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

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Giving Thanks: The Untold Story of 'Shades of Blue'.

My brothers and various family members have been posting 30 Days of Thanks. I don’t think I want to do that, necessarily. Not that I can’t think of 30 things to give thanks for. I just hate the pressure. And, if I mention people, will other people feel left out?

So, what I would like to do is say I’m thankful for my crazy family. They are long-suffering. Also, my friends, both IRL and cyberly, and to the Bonus Round readers.

But my first thanks has to go to Jimmy for keeping me alive. And how he accomplished this task can really be tracked back to before The Last Session. There were a number of months -- I don’t know how many -- that led to the moment I wrote “Connected,” which set it all off.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF "SHADES OF BLUE"

I had been sick/bed-ridden for a year or two. But then, I had started to play music again. I could finally sit up at the piano, after what seemed like forever, lying in bed or on the couch, too weak to do anything but stare into space or be online in the earliest incarnation of the internet, where many of us positoids were getting getting our information about the disease -- what was working and what wasn’t.

And the playing and singing of the music was bringing strength back into my body. So, I was asking everyone around me to help me write words. Any words. Just words that I could set to music. We had a neighbor who contributed something. But then Jimmy, answering the challenge, wrote a lyric called “Shades of Blue.”

So, I wrote music for “Shades of Blue.” We didn’t really intend for it to be anything. A writing exercise. Maybe he saw a picture in a book or saw the phrase somewhere that caught his attention.

Anyway, as he was writing the book for The Last Session, we were choosing from among the songs on our list and there was no dramatic place for “Shades of Blue.” But he found a place for a snippet when the engineer needed a sound check. (It has a particularly lovely hook).

But I never wrote the song out in sheet music form. Back then, I wasn’t very good at it. Plus, during that first workshop, I was so sick, I could barely write out anything.

However, during the Los Angeles production, the cast wanted to go into the studio to make a souvenir CD for the fans. We didn’t have the money to make an actual cast recording, so instead, they sang other songs I had written, and Bob Stillman recorded his version of “Going It Alone.” (We also recorded “Preacher and the Nurse” with Michelle Mais, since she wasn’t in the NY production.)

One of the other “outside songs” we recorded was “Shades of Blue,” and it was done by Jeff Juday, who replaced Joel Traywick during the run. Jeff had a gorgeous voice, and I remember I just gave him the lyrics and played it for him -- and we did it in a single take, if I recall.

Okay. Fast Forward to last month. John Yap of JAY Records, fully committed to the cast album, asked if we could record a bonus track of “Shades of Blue” and have Buddy (AJ Dean) sing it; theoretically, the version he has handed to Gideon at the start of the play?

Problem is, I got this request on Saturday. The session is Monday. I’m in New York with the Storm of the Century headed at me. They’re in London. They needed the music now, so he can learn it. First, I would send them the mp3. But where would that be?

The TLS LA Souvenir album is very rare. I think we only pressed 500 and donated the money to Youth Guard, who sold it on their site. I looked into our boxes and found one -- but when I opened it, it was the wrong CD. The manufacturer had put something else in the box.

So, I looked through some ancient hard drives. Eureka! There it was! I knew I had ripped it, at one time or another.

And this is where I realized I’ve learned a few things over the years. I listened to it and effortlessly reproduced it onto score in about two hours. Fifteen years ago, I would have labored on this for hours and hours. Days, even.

Sent it off. Thomas Turner, the musical director, suggested a different key. So, we did that. And then he and AJ learned it at the studio and recorded it right after they finished the rest of the score that day.

And the hurricane is now upon us. Lights are going out all over Manhattan. We are on 43rd street. We hear the darkness is spreading. First, the bowery. Then, the Village, Then all the way to 34th. The power blinks for a moment, but stays on. We’re safe.

All the while, I’m Skyped into London, listening to the session and giving notes from my computer and they are hearing me over an iPhone lying on the counter.

So, what does all this have to do with a thank you to Jim?

Well, he had now seen how playing music was bringing me back to life. He saw me begging for words. Any words. Anything to make music with. And “Shades of Blue” eventually led to “Connected.” In fact, without it, maybe “Connected” would never have been written.

So, when you get your London Cast Album of The Last Session this spring, and you hear a simple little love song at the end, know that it is much more than just a simple love song.

It was a gift of life.
Post a Comment