BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City. That is my way of describing how I feel having cheated death. In a game show, the Bonus Round is where time speeds up and the prizes are better. Seeing your death changes you. 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. Last year, I turned 60 and I had a set of goals, all of which came true, including composing -- and performing in -- a Mass, recording a solo album with a few friends and self-released it (selling tens of copies), headlined at a major night club in New York City to two full houses and just played the lead role in the reading play not written by myself. 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.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Animal Night at Kulak's.

Tonight, Saturday, I will be volunteering down at Animal Night at Kulak's. You can watch it on the Net. http://kulakswoodshed.com

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gabi's Song from Santa Cruz.

I think I got the YouTube coding right. This is the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus on tour performing at the First Congregational Church of Santa Cruz, CA.

Working with YouTube

I have been struggling with finding the right settings for the youtube videos to get them into the wide screen format. I thought I had it right, but it's not working. So, I've taken down some recent videos and am working now with the software to see if I can get the rendering correct.

Bear with me and when I solve the problem, I'll have a bunch of new videos ready for you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Homo Wins! Hemo Walks Away In Disgrace.

I want to make a horror film about a tap dancing werewolf. Oh, wait. I just saw it. It was called "The Academy Awards," though it looked and sounded more like the Tonys. When I said that the Oscars were gayest event of the year, I wasn't expecting them to take me quite so literally. Have I mentioned that I hate big, gay production numbers?

Well, I do. I said it and I'm not ashamed.

But the set looked fab, Milk won in two categories, and the best speech of the night was by its writer, the young Dustin Lance Black. I also like that Sean Penn said "homo" on stage. Looks like I won the contest between Hemo and me.

SAYS HEMO: I got nothing! Nada! I'm going to blog that Penn gave the H2H a shout out from stage. You are right- best speech by the writer!

Our friend said Brody looked like Snoop Dogg. I said that maybe he is playing him in an upcoming biopic.

Actually Snoop Dogg is hosting a variety show soon.

Snoop Dogg. Variety show.

The man can barely string a sentence together. But, wait, Ed Sullivan could barely speak and also had little discernible talent...



Naturally, Joe.My.God. had the two best winning speeches on his blog, so I stole them. As he said, "Sean Penn scored an upset tonight taking Best Actor for Milk. He also probably exploded a few million wingnut craniums with his acceptance speech. HEH."


Doesn't matter. This was the speech I wish I had heard as a kid. Thanks, Dustin. You are a class act.

EDIT: Okay, a gay moment. And it's this dress worn by Reese Witherspoon. I kept waiting for Ethel Mertz to come out in a matching outfit and for the two of them to start pulling it apart. What's with all the black sash things hanging on dresses this year? Kate Winslet's horrific ric-rac covered abomination was just as bad.

Oh, well. What's the Oscars without fashions we can make fun of.

What was even better was watching Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" out there on the carpet, lying his ass off, as he looked at these monstrous creations. That was the most fun of the night.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Secularism Not Incompatible with Faith

I made this point frequently when trying to demonstrate, during the rehearsals of New World Waking, how singers who considered themselves secular -- me being one -- could sing songs about faith and religious journeys with full integrity. Andrew Sullivan, on his blog this morning, posted something that concurs with my point.

They are, despite the propaganda of the atheists and the fundamentalists, compatible - even necessary for one another. Bruce Ledewitz, a non-believer himself, discusses his new book Hallowed Secularism:

I am afraid that without the influence of religion, secularism will eventually succumb to a weary relativism, or even nihilism. That is the fear as well of other secular thinkers, such as Austin Dacey, in his book, The Secular Conscience. My proposal is that secularists continue to learn from religion, especially the lesson that Martin Luther King, Jr., called, “the moral arc of the universe.” Religious symbols and language, such as redemption, salvation and forgiveness, can have real meaning for secularists.

He writes more at his blog:

A group of self-announced atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, is currently trying to push secularism toward atheism and away from religion. But secularism need not be atheism. The secularist rejects many things the religious person holds dear: a traditional God, life after death, miracles and so forth. But the secularist can still have a conception of God or Godhead. The secularist may see a deep pattern in history and may feel a profound connection to all that is. Secularism can be holy.

I've been reading A.N. Wilson's breezy (and out-of-print) book, "God's Funeral." It's about the nineteenth century English debates about faith in the wake of Darwin and the Scriptural scholarship most Christianists still refuse to read. And this quote leapt out:

"To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and science are irreligious, and it is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal."

You can read John Stuart Mill's entire lecture, "On Secular Education" here.

Hemo2Homo Predicts The Oscars

Tonight is the Oscars. It’s always a chance for Shawn Decker and Steve- The Hemo2Homo Connection- to match wits and predict winners. I’ll post the results tomorrow and will try not to gloat too much when I win. Oh, and since Shawn didn't dress for the occasion, I'll do most of the heavy lifting.

stevesuit.jpg

STEVE SAYS: The Oscars! The gayest event of the entertainment season featuring five movies no one in America actually saw all competing to win a prize so that their DVD sales will escalate (since none of the films ever played in any actual theaters where “the public” — that great unwashed mass of Paul Blart lovers — resides.)

BEST ACTOR: Sean Penn. No actor has ever so completely captured a real figure. Ever.

(SHAWN SAYS: “No way- Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler! It’s still real to me, dammit!”)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Heath Ledger. No actor has ever so completely captured Dick Cheney’s persona. Ever. And, amazingly, though both are dead, one manages to crawl out of the grave and appear on Fox News every once in awhile.

(SHAWN SAYS: “Robert Downey Jr. takes it running away. He’s been legally dead seven or eight times, that’s more than Heath and Cheney combined!”)

BEST ACTRESS: Kate Winslet. It takes great skill to play the stupidest woman who ever lived. (More on that later).

(SHAWN SAYS: “Marisa Tomei!”)


wrestlerstripper.jpgBEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: I’m voting for Marisa Tomei because I know she’s in this category, not the Best Actress one, unlike Thinblood. I’m also going with Tomei because of the way she stomped her foot in that movie where Herman Munster was the judge. Yes, yes, I know that performance was a different year and she already won for that movie, but I don’t care.

(SHAWN SAYS: “Give her all the awards! The best stripping performance since Showgirls!”)


BEST MOVIE:
MILK. MILK. MILK. MILK. And yeah, I know Slumdog is supposed to win, and I loved Slumdog even though it was a purely sentimental piece of impossibility, but then, that’s what movies are all about.

(SHAWN SAYS: “Slumdog won’t win. They would have won if the movie had centered around the gameshow The Price Is Right- a classic. Not the dated Millionaire show. Can you imagine a high stakes ending that involves Plinko?”)

I LOVE PLINKO! And it's Jim's favorite game show, too. That’s stupid, Shawn. You didn't even choose a Best Movie. Just saying "Slumdog won't win" doesn't mean you win if it doesn't win.

But that gives me a chance to go on a rant about THE READER. I hated this movie.

Warning: Steve Spoiler Ahead!


stevesuit.jpgYou see, The Reader is fictional account of the stupidest woman on earth. It starts off where she (statutory) rapes a willing 15 year old naked boy (uncut!). But it’s okay because she’s a sympathetic Nazi prison guard who we’re
supposed to feel sorry for even though she was personally responsible for watching and facilitating the deaths of hundreds or thousands of human beings. Why?

Because, boo hoo, she can’t read.

So the other mean Nazi guards let her take the rap for an incident where hundreds of Jews died in a church fire, even though she was guilty anyway. And yes, that’s the actual plot. And that piece of crap was nominated for Best Picture. Be thankful it never showed in your town, Hemo.

And the best thing you’ve ever done is turn your blog over to me, by the way (which he did).

(SHAWN SAYS: “This was a bad idea, and why am I in parenthesis? Any final statements, Steve?”)

The Dark Knight got ripped off. So did every real film lover. I think it was because they didn't see it in imax. Well, I'm gonna be first in line to see WATCHMEN. I can tell you that.
—————————————


oscarstatue.jpg

OK, I am back now. Thanks for pitching in Steve, we’ll see how it goes tonight. Good luck to you… you’re going to need it!


Positively Yours,
Shawn

Not a problem, but you forgot to predict the Best Picture. Oh, who cares. You'll probably just re-edit your blog to make it look like you picked all the winners, anyway.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why I Love Texas

A bill was just introduced into the Texas legislature to allow hunting of feral pigs by helicopter. As it stands, the only animals that are allowed to be hunted by aircraft are alligators, turtles and frogs.

Frogs?

Friday, February 20, 2009

HEMO2HOMO OSCAR SPECIAL COMING SOON.

Yes, folks. Not all is gloom and doom and politics! We have your Hemo2Homo 2009 Oscar Special coming soon!

The world awaits.

(Snark will be thrown.)

Legal Options For Those Harmed by Ex-Gay Programs

New Landmark Publication By Truth Wins Out and Lambda Legal Offers Legal Options To Those Hurt By Ex-Gay Programs

If You Have Been Harmed By 'Ex-Gay' Programs, 'Ex-Gay & The Law' Is For You

CHARLOTTE - Truth Wins Out and Lambda Legal released a landmark publication today, "Ex-Gay & The Law", that aims to educate victims of "ex-gay" programs of their legal options. This work was inspired by the many people who have had their lives damaged by programs that seek to "pray away the gay" or use questionable counseling techniques.

"Ex-Gay & the Law helps survivors of ex-gay programs explore their legal rights if they believe they have been harmed," said Wayne Besen, Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. "This groundbreaking publication offers practical legal advice so important questions can be answered."

"We are pleased to help support this publication and to be a part of this effort," said Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director of Lambda Legal. "Groups that proclaim to 'cure' gay people of their sexual orientation lack any legitimate medical backing, cause harm, and sometimes operate unlawfully and unethically. If you have experienced any of the scenarios outlined in the last pages of 'Ex-Gay & the Law', we welcome you to contact or Legal Help Desk."

Each year, thousands of men and women enter "ex-gay" programs. Adolescents are even forced into these boot camps by their parents. While their stories differ, nearly all of these individuals have one thing in common: They are harmed by the traumatizing experience.

The American Psychiatric Association says, "The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior."

Ex-Gay & The Law was released at a press conference in Charlotte to counter Focus on the Family's ex-gay Love Won Out conference. The Charlotte Rainbow Action Network for Equality (CRANE) hosted the event. CRANE is a grassroots coalition of activists and community members working toward civil and social equality for Charlotte's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community.

Truth Wins Out is a non-profit organization that defends gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from anti-gay lies. TWO also counters the "ex-gay" myth and educates America about gay life.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full regonition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Download Ex-Gay & The Law (PDF Format, 1.4 MB)




© 2008 Truth Wins OUT. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"I'm sorry. You're not allowed to see your dying wife. Not in this state."

One moment everything was fine. You were in your stateroom on the cruise ship -- it was to be an anniversary cruise -- unpacking your things. The kids were in the adjoining stateroom playing with your wife. Suddenly, they banged on the door crying that mom was hurt.

So now you're in the hospital -- Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital -- waiting for word, and it's not coming. They tell you, Joe (we'll call you Joe), you can't be with her. You plead with them, to no avail. No, Joe, sorry, Joe, we can't tell you anything.

One hour turns to two, two to four, four to six. Your wife is dying, and no one she loves is there.

Finally, in the eighth hour, you reach her bedside. You are just in time to stand beside the priest as he administers last rites.

Your wife is dead. Her name was Lisa Marie Pond. She was 39.

It happened, Feb. 18-19, 2007, except that Pond's spouse was not a man named Joe, but a woman named Janice. And there's one other detail. Janice Langbehn who, as it happens, is an emergency room social worker from Lacey, Wash., says the first hospital employee she spoke with was an emergency room social worker. She thought, given their professional connection, they might speak a common language.

Instead, she says, he told her, ''I need you to know you are in an anti-gay city and state, and you won't get to know about Lisa's condition or see her'' -- then turned and walked away.


The next time someone asks you why you support equality before the law for gay and lesbian people, point them to this article.

My friend, Chris, points out that this editorial left out the most important part of the story:
Though Langbehn had documents declaring her Pond's legal guardian and giving her the medical ''power of attorney,'' Jackson officials refused to recognize her or the kids as family.
How many times have I heard it argued that gays dont need marriage or anything because they already have all the legal rights they need. So they argue that we are looking for special rights.

Personally, I'd like to see the nurse of doctor that would try to keep me away from Jim if he was in the hospital.

Breakfast with Bev, Michael and Walt.

Bev came into town to watch tapings of the NPR quiz show, "Says You" so we had breakfast at Denny's, where they give you a huge handful of creamers. Michael and I started stacking them. He won.

I had a bit of a headache, so I missed ribbing Bev about writing too many blog entries, which was the main reason Michael showed up. (She writes one every single day.)

Now that I think of it, I think he did it because he was bored of all of us.

Bev tells all.

Miss Your Flight?

This is what Jim does when he misses a flight.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Head's In The Music

As I reported in my last blog, these days my head is deeply sunk into music. Mostly my own, of course, because that's my passion. But having listened to The Planets with score in hand -- "Ahhh, so THAT'S where all those 50s sci fi movie composers got their ideas!" -- it gave me confidence that I could start trying to get down onto paper the orchestral music that has been haunting the symphony hall in my head.

Or, to put it in Southern terms, "They done flung a cravin' on me."

[That comes from the punchline of a joke by the old cajun comedian Jerry Clower concerning a country bumpkin character named New Gene. New Gene was eating mustard sardines on the wooden steps of the general store and he had it all on his face, in his eyebrows, etc. And the observer says something like, "Hoo-weee! New Gene has done flung a cravin' on me." It's funny when Clower says it.]
I actually finished writing out the Adagio movement for the Antarctic Suite. (I call it Adagio because it's slow. And it was also the simplest piece with only four major instruments. Alto Flute, piano, violin section, French horns.)

I also watched American Idol. I'll comment on this year's kids in a later post.

And I saw songwriting great Steve Dorff sing at Kulak's last Thursday. Not only did I see him, but I was on camera three. (And, for the record, it was tough going. I can tell I'm out of shape and feeling a bit weak. By the end of the night, I could barely stand. I think everyone thought I was going to pass out there in the doorway. But it's good physical therapy for me.)

Monday night, Jim and I were invited by the Academy for New Musical Theatre to attend a demonstration evening for a program they've come up with where producers propose a project, writers are assigned to outline and pitch ideas, which are then culled by the producers. The ideas are then developed into 15 minute presentations -- a couple of songs and some dialogue, and the process continues though readings and, finally, productions.

I heard some very clever songs and was impressed with the structure and idea of the program. (For instance, this very large outdoor theatre in Wisconsin had contacted them with a very specific parameter. They like to put on big, funny Wisconsin-themed shows during tourist season. The audience is mostly campers, meaning families. So, something like "Cheeseheads from Outer Space" goes over big. The team assigned to this project decided on a cow theme and demonstrated some hilarious songs, Gary Larson-style, where the cows are doing what people would do -- go on talk shows, wonder about the great barn in the sky, etc.)

I worry, though, that writers of contemporary musical theatre are so focused on sounding like "musical theatre" that they're not writing from their own personal, inner musical voice. Everything these days sounds to me like it all descended from European operetta. American music, anyone? (One piece, called "Windjammers," did try to do this using songs from American seamen, but that's a whole different thing. It was intentionally historical.)

On Wednesday night, I once again helped facilitate the Songwriter Workshop at Kulak's. Leader Marc Platt (who writes and records a song every time his wife goes out shopping) regaled us with tales of his low level job at Rhino Records back in the early 80s. He was the one who got the jail-cell demo recordings of songs written and sung by mass murderer Charles Manson -- and who subsequently spent 45 minutes on the phone with him.

Last week, I was paired with a lovely and very talented newcomer named Jennifer Quiroz. We wrote a song called "I've Never Been In Love." (These are one-night assignments. The structure of the workshop is that we get paired with someone and then we have to write a song in about 90 minutes. The point is that the best way to learn how to write a song is to write a song. Learning songwriting by lecture is like learning swimming by reading a book.)

Last night, I got to work with a young woman whose name I don't know how to spell, but it's pronounced "May-laan." She is from Hawaii and has been in town, working at a recording studio -- smart girl! We were assigned to write a song for the "American Idol" competition.

Bereft of ideas, I popped open a book Marc had thrust into our hands -- "Here. Use this as an inspiration." It was a mystery novel. So, I opened to the first page I came to and started reading the paragraph. It was a description of an overweight girl. So, I rhymed it and said, "There. That's our opening verse."

And that's how songs get done when the clock is ticking. Who knows where the song will end up, but "May-laan" had a beautiful voice and a nice melodic gift. We didn't make a whole song, but we got a nice start to one. And both of us learned from the experience, just as Jennifer and I had the week before.

Okay, it's time to tackle the more difficult movement of the Antarctic Suite. I had labeled it the Landscape Movement. The demos are almost done and I'll be syncing them to some video from our trip soon. But everything takes so much time. And I'm still hungry to learn more about arranging and orchestrating.

The cravin' has been flung and I must answer the call.

(BTW, go to Marc Platt's MySpace page and click on the track "The Revolution Starts Right Here." I love this song).

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bernstein, Holst, Ives, Copeland.

One of the aspects of my musical education is that I don't have one. Or, rather, it's all street learning/ bar & church music, since I left school after two years (long story) and hit the road. So, yesterday morning I sat and listened to Bernstein's Mass for the first time all the way through after spending the last couple of weeks listening to his series of lectures at Harvard about 20th century music. This morning I downloaded the orchestral score to Holst's The Planets and listened to that all the way thought while trying to follow the score. (I had to back up and start over a number of times).

As a maker of popular music, this stuff just never crossed my path and I couldn't have understood it even if it had.

And it's orgasmic. I feel like I'm finally making up for a lot of lost time. I feel foolish that I don't know this stuff, being a professional musician and songwriter.

Part of the reason I'm doing this is because my own New World Waking got an orchestral treatment and now I want to expand my own musical vocabulary, awareness and skills. Though NWW is basically a set of pop songs elevated to a concert setting, it's still something. It was sung and recorded -- and I'm proud of it for what it is.

Also, as I mentioned, standing out on the deck looking at the glaciers and the bare rock of the Antarctic filled me with such awe that I had to write music about it. I've basically finished the first draft of two movements of what I'm pretentiously calling "The Antarctic Suite" and I feel hungry. I have a feeling that if I were enrolled in a college course on this stuff, I would be the least of the least of the students in the class, with everyone around me laughing at my simplistic musical vocabulary.

But I love what I've written so far. I called my friend, Ken, the other day and told him I feel a bit like a kid in Kindergarten whose just been given his first set of crayons. It doesn't mean I can't make a nice picture, but I'm also realizing how much I don't know.

Still, I'm not going to let it stop me. It matters not if I create great "art" or not -- and it doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing songs. What matters is that this music came out of me. Perhaps later, years down the road, I might look back on it and feel embarrassed, but what does it matter? It is what it is and, as my old 6th grade teacher used to say, "You can't learn any sooner."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Devastation in Australia.


My friend, Kathleen McGuire, who is currently on hiatus in her homeland of Australia, has been telling me about the utter devastation going on down there with wildfires. Tens of thousands of acres spread out over the size of Texas are going up in flames. It's summer down there, reportedly the hottest on record. Here is what she wrote on her Facebook page:

It's hard to describe what it has been like here this weekend. Thankfully none of my immediate family, nor their properties, were harmed. I was in Berwick on the outskirts of Melbourne for most of it. As we tried to stay calm, celebrating my niece's 12th birthday on the hottest day on record here, we started hearing news of the fires. It instantly reminded us of the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, which were the worst fires Australia had ever seen. Little did we know that the tragic events that were about to unfold would surpass even that devastation.

Here in Berwick the sky started to darken, filled with smoke from fires in different nearby areas to the east and west; the smell was reminiscent of the 'great Aussie barbecue' although not what one would expect on a Total Fire Ban day. Although Berwick itself wasn't harmed, fires burned in neighbouring suburbs Narre Warren and Harkaway and several houses were lost. Pakenham, just 10 minutes further down the highway, set up a relief centre for fire victims fleeing from nearby towns. Family members in Gembrook and Emerald returned home from the birthday lunch. Although we felt it was unlikely that we were at risk, we discussed the situation and decided to pack travel bags with our most precious belongings and leave the area - should evacuation be necessary - rather than staying to protect our homes.

The heat rose during the afternoon and reached 47.6 degrees celsius in parts of the state - that's almost 118 fahrenheit. In my car - without air conditioning - it probably reached 50. I burned my hand, literally, when I accidentally touched the metal of the seat belt buckle.

A cool change was due, which again reminded us of 1983 when the wind changed direction and the town of Cockatoo (just minutes from where my brother now lives in Gembrook) was razed to the ground. 75 people died that day. My uncle fought with the fire brigade for 48 hours and his hair literally turned grey overnight. His feet were blackened from radiant heat from the ground. I'll never forget the look on his face; it was as if he had returned from a war. He lost friends that day, including a truckload of fire brigade buddies, and many of his neighbours lost their homes.

When the cool change came yesterday, I was heading towards the city. There were very few cars on the freeway. The rays of the setting sun poked dramatically through clouds like a cartoon version in a Monty Python episode. I expected God, complete with a flowing white beard, to pop up through the clouds, shaking his head and declaring that this was the end. The sky was eerie, with unusual, billowing clouds formed from a combination of smoke from fires surrounding the city and the incoming cold front. In the distance I could see lights flashing. A minute later, a caravan of a dozen emergency vehicles sped past me on the other side of the freeway heading towards the fires in Gippsland. It was apocalyptic.

Later I would learn that, at this time, the residents of Kinglake - in the other direction, north of Melbourne - were putting into action their fire plans. Many had chosen to stay and defend their homes. They had no idea that an enormous wall of fire was about to engulf their town. Two fires came together as one and quickly turned towards their town unexpectedly. Survivors described what happened, but I have the distinct feeling that only those who were there can really understand the intensity. One man related the fire as an enormous ball that flew down the hill in seconds; others said it was like a tornado or a cyclone. Others said it was raining fire; another said it was like a freight train. They describe the roaring, crackling sounds and intense, radiant heat. A man said that his water tank holding 5000 gallons of water boiled. Residents who sought refuge in Jacuzzis or water tanks perished.

Many residents realised it was too late to save their homes so they got into their cars to flee. Some escaped but others perished. Carloads of families were incinerated. Burn victims are in the hospitals. Many survivors had so little warning, they have nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

News reader Brian Naylor - whom I met years ago at the Koo Wee Rup Potato Festival when I was playing in a band - was a lead reporter in 1983 at the fires. He and his wife died today in Kinglake.

The cold front caused more damage than good. Barely a millimeter of rain fell, but the thunderous clouds produced lightning that generated more fires. The north of the state dropped only slighting in temperature on Sunday and the searing heat and high winds continued for another day.

What is hard to describe to those not from Australia is the vastness of the areas that have been burned. The fire commissioner reported that there were 450 fires burning; so far 330,000 hectares have been burned, and more than 700 houses lost. For those of you in the US, Victoria is about the size of Texas, I think. Imagine if fires broke out simultaneously near Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Wichita Falls. And then gale force winds blew embers so that new fires erupted 30 miles away. And lightning ignited more, inaccessible fires in remote national parks in other parts of the state. The walls of flame are miles across and 15 stories high, moving at gale force speed. That gives you an idea of the scope of the devastation.

Entire towns were enveloped by fire. From what I understand, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Marysville and Wandong are decimated. Fires are still burning out of control and are expected to continue for days.

As a distraction on Sunday, I took my 9-year-old nephew to a nearby sports store. In the car en route, we listened to ABC radio's updates on the fire. At the store, he bought a $10 item and said he would pay me back with his allowance. He also remarked that he'd like to make a donation to help the fire victims. I suggested he might do that instead of paying me back the $10 he owed.

A few hours later, at my sister's home, my nephew set about doing chores (somewhat uncharacteristically - he's a 9-year-old boy, after all), including picking up dog poop in the yard. My sister and I were bemused by this, especially since there was an international one-day cricket match on TV, and asked him about it. He said he wanted to earn more money from chores. I had completely forgotten about our earlier conversation. He then told his mother that he wanted to earn the money so that he could send it in for the fire victims.

It saddens me that it takes a disaster for us to be reminded that people are essentially good. The "experts" are telling us that this weekend's tragedy is just the beginning - that global warming and climate changes will lead to more such catastrophes. I just hope that our human capacity for compassion and selflessness will somehow save us from ourselves.
I just cannot believe there has been so little, if any coverage of this in the United States.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Singing Gabi's Song in New World Waking.

Pictured: Stephen Camarota.

Earlier this month, I wrote to several of the chorus members up in San Francisco asking them if they could write a little paragraph or even just a sentence about what singing the piece meant to them, or perhaps just share a story of something that happened. I did this partly because I couldn't be there and I wanted to live it as much through them as possible.

But, also, as we finish up the formal score and begin to offer it to other choruses, I'm thinking these quotes could be a part of the package.

And then I get this from Stephen Camarota:
I had an instant connection to “Gabi’s Song.” The melody, the words, the arrangement, all of it called to me in a subtle, yet definitive way. After reading the whole history of the song, about Bill and his parents, I kept thinking about what he might have been like now so many years later. We would be about the same age now. In a way I was Bill if he lived on. That was a great responsibility.

About a week before I auditioned for the song, I was verbally accosted by a disgruntled guy at the gym. This guy got up in my face and called me a “fag” for being in his space and proceeded to threaten and try to scare me. I was so caught off guard that I hardly responded to him at all.

I was shocked at how no one around me stopped to help me in any way.

In the end my calm demeanor only irritated the guy so much that he fled in rage. I felt triumphant in how I responded to him. Still I found myself somewhat afraid for a few days after the incident, and thinking of things I should have said. To top it off I felt a sense of self hate over my own feelings of fear. I wanted to know why this happened to me; why I felt so humiliated.

I ultimately went back to the gym with full confidence that I would not let this stop me from living my life. I further vowed to step up and help anyone I witnessed being treated the way I was that night.

Even through all of that, I thought how my experience was only a small fraction of what Bill went through, and maybe that’s why I had that experience- to help me feel what it is like for others who are mistreated simply for who they are. Before each show I would meditate alone and prepare for the song with all of these things in my mind.

At the beginning of our run Rey Faustino, the understudy for the song, gave me a printed picture of Bill with some of the excerpts from online about him. I kept that picture in inside my tux jacket against my heart for every show.

I would begin to sing and see all of the moved faces, including his parents at Davies Symphony Hall, and felt this great cathartic oneness with everyone within the sound of my voice. By the end of the song, I would see Bill at the back of the house leaning on one leg and smiling at me, and then he would walk off at peace.

Singing “Gabi’s song” was more then an honor for me, it was my duty for all who feel hopeless, worthless and lone- and it was truly the high point of my life
Here are "Bill's parents," Gabi and Alec, backstage with the chorus just before the concert. Interwoven are some shots of Stephen singing "Gabi's Song."



You can hear the whole song if you get the CD, Creating Harmony.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Trial Begins for HIV Gene Therapy.

SyringeGene therapy that could immunize people against the most common type of HIV is ready to be tested on humans. From Wired Blogs.

Recruiting for the trial began Tuesday, and the first people to receive the experimental treatment will be HIV patients with drug-resistance problems.

"We do have good treatments for HIV. That has been one of the most successful stories of the last 20 years in medicine," said Pablo Tebas, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

"However, over time, if the medications are not taken properly, individuals develop resistance to the HIV treatments, so they tend to have more limited therapeutic options."

Since the discovery that a small portion of people who are exposed to HIV do not get infected, scientists have been working to discover the secret to those people's resistance and how to make others resistant as well.

It turns out that most people have a gene called CCR5, which makes them vulnerable to HIV infections. The naturally resistant people have mutant CCR5 genes that inhibit HIV.

Previously, scientists found that by cutting the CCR5 gene out of white blood cells involved in the immune response known as T-cells, they could protect a tube full of human cells from the virus. The gene editing technique relies on proteins called zinc finger nucleases that can delete any gene from a living cell.

In theory, zinc finger nucleases could give that immunity to anyone.

The procedure is simple: Take some healthy T-cells out of an HIV patient, clip out their CCR5 genes, grow more of these clipped T-cells in a dish, and then put them back in the patient.

"In this first study we will re-infuse approximately 10 billion of these cells back into the participants, and we will see if it is safe and if those cells inhibit HIV replication in vivo," said Tebas. "We know they do in the test tube."

Photo: adamjtaylor/Flickr

Monday, February 02, 2009

Quick Catch-Up.

I've been working on this musical piece, The Antarctic Suite, and listening to some great recordings of Leonard Bernstein given to me by Ken McPherson. It's a lecture series he did at Harvard on American music in the 20th Century. I can almost understand it. But, man, when you hear someone who REALLY knows music (and art and literature and poetry), it humbles you greatly.

So, I haven't done any more video editing. I wanted to get this music ready and use it in the videos.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday I helped facilitate the songwriter workshop at Kulak's Woodshed being run by Marc Platt. Marc's a terrific teacher and has a great knowledge of popular music -- again, humbling me.

This afternoon, I'm having coffee with an old college buddy whose wife found me through Facebook m-- I actually wrote a song and performed it at their wedding.

We haven't seen each other nor spoken in 30 years. Their sons are part of a terrific pop/rock band called The Daylights, who are touring with pop star Katy Perry.

So, I'm really excited to reconnect with an old friend. And do click on the Daylights link. They have that jangly guitar sound that I love.

Also went to see the doc. Tests were all good. My highest t-cell count to date: 525. And a great percentage: 21%. So, I don't know that I'd say my immune system is strengthening since these numbers go up and down all the time, but it's clear that my health is holding its own.

People have asked me about TLS in Rochester, NY. The Downstairs Cabaret Theatre is working out a deal to do the show at the big Geva Theater's smaller venue. So, the dates are tentatively March 15 through early April. Now it's just a matter of clearing everyone's schedules.

I've also been asked to come back to Olympia, Washington for a concert. I'll update you as soon as we set dates.