Love / Reason / Belief
Volume 4 Book 1 Part 4 of
Living in the Bonus Round

Riding with the horses at Hawthorne Race Course.

[ Book 3-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Book 4-2 ]

July 24-29 , 2004.
Ms. Billings, your license is expired.
Well, the past weekend has brought good news. I heard from Dr. Tony. All blood tests were great. Undetectable viral load. He said, "You're gonna live to be a hundred."

(happy dance)

I also had an adventure this week. The plan was that Jimmy would go to rehearsal and I'd go out to Sue Carey's with Alexandra Billings, the singer/actress here in Chicago. She's interested in singing some of my songs. So, it was all set for us to borrow Sue's big piano and music room... well, except...

Jimmy first gives me the key to this apartment so I can get myself back in. I put it in my wallet for safe keeping. Then, after seeing Sue earlier in the day, reserved her music room for the afternoon. I didn't know exactly what we'd work on. But since she played Vicki in the Chicago reading of TLS I knew she could handle just about anything so I left it up to her to pick out of my repertoire whatever she wanted.

Alexandra arrives, we go upstairs to say hello to John Fischer and then take off for Sue's.

John Fischer.
Now, Sue's side door is a combination lock. The other day I let myself in without a problem. Rosa, her housekeeper was there. No big deal. Love Rosa. I played all afternoon. It was great. In fact, better than great because Chipper Cooke joined me that day and we had a great time together.

Chipper Cooke from the cast of "Africa & Plumbridge."
Unfortunately, what I didn't realize was that the alarm system for the house was turned on. So the moment I opened the door, the alarm started squealing and I panicked totally. Alexandra yelled something like, "JUST SHUT THE DOOR!" So we shut the door and decided to just wait on the cops.

Sue lives in a division called Riverside where the streets all wind and loop. I could just picture us trying to make a getaway and getting totally lost and then chased down about the police.

So, instead of ditching the place we hung out. It wasn't five minutes before two cop cars came rolling up. As soon as I saw them I waved my hand and tried to assure them we weren't burglars. Unfortunately, Sue and Jimmy and all the rest of the crew were in a production meeting where they purposely turned off all their cell phones.

I felt like a total idiot. Here Alex has driven all the way across town and we should have been rehearsing by then. Instead we were standing out front like an episode of COPS. The police could tell that we weren't dangerous, but they did ask to see our driver's licenses. Mine was fine.

But Alex's, well, the cop looked at her and said, "Ma'am, you might want to get this renewed. It's six months out of date."

So, now what were we going to do? We decided to drive back to the apartments, find John and see if we could borrow their piano. We got back to the building, I looked in my wallet. No key.

So now I was locked out of Sue's house and I was locked out of our apartment (which luckily has two doors with separate keys so at least Jimmy, with the other, can get us in).

I'm totally mortified, of course, at the prospect of looking like a total buffoon. I stood out front on the lawn and yelled at John. "JOHN! CAN YOU LET US IN THE BUILDING??" Then I asked him if we could borrow their piano. Luckily, he was about to run off to rehearsal so all was well. We were in an apartment and we had a piano.

"So," she says, "Do you have the music for TLS?"

"Uh, no," I stammered.

So, instead we started with "How Do You Fall Back In Love?" the new song from Big Voice. Alex, apparently, doesn't "jam" much. She said, "I don't really sight read. Would you play it through for me a few times?"

No problem. She puts her little tape recorder on, we pick a key -- thank God for keyboards with automatic key changing ability -- and I sing through it a few times, finally convincing her to sing with me.

Alexandra prefers to spend, like, a month learning a new song before she'll even open her mouth, but I'm more spontaneous, so before too long, she's singing the lead and I'm singing back-up and we're having a great time.

Then, I picked up my little scratchpad book. It's what I scribble in when I have new song ideas. There's chicken scratches and crossed out words and scribbles all over the thing. I find a new song I've been working on called "The Craving." Essentially, it's about addiction. Knowing that Alex has dealt with drug addiction in her very tortured life -- and it's an epic story about her being thrown out of her house at the age of 11 for being a "sissy boy", turned to hustling and drug addiction and then finally coming into her own when she was able to come out as a MTF transgender person -- she's a longtime survivor of AIDS.

Well, I'm not an MTF and my parents never threw me out of the house, but we do bond on the HIV thing, and we played through this song.

Alex: "There's only words in that book. How do you remember the music?"

Me: "I don't know." The music is in the words.

She LOVED the new song and I made her sing it several times just to hear it out loud. I've never been a drug addict but I do know what it means to get addicted to something. A sample of the lyric:

I know a man who wanted his freedom
Sitting there alone
Watching the TV
Ordering pizza
Staring at the phone

Laughing at himself
He lifts a beer to make a toast
To the craving keeping him from
What he wants the most

I know a man who wants to be free
But finds himself in chains
Why should he try to
Get back his life
So little now remains

Still the craving calls to him
It throbs within each vein
He can choose to fight it or can
Choose to cause more pain

Well, Alex went gaga over the lyric and the music. So, that was two songs down. We also had a great time just singing it. She has a quality in her voice that I cannot describe. It's feminine but because of her physicality, there's also a masculine strength that isn't diminished -- and underlying depth of steel that comes from surviving, probably.

Finally, I went onto this website and found the lyrics to the songs from TLS. First we did "Somebody's Friend" which she tore into back at the reading. But this time, after a couple of times through I just stopped and we started talking about the song, line by line. I described for her all the complicated emotions I saw in the song, referring back to my days of feeling sick and frustrated that well-meaning people trying to help were driving me kookoo.

Here's what Alexandra had to say about our talk at this point in our rehearsal:

"Then we broke for about 10 minutes in the middle of one of his songs, and began to talk about AIDS. I got to tell him how angry I was. How fed up I was with the complacency, and the ignorance. He told me about nearing death many times, and how at one time, the people who tried to help all seemed to be more in his way than anything else. I got that. This is what I mean. We understood each other without having to explain ourselves. I didn't have to go into a big long back story about AIDS and Reagan, and my friends, and my parents, and my own horror about being infected. He knew it. He knew it, because he's living it."
And so is she.

She said it frustrated her that people don't remember what AIDS really can do to you. She remembered, "Back when I was infected, everyone just dropped dead within weeks of diagnosis. People were doing the nuttiest things just to stay alive." (For a really in depth article on the state of HIV today, read David Ehrenstein's piece in the LA Weekly).

I am  a huge fan of Alexandra because there is a huge knot of REAL that comes from her. I don't think she even has the ability to not be real. The mix of femininity and masculinity that is her is very intriguing to me. I repeated to her what I had said before, that she was Judy Garland channeled through David Bowie. Judy was like that. Real.

I totally forgot to take pictures, by the way.

But then, that's what us Tom Cruise look-alike genius ditsy queens do. We forget things.

JULY 30-AUG. 6, 2004.
A Night at the Races.
Well, if it weren't enough that Alexandra is expanding my head into world-sized proprotions, but Mark Janas and John Fischer (musical director and asst. musical director for "Africa") have both expressed a lot of enthusiasm for our music.

In fact, Mark has an artist he's working with who is doing a concert up in Connecticut at the end of August. Last week he asked me if she could sing a couple of my songs. Then that turned into, "Hey, one of the acts dropped out. Why don't you guys come up and do a couple of numbers?" which turned into, "As long as you're going to be there, why don't you do 'The Big Voice' the next night as a warm-up for New York?"

So, if it all works out, we'll be performing at the Spirit of Broadway Theatre in Norwich Connecticut on August 27 & 28.

Meanwhile, John Fischer, when he's not working on getting the score/arrangements to "Africa" charted out in Finale, has been going through my score to Big Voice, learning it and helping me chart it out. It's really interesting to watch and hear someone else play these songs since, aside from me, no one has ever played them. I'm learning a lot about scoring by just watching him try to figure out my notation.

For instance, one thing I learned is that my piano arrangements make no sense unless one understands the "feel" and "pulse" of the material. The notes themselves are almost arbitrary (as long as they are in the specific chord).

To convey "feel" is something I'm not exactly sure how to do. (Unless I put in a note, "Play this as if you were John Fogerty hitting the guitar.")  One could conceivably sit down and play exactly the same notes I play and the song will sound absolutely wrong. We discovered this the other night as John attempted to play "James Robertson." I could see his body sub-dividing the beats, which completely lost the feel. (This is not a criticism of his musicianship, but rather an indication that what I've written does not lead instinctually to what I play).

Either way, I am so happy to have made some new lifelong friends, especially great musicians who are enthused about my songwriting. (In LA, writing theatre music is about as prestigious as digging ditches).

Sue Carey invited the cast, crew and creative team down to Hawthorne Race Course this past week and we were allowed to get in the pacer car and follow the horses around the track. It was THRILLING to be so close to the actions, feeling the horses' hooves and hearing the jockeys as they pushed the horses into the final stretch to the finish line.

Jimmy stands with Sue down on the track.

This is Cozy the driver of the pacer car.

The pacer car we were to ride in.

The horses take a few spins to warm up,
running the opposite direction of the race.

Passing in front of the gigantic scoreboard.

Moving toward the starting position.

We followed Cozy into the pacer car. The starting gates are attached to the sides of the car and, when retracted, they point toward the front and extend past the hood.
As we drove into position, we stopped and picked up two other men, judges of some kind. I heard this conversation:

"How many we got?"

"I got five over here."

Cozy said to me, "Okay you can turn around now." I was wedged into the front seat. The two judges were behind us on seats built facing out the back. It wasn't easy. I was up on my knees without support. Everytime I rested my arms, it would be on the back of the judge's seats, which tilted them backwards.

(Judges tend not to like being disturbed during a race, you can understand.)

The gates began swinging back until the stretched out across the track. The horses began running up to meet us.

"They ready?"
Jimmy took this shot out his side of the car as the horses gained speed.

Suddenly, the gentle, rhythmic thumping of the run-up turned into a furious pounding in sensurround! Thousands pounds of horse, hitting the dirt, assaulting the eardrums and the chest. For a brief moment I actually panicked at the violence.

I swung my camera around as we hit the backstretch, now facing forward and shooting through Cozy's open window.

Neck and neck.

Do you believe a horse can fly?

The race was over, seemingly before it begun. I didn't even see which horse won. It just went too fast. A thrill ride like none I've ever had before, to be neck and neck with the racers. Oh, and as they hit the backstretch, I could hear them shouting, "YAHHH!! YAHHH!" followed by the cracking of a whip. It was so stark. I realized that anytime you ever really hear this in real ife is in movies but they usually have all this goopy "end of the race" music drowning it out.

Cracking the whip.
As soon as the race was over, the Chicago skies suddenly opened and we were in a near-monsoon rainstorm.

From inside the glass covered stands.

These views show the tables where people can sit.
Each table has a little TV showing the race on video.

Same view looking the opposite direction. We are right in the center.

I brought my video camera and wanted to do more than just shoot people smiling at me so I got everyone who wanted to, to participate in a "random dialogue movie." What's a random dialogue movie, you ask?

Well, it's where you to up to people and give them line of dialogue. Later, you look at all the footage and paste together a movie based on whatever it was you gave them to say.

In this case, I gave everyone lines of extreme paranoia. "I NEVER KNEW IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS!!" or "NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT MURDER!!" etc.

So, below are pictures of everyone doing their lines.


Jim gets a winning ticket. John gets a losing ticket.

As we head into our final weekend of "Africa," the creative team is completely unified. Jimmy has almost finished the draft for the NY Fringe Festival... AND the rest of the run is either sold out or near sold out. The Theatre Building said it has broken all house records. This means word of mouth is dynamite. And this was only the first draft!

Best of all, Jimmy won $7 at the race track. Now we can get that villa in Spain.

[ Book 3-10 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Book 4-2 ]

© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.
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