BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince everyone I meet that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way.
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.) 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.
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 (selling 10s of copies), headlining to a sold out house at a major night club in New York City and played the lead role in a staged reading of a 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 [SHACK-lin].
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
[The United States'] conduct is sending a clear message around the world: the prohibition on torture is a trivial matter which can be defeated by a tyrant in any corner of the world. All he needs to do is hire a lawyer and have him issue an opinion that when he tortures, it’s completely lawful.In two weeks, I'm going to be singing a concert. Much of the music I've written this past year is about peace and war and violence.
The people I'm singing for in Olympia in a couple of weeks are people who have joined together to support each other. Many of their own children have been subjected to hate speech and violence in their schools.
Here I am singing "Imagine" back there in Olympia in 1997.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Neuroscience of junk-food cravings, researched in a Chili's dumpster
Posted by Cory Doctorow, April 27, 2009 10:44 AM
David A Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, is a doctor and lawyer, med school dean and former FDA commissioner. He's also someone whose weight has yo-yoed back and forth all his life, someone who is plagued with insatiable junk-food cravings. His new book -- grounded in research that included dumpster-diving chain restaurants to read the ingredient labels on the foods whose makeup they wouldn't discuss, tries to answer the neurological question of why we crave shitty junk food:The labels showed the foods were bathed in salt, fat and sugars, beyond what a diner might expect by reading the menu, Kessler said. The ingredient list for Southwestern Eggrolls mentioned salt eight different times; sugars showed up five times. The "egg rolls," which are deep-fried in fat, contain chicken that has been chopped up like meatloaf to give it a "melt in the mouth" quality that also makes it faster to eat. By the time a diner has finished this appetizer, she has consumed 910 calories, 57 grams of fat and 1,960 milligrams of sodium.Crave Man The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite
Instead of satisfying hunger, the salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate that diner's brain to crave more, Kessler said. For many, the come-on offered by Lay's Potato Chips -- "Betcha can't eat just one" -- is scientifically accurate. And the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want, Kessler found...
"The food the industry is selling is much more powerful than we realized," he said. "I used to think I ate to feel full. Now I know, we have the science that shows, we're eating to stimulate ourselves. And so the question is what are we going to do about it?"
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Some people think it's just a trick to rescue him from accusations of anti-semitism. His biggest fans are wanting to canonize him.
According to freshly-revealed documents, Pope Pius XII and his inner circle made contingency plans to move the Holy See to Portugal, where the college of cardinals would elect his successor if the Nazis kidnapped the still-controversial wartime pontiff:
That Hitler considered kidnapping the Pope has been documented before, but this is the first time that details have emerged of the Vatican's strategy should the Nazis carry out the plan.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
But that first day, I was lying on the couch, half asleep. And when I opened my eyes to look over at Jimmy's chair, Bea Arthur was sitting there.
I didn't know Bea Arthur and she didn't know me, but we had a mutual friend in the late Charles Pierce, female impersonator extraordinaire. (If you've ever seen anyone imitate Bette Davis, twirling the cigarette and speaking in her famed staccato breath, they're all imitating Charles Pierce imitating Bette Davis).
Bea had heard about me from Charles and insisted on coming over and giving me a few words of encouragement.
She was always available for groups like the LA Gay Men's Chorus or AIDS benefits. She loved her fans and she loved doing things for others, despite her reputation for being a little gruff. It was all a ploy to cover up a sweet, generous heart.
Bea was one of a kind. She was a brilliant actress on the stage and on the screen -- and with both "Golden Girls" and "Maude," she has left a legacy of great characters and screen moment few will ever forget.
Thank you for being there for me, Bea Arthur. You didn't have to come to greet a stranger dying of AIDS. But you did. And you did it because you wanted to.
All of us who loved her will miss her.
Rest in peace.
http://www.foodincmovie.com In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of e coli--the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults
Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joe Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising -- and often shocking truths -- about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.
Friday, April 24, 2009
In his remarks, Berry recognized the presence at the event of veteran D.C. gay rights leader Frank Kameny, who is credited with leading a 20-year campaign that resulted in the reversal of the government's discriminatory employment policies toward gays.
Kameny, who holds a doctorate degree in astronomy from Harvard University, became one of the nation's pioneer gay rights advocates after he was fired from his civilian job as a U.S. Army astronomer.
"For those of you who do not know, Dr. Kameny was fired from his federal job in 1957 solely because of his sexual orientation," Berry told the crowd. "At that time, it was not only lawful to fire employees on this basis, it was official government policy."
"In 1975, largely due to Frank's efforts, this injustice was overturned by the U.S. Civil Service Commission," Berry said. "It is the president's and my opinion that employees should only be judged by their abilities to do the job and their performance on the job — and not by any other, irrelevant factor."
"In no small fashion, Dr. Kameny's work and other leaders like him made it possible for me to stand here today," Berry said. "For that, Frank, I personally thank you for your leadership, your passion, and your persistence and express our nation's appreciation for your courage in teaching America to live up to our promise and our potential."
The other was a cyberpal who became flesh. Her name was Adele Liotta. I don't think she was even 60 yet. But in the late 90s, just as the net became accessible for normal folks, she started becoming a kind of cybermom to gay kids whose families had either rejected them or "lost" them in some way. The group became known as CommonBond.
Several times over the years, they'd all meet together in a big hotel and invite me to come and sing for them. Adele's son, CJ, has become a close friend. It was because of CJ, actually, that I came in contact with my nephew, William, who had not yet come out to his family at the time. (William and CJ were fraternity brothers at North Texas State).
Adele suddenly died last week. I don't know the details. But it was unexpectedly and tragic. She will be missed by a lot of people who counted on her for the amazing love she shared with anyone who needed it.
Dougri, someone I didn't in the flesh, but through his cheerful and modest vlogs (made with a child's camera) and emails, was found dead last week by friends. We who followed his "Coffee with Dougri" vlogs knew he was dealing with cancer treatments, but he never really let us know how badly things were going. I found out he was dead when someone else informed me by accident, thinking I already knew. We think it was a suicide, that it had become too painful for him.
This was his last vlog. He had begun losing his voice to the chemo, so he made was is essentially a silent movie, complete with titles and him moving his lips. The images are from a place where he went to as a child -- and the final image is a message about needing to go to chemo, followed by audience applauding.
What social scientists are going to discover, once they really find a way to study the depth and breadth of the Internet, is it functions best not as a mass media broadcaster, but as an intimate way for individual humans to connect to other individual humans.
In no other era of human history, just as I would never have been able to communicate outside of my hospital room, would these two people have been able to reach out like they did. This is where the world is flat.
The Internet is at its most powerful when it finally becomes flesh.
And, like all flesh, it must perish. The difference between then and now is that Dougri's videos are forever. He will live on -- and people will remember him. And people will continue to discover him.
I send my heartfelt love to all who loved and were touched and inspired by Adele and Dougri. My life is richer for having known them.
Or maybe she said down around 2. Or negative 20. I forget.
I was disappointed. I wanted to celebrate a really low number by going out and having a big bag of the greasiest KFC possible. With biscuits. Or a huge box of pizza. With hot wings.
"You know," she said. "When you get motivated, your body is really responsive. I've never seen anything like it. So, keep on working it. Get exercise and watch your diet."
Never mind. Break out the bag of spinach.
I saw them a couple of months ago here and, when I saw they were coming back tonight, I quickly volunteered for host/camera duty. One of my friends, after finding out Wendy was coming, was thrilled. He had seen her back in the 70s at a big concert venue, probably when she was with the band, Bryndl -- and remembers to this day the after-concert conversation he got to have with her.
This is the bio on Kulak's newsletter:
Wendy Waldman, Cindy Bullens, and Deborah Holland are the Refugees- a trio that is an unmatched force of talent, diversity and experience. Between them, decades in the music industry, nineteen solo albums, multiple Grammy nominations, hit compositions, and critically acclaimed work in many aspects of music. With the first album in release, they have been wowing audiences, radio djs, and critics alike with their soaring harmonies, indelible musicianship, and unforgettably humorous stage presence. The Refugees have collaborated with Mietek Szczesniak for his forthcoming album, and have appeared with him in concert. He is considered the honorary "boy" Refugee.....Check out their website, and if you're in LA, come hear them sing. No cover charge. $10 donation.
Cindy Bullens, Grammy nominated and acclaimed rock musician, played in Elton John's band as well as with Bob Dylan in the 'Rolling Thunder Review.' She has had a long and successful solo career, has worked in theater (including vocal work in the musical "Grease") film, TV and has toured Europe many times.
Deborah Holland emerged on the music scene as the lead singer and songwriter for the elite band "Animal Logic," whose other members were the great bassist Stanley Clarke, and Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the Police. With numerous solo albums in release, film and TV credits, Holland is at present a professor of music at Cal State LA, a parent, and is touring constantly with the Refugees.
Everyone else CATCH THE BROADCAST TONIGHT
8PM PACIFIC COAST TIME
It's one thing for them to hold up the recent, vacuous, inarticulate almost-Miss USA as some kind of martyr for their cause ("She didn't get to be a beauty queen because she's against gay marriage!"), but it's quite another to insidiously fight against programs to help kids stay safe in their own schools.
This is from Bilirico:
When one of my NCLR staffers forwarded me a news article today, I thought it must have been a mistake. It detailed the suicide of an eleven-year-old boy who hung himself after relentless bullying at school. I had just read an identical article last week--the heartbreaking story about Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who, after suffering constant bullying at school, came home and committed suicide. I thought, this can't be happening again. But the article was no mistake, this is now two reported suicides in the last week alone.
Jaheem Herrera was eleven and lived in Georgia. Carl was also eleven and lived in Massachusetts. Both boys suffered the same taunts, bullying and harassment, including anti-gay epithets and attacks and both felt the same desperate need for the pain and suffering to end. Their deaths, so utterly senseless and wrong , fill me with grief, but also anger and determination. These children deserved to attend school without fear and suffering. They had a right to education, a right to safety, a right to dignity and a right to walk the hallways of their schools without dread.
And from Towleroad:
Ellen DeGeneres talked to the mother of 'bullycide' victim Carl Walker-Hoover yesterday on her show, and Anderson Cooper discussed the problem of bullying in schools, the and the other tragic recent 'bullycide' of Jaheem Herrera.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
They're both adorable and they both genuinely have talent. Also, both of them make the girls scream. Myself, I love Danny Gokey's singing. He kills me every week.
Adam Lambert, America's Great Gay (wink, wink) Hope, is going to be a huge Broadway star. Every week, I tune in just to find out what he's going to do, and I know I'm not alone. But the problem with being a Jack of All Trades is that it becomes harder to sell that. Few people want an album that goes back and forth because exotic Indian music and hardcore Thrash. (He seems like a really sweet guy and I think he has one of the most remarkable voices I've heard in year, but when he sang "Another One Bites The Dust," he looked like Liza Minelli. Forgive me, Adam.)
Kris might have a career ahead of him, but, the sad fact is that, in the industry, the perception is that boy pop singers don't last long. Ya gots ta be a diva to kick radio's ass. He's great singing classic great songs. But what will he sound like if he comes out with a CD full of second rate love songs?
Archie. David Archuletta.
No offense to my fellow songwriters, whoever you are. But I have to make a comment.
What a dreadful, dreadful song. One which squeezed his voice and managed to almost make me forget what a good singer and lovely presence he can be. After his record sales die, assuming he gets any airplay at all, he'll go back to his piano and do what he was meant to do:
Sing my songs.
The thing about the Woodshed is that it looks like what I would imagine "Jim's" studio to look like. A bomb shelter turned hippie hang-out turned recording studio. The walls are covered with posters. There are CDs hanging from clotheslines. Books. Shoes. Paintings. Random guitars hanging on the wall. Stars on the ceiling. 10 years of accumulated cool stuff.
I've not talked about this much, because I don't want to make promises I can't fulfill. I can't imagine, at this point, what the technical difficulties would be. So, maybe it's just one of those "wouldn't it be fun if..." kinds of daydreams. The thing is, it's entirely doable. All the equipment, including six cameras, is there.
I know people really love TLS and they want to see it running somewhere. I've tried pitching it to larger theatres, but the marketing people "worry" that it's about AIDS and stuff. That people only want "happy" musicals.
But, what do I know? I'm only the writer.
- Joan Baez joins Chorus for sixties showstopper at Symphony Hall
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus will have a totally new look at Davies Symphony Hall on May 21 under the direction of guest conductor, Dr. Timothy Seelig, who says: “We promise you an absolute explosion of groovy sixties fashion as the men of the Chorus leave their tuxes behind for the first half and burst onto the stage in outrageous vintage costumes as exciting as their singing.”
The Chorus invites you to make the most of now, slow down and enjoy an evening filled with some of the grooviest songs from the decade of dreams. “Revel in an evening of nostalgia, from the sublime to the ridiculous – and get ready to dance,” says the effervescent Seelig, renowned for his work with choral groups around the world.
Joining the Chorus on stage in the second act is the legendary Joan Baez who says: “This is very cool and I’m looking forward to it.“
At a time when it was neither safe nor fashionable Joan put herself on the line countless times for freedom and Civil Rights, mirroring her life’s work in her music. Joan is “the perfect guest star for the evening” according to Seelig, who added: “Hold on to your tie-dye for some stunningly beautiful moments in the second act.”
Psychedelic pop band, the Whoa Nellies, will help the Chorus transport the audience back to the 1960’s to relive music made famous by the likes of the Mamas and Papas, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles.
“Take a break and let it all hang out – the music and the memories will last forever,” Seelig concluded.
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus presents Tune In, Turn Up, Sing Out at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall for one night only, Thursday May 21, at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $15 ($10 for “unwaged”) and are available from the Community Box Office at (415) 865-ARTS (2787), online at www.sfgmc.org and from the SF Symphony Box Office at (415) 864-6000.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I attended a rehearsal of the Songs4Earth concert which is going to happen Saturday night. Trying to corral people together to learn each other's songs in time to keep from embarrassing yourself totally on stage is not easy. It was really hot last night and everyone was tired. One singer just laid down on the stage, fully participating, but too exhausted and hot to stand.
The two songs Jake and I brought are singing "My Thanksgiving Prayer," and "Antarctic Suite: Landscape". He is in rehearsal now for the musical of BIG, so he had to leave early.
I'm only just now getting acquainted with the other people in the group of musicians, singers and songwriters: Darren, Peter, JD, Suzy and Diana. JD I've known for a few years. In fact, he and I were both at the first Soulforce March on Lynchburg. I didn't know him, but I always thought he was a superb musician.
JD gave me another solo -- a song he has written as part of an "Earth Cantata." It's a gorgeous melody. It's fun being asked to sing someone else's song. Usually, it's me begging other people to sing mine!
Today being Earth Day, aside from writing on Facebook that I had painted myself green and was wearing tree branches in my hair, I was reminded of a blog entry I made about having seen the Antarctic. I looked at it, but it was too long and unedited. So, I've rewritten it as a little essay.
BIRTH DAY ICE
It just appeared off the port side. From horizon to horizon. It was a glorious morning. The sun was out. The sky bright blue. The water still. The ship, quiet. Almost reverential as we sailed past this miracle of earth. Only a one in twenty chance that it would be possible. These islands are usually draped in icy, gray mists and dark low-hanging clouds.
(We were two days late as it was because, in getting there, we caught the tail end of a hurricane in Drake's Passage down below South American and hit a rogue wave, which shattered three windows in three cabins and forced us back to Ushuaia for repairs).
But here it was. An island of bright white snow, deep blue ice and black rock spires, soaring above. Glacier after glacier passing us by and I stood in such awe, it was actually painful to raise my camera. Why would I want to look through a view finder? This was the real thing.
Rivers of ice.
And as I observed the place where the oldest ice on earth becomes reborn as new icebergs and then new water, I realized that birth is not always by fire. Sometimes birth is by ice.
Rivers of ice. Moving so slowly. Rivers of rock, grinding away at the now razor-thin mountains.
We moved on and approached a different island. Deception island. An old volcano, whose tip was just tall enough to be an island, and whose cone was used by pirates to hide and pounce.
Through binoculars, I was amazed at the thousands of penguins in their mating season, lined up on the black beach of Deception Island, only to discover that all those additional white spots blanketing the dull green hills and plateaus overlooking the seas were tens of thousands of penguins more.
Birth. Rebirth. The oldest alongside the youngest.
I saw the planet's ancient ice on one island, and its newest babies on the other.
A planet constantly being reborn. My heart began to fee its own pangs of rebirth.
If I had a new years resolution, it would be to slow down even more. To remember that birth happens in ice just as much as it happens in fire or water.
I would step out of the rushing stream of news and commentary and analysis and judgment and turn off the noise. Just shut it off.
What we put into our brains, you know, also affects our bodies, and just because news runs 24/7 doesn't mean they are actually describing the world.
Real life happen off-camera.
You know what I learned in the Antarctic? That there are huge, massive portions of this planet that are not careening. They're taking their time to just be.
So, maybe I have been reborn -- as a river of ice. Moving so slowly. Moving so slow.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
We'll be singing it for real this next Saturday night at the Earth Concert at MCCLA. I will be performing, with everyone, Antarctic Suite: Landscape (cross fingers -- it's harder than I thought it would be) and, with Jake Stewart, My Thanksgiving Prayer (from New World Waking). That's JD Sebastian as band leader and piano soloist.
So, in the spirit of letting you know that I'm totally fooling myself, this time around, I've been trying to see how long I can stand, working the cameras at Kulak's, before I have to sit.
When I began doing this last year, I would be totally exhausted after less than an hour. And the last half of that hour was a strain. Many is the time, even if the music was good, I'd find myself watching that clock and noticing how painfully slowly time can pass.
Last week, I was feeling weak and nauseous the whole night, finally leaving a half hour before it was over. (On Monday open mic nights, a lot of the other volunteers are there and you can usually find someone to take your place).
Sometimes I feel strong as an ox, like last night, where I lasted on camera 3 for two hours, finally giving it over to Dennis for the last half hour. It felt good to feel almost normal. I just wish it were more consistent.
I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. But more than a few friends have been inquiring about the exact state of health and mind that I'm in right now. I'm trying to be candid, but writing this diary has made me aware of the fact that I'm not the most self-aware person on the block.
Then, just in the nick of time comes this email.
My name is J. I am not a traditional student. I’m 53 years old and the mother of two adult children. And, from out of the profound sadness of losing my husband to cancer four years ago, I made the decision to continue moving forward and pursue my dream of healing through art and therapy. When I’m not studying, I love to hike, take photos, sketch, read, kayak (especially on the coast of Maine), spend time with family and friends, and support my daughter in her work and study at UCLA as she pursues her dream of becoming a stage manager. Somehow, this brief description doesn’t quite capture my heart, but hopefully, it will help give you a tiny point of reference.IOW, she's living in the Bonus Round and she didn't have to die to get there! And now she wants to create healing.
As you may already know from speaking with M, I have an assignment to present myself to the class as a male who has been diagnosed with HIV. The assignment is designed to help us better understand and experience the world through another person’s lens.She already knows. She's living it now. She just doesn't know it.
The underlying idea challenges the notion that authentic empathy and understanding cannot occur outside of personal experience. However, experiences are no different than fingerprints. Therefore, as a therapist in training, every person on the planet has the potentiality of becoming my teacher from the moment we connect. It is in this spirit that I am here to learn from you.And I get the gift of being allowed to learn from her. I believe that we find healing through our mutuality. So, I answered her questions candidly, and when I reread this the next day, I realized I hadn't really thought about a lot of this in a long time, or written about it.
So, for you who love navel-gazing, I asked J if I could repost her questionaire and my answers. I have edited them slightly just for clarity's sake. I wrote them very quickly and didn't correct grammar or fix broken sentences.
The following questions are for your consideration:
1. If I were your therapist, what would you most want me to understand about you in regard to your diagnosis?
Steve: That going to the edge of death is not a scary experience. I have a peace about "eternity." "Death" felt like a comforting angel that gently enfolded me and brought peace into the suffering I was enduring. Knowing I could just make a choice to die was one of the things, looking back, which helped me survive. I liked that I had the power.
The other thing is that coming back to life was startling and almost overwhelming. Having made peace with death, I actually found myself feeling cheated, frustrated and angry. Like a student who's finished a term paper and the teacher suddenly hands it back and says to start over.
And, why is it important to you that I have this knowledge?
Because it's important information about life itself, and you can't learn it by proxy. However, I think one can help other persons to touch it through the use of music. And that's why I never needed a therapist. All I need is a piano.
In many ways, there's really no way for you to understand what it feels like, to me, to live with this disease until you've heard all the songs from The Last Session. Those songs contain the answers to any questions you might have. I wrote those songs in order to save my own life -- and they will help you actually feel it.
The opening number, "Save Me A Seat," is a good place to start. You can find two versions of it here.
2. Since you were diagnosed with HIV, do you think about yourself differently than you did previously?
It made me prioritize. First, take care of my health. Second, take care of my health. Third, appreciate my friends.
I don't know if I think about myself differently. I've grown a lot, but how much of that can be attributed to HIV? AIDS informs my every move since I have to always know what time it is to take pills. I have to remember to never forget to take my pills, or get myself trapped somewhere without them.
So, maybe I'm more aware of how fragile life can be.
3. Do you worry about how other people think of you in light of your diagnosis?
Never. Almost never. It's different than what your question might suggest. I do find myself having to choose when and where to talk about it. For some, hearing the news may crush them, especially if they've become fond of me as a potential friend. It can be like hitting them with a hammer and they fear for my life. So, yes, I'm aware of what people think, but not in the "they're going to be afraid of me or hate me" way. My proximity is what defeats their fear. They like me so they are not afraid of me (because I am not someone that anyone has to be afraid of).
But some people, who've never knowingly met a person with AIDS, we talk about it and I can assure them that I have more to fear from them than they have from me. After all, they're the ones with working immune systems.
4. Do you find it difficult to separate the soul from the diagnosis?[NOTE FROM ME: I hesitated in answering this question. I also hesitated in asking her to clarify it or find out where's she might be coming from, religion-wise. Myself, I am a secular person, but I don't mind using the language of religion in order to express how I feel in private communication. This was between herself and myself. But, since it was part of the questionaire, I'm going to include it in this entry. Just know that I am pushing no religion. I am selling nothing by my music. I do not belong to any cult or group. But this is what I said to her:]
They cannot be separated. We are our souls. My AIDS is as much a part of me as a hand or a foot. Therefore, my soul also has AIDS. And I would not have it any other way.[Me again. I don't mean for that last answer to be taken literally. I also don't mean it to be heavy sounding. You should read it with a big smile on your face, as if I'm saying, "No, it's not a bigger deal than what you struggle with in your life" and "Yeah, it's a big deal, but hey, life's a bitch sometimes. But not all the time."]
EPILOGUE: Last night, I sat next to D. Whitney Quinn and we were talking about the Book of Job. He said, "My favorite part was where Job just looked at his well-meaning friends and said, 'Stop talking and casting about blame. Just be with me.'"
Last night, the atmosphere at the Woodshed was really warm. It's becoming a place of healing, but not because it set out to become a place of healing. It just feels good to be there and the regulars on the Monday open mic are becoming quite skilled. There's new music beginning to re-form around this little community of volunteers and musicians. So many were singing on each other's songs. Hmmm. Mutuality?
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
OTOH, I'm a total hypocrite because I really laughed at the Colbert satire of this. So, there you are. Below this article is a real treat.
April 19, 2009
The Bigots' Last HurrahBy FRANK RICH
WHAT would happen if you crossed that creepy 1960s horror classic "The Village of the Damned" with the Broadway staple "A Chorus Line"? You don't need to use your imagination. It's there waiting for you on YouTube under the title "Gathering Storm": a 60-second ad presenting homosexuality as a national threat second only to terrorism.
The actors are supposedly Not Gay. They stand in choral formation before a backdrop of menacing clouds and cheesy lightning effects. "The winds are strong," says a white man to the accompaniment of ominous music. "And I am afraid," a young black woman chimes in. "Those advocates want to change the way I live," says a white woman. But just when all seems lost, the sun breaks through and a smiling black man announces that "a rainbow coalition" is "coming together in love" to save America from the apocalypse of same-sex marriage. It's the swiftest rescue of Western civilization since the heyday of the ambiguously gay duo Batman and Robin.
Far from terrifying anyone, "Gathering Storm" has become, unsurprisingly, an Internet camp classic. On YouTube the original video must compete with countless homemade parodies it has inspired since first turning up some 10 days ago. None may top Stephen Colbert's on Thursday night, in which lightning from "the homo storm" strikes an Arkansas teacher, turning him gay. A "New Jersey pastor" whose church has been "turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch" declares that he likes gay people, "but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies."
Yet easy to mock as "Gathering Storm" may be, it nonetheless bookmarks a historic turning point in the demise of America's anti-gay movement.
What gives the ad its symbolic significance is not just that it's idiotic but that its release was the only loud protest anywhere in America to the news that same-sex marriage had been legalized in Iowa and Vermont. If it advances any message, it's mainly that homophobic activism is ever more depopulated and isolated as well as brain-dead.
"Gathering Storm" was produced and broadcast - for a claimed $1.5 million - by an outfit called the National Organization for Marriage. This "national organization," formed in 2007, is a fund-raising and propaganda-spewing Web site fronted by the right-wing Princeton University professor Robert George and the columnist Maggie Gallagher, who was famously caught receiving taxpayers' money to promote Bush administration "marriage initiatives." Until last month, half of the six board members (including George) had some past or present affiliation with Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (One of them, the son of one of the 12 apostles in the Mormon church hierarchy, recently stepped down.)
Even the anti-Obama "tea parties" flogged by Fox News last week had wider genuine grass-roots support than this so-called national organization. Beyond Princeton, most straight citizens merely shrugged as gay families celebrated in Iowa and Vermont. There was no mass backlash. At ABC and CBS, the Vermont headlines didn't even make the evening news.
On the right, the restrained response was striking. Fox barely mentioned the subject; its rising-star demagogue, Glenn Beck, while still dismissing same-sex marriage, went so far as to "celebrate what happened in Vermont" because "instead of the courts making a decision, the people did." Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the self-help media star once notorious for portraying homosexuality as "a biological error" and a gateway to pedophilia, told CNN's Larry King that she now views committed gay relationships as "a beautiful thing and a healthy thing." In The New York Post, the invariably witty and invariably conservative writer Kyle Smith demolished a Maggie Gallagher screed published in National Review and wondered whether her errant arguments against gay equality were "something else in disguise."
More startling still was the abrupt about-face of the Rev. Rick Warren, the hugely popular megachurch leader whose endorsement last year of Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban, had roiled his appearance at the Obama inaugural. Warren also dropped in on Larry King to declare that he had "never" been and "never will be" an "anti-gay-marriage activist." This was an unmistakable slap at the National Organization for Marriage, which lavished far more money on Proposition 8 than even James Dobson's Focus on the Family.
[And it goes on]
Out of all this, though, I saw and heard a beautiful video made by my friend, Sean Chapin. All of the footage was taken at a gay marriage celebration at City Hall in San Francisco:
She's now started a new blog called Brooklyn Tales of an Italian-American Baby Boomer.
She promises stories and recipes! From her blog:
My cookbooks are: The All-Natural Sugar-Free Cookbook; The Oat Bran Cookbook; The World's Greatest Peanut Butter Cookbook with Jack Maguire; 366 Healthful Ways to Cook Leafy Greens. Through the years I've written for a bunch of food Magazines. Cooking Light still has my Beef Carbonnade (chosen for Back to the Best) on their website.
Friday, April 17, 2009
So, Gabi and I have put this profile onto the PFLAG-Olympia site.
Would you buy a used car from this man?
After last weekend's debacle where I started off by talking to the camera while being totally off-mic -- as if the room had magic sound-soaking properties -- I needed something to help me focus.
Miraculously, one of the other hosts, Randall Kirby (who's very good on the air) wrote a little "how to host" form. I printed it out and read it over several times. I don't think Randall even knew about my previous debacle. Because the Woodshed is not a formal organization, but rather staffed by whoever happens to be there that night, or has committed to volunteer work in advance, it's entirely free form. We're all making it up as we go along.
At 8:00 (or within at least 10 minutes of 8:00), we go LIVE. The lights are on, the musicians are in place, totally crammed into a tiny space, and before they know it, someone's doing a countdown and they start. It can be jarring to suddenly be on television if you've not done it before. So, having a host is a good thing.
Also, we have rules. We have to keep the aisles clear, make sure people know to throw money in the bucket if get a drink out of the fridge or pour themselves a cup of coffee. Don't sit in front of a camera, etc.
Anyway, last night, like a good schoolboy, I showed Paul and Randall my folded up, printed out Rules for Hosting, and I went to the right spot, grabbed the microphone, looked into the camera and introduced the talent for the evening, Arnold McCuller.
He and his band were new to the place, but he said he'd seen it on the web. And they were fantastic. It was a great night of music, the place was packed, the emails were flying in, and I really enjoyed being down there without having to man a camera.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
So I find it interesting that one of his highest level executives started a little Wikipedia war in order to rewrite history just a wee bit -- so much so that it got him banned from the site for three months. Here is it is in fuller detail from a new political blog (The Ignorant Heterosexual) by my friend, Ken McPherson, who's been following the controversy for weeks.
A couple of months ago I looked up “Rick Warren” on Wikipedia to see what the entry said about Warren and Prop 8. I clicked on the discussion page tab and discovered a Wikipedia War that has become my favorite soap opera.
The discussion about how to present Warren’s position regarding Prop 8 begins here:
One editor, Benccc changed a portion of the Warren article to say that Prop 8 "amended the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry." It had previously said that Prop 8 "amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages."
Then another editor, CarverM changed Benccc’s edit to read that Prop 8 "amended the state constitution to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
Benccc went to the article's discussion page and pointed out that the original line and CarverM's edit “omits an essential fact. Thirty states ban same-sex marriage; Prop 8 is unique for having rescinded it. Readers aware of that fact may better understand why Warren's support for Prop 8 was the subject of protests”.
And thus began an epic Wikipedia War that has resulted in Wikipedia officially “locking down” the Rick Warren page with a banner that warns “The neutrality of this article is disputed” and “This page is currently protected from editing until disputes have been resolved.”
The two sides have been sharply drawn from the beginning, with one side calling for inclusion of controversies surrounding Warren, and the other side trying to strip anything but the most cursory mention of Warren controversies from the article.
Among the contentions made by the Warren Wikipedia Whitewashers:
- Warren did not compare same sex marriage to incest, polygamy and pedophilia during his notorious Beliefnet interview.
- Gay and lesbian people have never had the right to marry in California.
- Controversies surrounding Warren's position on gay marriage are, according to CarverM, "a tempest in a teapot" and unworthy of more discussion than a link to Wikipedia's Proposition 8 page.
After weeks of voluminous and sometimes heated debate, it was uncovered that CarverM is in fact Mark Carver, the International Director of Purpose Driven Ministries.
Here is Carver's bio from one of Warren’s websites : "As executive director for Purpose Driven Church, Mark Carver oversees the ministry of Purpose Driven in every region of the world except North America. His vision is to see a worldwide community of healthy churches working together to fulfill the Great Commission. Toward that end, Carver and his team are developing tools to train pastors worldwide and creating curriculum to support the spiritual health of individual church members."
Unfortunately for Mr. Carver, Wikipedia has a strong policy in regards conflict of interest. Once it was learned he is one of Warren's closest buddies, he was banned from the discussion for three months, along with another Warren Wikipedia Whitewasher who inadvertently revealed he was a member of Saddleback Church.
So, if it's not a big issue for Rick, and he just LOVES his gay friends, what's with the Wiki War by his employees?
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Part of my frustration was finding a good exercise I could do which would be easy on my poor little nerve-damaged feet. Then, the other day, I was was idly standing by the spiral staircase (which lends glamor to our small apartment) watching the tube when I did a little deep knee bend, holding onto the iron railing.
And it felt really good. So I carefully, because I'm out of shape, began doing more squats. And by the end of about 20 minutes, I was really breathing heavily. So not only is this good for my legs, but if I'm very steady and careful, it also acts as an aerobic exercise.
The next day, of course, I could barely walk.
You might recall a video I made down at Kulak's not long ago with Jake Wesley Stewart singing back-up. We finally got back together again on Monday just to sing and hang out. Then, Monday night, we went down to the open mic at Kulak's and sang together. I sang "My Rising Up" with him on harmony. Then he sang "My Thanksgiving Prayer" with me on harmony. It was great -- especially when he forgot the words. (Har har har).
Those last two pics were taken in front of Kulak's.
Tuesday night, he joined me at a rehearsal for the Songs4Earth concert (coming May 25).
There were 8 of us all singing and playing together. It was so much fun. After joining in on a couple their songs, we all decided to try to play the Antarctic Suite: Landscape. Scary because I've never played it with anyone nor have I tried to teach to anyone.
I hadn't realized how complex the rhythms are. So, it took a few tries, but eventually it started to cook very nicely. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
When I realized what I was doing, I ran for the nearest microphone and started over.
MaybePaul'll let me do it again.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
But listen to this Republican veteran get through and totally lay waste to the Rush/Hannity/Hugh Hewitt upholding of torture -- and then listen to Rush, who avoided the military, tell this veteran off in the most sick, disturbing and disrespect way imaginable. No wonder these lunatics lost the election.
Truth To Power
(Andrew Sullivan's comments: Finally, a Limbaugh caller who breaks through to him on his support for torture. By the way, Rush, even the Pentagon concedes over a dozen deaths during "interrogation" and human rights groups tally close to a hundred prisoners tortured to death in American custody. And you haven't heard about this? You haven't heard because you will not listen, will not look and will not hear - for fear reality will interrupt your ideological and adolescent fantasies. But here's the full - and immensely satisfying - transcript of the conversation):
LIMBAUGH: We're going to go to Chicago. This is Charles. Charles, thank you for waiting and for calling. Great to have you here. Hello.
CALLER: Thanks, Rush. Rush, listen, I voted Republican, and I didn't -- really didn't want to see Obama get in office. But, you know, Rush, you're one reason to blame for this election, for the Republicans losing.
First of all, you kept harping about voting for Hillary. The second big issue is the -- was the torture issue. I'm a veteran. We're not supposed to be torturing these people. This is not Nazi Germany, Red China, or North Korea. There's other ways of interrogating people, and you kept harping about it -- "It's OK," or "It's not really torture." And it was just more than waterboarding. Some of these prisoners were killed under torture.
And it just -- it was crazy for you to keep going on and on like Levin and Hannity and Hewitt. It's like you're all brainwashed.
And my last comment is, no matter what Obama does, you will still criticize him because I believe you're brainwashed. You're just -- and I hate to say it -- but I think you're a brainwashed Nazi. Anyone who could believe in torture just has got to be - there's got to be something wrong with them.
LIMBAUGH: You know --
CALLER: And I know Bush wanted to keep us safe and all of that, but we're not supposed to be torturing these people.
LIMBAUGH: You know --
CALLER: And I know Bush wanted to keep us safe and all of that, but we're not supposed to be torturing these people.
LIMBAUGH: Charles, if anybody is admitting that they're brainwashed it would be you.
CALLER: No, no, no, Rush. I don't think so.
LIMBAUGH: Charles. Charles, Charles --
CALLER: You, Hannity, Hewitt, and Levin are all brainwashed and you know it.
LIMBAUGH: -- you said -- you said at the beginning of your phone call --
LIMBAUGH: -- that you didn't want Obama in there --
CALLER: That's right.
LIMBAUGH: -- but you voted for him because of me.
CALLER: I didn't vote for him. I voted for McCain. I voted Republican.
LIMBAUGH: Oh, so --
CALLER: I voted Republican.
LIMBAUGH: -- you're saying I turned people off to --
CALLER: You turned people off with all your -- all this "vote for Hillary" and all this BS, because you must think people are really stupid.
LIMBAUGH: That was Operation Chaos. That was to keep the --
CALLER: You -- no. It didn't work.
LIMBAUGH: -- chaos in the [unintelligible] of the Democrat primaries.
CALLER: It didn't work. And now what we have with you Hannity, Levin, and Hewitt: sour grapes. That's all we have. And believe me, I'm not -- I'm more to the right than I am to the left.
LIMBAUGH: Oh, of course, you are.
CALLER: I am, and that's --
LIMBAUGH: Of course, you are. You wouldn't be calling here with all these sour grapes if you weren't.
CALLER: Well, I'm so tired of listening to you --
LIMBAUGH: Oh, of course, you are.
CALLER: -- go on and on with this -- you've been brainwashed.
LIMBAUGH: I don't know of anybody who died from torture. I do not ever --
CALLER: We are not supposed to torture people.
LIMBAUGH: I do not ever --
CALLER: Do you remember World War II, the Nazis? The Nuremberg Trials?
LIMBAUGH: I --
CALLER: Do you remember the Nuremberg Trials?
LIMBAUGH: Charles --
CALLER: Klaus Barbie?
LIMBAUGH: Charles, let me say --
LIMBAUGH: Barack Obama --
CALLER: What's the matter with you?
LIMBAUGH: Barack --
CALLER: You never even served in a military.
LIMBAUGH: Barack Obama is --
CALLER: I served in the Marine Corps and the Army.
LIMBAUGH: Charles, Barack Obama is president of the United States today because of stupid, ignorant people who think like you do. You pose -- you and your ignorance are the most expensive commodity this country has. You think you know everything. You don't know diddly-squat.
You call me a Nazi? You call me somebody who supports torture and you want credibility on this program? You know, you're just plain embarrassing and ludicrous. But it doesn't surprise me that you're the kind of Republican that our last candidate attracted. Because you're no Republican at all based on what the hell you've said here.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
The 33rd Carbonell Awards are a formal affair and encompass live theatre in the south Florida area.
"Zero Hour" played here at the Broward Stage Door Theatre last year, but it wasn't a local production so he didn't really give it any thought when he wasn't mentioned in the nominations for the past year.
Then, a call this past Friday. He's been nominated for Best Actor in a Play in the category of Roadshow, meaning not a local production. The big traveling companies from Broadway are in this category. Their practice is not to announce the nominees in this category.
There were no guarantees that he'd win. And since I'm flying home early tomorrow, we hadn't planned on going out. (He's staying for a couple more weeks to direct "The Odd Couple," a last minute offer from the Stage Door).
So, we went.
And he won. So did Judy Kaye in the same category, doing "Sweeney Todd."
And I'm still packing. But I wanted to announce the news. It was really nice. He also gave a very good speech.
Sadly, they got thrown off. However, they're going to be on Fresh Air on NPR.
It's called "What Is The What" and it's the engrossing, soulful and deeply human account of the true life of a boy from Christian southern Sudan who ended up, at age 5?, 6? was forced to flee his home village as it was raped and destroyed by Muslim warriors on horseback. He walked for weeks and weeks through the desert to Ethiopia, only to find himself then rerouted to Kenya, making a life for himself in refugee camps, eating anything he could while enduring the kinds of things no human being should have to endure -- finally landing in Atlanta, which brought new kinds of problems.
Now, if that sounds like a dreary book, you'd be wrong. Written by Dave Eggers as a novel, I have found myself on the edge of my seat, trying to absorb the entirety of his experience, sometimes in tears, sometimes jubilant, but always aware of the fact that if it were me, I'd have been dead a long time before.
Along with the sheer adventure, I was also treated to a history lesson -- and now those millions of people who have been forced into these camps -- now have faces and names and cultures and lives. The countries I've read about in this book now are more than just meaningless lines criss-crossing a continent that seems more like an intractable puzzle than a place where actual human beings live.
Bottom line, any book, for me, has to be a great read. And this is more than that. It's a great read that fills you with a sense of your own humanity and reminds you that we are all connected on this planet in one way or the other.
Darfur has been but "another problem" we have to contend with (along with Palestine, China, etc. etc.), and, like many people, I sometimes feel too overwhelmed to keep up with it all. I just want to scream to everyone to get a grip.
But that's what's so great about a terrific book. It pulls you into its own universe and you come out the other end changed and illuminated.
That's why I say about "What Is The What": READ THIS BOOK.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
She tells the story of how we met and how it all changed her. What she did for me was to give me my first big University AIDS education concert gig.
Tracey's a great storyteller, so I'll just let her do the talking. Meanwhile, my side of the story (from the original diary entry describing my trip to Virginia) is here:
Old Dominion University
Saturday, April 04, 2009
One of my closest and longest lasting friends on the Net is a young man named Justin Lee, who identifies as a gay Christian. When I met Justin, he had an idea to help other GLBT people who feel conflicted about their faith. It has since grown into a nationwide network called the Gay Christian Network. While on the PFLAG-Talk list, I encouraged him to join and introduce himself because so many of the parents whose kids come out to them come from Christian homes.
I felt like there might be readers of this blog dealing with these issues and I wanted to let them know about GCN.
He gave permission to reproduce his letter:
I've been asked (and have accepted) the chance to perform at a special Songs4Earth Earth Concert at the MCC-LA on April 25th here in Los Angeles. The church here has so many good musicians, I'm thinking we might even try to do a group-sing of "Antarctic Suite: Landscape." It all starts at 7pm.
Friday, April 03, 2009
For me, PFLAG is a most vital organization because it is the most "roots." It consists of parents helping parents. They are a support group, both locally and online. I subscribe to the PFLAG-Talk email list (which, I believe is not an "official" PFLAG list, but, rather, a group of PFLAG moms and dads). I've been with them from the beginning because Youth Guardian Services was instrumental in helping them get online back in the dinosaur days of the Internet, and I've been involved with them from the beginning before the beginning.
After more than a few years doing only theatre work, with a script, dialogue, staging, etc., I am really looking forward to returning to what I feel I do best: Sit at a piano, sing, tell a few stories, get some laughs and some tears, and then hang out for awhile, huggin' and talkin' to everyone.
It's not sophisticated. It's not the way "big city" people entertain, where the object seems to be to act as removed and above it all as you can be, but it's who I am.
Facebook has been equally interesting lately because people from my high school have been writing me notes. Buna, Texas where I graduated, is a very small town in southeast Texas. Since my dad moved us around a few times, due to his calling as a pastor, I only knew the Buna folks for 2 and half years. I was a total outsider.
When I left Buna, I only had a couple of close friends, Butch and Dwight. Dwight died last year of throat cancer and Butch is still living on the farm his daddy built. This is why I love Butch. I love the stable feeling of a guy who knows exactly who he is and whom you can always find.
But I'm digressing. Back to the concert.
The last time I did any serious touring was, really, in the couple of years after TLS went to New York. That's 10 years ago. And since all my songs were TLS songs, along with Gabi's Song and William's Song, most of my concerts were about having AIDS. If you needed an AIDS music guy, that would be me.
But now, as I review my material, if I'm not the AIDS guy, then who am I? I have TLS, The Big Voice and New World Waking, along with a handful of love songs and cabaret songs. A career that began as a series of songs designed to keep me alive has grown from my hospital room to off-Broadway to award ceremonies to a Beatle's piano to symphony halls.
And since I've been enjoying this so much, I've been in contact with some other venues in other cities to do more benefit concerts for local groups. Why put together a show and only do it once? As soon as I have more information, I'll post it here.
Anyway, here's the latest generic poster design for my concert. Do I look impressive yet?
One of Jim's happiest moments on stage doing The Big Voice this Wednesday was the fact of having Jackie Gleason's widow, Marilyn, in the audience. But it really hit him when he remembered, during our runthrough, that he'd be imitating The Great One himself during the "Merman Moment" in Act One.
Standing stage center I say something about him turning into Ralph Cramden. And Jim says, "Hamina-hamina-hamina-hamina..."
Marilyn is the sister of the late June Taylor (the June Taylor dancers) and we saw her just the other night on the tube talking about Jackie.
An Obama critic said to me that he felt Obama failed since he didn't get all the spending he wanted at the world trade summit in London, or all the things he asked for.
I think that's very short-sighted. This meeting, for Obama, was not about how much he could force upon the world. There was a much larger and possibly more important thing going on -- and that's the job of achieving respect, both personal and national, on the world stage. He went humbly and he showed himself to be a person who knows how to bring the temperature down a notch. Meaning, to get everyone to just relax and find common ground, based on personal national interests -- with the message that when everyone prospers, it creates opportunities at home and abroad.
The "my way or the highway" politics of Bush and Cheney are now dead. They didn't work. They antagonized the world and created more violence, and strengthened the Islamic radicalism around the world.
Another terrific outcome was the restored dignity of London. Though a few malcontents broke a window or two, most of the protestors, according to reports, could be seen at the Starbuck's taking breaks. No. I think London proved itself more than capable of hosting this kind of event, and doing everything just right.
And then, there's the Queen. First, she fell in love with Michelle. Then, there was that moment with the school girls, the fact that she used local vernacular -- "council estates" -- to drive home her message that anyone can do anything if they believe in themselves and study hard.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that it was the most iconically American Dream Moment we've seen in decades.
This was a girl from the south side of Chicago sitting, as if a Royal, amongst poor, mostly black, girls from the local version of the "projects" in a land known for its class divisions. She became the embodiment of what it means to be American. More, she became the new Princess Diana in that moment. I mention this because that's something you cannot plan. That's something that happens because the right person is in the right place at exactly the right moment.
Whether you are conservative or liberal, you can be proud of this woman representing the soul of this country. She is class act.
And that's what was accomplished. The rest of the world was suddenly jolted back into the memory of what they ever loved about America.