dehydrates you. Drink a lot of water when you run."
"Tell me I don't have to do it today."
"It's not critical but that thick blood makes you at risk for stroke, heart attack..."
I just looked at him helplessly, like PLEEEEEZE don't make me go through the ordeal of the bleeding room. Not today... (This all sounds so medieval, huh?).
He relented. "Come back Monday. I'll schedule the phlebotomy for then, but we'll test first to make sure you still need it. Drink a lot of liquids. No caffeine. No alcohol."
Then he felt around my neck and beneath my armpits. Nothing in my neck, but those two glands in my pits are still kind of swollen.
"Do they hurt?"
"Good. See you on Monday."
I don't know if I should have had the phlebotomy or not. I just know I couldn't do it. So, now I have the weekend to get myself back into full compliant mode.
And I will. But I still have this week to just feel free.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
In the past couple of months, as I've become more comfortable in front of the camera and have gotten more used to the sound of that piano, I decided that I would just forget the camera, find the groove in the song and just play and sing it the way I do when I'm home.
I also wanted to do it with harmony. So, having Jake Wesley Stewart there to hit all the high notes felt really great. (I wrote about this night last week). I thought he totally nailed it, especially as the song climaxed.
One other thing to note. The host that night was Dave Morrison, who is a great songwriter and singer in his own right. His comments at the end of the song made me smile, so listen through to the end.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
He lit up a cigarette and leaned over his cart full of cans and bags and bags of cans.
Getting excited, but not getting loud, he said, "She's afraid of this, what are they calling them, 'DC elite.' Who coined that phrase? DC Elite? First it's the Hollywood Elite, the New York Elite and now the DC Elite."
Our conversations merged, so I don't know who said what. He would say something. I would say something. He would say something. And, soon, we were both agreeing on everything. It sounded kind of like this.
"Does this mean she's afraid to talk to the opponent? What about Iran? Russia?"
"Does she think Chris Matthews is more formidable than Vladimir Putin?"
"Would she talk to Vlad if he called?"
"Joe Biden could take that call. And I think Barack Obama can stare down Putin. He's like Captain Kirk. Joe Biden is Spock, except from some planet where the people get excited and talk a lot. But Kirk just keeps his cool and listens, letting everyone else get in over their heads."
"John McCain would be looking at notes trying to remember if it's the Sunnis who... no. The Shiites... wait..."
"And also, let's say McCain becomes President. Who's he gonna get to back him up? The Republicans all hate him. Even if he gets in, he's gonna govern with the Democrats because the Republicans will say no to everything he wants to do except drill for more oil and make war."
We laughed at it all. We both agreed that Jon Stewart was the hardest interview of all because he calls you on your bullshit.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you. When I left Dr. Tony's feeling a bit despondent, yet determined, he said to me, "I wish all my patients were like you. You do take good care of yourself."
I'm learning, Dr. Tony. I'm just learning.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Maggie Heineman of Medford, N.J., came to the pursuit late in life. Sitting at the breakfast table in the Old Tavern at Grafton on Day 2, the trim, attractive 72-year-old tells of a lifetime of yo-yo dieting until, at age 67, she got on a bike.
"My goal is to be cycling when I'm 85 because it's social. And it's fun," she says.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Then, Teddy Witherington, the Executive Director of the Chorus, and Kathleen McGuire, the conductor and artistic director, expressed the same feelings I was having, so, after a weekend of thinking about it, we decided to rename it "New World Waking," which is one of the lyric/musical themes in the piece.
Also, since the concept of a work about "peace" came to me while I was in Olympia playing John Lennon's IMAGINE piano, and since the word "cantata" sounds old and musty (besides the fact that, technically, it's not really a cantata), here is the full new title:
Songs on the Road to Peace
Inspired by John Lennon's Piano
Davies Symphony Hall
San Francisco, California
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Order tickets here!
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
We sang "Going It Alone" together. He took the higher harmony.
And it was a great night of talent, too. Dave Morrison, who is a superb performer and writer, was the guest host. Dave is hilarious on top of all his other talents -- guitarist, singer, etc.
I also got some nice emails from people who checked in on the broadcast and really enjoyed hearing a night of alternative folk music. Well, I'll be back there next Monday!
Monday, September 01, 2008
I was a guest artist there this past Saturday night for a little fundraiser singer Julie Chadwick was holding for a small pet rescue group but, because of the holiday, there were only a few attendees (who weren't on the bill as performers). A guy in a wheel chair, a senior lady dressed as if going to church sitting on the couch, possibly from the senior center just up the road, and a few scattered others.
A little background: If you don't have a car, North Hollywood's Laurel Canyon Blvd. can feel dark and dangerous. There's no real place for community. It's zoned in this area for business. But none of the businesses are open at night. So, it becomes a ghost town.
Or was until Kulak set up this small performance/hang-out 8 years ago purely as a labor of love. I met Paul back when he was first getting the Woodshed started. He loved folk music and great songwriting and he wanted to create a space for that to happen. (Unfortunately, this is irritating two of the surrounding businessmen and it's been a tooth and nail fight to stay open.)
So, songwriters in the area, both new and old, began hanging out, doing jam sessions on Wednesday night, playing music for each other. And it started creating a community of artists, writers, plus folks who live in the area on limited incomes who benefit from a safe, alcohol-free, drug-free place to go at night. There's no charge to hang out at Kulak's but donations are accepted. Kids and pets allowed.
And it's all acoustic. The noise level has to remain low.
And the artists are broadcast live over the net.
Paul Kulak, who pays for the overhead with his camera rental business, has installed, over the years, a multi-camera set-up all made with spare parts and ingenious creativity. One automated camera is pitched high on the wall and runs on a home-made track to scan the whole room. One is on a boom, and a third runs along a rail set up along the headboard of the bed.
It's fun to sit in the control booth with him and listen to him teach his volunteers how to frame shots. If I were going to TV school, I'd be down here every night volunteering.
And by doing this he has created a wealth of material, the soft underbelly of music made in Los Angeles by Los Angeleans. It's value is incalculable. A lot of it is online here in the archives.
It's the open mic, though, that's my favorite. Open mics are always dangerous because there will always be some garage superstar who imagines himself to be the greatest thing on earth who will embarrass everyone but himself. How can you not love that (well, except while it's happening, of course)?
But then you get a couple of young, good looking guys who just show up, whip out a guitar and a small keyboard and sound like Radiohead. (Akiav). Or there's this teen girl who comes. Very beautiful. Dresses in matching boots and hats. You're expecting a weak approximation of a vocal but instead it's this amazingly rich alto. And like me, she plays well enough to accompany herself.
I have been taking some video myself and will soon post some stuff for you to look at.
Also, I met yesterday with a guy who I met up in Pismo Beach doing Shakespeare. His name is Jake Wesley Stewart. Very talented, impossibly handsome, actor and singer who is a year fresh from North Carolina. He works for a mutual friend, Marty Panzer, one of L.A.'s most gifted songwriters. (Hi, Marty!) So I invited him over to sing and he's going to join me tonight on "Going It Alone."
You'll know me. I'll be the garage superstar who imagines himself to be the greatest thing on earth who will embarrass everyone but himself.