BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
I'm a man on a mission. A mission to convince you that life is worth living, no matter how many obstacles are placed in your way. And that you can accomplish great things if you just push ahead and don't let anyone tell you no.

I'm a singer/songwriter and actor from Texas "Living in the Bonus Round" in New York City-- which 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 playing 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] and we're just getting started.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Steve songs in SFGMC's Harvey Milk tribute.

June 27-28 the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will debut of two new compositions I've written for Living the Legacy: Harvey Milk 2013, "I Met A Boy" and "Resolution." Other composers featured will be Joseph Martin, Omar Thomas, my very beloved Sean Chapin, and Julian Hornik. Act Two will consist of the World Premiere of Broadway composer Andrew Lippa's "I Am Harvey Milk."


I am so honored to be included because not only am I in talented company, but the first act is going to be arranged by Dr. Timothy Sarsany, who is a legendary choral arranger, and conductor of the Columbus Gay Men's Chorus. This really is a thrill.

This started when I saw a press release that they were accepting submissions for this special evening, and they wanted songs that reflected how times have changed since Harvey Milk began his campaign to get us all out of the closet. I finished one, and then, because of a suggestion by pal, Ken McPherson (who felt like I had more in me to say on the subject) wrote another and submitted both. I was just hoping they'd take one!

So, a big thanks to the selection committee and to Dr. Tim Seelig, the artistic director and conductor of the chorus for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

June 27 and 28. Get tickets here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Will Appear at the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR.



It's all sold out so you can't go. Sorry. Tho I see some online at #wds2013, people unable to use theirs. But maybe we can do something about that. Make our own thing alongside it. Anyway, the news is that I've been asked to perform at the 2013 World Domination Summit. I'm thinking I should call myself Golorb! World Dominator!

This being my 60th year on this planet, it only makes sense that I would finally begin to realize my goal of world domination (was that my goal?), and no, the conference is not an S&M retreat.

It's a gathering of self-motivated entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, tinkerers, explorers, craftspersons, writers, bloggers and musicians who gather every year to network and celebrate living a non-conformist and remarkable life. The man who has pulled this together is author, traveler and entrenepreneur Chris Guillebeau who does remarkable things, and then writes and blogs about it. 

But he doesn't just keep it to himself. He explains in simple language how anyone can do the same because of the new connected world we live in. His current book is called "The $100 Start-Up."

His point -- and it's one also made by Seth Godin and several other bloggers, people are becoming immune to advertising and hucksterism. They buy what their friends tell them to buy. They go where their friends recommend. You can spend a gajillion dollars on advertising, but if your product sucks, everyone will know about it instantly. And you're dead.

I hadn't heard of Chris before getting his email, so I was flattered to be asked. Especially when I clicked over to the World Domination Summit website and discovered that the event refuses all corporate sponsorship and does not accept submissions. "Do you think your client fits this? Well, it doesn't matter. We don't accept submissions."

So, how do you get chosen to be on the bill? Chris finds you.

Bob Lefsetz, the media guru and music industry critic, says how often he gets submissions from agents, artists, kids in their garages, etc. and he says that doing this is useless. "Stop sending me links to your videos and huge mp3 files! If you're any good, I'll find out about you." 

In days past, this was not true. 

I remember when I was managing director at National Academy of Songwriters, I was very excited about a young songwriter named Dan Bern. I literally took him over to music publishers and made him sit and play for them. Eventually, he got a deal and has made some great albums. But if I had had these kinds of tools back then... I still remember gluing letters onto a matte trying to make flyers.

We were not in a connected world.

But now, any kid from any corner of the globe can upload his music. Any adult can put something into the marketplace. Marketplace doesn't guarantee success. In fact, you'll get lost in the jungle.

Unless you're great. Forget the instant hit. This is about the long game. If you're great, people will find you. Now, there are lots of things you can and should do to push it along. For instance, this past year I finally put my album "The Bonus Round Sessions" into iTunes and Spotify because until then, I wasn't sure how. But along comes TuneCore and I suddenly have worldwide distribution.

In the connected world, Sony, Warner Bros., and all the big giants who used to have a chokehold on distribution are suddenly rendered irrelevant. The only thing they can bring to the table is money for production, advertising and publicity, which you end up paying for anyway, out of your contract.

I responded to Chris Guillebeau and asked him how he found me. In real world terms, I'm known maybe to a few theater fans, and to some people in the educational, health services and gay music worlds. But your mother never heard my name. He said it's a long story and he'll share it with me when we finally speak via phone.

And, funny, just about that same time, a young singer/dancer in the Netherlands, Joey von Grumbkow wrote me and asked if there was sheet music for "Save Me A Seat." I sent him the music. And in our exchanges, he didn't really know who I was -- or that I wrote for theater. But somehow the song got to him and he is using it for some project. 

It's a remarkable thing, this connected world. I stumbled into it in the early days out of sheer desperation to stay alive. I knew it had potential far beyond what anyone could envision. Do you think Gutenberg had any idea what would happen with the printing press? Remember the early days of TV, when they would simply replicate their radio shows?

A couple of days ago, I had this crazy idea that I can crowd-source a performance of New World Waking there in Portland, since I'm going to be there anyway. I have no venue. No cast. No nothing. But I bet we can do it. We live in a connected world. 

To that end, I made up a new graphic, thanks to a suggestion by Jim Brochu. 


So, who wants to sing with me in Portland?

The 13th Step


Had great fun hanging out with my second cousin, Nathan and his wife, Kendra. They were passing through town, moving up to Maine from Savannah.

After our lunch (at the Hitchcockian sounding "The 13th Step"), I went in and did my lines for the camera.

I wasn't nervous or anything. I just said them as plainly as I could. And then I tried a few other things. We'll see how it goes. Carl is thinking he wants me in the title role of Zombie Priest. I told him I can totally do a googly scary eye because of the paralysis in my right orb.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I Get To Act In A Movie!

Since my goal here in the Bonus Round is to do at least one of everything before I die, I can check "Movie Actor" off the list. Unless, of course, they leave me on the cutting room floor, the bastards. I feel very Bette Davis at this moment.

Google street view of shooting location.
The 13th Step sounds like a Hitchcock movie.
This Sunday afternoon, I will go over to the Lower East Side, find this location and deliver one line. Called "Perfect Timing," I will be Bachelor 8 at a speed dating event. Apparently, from the words they've given me, I am not one of the more suitable dates.

Okay, it's not a movie. More like a video short -- but what's the difference anymore? It's being done by a group of people called PrashNYC. My connection is Carl McGuire (who you'll see as "Zombie Doctor" in one of their other shorts there on the site, We met in the choir. And also Lynsey Buckalew, who I will declare to be my personal discovery some day). Carl is producing with Megan Stein, who will also  be directing.

Jim's been directing me all week. And then reproducing my efforts back to me. It's pretty hilarious. I can be natural in a scene, but I think you almost have to trick me. Carl says there'll be an element of improv on the set, so that may work in my favor.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting Reconnected.

Yesterday, I talked Cindy Marchionda into coming to church choir. For her, it's a very long train ride. She is a singer and actress from Miami with a great voice, dark auburn black hair and gorgeous huge eyes and smile.

After church, we got on the train and just talked all the way to Andy Gale's class. Or, rather, I should say, I talked. But she kept encouraging me, so I went on and on. Mostly philosophical stuff related to songwriting and how a person earns a living, not just in the arts, but anywhere.

I had told Andy that I want some help putting together a solid 15 minutes of pow. It seems I've been invited to perform at this international convention called the World Domination Summit. We haven't put together all the details yet, so I don't know if it's officially public, if it happens, I want to make sure I'm really firing on all cylinders.

When I perform, I'm usually 100% present, but I'm also very shy about looking people in the eye, from the stage. I can do it in person, but it takes me a moment. No one can tell, btw. I'm too happy to be performing to let it keep me from going full out.

But yesterday, I sang Connected for the class. The reader must remember that this song was written in 1995, and I've sung it tens of thousands of times. And yet, every time, it's like this little puzzle box and I don't know what I'm going to find when I open it up.

So, yesterday, when I sang, I don't even know if I was listening to the words coming out of my mouth. And Andy could tell. He said something about it feeling a bit -- not his words -- automatic, even though he and everyone in the class loved it. '

I said, "I know! I was halfway through the song when I realized I was in the middle of a song. And I thought, 'Oops. How do back up and get into this thing?'" And it was true. Words were coming out but my mind was elsewhere.

We had a discussion about that, and all the other actors in the room totally related to the feeling. Finally, he said for me to just breathe, imagine that no one has heard this story before, stop worrying about tempo, and just tell us the story.

Honestly, I have done this before. But it's usually after having not sung the song in the long time.

So, I took a breath and started singing. I could feel myself just counting as I screwed around with the intro, but then the words, "Cuz they'd never let Richie die."

And immediately I was transported back to the moment when that phrase hit me. I remember it hitting me in the chest like a sledgehammer. Happy Days. Fonz. Anson Williams. They never let Richie die.

Cut if Richie died, the show would be over. And yet, it was Fonz who was the star.

At that moment, I came out of the world of that image and noticed how every eye in the room was now red and pouring tears.

I don't remember much after that.

I had my Shakespeare monologue all memorized but we had such a full class, there was no time.

All in all, a very productive day.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jim and Steve Do The Travel Show.

Jim said, "Let's go down to the travel show at the Javits Center," which is near our home. "Okay," I said, not knowing was a Travel Show was. To get there walked down 11th, which is almost to the water on the West Side of Manhattan. I was a cold day, but not too bad. He wore his beret.


I wore my South American cowboy hat, of course. Here I am in front of the Javits Center:

 Inside, Jim found these two guys in Cunard outfits right at the door. Both of them are actors, I think. So, here ya go, guys. A little blog love.


We got into a line where this girl was spinning a wheel for free prizes. At that moment, Jim remembered that he and his boyhood pal, Joey Moresca, used to go to travel agents and get brochures and act like customers. Since his apartment building in Brooklyn overlooked the river, he could see all the big passenger ships come in and out.


Guy explaining things to do in Curacao.


I loved this big Russian booth. Just down from it was one for Israel. "Find the Israel in you." I thought, you know if the world could be like a big travel show, it would all be so peaceful.

 Sea World was promoting a new attraction: Antarctica. Jim was disappointed. He wanted to brag about having been there already.


He did, however, manage to talk a girl in the Bali booth a chance to wear the crown.


In Uzbekistan, I sat on a little throne.

As you can see, the Javits Center is really large. A woman from some credit card took our picture, after which Jim told the next customer that she was his ex-wife. And she played right along.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reading Through Shakespeare.



It has been my intention, since entering into the world of the theater, to read all the way through Shakespeare. 

Not because someone told me to, but because I think if it's there, why not read it? Why not see what all the hubbub is about, you know? Them that's educated tell us he's the best, but I can assure you we did not have a Shakespeare Festival in Buna, Texas. 

So, I thought, "You know, I just just read these things." But the language is so foreign, I never started.

Not unlike when I determined, as a preacher's kid, to read through the whole Bible. (I kinda made it, if "looking at the words" means reading through it. I was probably too young to absorb it in any real detail. I mean, once you get into the begats and slog through through the religious laws and the incomprehensible histories, you still have poetry and metaphors abounding. I'm not sure where I petered out. Probably in Song of Solomon. A little gay boy can't endure endless description of alabaster breasts.)

So, it was with great joy that Jake Wesley John pointed out this set of books at the theatrical bookstore in midtown, which is conveniently near the discount big box store with the wall of pre-packaged Indian food, each priced at two bucks a pop.

The books, called "No Fear Shakespeare" are divided in two. On the left hand page are the original words of Shakespeare. On the right hand page is a "translation" into modern English. The modern English is inartful, probably intentionally. The plain meaning of the grammar and historical references are there merely help you understand his words. (In looking for a link, I discovered that they have put everything online. I prefer a book, since I want to write notes in it. But it's good to know it's there.)

I started with Twelfth Night. Read it again. Then read Hamlet and read it again. 

The little mission I had given myself was to find one soliloquy and perform it for Andy Gale's class. But nothing stuck out for me. Yes, I was understanding, finally, the plays themselves -- that is, I could look at the words and understand the grammar; but actually understanding them? People spend lifetimes trying to understand them -- but I was just wandering blindly. Honestly, I chose Hamlet because it was, you know, the most famous.

Finally, my friends from England, Adam and Nicky Derrick, who run a theater school, suggested my next read be The Merchant of Venice, most famous for the phrase "a pound of flesh". So, I started it. Had I ever seen it before? I didn't know. I remember scenes from it. It was jarring as I dove in. 

I was startled by how viciously careless the "Christians" were in their hatred of Jews -- probably common for Shakespeare's time -- but also how Shakespeare managed to humanize and let us sympathize with the plight of the hated villain, Shylock. Because deeply embedded is also the great "If you prick us, do we not bleed" speech. 

Even though the play ultimately tilts against Shylock, the point is made. People are people. 

Now that was a great read. And I found my monologue! 

If anyone else wants to join me on this little venture, just put a comment below. I plan to revisit Twelfth Night and Hamlet again. So, just jump right in with The Merchant of Venice. And tell me what monologue or scene you could see yourself doing.

CURRENT SHAKESPEARE PLAY: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The People You Run Into.


Know what's fun? Walking through Times Square and running into friends/fans in Times Square. Cyndy, the tall blond, and I seem to find each other purely by happenstance, every time she's in town from the West Coast. And we pose for a photo each time, and each time pledge to actually sit over a cup of tea or something.

It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been wearing my TLS show jacket. You see the man over Cyndy's shoulder, behind us? He was handing out fliers for some comedy club, and he greeted Jim and me by name, to which Jim responded with a quip, which made him laugh and pretty soon, we were laughing together, him telling us we need to bring our wives.

I told him if I brought anyone, it would be my boyfriend. I don't have a wife! At which point, Cyndy walked up with her friend, whose name I always forget (sorry), and we were off and hugging each other like old lovers. 

It was pretty funny at the time. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Giving Yourself Permission.



Chris Gillebeau discusses fear and giving yourself permission. Which also means having courage and not waiting for someone to give you the go-ahead.



I remember having this kind of courage back in 1996, when I was too sick to consider any alternatives. We had a show. I wanted it up. Everyone around me, just out of sheer love for me, knowing that the deadline was upon us -- by that point, I was a walking skeleton -- they made it happen. Because they wanted to make it happen for me.

But not just because I was dying. But because I was a true believer. I believed so much in this score -- in this set of songs. They came out of me in an almost supernatural way. Many of them, by the way, came to me in the apartment of jazz and classical legend, Stan Freeman, who was an old friend of Jim's. Stan gave me use of his piano when he was in New York doing a Marlene Dietrich play -- where he played himself. (Stan used to conduct for Marlene.)

I knew these songs were real. I knew they were meaningful. And I loved the play Jim wrapped around them, which is the only reason anyone ever gave them a listen. It was a reflection of my life. It was filled with conversations I'd had. People I knew. And it had/HAS a dose of Vaudeville that keeps the audience laughing through the tears. It's also what makes it theater instead of a concert.

Yes, I can do the "Living in the Bonus Round" concert, complete with all the back-stories of how the songs were written, etc. etc. But I have to be there for that. I don't know how many years I have left to go on this planet. No one does. (BTW, I'm going to be performing some "Bonus Round" pop-up concerts this coming year. I have no idea, at this time, where or when or with whom. I'll try to let you know.)

So we -- all of us -- gave ourselves permission to believe that this was Hamlet. Or Gone With The Wind. And we went for it. Why not? I had no time left to do anything else.

And maybe that's what Living in the Bonus Round means. That really, anything is possible, but it starts with courage and taking those steps to make it happen. I mean, honestly. We are all capable of so much.

If you find Chris interesting, check out this longer interview:

Saturday, January 05, 2013

2012: First Thoughts.

When I sat down to write this, I had meant to write 2013: First Thoughts. Instead, even though I saw all those Internet reminders about practicing to write 13, I wrote 12. So, this is officially a pre-statement. Like Issue 0, to put it in comic book terms. It's 4am. The only sound is the cat snoring, the barely noticeable traffic outside. Even in New York, 3am is 3am.

I've been quiet over the holidays here on this blog because someone I know in my private life, a family member, is facing a life or death situation, though the prognosis is hopeful and all signs are positive. And I just haven't felt like talking much.

So, my first thought is that it's nice, sometimes, to just be quiet. Even in a world where blog posts and Tweets and Facebook streams are constant.

2012 was a big year for me for several reasons, not just because my longtime dream of getting a London production of The Last Session came true (thanks, Rob Harris), but because the producers let me hang out with the actors and production team. Like a family member or a mascot. I liked that! How awful if I had had to just sit in the back and be all aloof, like they do in the movies. Wear a monocle.

I was not well during that period of time. I had a kidney stone that was causing me grief. But, somehow, I had suppressed the pain and tried, as hard as I could, to just live in the moment. To be so thankful and happy that it was happening, that I would relieve myself of the worry usually associated with putting up a new production, like "Is anyone going to like this?" How many times have we read stories about authors who pace the lobby, drinking heavily and sweating over every little moment?

The fruit of that labor will be brought forth for the rest of the world to see, given the fact that they videotaped it and cut a cast album. Those who remember the original production will find this one very different, in more than a few ways.

For one thing, we get to see "Jim" in the booth. And, in Ron Emslie, one who feels absolutely real as a musician and tech guy, because he actually does that in real life when he's not touring in Shakespeare or something. The relationship he establishes with Darren Day's Gideon is quite touching. You really believe the two of them have been friends for years. We see them and their love for each other, especially in one loving gesture, early on. (Thanks, Guy).

And because we believe them, the play begins in reality and stays there.

Looking back, this has also been a very hard year for me, healthwise. I've had to make a lot of changes in diet, for instance, and still have more to make. I hit the ER a few times. But I'm doing well. I'm strong and I feel good as long as I keep to my diet and are being creative.

And on that score, I have, over the three or four years we've been here, created rich friendships with a number of creative artists here in New York and in London, as both mentor and mentee (which is, apparently, not a word). Mark Janas, himself recovering from brain surgery, mentoring me in composition. Andy Gale, mentoring me in acting and directing.

In a way, I feel like I've been in school for the past few years and this year, I'm not so much graduating -- I don't believe I'll ever stop being a student -- as showing off my homework.

For one thing, I turn 60. I look at that number and it seems unreal. For some, age is depressing. They hit each decade and talk about how depressed they feel that youth no longer is a part of their identity. (All that means is that you are hanging out with people who are too young for you. In much of our circle, 60 is practically newborn. What I hear more is "Ah, I wish I could be 70 again.")

But for me, getting to 60 is an achievement. I'm bruised, bloodied and weary, but I'm still standing. I wrote on my FB page "This year I turn 60. That's what happens when you don't die."

This year is going to be quite eventful for me as an artist and writer. For one thing, Jim has promised that we'll do another performance of The Big Voice: God or Merman? for my birthday on October 4. But, looking ahead, this year the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus plans to include a couple of new compositions for their upcoming Harvey Milk tribute and the Christ Church Bay Ridge choir will be debuting my new Mass, Missa Appassionata. We are also planning an all-star benefit performance of New World Waking here in New York, and The Last Session-London cast album and DVD will be released.

I told Jim it's SteveFest 60! A worldwide celebration of the work of the AIDS songwriter who refused to die.

I just need to get a few more continents involved to make that happen.