Musical Insurgency
Volume 4 Book 2 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 9)

Kaye Ballard comes to see Big Voice!

[ Book 4-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]  [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]  -- [ Book 4-3 ]

October 26-30, 2004.
The Coolest Man On Earth.
I'm writing this diary entry as a tribute to a friend.

His name is Dwight Franklin.

Dwight Franklin is the coolest person I ever met. He never actually tried to be cool. He simply is/was the embodiment of cool itself. And not cool in a dumb, street kid way. No, Dwight was smart. Dwight was a musician. Dwight was one of the first persons I ever met who made me realize how much I didn't know. He made me curious.

Dwight lived out in the woods near Buna, Texas in a place called Gum Slough (pronounced "sloo"). He lived in a big ramshackle house at the end of a road that wound through the slough.

When I arrived in Buna in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, it was the late 60s/early 70s. The Vietnam war was raging and my life's goal at that time was to become a hippie and live in San Francisco. However, since I was in 10th grade and the Baptist preacher's kid, the best I could do was wear Indian moccasins and engage in the ongoing Haircut Wars with my parents.

Dwight was a year older than me and I don't even remember how I met him. I think I met him because he was friends with Butch, a bass guitarist. Dwight, with his long hair, ever-present electric guitar was a god to me. I took one look at his home made studio, his ability to play the best blues and rock songs, and did everything I could to just find excuses to hang out at his place.

He even drank beer, which was very exotic to me. (I never indulged).

I think he could tell that I was a smart person but he also laughed at my naivete and goaded me into smartening up. For instance, one time he asked me if I liked jazz music. My response was that, well, at Disneyland I kinda enjoyed listening to the...

He interrupted me. "Not that kind of jazz. That's dixieland for tourists. I'm talking about real jazz."

I shrugged. In one question I learned that there was a "jazz" out there that I knew nothing about.

He also liked to read intense science fiction novels, the kind written as almost literature. He gave me one to read -- Stand On Zanzibar. It was unlike anything I had ever read at that time and it made me thirsty for smart writing.

After I left for college, I lost contact with Dwight except the occasional visit. At one point, he had a terrible accident. He was working as a lineman for the county and got involved in a bloody concussive accident with the power line that cracked his head open and left him in a long recovery. I then lost track of him, but recently we hooked up again because he's been battling cancer in his throat.

His wife, Annie, dialed my phone the other day and forced Dwight to speak to me. He was crying. He spoke to me and his voice was so weak. In his voice I heard myself back when I was near death. I guess for two singers like us, it's all about the voice. Back before The Last Session was on the boards, I tried recording a demo. On that day I couldn't reach the high note because my voice was just too weak. I didn't have the power. It was when I first really felt the touch of death hovering over me.

Immediately I realized what he was going through. We talked for about 20 minutes. I did get a few laughs out of him. Other things we said must stay between us -- and I sincerely hope this entry doesn't make him feel bad, but it wasn't until all this started happening that I began to remember what Dwight Franklin meant to me. He was part of my escape from a world I didn't feel I belonged to.

Thank you, Dwight. And by the way, it doesn't matter how weak you may feel or how much indignity you might suffer through your recovery, in my eyes you will always be the Coolest Human Being on Earth.

October 31, 2004.
Trick or Treat.
We have never had trick or treaters at our apartment, so when we heard knocking on our door tonight, we were completely taken by surprised. I opened the door (shirtless) and it's two little girls dressed in five and dime witch's costumes looking up at me with big brown eyes.

I said, "Oh! I forgot! Hold on."

Jimmy and I are both now running around looking for some kind of candy. The closest thing I can find is a jar of peanut butter. So Jim says, "Give them a dollar!"

I grabbed the dollar, opened the door, shoved the dollar out into one of the plastic pumpkins and said, "Here! Split this!"

"Thank yeeeeeew!"

And off they went.

And that was our Halloween.

November 1-7, 2004.
Eyes and the Desert.
The Desert Sun - Jeff Britton
Raise your ‘Voice’

Aside from a few minor sound and lighting quirks, opening night of the witty, slice-of-life, two-hander, "The Big Voice: God or Merman?," was a joyous affair.

Author Jim Brochu and composer/lyricist Steve Schalchlin captivated the crowd at Heaven with a tight, swift moving performance that garnered heaps of hilarity as it delivered a poignant message of undying love amid the ravages of disease.

For musical theater fans, the show is a must for its erudite script and its unabashed admiration for America’s enduring art form. Unlike most standing ovations in the desert, this one seemed heartfelt and genuine.

Before we took off for our closing weekend at Palm Springs, The Desert Sun ran a beautiful review (above). I also made a visit to another eye doctor to get a second opinion on my googly eye and whether surgery could or should be considered.

He was surprised when I told him that the eye itself had receded back to an almost normal depth in the socket because, "They don't usually do that." He explained that getting the eye to recede is the first usual step they have to take in dealing with Grave's Disease. (The first of three steps over an extended period of time).

He showed me a plastic skull and pointed to the eye socket.
"Notice," he said, "It's shaped like an ice cream cone. Remember how you'd sometimes bite off the bottom and suck the ice cream out? It's kinda like that."

"When Grave's Disease hits, the muscles behind and around the eye become inflamed and they swell up. This causes the eye to push out because it has no place else to go. So, in order to bring the eye into a more normal position, the first thing we do is do is go in and break away the sides of the eyesocket so that the muscle expands sideways, thus allowing the eye room to recede back into the head."

This is what I hear: Ice cream cones. Breaking the skull. The eye swelling out into my cranial cavities. What if they fall in?

"After that heals, we then proceed to bring your eye, which now looks up, into alignment. He cupped one hand and said, pointing to the curved knuckles, "This is your eyeball."

Then he slid his other hand over the top of the first hand, each fingertip touching the knuckles of the first hand. "These are the eyelids muscles. They are all connected. The eyelid muscles are attached here." His fingertips cupped down over the second knuckles of the fingers on the bottom hand.

"What we will do is detach the muscle from there, roll the eye forward," he said rolling his cupped bottom hand forward, "and reattaching them here." His fingertips representing the ligaments were now touching the knuckles of the bottom hand.

I'm hearing: Cut eyelid, roll eye around, sew eyelid back on.

The skeeve factor on this is sending dragons of flicky tingling all through my body.

"Okay," I said. "That's not as bad as I thought it would be."

He continued, "Of course, then your top eyelid will look weird. You'll have a kind of wide-eyed look for awhile. But that's the last step of the surgery. To fix the lid and make it look like the other one."

I have to say that I really liked this doctor. He was a handsome Asian American doctor, young but amazingly bright. His whole demeanor was inviting and kind. He was being followed by a student, asking me first if it was okay. What I liked about it was that because he was teaching her, it was all getting explained to me, also. He'd indicate a symptom and ask her what the cause was. She'd respond. It was fun!

I sort of reconstructed the conversation above to reflect more what it felt like to me. I was both horrified and calm/accepting all at the same time.

The thing about it is that we have some big plans coming up -- things I can't really discuss yet -- and the timing of it all is going to be a problem. I think, at this point, it would be best to wait.

It's not just that I think the eye is ugly-looking. It's that I have double vision. The prisms are a major pain in the ass. They have to be constantly replaced and they aren't perfect. I'm getting fuzz in one eye and clear in the other.

But enough about that. We had a blast in Palm Springs. It felt good to just get up and get away.

Meanwhile, here are snapshots from Palm Springs. The responses to the performances this past weekend seemed to be more than normally emotional. There were members of the audience coming out of the show who were awash in tears and literally shaking. I think the elections had something to do with it. Future readers might take note that we did this show on the weekend after 11 states overwhelmingly passed laws against people like Jim and Steve.

Overnight, we have become subversive!

Pulling into Palm Springs the first thing that caught my eye were these brilliantly colored rainbow banners alongside the Christmas decorations.

Rainbows and stars!

The mountain rises dramatically over Palm Springs.

The skies were clear but there was a stormfront moving in.

Heaven's lobby sign lit up at night.

Larry Wise, our producer, and his wife, Betty.

Stuart owns Heaven. We liked Stuart a lot.
The whole place has a professional atmosphere.

Leslie set up the production and got us going.

Three bartenders/waiters dressed in white shirts.

Michael ran the sound.

This is John the stage manager giving us our five minute call.

Marc shows us how he dresses AFTER our show when the disco opens.

Shawn was a waiter.

Paul was the bar manager.

Kaye Ballard talks to Jimmy after the show.

Steve and Kaye.

The gig in Palm Springs was great fun despite the fact that it really wasn't a theatre. But in a resort town in the middle of on-season, producers will book whatever venue they can find. And frankly, I found Heaven to be WAY more comfortable than most theatres I've been in.

However, it did have its pecularities. Over the dance floor where the people sat there were five HUGE mirror balls twirling. They couldn't be turned off for some reason -- everything was hooked together on circuits -- so all during the show we would look out into the room and see gigantic mirror balls constantly spinning around and around.

At first it drove us a little crazy. Jimmy has a scene where he looks up to heaven and waits for a sign from God that does NOT come. He has called for, "Colored lights... celestical mirror balls!" and in the show, he stops, looks up, nothing happens and he's disappointed. Well, during that moment here both we AND the audience had to pretend that he wasn't looking at five huge spinning, glittering mirror balls right in front of his face and hovering like space ships.

At least we didn't have to serve drinks.

And writing all this, I am not criticizing HEAVEN at all. Not even remotely. The gig reminded me of being in a band again and I loved it. We kinda have a little rock and roll show here. When the sound system is hot and I have a good keyboard, I can pound out some rhthyms. The stage was wooden, so I was kicking up a storm during the songs and playing the floor with my foot. It was great.

Also the floor space was expansive, the tables looked beautiful with their white table cloths and candles. The waiters looked classy. How many nightclubs have I played in my life? I can tell you that this one was nice, it was CLEAN -- those guys worked like dogs making everything spiffy and beautiful. The dressing room was bright and wide with plenty of room for us to sit and do our pre-show routine -- which consists of him doing a NY Times Crossword Puzzle and me reading a book, preferably something Sci Fi and thriller-y.

But it was all a facade. Saturday night. Pride Week. The place is packed with out of town guys and Heaven is advertising a big dance party with a top DJ.

We finish our show. We talk to the people. It's all very calm and wonderful. Then, as soon as the last patron is out, like being shot out of a cannon. the music got kicked up, the video screens went on, the staff stripped off their white shirts, grabbed all the linen, candles and other assorted frou frou off the tables, then carried all those heavy tables back into the storage room, cleared the floor, cleaned it up, got into their night time sexy gay bartender get-ups and when I looked outside the club, there was a line of people around the mall and down the block.

Hey! It's a special event and we're already inside!

Suddenly the music went up in volume. From loud to deafening. The crowd started to roll in. We stood up at the bar and just tried to talk to a few people. But talk was near impossible.

Then they came streaming in. Young people. Muscle people. Male and female. All ready to have a good time.

And all I wanted was to get home to the cats.

I looked over at Jimmy (who had brought along a t-shirt that read "Big Daddy") and he looked at me. Then we both mouthed, "Let's get out of here."

On the way out, I almost couldn't get in the dressing room because I hadn't realized that there were more entertainers scheduled. I walked right in on a dancer and didn't think anything of it cuz that was our dressing room, too, and the costumes were all there. He looked at me like I was going to attack him.

Then I realized I had interrupted him in a private moment. He was shaving his body.

I told him I was from the earlier show and was grabbing our clothes. Then I stood at the back door waiting for Jimmy to bring the car around. We went back to our room, worked on our laptops, watched SNL and then drove home Sunday morning.

We were supposed to be a part of the big parade, but it was cold, Jimmy wasn't feeling so well, and it was rainy. There's no flu vaccine.  Something about being out in the rain in a big crowd that didn't feel healthy.

So, we packed up early after I took one last dip in the hot pool, and we drove home in almost exactly two hours. Thurber whined feebly but I think he's starting to get used to it. Steinbeck had no problems whatsoever.

And in celebration of Gay Pride we listened to Ethel, "Glitter and Be Gay" by Barbara Cook, and other assorted theatre queen seletions.

The musical insurgency continues.

[ Book 4-1 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]  -- [ Book 4-3 ]

© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.
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