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2 ] [ Part 3 ] [
4 ] - [ Book 8 ]
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Thursday-Friday, January 1-2, 1998
Going It Alone.Venet is dead. Nik Venet, discoverer of the Beach Boys (and many others) is dead.
Personally, I didn't know a force of nature could die, but finally, after months of chemo, days of lying in a virtual coma -- Nik Venet, master, artist, iconoclast, True Believer in the art of the song, worshipper of great art, artists and songwriters -- proud, determined, frustrated, peaceful, forceful, opinionated, hilarious, indispensible, irascible, singular, and most of all: Teacher is gone.
It happened mid-afternoon on Friday and soon a storm front moved in to wash away the tears and the tragedy so that El Lay could go on and on just as it always has.
The news was delivered to me by phone. Curiously, I had almost no emotional reaction. I spoke to the newsbearer as dispassionately as if we were discussing recipes or talking about a distant relative we barely knew. But inside, like paper made of sugar, my heart was dissolving and I knew it would soon get to me.
You see, Nik Venet gave me a great gift before he died. Last year, Nik nearly died of stomach cancer and when he attended my birthday concert out on the Santa Monica Pier in October of 1996, he pulled me aside and said, "You know why I've been praising your music so much?"
I said I had no idea. He said, "Because your music made me want to fight to survive." And from that moment, Nik and I had a -- an understanding. It was a moment of true Knowing in the highest and most ontologically possible way.
That gift he gave me was total and true belief in myself -- and in the songs of THE LAST SESSION. People around him will tell you that his love for my songs was uncommon. How so, you may ask? Well, Nik was not known for praise. In fact, he was known for getting in songwriters' faces and telling them they were completely and utterly full of shit if the songs they were writing were not dragged from the deepest part of the most protected and strongly felt corners of their souls.
He could sense a cop-out before you even breathed the words. I watched him take a group of songwriters with talent -- some of whom I thought had only the barest smidgen of talent -- and drag from them words and thoughts and music that were breathtaking in their honesty and heartbreak. He would accept absolutely nothing else.
He made a very large impression on everyone who ever came in contact with him. This is a man who came into New York City with Bobby Darin -- both of them penniless -- and who rented a closet in the Brill Building as their office, the 20 year old A&R exec of Capitol Records who signed The Beach Boys, who found Linda Ronstadt...
Nik Venet was a legend who told such incredible stories, you had to simply accept them because if it were anybody else telling them, you'd say they were full of shit. Remember back last summer, he casually mentioned that he knew Pablo Picasso? (And I misheard the name as Paul LoBagasso?) Well, do you blame me? Do you expect a person you know as a pal to be talking about hanging out in villas with Pablo Picasso?
Jeff Casey at Evening Star said that for all Nik Venet was, he had this habit of leaving great works of art in his wake. This is a man who could produce the Hello Dolly! cast album and then turn around and find Jim Croce or Don McLean or...
...or Steve Schalchlin and The Last Session.
I used to visit Venet down in the Wilshire District where he held these tempestuous and fascinating songwriting seminars. Like a football coach, he would lecture people on reaching down and discovering truth. He had no time nor patience with anyone who just wanted to write as a lark. If he caught someone slapping out some generic El Lay love song, he'd rip them to shreds. Out on the street corner between sessions, he would smoke cigarettes and keep me in hysterics telling me his mission on earth was to rid the world of bad songwriters.
When I was recording the duet with Harriet Schock on her CD, Rosebud, under the watchful eye of Mr. Venet -- he and I would (again) sneak out to the street corner between takes where he'd smoke and regale me with opinions and stories. He laughed so much and he loved it when I poked fun at him. I think many people were too afraid of him to do this.
More than anything, though, Nik Venet was a very private man. He's the one that's been in the hospital that I've been talking about in this diary -- the one behind the hospital room curtain. I found out only recently that it wasn't so much that he was hiding from the world -- it was doctors orders. No one was allowed in except the people he needed to do business with at Evening Star and Harriet Schock, the woman he loved most in the world.
I told Jeff Casey that in the Myth of Nik Venet, I think I can claim something no one else (that I know) can claim. From the very first day I played him "Connected," until the entire score was written, Nik Venet never gave me one single note. Not one correction. Not one suggestion. Not one criticism. In fact, mirroring what the magazine PAPER just said in describing TLS as the "ultimate AIDS musical," Nik said to me early on at a Songwriter Campfire at Genghis Cohen, "After this, there is nothing else to say."
He co-produced our cast album from his bed. It was he who conceived the graphics for the CD -- faithfully rendered by Scott Wilson. And if you look at the graphics, you'll see something no other cast CD that I know of (by an unknown songwriter) has. It has the composer's big face and arm stretching across the full tri-fold sleeve. This caused no small controversy, by the way.
My last phone conversation with Nik was last month because, to be frank, the packaging embarrassed me. I thought, If people think I've got a big head now, what are they gonna think when they see this?
But he responded: "That arm. That is the arm that has been poked and needled and hooked up to bags and meters. That is the arm that gave blood and felt the pain of near death. There is no other show on Broadway -- maybe in Broadway history -- where you have a biography of a person who is still alive. But it's also about the kid next door. It could be anyone."
(In fact, the version you see on your CD is a modified version of his original design where he took baby pictures of me, pictures of me in high school, in bowties and splashed the whole inside with them. You can see an earlier original at http://www.eveningstar1.com/inside.jpg.)
Jeff Casey and I spoke about how Nik had this wall around him. A protective, proud wall. I told him I knew Nik had this mythical wall, but that I never saw him this way. I always saw Nik as a big emotional baby. It seemed to me that his walls were total fabrications erected for those who did not have the eyes to see through them.
Jeff, to prove his point, asked me, "Did you ever see Nik cry?"
Immediately, I was returned to that last conversation he and I had. I was in Kim Espy's office with the door closed. My purpose in calling him was to get him to back down and let us put more pictures of the cast on the CD fold-out. I told him I feared others who did not know me would assume I had engineered this "Steve Tribute" in order to take the spotlight away from Jimmy and the others.
But he wouldn't have any of it. He was adamant. He would brook no compromise. Once I realized I was not going to change his mind, we let the issue pass. Then, with tears in my eyes and a huge lump forming in my throat, I simply said to him, "I miss you."
And with that, I heard huge heaving sobs come through the phone. "Oh, Stevie," he cried out almost wailing, "What they've done to me. There are people putting their hands on me and cleaning me. There are needles hanging from every vein. I can't stand for anyone to see me..." (...except for his beloved Harriet who stayed by his side faithfully for months on end.)
And from the bottom of his soul, a primal weeping emerged from that little phone and shook the building. My heart was ripped from me because I knew this very proud man. This man who never backed down, who never gave in, who would not cry for anyone, was trapped in what for him was the ultimate physical indignity -- an emotional and psychic pain that cannot be described or shared.
Unless you've been there.
The Last Session was his last great mission. He believed in it as much or more than anything he had ever "discovered," and Jeff Casey said to me that he had only seen Nik cry once in his long association. It was when Jeff brought the final mix of the cast album into his room and played it for him.
What gift did Nik give me? He gave me the gift of truly believing in myself and what I was capable of. Not that I didn't already believe or that others hadn't also given me confidence, but when you get a person like Nik, who "hated everything," whose standards were so high they were barely perceptible by those who are only looking for a good beat and a catchy hook -- when someone you know will NEVER bullshit you, tells you you have created a masterpiece of songwriting...
..the whole world opens up. I told Jeff that "Save Me A Seat," while not written about Nik, *IS* Nik. Somewhere, somehow, we'll probably have a memorial service of some kind. And somewhere, somehow Nik will hear about it and watch, but I promise you.. as soon as one single person launches into a "...he was the greatest man I knew" speech, Nik will be out of there, standing on the street corner, smoking a cigarette and laughing at himself, at the world, and at us.
Saturday, January 3, 1998
He Put The Music Inside.I woke up with a very sore throat and a cough. So, I stayed in bed most of the day and will probably stay there for most of the weekend.
By the way, I have been getting extraordinary feedback to yesterday's diary page, including a note from a reader named Polly who forwarded the announcement of Nik's death on to Dick Waterman who was Bonnie Raitt's manager for 18 years. She wrote back,"My friend Dick Waterman said that Capitol Records built itself a building on Vine Street and then Nik Venet came along and put the music inside."He put music inside a lot of people.
Sunday, January 4, 1998
Still Down.I spent the entire day in bed. I feel really awful and my throat is just killing me. I know it's probably an inauspicious way to begin a new book, but nature rules. Y'know?
I really appreciate the many letters I've been getting from new people discovering TLS and the CD, etc. Incredibly heartwarming wishes and stories. It's not easy to sit here and write, so I'll just go back to bed and stay warm. Bobby Cox brought me some more soup and bread this evening, so I'm all stocked up for a day or two more.
Back to bed.
Monday-Tuesday, January 5-6, 1998
Ohhh...... Ugh......I called Doctor Peter this morning and he told me to come right on in. Since my regular appt. was for this coming Wednesday, he went ahead and took my blood and vital signs, and x-rays. The good news is that I don't have pneumonia and that my lungs are clear.
I do look and feel miserable, though, so he prescribed me some antibiotics and told me to stay in bed and stay warm. So, I have to apologize to you, reader, because I know this was supposed to be the big new start of a fancy and exciting new book. And look how we've started: Death and sickness. Still, here are some fun tidbits -- some things going on.
If you go pick up the Star (an American magazine) you will see "exclusive" coverage of Rue McClanahan's wedding. Well, they didn't get this photo of Jim and Carl the Producer standing with Rue. But they did mention that Rue gave out free tickets to The Last Session as a wedding gift to all the attendees!
NIK OBIT & MEMORIAL:
Tuesday, in the LA Times, there was a special obituary about Nik Venet written by Steve Hockman. There will be a special memorial service for him on Friday at NARAS in Santa Monica. I've been approached about singing "Save Me A Seat," but lord, how can I possibly get through it in one piece?
JIMMY & CAST ON TV ON SATURDAY:
Jimmy will be interviewed and the cast will sing on MSNBC on Saturday morning, January 10 at 11:00 AM EST, which is 8:00 AM Pacific Coast Time. This is all the information I have, but I will update you as more comes in.
COOL NEW HOME PAGE:
While I'm out of commission, check out this home page by another Positoid named Terry Baker. It's a stunningly beautiful site and like me, he does a journal, but it's intermixed with his exceptional artwork and his very poetic journal entries. Just when I start getting a big head about my work, along comes a "real" artist. Oh, well...
Now, I'm going back to bed. Oh, on Tuesday I drove over the hill because Ghost made me a huge pot of chicken soup. He looks really good, by the way. The constant torture he was having to endure has eased up ever so slightly. He was still hooked up to a breathing tube, but he was standing and walking around. His apartment was all cleaned up and he had these two huge pots of chicken soup on the stove. We put one of the pots into the car and then on the way home I picked up my Star, my Times and some bread. Then I answered some email, typed up this page, and now I'm going back to bed for the rest of the afternoon.
NOTE: Check this Friday's edition of the LA Times. There *might* be something special to read. Nothing guaranteed -- just "might."
Wednesday-Thursday, January 7-8, 1998
Did It Break?The big headline in the LA Daily News on Wednesday was something like "FLU CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE" -- the point being that El Lay seems to be under siege by two flu viruses and the whole damned town is sick.
Wednesday and Thursday were absolute hell. I was too sick to even sit up in a chair and answer my emails. (So that means I have about a 150 unanswered notes). My ribcage is so sore from coughing, I don't know how I'm going to sing for the memorial service tomorrow. I'm as weak as a kitten.
But this afternoon, I decided to just sweat it out. I took a very hot shower, dressed in a sweat suit, laid down on the couch and before long, I was covered in sweat, shaking like a untended Tamaguchi. So, I got up, pulled off the sweatshirt (which was so soaked I almost couldn't peel it off) and now it feels like maybe -- MAYBE -- the worst is over.
And since the last few days have been nothing but shaking and shivering in bed, I have very little to talk about EXCEPT:
Jimmy sent me this picture of him and John Travolta. You see, John was looping some dialogue down the hall from Producer Michael Alden's office. And when he saw Jimmy, he was very excited. You see, back when John was 16 years old, Jimmy cast him in a musical at the Club Benet in New Jersey.
THEY'RE SENDING A CAR! I was informed that MSNBC is going to send a car for me Saturday morning so I can be a part of the broadcast with Jimmy and the cast! It'll be our first time to see each other since I left there -- a COAST TO COAST REUNION!
Anyway, I don't have much news except to tell you that I think my fever has broken at last (I hope) and that I'm on my way to a full recovery. The flu is not a pretty sight for people with weakened immune systems. I've been eating a steady stream of chicken soup and water -- and miraculously, I have not lost weight. This means you'll see the new 15 pounds heavier Steve on Saturday morning. Again: 11AM EST. 8AM Pacific.
You will find a new story about The Last Session by Al Martinez in Friday's Los Angeles Times. Drop Al a note and thank him for the article. He's at email@example.com.
Friday, January 9, 1998
Jagged Arrows Lighting the Sky.I'm starting this at 4am Saturday morning (and yes, I know that's redundant but I like the way it sounds). I woke up drenched in sweat (still shaking this flu) and panicking, Am I late for the car coming to pick me up to the TV station? I hit the lights (because the VCR is flashing 12:00 like it's about to blow up).
I tried to make out the clock on the wall, but it's black -- a blackboard where you draw the face of the clock in colored chalk. (Unexpected gift from Kathleen Freeman). But no, it was 3am. I was never so awake in my life. I tried to go back to sleep but I have to admit I was seduced by the El Nino rain. It sounded like Louisiana.
It was the day of Nik Venet's memorial service and I just felt numb. The truth is that I didn't "know" Nik like most the others. He and I were like ships constantly passing and saluting. (I have way more Nik stories but -- another time.)
On the tube? Sonny Bono's funeral service. Channel 2. Channel 4. 7. 8. 9. 11. 13. CNN. MSNBC. And I didn't object to that. It's just that my buddy Paul Zollo was on public radio talking about his (now) indispensible book, Songwriters on Songwriting. He mentioned that when Harry Nielson died, almost no one knew it because it happened the night before El Lay's big earthquake a few years ago.
And I also thought, "Oh great. Everyone in the music industry will be there. Not here. We'll probably have 20 people for Nik's memorial and we'll all cry a little and go home." See what I mean? I just didn't know what to expect.
So, the rain was pouring -- doing my crying for me -- and I realized I hadn't sung in awhile because of this flu, so I steeled myself and went to the piano, had a coughing fit and sat down to run through "Save Me A Seat," which, of course, is the song I wrote about my *own* memorial service.
I don't think I ever felt so completely dry. Not one emotion. Like singing the Russian phonebook. All I could think of was, This is going to be a disaster. This is a terrible song. What was I thinking? Maybe I should cancel. Maybe I should sing something else. I went into another coughing fit and, truly, I just wanted to go out into the rain and dissolve.
Instead, I went into the shower and tried to clear my lungs and my head. The dark flooded streets looked slick and black as I got into the car with friends, water was pooling up in the gutters. We entered the Ventura Freeway where traffic was moving slowly, but it was moving. Then we turned south on the San Diego Freeway. A bit worse, but still moving. (Plus, we left an extra hour early, so we knew we would make it in time).
The new Getty Center appeared on the right. A starship rising on a perfectly landscaped hill with a Tomorrowland monorail snaking up the side. The driver was patient. Plus it gave us all time to talk and visit.
When we got there, the piano was still being tuned and they were decorating the room with Nik's eye-popping woodworks. I remember Harriet once mentioning that he "got great relaxation" working in his workshop. (But these. These were museum quality works of art. Who was this guy, anyway?) Native American. Mystical. Bold colors. And they were solid. Real.
And the images. Jagged arrows pointing to the sky. White American flags with slogans. Some political. Some spiritual. Some both. One of the speakers, Kote Lotah, was a Native who said Nik used to buy, at some expense, sacred objects of the tribes -- and then give them back to the tribe or family. (And that mantra went through me again: Who was this guy? What else do I not know about him?)
It was an intimate room. Couple hundred well padded black folding chairs. I found one on the aisle behind the "reserved" section. By the time people began to file in, it was clear that the room wasn't big enough by half. I was lucky to even have found a seat (although it now occurs to me that the "reserved" seats were probably for peope like me since I was part of the program.
Then, like a sweet angel in black, there appeared my pal, Marie Cain (who wrote the lyrics for "Friendly Fire"). It was like finding your best friend in a crowded mall. She joined me and I started feeling better although I was still coughing -- and she brought kleenexes.)
I was scheduled to go first so Harriet told me to start. Then she told me to wait until she could find Nik Jr. Now I'm at the piano, but I'm not doing anything and the room begins to grow quiet. I began to grow hot.
I couldn't bear to just sit there, so I started playing some "Steve chords" and but my hands were sweating and I hit a wrong note. Now I'm really scared. Plus I'm sick and I want to cough. Sitting in the front row is Mike Greene, the President of NARAS. Ronda and Kim. Nik's brother Ted, Bobby Darin's son, and god knows who else.
I kept looking around for a sign. Then I'd play some more. Hit another wrong note. Look at the audience. They'd look back. I'd look at them. They'd look back. I'm sure from the audience it probably looked perfectly normal, but I couldn't bear it one moment longer. So I (think I) haltingly said that I felt very privileged that Nik's last work was the cast album from The Last Session which he co-produced from his bed. I told them I wrote this song when I thought my own death was imminent, when my only wish was to not be forgotten.
So I began the song (which earlier was as dry as toast). Immediately I could tell that this was not going to be like it was this afternoon because they laughed -- some loudly -- at the line "...Stick a tray of nachos up against the wall..." As I got to the part about being bored and leaving the service to go have a beer across the street, there was another laugh. Then I relaxed and though my voice was not strong (because of my shallow breathing), I don't think we lost a thing.
I quietly finished and walked back to my seat, receiving a tear-stained smile a "good going" from Ronda, my rock of Gibraltar (and who was the first human being to hear many of the lyrics to the songs from TLS). Then others quietly, one by one, walked up to the podium and quietly spoke from the heart. Bobby Darin's son thanked Nik for telling him fully detailed stories of his father, since he was young when Bobby died. (Sue Crawford told me the only time she saw Nik cry was when was talking about Bobby Darin, his very best and most beloved friend.)
Kim Espy lovingly read an almost child-like note from Brian Wilson where Brian recalled being surprised that Nik signed them so quickly to Capitol Records, and that he learned most of his studio technique from Nik.
Jimmie Haskell recalled what a privilege it was working with him because of his respect for artists and musicians -- and he said that Nik's insistence that he (Jimmie) stay an extra day for a session saved his and his wife's own life when the plane he was to fly in crashed. He looked up and cried, "Thank you for my life and for my family, Nik."
Harriet Schock bravely recalled a difficult time when Nik would not return her phone calls because of a spat, but which moved her into writing a beautiful and profound song called "You Are," which she then performed with amazing strength and grace.
Norma Goldstein Kemper recalled a day when Nik, insisting on recording a particular song "that day," actually crawled out onto a ledge at the top of the Capitol Records building in order to get the President to okay a budget. Scott Wilson sang a song that recalled a poignant episode in Nik's life and Ronda Espy made the best speech of all when she recalled things Nik said that were outrageous exagerrations -- making us all laugh out loud.
Ms. Kemper also stated, "We all knew that when Nik got his paycheck, our rents would be paid," underscoring Nik's profoundly generous nature and love for songwriters and singers. Finally, Ted Venetoulis, Nik's brother, laughed with us about Nik's stories and how much Nik loved people, his son Nik Jr. and Harriet.
I sat quietly, as if in church -- still numb and feeling little.
Marie looked fantastic but I could see she had been crying a lot even before she got there. When we saw each other, it's like we just fell into each others' arms and sat together. She is an amazing lyricist, Marie Cane.
During the writing of TLS, when we wanted a more "musical comedy" type number, I knew it had to have great craftsmanship and cleverness. Marie came to mind because of the work she turned in when we were all part of a Lehman Engel/NAS Musical Comedy Workshop I created with John Sparks about six or seven years ago -- plus she lives as desperately as we do, and you know, desperation leads to greatness. (The workshop consisted of doing eight of the usual month-long exercises over an eight week period. The equivalent of making yourself write a song in fifteen minutes.)TRIVIA: What current huge Broadway star in the biggest (or nearly biggest) show in New York was also in that class/workshop? Hint: He plays piano, he sings, and he acts. Second Hint: He will definitely be nominated for a Tony -- and is the strongest contender to win it. (He's also a brilliant composer, but you don't know that yet).The building we were in, by the way -- an Australian reader wants more landscape description in this diary -- was very modern. Glass. Walls illuminated white. The back glass wall of the meeting room opened onto a courtyard with no ceiling. The rain was clearly visible and loud at various times during the ceremony. But you could see it pouring down the glass walls on the other side and the courtyard was cold, dark and empty.
But how glorious it must be on beautiful day with the sun lighting up the glass.
I saw Michael and Patty Silversher -- also one of the world's most underrated songwriting teams. I told them I would love to write something with them. Since this is Hollywood, I'll get them to write it all and then let me put my name on it. Brilliant. Sugar sweetie.
After everyone had cleared out, one of Harriet's singers told me that her five year old son has almost memorized the entire cast album. She said that he loves to recite the order of the objects in the song "Connected" -- a meter, a bottle, a tv and each other. And the he loves it when Grace sings the word "hell" in "...go through HELL again..." in "Singer and the Song."
And for a moment, I thought of Nik and how his wisdom and knowledge and love for humanity made me feel about as old as a five year old gazing up at a master. And I began to realize the significance of what we had all lost. But appreciative of the short time we had to enjoy this magnificent human being.
Our loss, Nik. Our loss. I'll never look at the evening star again and not think of you.
Sat.-Sun., January 10-11, 1998
Big Mess.I'm not feeling any better. Well, I should say it's not quite as bad as it was, but this damned cough is driving me up the wall and I'm sick of being in the apartment. Even Thurber keeps looking at this watch wondering when he's going to get some peace and quiet.
When the car picked me up Saturday morning, I forgot to bring Kleenexes, so everytime we stopped at a light, I'd push the door open and spit out on the ground. (Don't you love hearing all this?).
Saturday morning was beautiful, though. The sun had finally broken through and the air was crystal clear so that you could see the mountains all around the San Fernando Valley. Oh, and I felt like such a celebrity sitting behind the dark glass in the car (not a limo) taking me to the TV station.
When we got there, of course, the guard never heard of me and I was not listed to be there, so he called up and we argued until finally I was given a pass. The big newsroom on the 4th floor was almost empty (this being Saturday) and the woman very nicely gave me a place to sit and cup of hot tea, which helped my congestion.
And I was so excited to see Bob and Binky and Amy and Grace and Jimmy. I just couldn't wait. Oh, and I was wearing my new plaid shirt and pants my mom gave me for Christmas! I was about an hour early, so at sat at a news station and read yesterday's paper (finding an extra copy of Al Martinez' column which I took with me).
Finally, they put me in a chair which was elevated, gave me baby wipe to get the shine off my face and a great big monitor so I could see my face. I was greatly relieved to see that I looked way better than when I shot CyberGuy last month -- the new weight looked good on me -- and while we waited for the link-up, I chatted with the techie and told him about the show.
Finally, up on the screen I saw the cast! They looked so beautiful!! And in my earphone, I could hear them testing the sound. I wanted to wave to them and say something, but I couldn't. Soon, the producer in New York asked me if I could hear everything and if I was ready. Man, was I ready!
The host was Soledad O'Brien, who used to host The Site (which is now defunct) and I wondered if she would remember the brief time they talked about me long ago (she didn't). But it didn't matter. Jimmy looked great and was full of energy. Soledad asked me right off the bat if I had ever considered suicide and if it was difficult revealing so much truth in my songs.
Well, that kinda threw me off, but I stayed with it and said, No I hadn't really considered suicide but that at my lowest point, I could certainly understand why someone would. And that it wasn't hard to write truth because it gives power back to you.
Then they introduced the cast who sang "When You Care'" and they sounded fantastic. Looking at it again at home, I'm just struck by how beautiful they all are. They looked like movie stars!
And I was stunned by how much time they gave us. Almost ten minutes of airtime, which on a national broadcast, is almost unheard of.
MORE EXCITING NEWS:
The GLAMA Award Nominations have just been announced and "When You Care" from my "Living in the Bonus Round" record has been nominated for Best Duo or Group! The GLOradio broadcast of the entire "Come Out & Play" concert, including the nominees announcement, is scheduled for Jan. 17th at 1pm (PST)/4pm (EST), Jan. 19th at 9am (PST)/ 12noon (EST) and again at 1pm (PST)/ 4pm (EST). GLOradio is the first global gay and lesbian broadcast network and is available at www.planetout.com, www.gloradio.com, or on America Online at Keyword: PNO Radio. "Come Out and Play" was presented in association with OUTmedia's OUTCulture Fest '98.
Monday, January 12, 1998
Misery.I don't want to bore you with this, but the simple fact of the matter is that I am totally and completely and utterly miserable right now. My cough is not letting up one slight bit. There so much gunk in my lungs, it's disgusting and horrible. (NOTE: Last week at Dr. Peter's we x-rayed my lungs for PCP and it came out negative, so this is just this cold thing.)
Both yesterday and today, I could do little more than lie on the couch and be sick. The house is turning into a nightmare of junk and dirty clothes so even my environment is grossing me out. I was supposed to send out some PR packets, but I cannot function. There are no envelopes, no postage, no nothing and I if I try to go out, I just cough like hell and collapse on the couch.
And yes, I know everyone gets all pissed off at me when I say this kind of stuff, and yes I know I'm in the middle of a pity party, and yes I'm a adult and can figure this thing out for myself. But, you're not here and you don't feel what I feel and I don't care right now how I sound and that's just the truth.
I called Dr. Peter today and he said I tested negative for throat infection, which means the antibiotics I've been taking are not helping this at all. It means it's a viral thing and I guess I just have to wait it out. Man, I'm sick of being sick.
Tuesday, January 13, 1998
Oh, He's Just A Child.Well, after yesterday's petulant fit, I'm surprised you're still here. I have to confess to you that I nearly didn't post yesterday's diary page. I knew it was childish and stupid, but it's exactly how I was feeling and I decided to just let it all out (like you've never felt that way before).
So, today, I decided i was sick of myself as much as I was of this flu, so after Bobby Cox brought me some cough medicine over last night, I drank it and had my first good night of sleep in a week. I didn't even sweat all night long like I had been doing.
Then, this morning I wrote some emails to apologize to some very dear friends who I had cut loose on, picked up the trash and newspapers in this apartment, washed the dishes, took a long hot shower, put on some fresh clothes, took the garbage down to the bin, cleaned out Thurber's cat box, answered all my old emails, addressed the mail I've been putting off, wrote checks for the bills, opened the windows to let in the warm Southern California sun, guzzled more cough syrup, and then collapsed on the couch for a nap.
When I woke up midafternoon, the sun was shining, the house looked good, my cough was eased up a bit, my head was clear, and I felt like a human being again.
You know, I think a person can give himself permission to just cut loose as long as he remembers to clean up his own mess and get out of the funk. I don't know what it is about me that gets so low sometimes. I don't really think I'm any different than anybody else, to tell you the truth. It's just that I'm doing in front of the world and you get to do it in private.
Besides, Bob Stillman (star of TLS) wrote me and said this:Hang in there Steve! If it makes you feel any better, I went through the same thing in November when I caught some bug that was going around---maybe the same one, in fact, 'cause all I did for about a week was @#$%^&ing cough. It was horrible and it just made me so mad. I feel like I recognize the anger in your voice, and if it helps, just know that someone understands. It WILL pass!If a big star like AndBob (that's his nickname) can get through this, then I can, dammit. After all, he has Tyler the Dog and I have Thurber the Cat. We are pals who can endure the hardships of colds and flu! Anyway, I have to tell you that I got an email from a young girl and it really touched me deeply and brought me back to my senses.Dear Steve,I don't even have words for how much this letter means to me. And frankly, it's why it's just as important to report to you the days when I'm feeling and acting like a jerk as it is to be Mr. Sunshine Happy Person. We're all alone, but "together" we can go it alone and we can find strength both in our friends who are still here and our friends who have passed.
First I would like to introduce myself. My name is S. and I am fourteen years old... Last May, I lost one of my best friends to AIDS. My friend David was a magical person who was going to make a difference in this world... Losing him at 24, was just a true injustice to the world. I didn't really get to talk to or see David for the last four months of his life. He kept himself secluded and didn't let anyone in. When he passed away I was very angry and blamed him. But, now I look back and I don't see that anger I just see sadness.
About a month ago, I saw The Last Session. The show brought tears to my eyes and brought up so many emotions that I didn't even know that I had in me. Then, I stumbled upon your diary on the internet. Steve, by reading your journal I have been opened to something that I don't think I would have or could have if it weren't for your sharing your story with the world. I can understand what David went through and I can understand what went through his mind.
I would also like to tell you about an experience I had the other day. I was listening to The LAst Session on my portable CD player. It was after school and I was awaiting my bus. All of my fellow students were arouund waiting and I just was in my own little world... Anyway, I was listening to Going it Alone and as I listened the feeling of being alone grew greater and greater inside of me. And then, I realized something. I'm NOT alone. It was almost a magical moment. I looked around at my school, then I looked in the distance at the horizon. At that moment I just.....well...I can't put it into words. But, you did. You're words were exactly what I was feeling. I guess all I can say is thank you.
So thanks for putting up with me in all my petulance. If I were perfect, I'd be so so boring. Wouldn't I? Wouldn't we all.
Wednesday, January 14, 1998
Batter Up.It's the ninth inning. I'm standing at the plate and suddenly I realize I've never batted before. I know the bat is supposed to hit the ball, but there's a guy behind me wearing a scary mask, another guy in black holding a metal counter in his hand, and a pitcher on the mound winding up to throw the last ball.
My chest tightens up and he throws. I swing wildly. I miss. I hit a ball. I strike. The pitches come quickly and I'm standing there swinging at anything that moves. And then, SWACK, I actually hit the ball and make it to first base. Safe.
That's my life up to now, so if anyone asks me "how I did it..." -- whatever is it I've done -- that's the answer . Got a letter from a college girl:Still enjoying the cast CD very much. I've played it a couple of times while my fundamentalist roommate was in the room. She gets kind of quiet when it's on, but I noticed her listening very closely to 'The Preacher and the Nurse' and I think she realized that it wasn't offensive to her religion at all, though she kind of expected it would be (she knows vaguely what the show's about, though I haven't explained the details). Very cool.You see the minefield Jimmy and I walked with TLS. If we are perceived as a "gay play," then conservative Christians will automatically assume it's something they shouldn't listen to. As much as I loved my upbringing in the small town South -- I really did -- when I finally actually met someone from the "outside world," it was like meeting aliens. I thought I was one of the few "saved" people and everyone else a sinner that needed to find Jesus.
This is how we Baptists are raised. Not that we're told to discriminate or hate other groups. Not at all. But this kind of "...we're the only ones who understand what God *really* meant" attitude leaves you rather unprepared for dealing with others who might not share your viewpoint or your lifestyle or your culture. And it wasn't in my perception that anyone outside the Baptist Missionary Association might have a piece of Celestial Wisdom as good as or, God forbid, greater than those that were contained within the confines of our one little seminary.
And again, I'm not saying anyone sat over me and told me to think this way. But I went to the Baptist College and I can tell you everyone else felt the same way. And they still do. There were just like "Buddy" in our play, well-meaning, enthusiastic, naive, and unprepared to see others as equals. The thing is, when others perceive that you think you know God better than they do, they tend to get a bit annoyed -- especially if you keep reminding them.
If you look at early November a year ago in this diary, you will see the story about when I went to Old Dominion University. There was a young conservative Christian man from the military who had great resistance to me. But he finally realized I was not something to fear. That I was just a guy like any other guy with no hidden agenda.
Except to make him buy my records, of course. :)
Got big plans a-brewin' for a new recording, by the way. We're in the Creative Visualization stage, you could say -- dreaming up the possibilities. Up to now, the songs have been presented completely unadorned, except for a little strings here and there. But Michael Gaylord, for instance -- who did the vocal arrangements for the show, wants to arrange an orchestral version of "Save Me A Seat." He says he is haunted by the melody and wants to do variations on it. P>More from that same letter:I have another question for you - well, a couple, really. I'm going to a Quaker teen retreat this weekend where we're going to have a music/poetry sharing, and I really want to tell them some of your story and attempt to sing 'Connected' for them. Assuming that's okay (let me know if you have any objections!) I have a question about the song, and I don't remember seeing this answered anywhere in the diary. What exactly is the 'Every night at one a.m.' line talking about? I thought of a few interesting interpretations but nothing really jumps out at me!Hmmm.... Does it matter? Should I tell? Whatever it means, it was real. (HINT: The answer is somewhere in this diary, but if you cannot find it, I'll tell you tomorrow.)
TO HER: I'm very proud that she want to sing the song. Can I give you a suggestion for your performance? When you sing "Connected," I think you should sing it as if you were singing it for children. Direct. Simple. Clear. It's pure storytelling and I found that even if my voice was "out," it didn't diminish the power of the song one bit when sung directly from the heart.
TO ALL: By the way, we've now made deals with Cherry Lane to publish a songbook, and Samuel French is going to publish the stage edition. So, it won't be long you'll be able to get on your home organ and drive the neighbors crazy with SCHALCHLIN (pronounced SHACK-LIN) SONGS.
Other ideas I'm keeping to myself right now.
I did get some mail warning me, after yesterday's post, not to get all overactive. I promise I'm not. But this morning I got up early, went to the grocery store, and picked up my staple foods -- fruit, frozen vegetables, chicken, cheddar cheese for my sourdough breakfast sandwich, some of that chicken with pasta soup Campbell puts in jars, bread, peppermint tea and two kinds of cough syrup, including an expectorant.
Then I came back home, took my syrup, and propped myself up snugly and warmly on the couch with Zollo's book. Oh, and remember when I told you how easily I lose weight when I'm not well? Well, I've been eating as much as I can stomach, but I have lost about six pounds. This is why I worked so hard to gain what I did this past couple of months.
Still looking good, mamacita!
Thursday, January 15, 1998
THE EAST COAST TOUR.Here's how it started:
"I was present at the 1997 annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic College Health Association where Steve Schalchlin was scheduled to give the closing "address." I honestly have to admit that I almost left early that afternoon to return to my office and a desk that I knew would be piled high. Thankfully I stayed.
"What we experienced that afternoon was both unexpected and unforgettable. Mr. Schalchlin was introduced as a person with AIDS who had gained some notoriety from a Web site in which he chronicled his experiences with HIV/AIDS; he was also a songwriter, we were told.
"He then proceeded to tell his story both in narrative and in song. he told it and sang it simply, but it came for a depth that one seldom experiences from a performer. he sang about AIDS, about his medicines, his physicians, his nurses, his friends, and about his life and his death. He made me think; question, laugh, and cry. And when it was over, I felt somehow cleansed.
"Upon later reflection, the best way to describe Steve's performance is that so seldom do we experience an honest person telling the truth in an articulate and passionate way.
"As a result of that encounter, we have asked Steve to spend three days on our campus as Bucknell Scholar in Residence. In that capacity, he will be a guest lecturer in a number of different classes. He is scheduled to give an assembly in the local high school, a grand-rounds presentation at our local teaching hospital, and a public performance for our campus community.
"Speaking as one who is continually in search of enlightening and uniquely educational experiences for the contemporary college student, Steve Schalchlin delivers in a meaningful and honest way.
D. W. Stechschulte, Jr. M.D.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837
So, Bucknell is the kick-off of my February tour. I'm being careful with this cold because I want it TOTALLY GONE by the time I start because I've set up a potentially brutal set of appearances.
The first person to write with the answer to the TLS trivia Question was K. (I'm not going to say her name until I ask her if it's okay. I didn't know it was a contest until just this minute -- hmmmm, now must I think up a prize??). THE QUESTION: Which star of a current huge Broadway show was in a theatre writing class with yours truly (and Jim Brochu and Marie Cain). ANSWER: Brian Stokes Mitchell.K. said: The Rent e-mail list that I'm on...discusses Brian Stokes Mitchell quite frequently - C. and S. C. (who was at TLS with us November 8) have been raving about him since this summer. I mean, really raving. Really, honestly, super-raving. So T. posted that diary entry to our list, wondering if it was Stokes, and I was the only one who remembered the 'other' entries about him...Shawn Decker wants to come join me when I'm at Penn State. Wouldn't that be cool? The Original Positoid Duo! (but always including Positoid Pal, Luke, down in Australia). Happy Birthday, Mariana. The two lovers -- darlings of MTV! -- are being threatened with visa problems again, so keep your fingers crossed.
Well, it seems the forces of show business are finally beginning to turn up at TLS. Major record labels are starting to show up, big time producers from places like Lincoln Center, and bookers from some of the major talk shows. Suddenly, this week everyone is discovering the little show that could. And, yes, there are no guarantees that any of them will "get it," but that's something I cannot control. In order to move to another theater after March, we need a groundswell of support!
BINKY LEAVING FEB. 7:
Stephen Bienskie has now been offered a lead role in THE FIX, a new musical by the creators of ZOMBIE PROM, which has a limited engagement in DC. With a totally broken heart, he spoke to Jimmy and me about it because he does NOT want to leave TLS, but this is a great opportunity for him -- it's produced by Cameron MacKintosh, for god's sake. And since we absolutely MUST vacate the 47th Street Theatre by March 1, we (regretfully) encouraged him to take care of his career. We hope to have him back by the time we (hopefully) transfer to a new theatre (if we do), but until then, if you love Stephen's performance as "Buddy," you should book your tickets now to catch his last performances.
TLS IN LONDON:
The man who owns a store called "Dress Circle" on London's West End is now stocking the cast album, so now all you Londoners can get in on the action!
I had a huge coughing fit this morning -- and one later this evening. It happens if I don't lie at exactly the right angle. *groan* FUTURE HISTORIANS TAKE NOTE: The flus of 1997-98 consist of one strain that lasts for a day or two and another strain that lingers for weeks and weeks. I've been getting letters from people all over who are experiencing the exact same thing I am. It's probably a little more severe in someone like me with a weakened immune system, but I swear I'm being a very good boy.
Friday-Saturday, January 16-17, 1998
Steve Schalchlin Is Not Dead.Even though Billboard Magazine this past week stated I was dead -- and even though my CD, when played backwards, says, "Gideon is dead man," and even though I've not been seen in the streets for three weeks taking care of this flu, I would like to state for the record:
Steve Schalchlin is not dead.
He hangs onto life by the barest of threads, but he is not dead. Or rather, I am not dead. I hope no one is upset with this news.
When I found out, though, the week had almost passed. No one, NOT ONE PERSON in my circle of friends bothered to tell me about this momentous occasion until K.C. spilled the beans. I have tried to find out why this information was kept from me -- especially since I know they know me well enough to know how much I would LOVE to have known about it IMMEDIATELY, and how much fun I would have had with this knowledge -- but when I ask them about it, they just kinda shrug as if they're hiding something. Hmmm. Maybe I really am dead?
ANYHOO, Saturday morning, I buzzed down to the newsstand, only to find that the new issue with a retraction was already in. So, I begged the guy behind the counter to go in the back and find me one from last week. He did. I got it. And there it is -- in the story announcing Nik Venet's death. Oh. Well, now I'm a bit ashamed. This isn't about me. It's about Nik. Okay. I got it. I'll shut up.
(They said one of Nik's last projects was The Last Session, a musical about "...the life and death of Steve Schalchlin...".) Apparently, they misread the press release which said TLS was about "...the life and death STRUGGLES of Steve Schalchlin...". An honest mistake, but just knowing Nik is gone somehow takes all the fun out of it.
I made a brief appearance Friday night at a more "family" type memorial gathering for Nik at a private home. Since I still was coughing, I sat kinda in the corner and talked to Michael Silversher and Marie Cain. I reminded Michael that he has to write a musical and put my name on it. :) Marie and I talked more seriously about our gestating new show. This, by the way, is not a formal announcement of a project.
It's more like she and I are kind of getting obsessed with an idea and, like TLS, it's a life and death issue. We have been friends and compadres for quite a few years. When I was at NAS, she was a Gold Member sitting on a Songwriter Action Committee. We were trying to get MTV to put songwriter credits at the end of their videos. (We failed. They ignored us. Couldn't care less. Screw the songwriter.)
And when we collaborated on "Friendly Fire," it was like a spark was ignited between us. We just see so many things the same way. She had been through a terrible bout of food poisoning some years back that debilitated her for several years. Trouble is, they couldn't diagnose it and many of them told her it was all in her head. Meanwhile, she was all but dying. When they finally figured it out, it was after more "Friendly Fire" hospital tests than I even want to think about.
Many people have remarked on the brilliance of that number and I can tell you that, exept for Jimmy's dialogues between the soldier and the surgeon general, it's ALL MARIE. She's one of the most brilliant lyricists alive. What's amazing is how she was able to bring fantastic wit coupled with scansion and rhyme but not lose one inch of heart.
I believe when I invited Marie over to talk about it, I had just written "Somebody's Friend," which is, with "Going It Alone," the most critically acclaimed song in the show. It's certainly the angriest and most fantastickal lyric of mine. I told her, "I need a song about how the medications are worse than the disease and it should be a war number."
She actually delivered way more material than we ended up using. She had actually envisioned a whole "Bob Hope USO Tour" looking number complete with bad jokes ala Bob Hope, an almost "Follies" round of numbers with "Monday's Girls Take AZT" fantasy and a "These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things" take-off with one of the girls singing like Julie Andrews. We did it in the early readings and trimmed along the way until it became this focused laser beam of a number. It would be fun sometime, though, to do the whole original number in a cabaret setting or something. Just thinking out loud.
there's a big picture of David Robyn's "Learn How To Fall" CD in this week's Music Connection Magazine -- in Tom Kidd's "SHOW BIZ" column -- and the copy reads:"...Local boy Dave Robyn has signed with Bob-A-Lew Music Publishing thanks to talent scout, and artist in his own right, Steve Schalchlin...the New Jersey born singer and songwriter turns in a fine collection of gravelly-voiced gritty pop songs that deal with heavy subjects, among them the loss of his mother at an early age and his sister's addiction to heroin. Robyn touches on the territory Sprintgsteen abandoned when he got all depressed, turning out a danceable set of Midwest boogie..."i.e. I told Dave that it's okay to get heavy but to never forget how much fun it is to play with a band. If you don't have fun playing rock and roll, you lose one of its most potent characteristics.
Music industry "common knowledge," by the way, says Springsteen-esque music is "old." It isn't what these crazy kids today are looking for. They told me the same thing about "confessional" music six years ago when we started the Acoustic Underground and now it's all over the radio. Dave and I are basically going completely our own way and everyone is saying how no one will sign this and we're doomed to obscurity. Fine.
Brad Parker, noted hotheaded songwriter/activist, once said what artists have to do is gather in their own corner, start having fun, and making everyone else strain their necks to find out what's going on in there.
It's fun to be seen as a talent scout, but I'm really just emulating Nik. He reached in and made you think. When I first met Dave Robyn, he presented me with a CD of nicely written pop songs. Professional. Melodic. But generic. We talked about it, we argued, we even fought a little, but eventually he'll tell you I stood back, put my finger in his face and said (quoting from a movie I had just seen) the ultimate insult you can give to a writer:
"YOU HAVE NO POINT OF VIEW."
Well, that shut him up. I asked him why he was even singing in the first place, what was it he was trying to say or do. And as he talked, he suddenly just starting spilling his guts out, weeping like a baby. There was so much pain. And he's so real; heartbreaking, like seeing a farmer cry. But the turning point came when he began telling me a story about his sister and his mother, so I said the obvious:
"Well, then, why don't you write a song about that? *That's* the story." And a week later he brought his guitar into the office at Bob-A-Lew, sat down and played me the song, "This Ain't Good."
This time, it was me crying.
Billboard ran the retraction this week and here's what it says:FOR THE RECORD:Hey, I wonder who wrote that musical based on my battle with HIV? Sounds good! Here's a letter I just got:
Steve Schalchlin, the singer/songwriter whose ongoing battle with HIV was the inspiration for the off-Broadway musical "The Last Session," continues to work in the music industry. Incorrect information apppeared in an obituary of Nik Venet in the Jan. 17 issue of Billboard."I have been enjoying reading your diary each day. Today, however, there was an entry (which is actually from Wednesday) that touched close to home... when you talk of the minefield that you and Jimmy walked into with TLS. I too came from a small town and a very conservative family - but we were Catholic, so the guilt ran so deep that it took years (I mean years) to crumble.See? Truth. It kinda sorta sets you free.
I don't see the play as just gay at all. I see it more as reality, especially when you take the songs apart and let your Self listen to the words. I am seeing it tonight for the third time with another group of six friends...I am taking five more on Tuesday evening.
ODDS AND ENDS
This is a link to THE FIX written by the evil Dana P. Rowe and John Dempsey. They're the ones taking Binky away from us. And I want to announce that THE FIX has been nominated for four Olivier Awards -- that's the British "Tonys" -- including one for Best Musical. Good luck Dana and John! (and may you roast in hell...).
Sunday-Tuesday, January 18-20, 1998
Knowing the Score.John Kroner is in town. He's the Musical Director for The Last Session. He called and said he had something for me.
Meet him at 2.
Santa Monica Blvd.
I was running a bit late, though, because I was trying to pay my ISP bill but didn't have an envelope. Then I got all the way down to the car to realize I didn't have my wallet. Then I turned the wrong way on Santa Monica Blvd. but finally I got there. I burst through the door and there sat John Kroner holding the first, official, fully printed out score to The Last Session.
The whole score.
It was beautiful. He had taken it to a Kinko's and bound it in black comb spine and clear plastic. There was my name. There was Jimmy's name -- and Marie's and John's just below. There was a songlist and all the incidental music.
I have to tell you that seeing it all together: It makes it all real. Now, at last, someone can sit down and play this show. It's all there. Even "Shades of Blue" is in there, and Bob's intro to "The Preacher and the Nurse," which he improvised and then wrote during our rehearsal process.
Very soon, Sam French will print this out into big books and theatres all over the country can perform the show and sing the songs. And they'll send me money. And I'll want to see every performance.
I told Carl once, I wonder if it would be crazy to get, say, a drama department of a school to get four of their acting/singing students to learn the parts for Vicki, Tryshia, Buddy and Jim -- and then I come in and we do a staged reading together at their school with me reading and singing Gideon. That would be so hot. Then it wouldn't matter that I'm a lousy actor (a fact that Jimmy is always happy to remind me of) .
Speaking of personal appearances, I've finalized my plans now to sing at Locust Valley High School in Long Beach, NY. I'm so excited. I told someone the other day that, except for writing, the thing I want to do most in the world is to sing for young people and remind them that they are loved and that they are beautiful.
I had a wonderful time on Saturday and I forgot to tell you about it. I got to talk on the radio. I had one coughing fit in the middle of it and a few other little coughs, but it went really well and I can't wait to hear the edited piece. (The flu is still lingering a bit, but my coughing is way, way better. Thanks for the lovely emails by the way. I might say this every single day, but it's my mantra: Get strong for the road. Stay in. Sleep a lot. Take no chances. )THE SHOW: IMRU on Los Angeles Public Radio station KPFK. Sunday night, January 25 at 6pm. The program schedule for KPFK is on the net.A GREAT STORY: One of my doctors asked me for a copy of the cast album because (he said) he knew some people out here who put money into shows. So, I gave him a CD. Weeks passed. Each time, he'd say, "Well, I haven't listened to it yet, but I'm meeting my friends this weekend." Finally, he said to me he had listened to the music. He tenderly told me that he liked the songs very much, but that his friends felt there were two potential weaknesses:
Would this show have a wide audience base? (I quickly responded that we are mighty just too beloved across all demographics.) Then he asked, "Would this show be depressing or uplifting?" I laughed and asked him if tear-stained faces of sheer joy was uplifting enough for him, and told him Jimmy wrote this amazingly funny and touching script. He looked kinda dumbstruck for a moment and then said, "It has dialogue?"
I burst out laughing. I guess he saw me as some yokel kid dreamer -- there are staggering numbers of these in the El Lay Territory. It's okay. I AM a yokel kid dreamer, thank god.
Thursday-Saturday, January 22-24, 1998
Ship Of Tools.Today, I want to make a declaration. I've been thinking this over long and hard, which is why you haven't heard from me in a few days. It's not going to be easy, frankly, because the declaration is one in which I will make a commitment to do good works. You may say to yourself, what's the big deal on that? How can that be complicated? Well, for one thing, once someone declares he wants to dedicate his life to something "good," he sets himself up for a scrutiny others might not have to endure. I will deal with that as it comes. The second reason this is complicated is because there are others in a similar position to me who might see my own commitment as a call for them to do the same. In other words, they might see what I'm wish to do as a guilt-trip I'm laying on them.
So, let me state something here and now: The words I am about to say come from my own personal feelings. They are not meant for anyone else and though I feel a moral obligation to do what I'm going to describe, it's MY moral obligation, not anyone else's. I call it:
THE LAZARUS OBLIGATION
BACKGROUND: I am a man who has gone to the brink of death three times because of AIDS. The last time was about as close as you can get without actually expiring. But I am doing well now and have been rescued by the advent of the new drugs which have saved my life. I'm not exactly an olympic swimmer, but I function and if I am careful and cautious about not overdoing it, the possibilities of living a good life from this point on are as good as one can hope for given all the things we DON'T know about AIDS and HIV medications.
BUT, there are way too many people (like my buddies Shawn Decker and Luke Chipperfield among others) for whom the drugs either do not work or are intolerable to their systems. One man I know said it's like standing on the dock watching the party ship pull away.
What my activist friend, Dick, told me -- to my shocked reaction -- is that many "lazarus" people are now using their new health to go underground again. They supported and fought for new drugs, new housing, new help, etc. while they were themselves facing grim prospects, but suddenly, they're okay again, so off they go fading into the woodwork. Dick, who also is struggling without help from the new drugs, feels shattered that people could so easily abandon their brothers and sisters who must continue a daily struggle for survival.SO HERE'S MY COMMITMENT:The AIDS Service Organizations -- the ones that fed me, helped me with my rent, helped me find legal and financial assistance -- all of these places that have contributed to my being alive right now are facing cutbacks and reduced income because people perceive the AIDS crisis as being "over."
I vow to NOT abandon my community. I vow to do whatever I can to make sure those "left behind" will get equal or better care than I did. I will make it my PERSONAL responsibility to remember and care and fight. How? Well, let's look at the circumstances...
But I know better than that. As people live longer, their needs become greater. People sometimes act shocked when I tell them that Jimmy and I stood in line for food, that I stood in line with hookers and hustlers to get medical care, that I am sitting on a mountain of debt I don't even know where to begin to pay off -- people cannot fathom that a "normal" guy like me would have needed these services, but I am here to tell you that that's exactly what we went through in the long years before I began keeping this diary.
AIDS strips you of your dignity, reduces your competence to work, robs you of resources and peels away your food, clothing, shelter and possessions until you suddenly find yourself helplessly begging for rent money, bill money and vital medications. This is what it does.
I know because that was my life.
I don't tell you stories about food lines in order to get your sympathy, by the way. I'm trying to make the point that "...there but for the grace of God go I."
One of the things Nik Venet wanted to say in his original design of the cast album is that Steve S. is the boy next door. My story could be anybody's story. Good kid, raised in a wonderful Christian home by loving parents, leans to play piano and sing, goes out on his own, but then, years later, struggles near death for three torturous years where, at any moment, it could have all been over.
It's easy to categorize "the poor" as something other than us. It's easy to look at someone with his hand out and make fun of them like Rush Limbaugh does -- and hold the position that they brought it all on themselves. I have an answer for that: "Either you love or you don't. Either you will or you won't..." You can't make people care.
But, unless and until I make a lot of money, there is one thing I can do. I can set an example. There was an old song called "Love Is Something You Do." Love is action. It is putting your hands in the dirt and planting the seeds, watering them, and the nurturing them. Love is in the doing, even if it's just writing a check or delivering food or making a phone call to someone who really needs to hear your voice.
I am only one man but as long as I'm alive, I will consider it my duty to care for those in my community who need help. Right now, the way I do this is by being faithful to this diary and by making personal appearances where I am needed. It's not all I can do, but it's a start.
Remember those old western movies where one person saves another person's life and then that person who was saved feels he must become a servant to the other? That's kind of how I feel. I owe my life to the people and the society who saved me, and I owe it to those who struggle like I did to make sure my life is not just a party on the ship pulling away from the dry dock of HIV.
Sunday-Monday, January 25-26, 1998
A Little Down.I was a very unhappy puppy this morning. Just having one of those days where all the weight of the world seems to have decided to take a seat on my shoulders. I reviewed my diary pages over the last week or so and I see now why this diary seems to be nothing but a big self-promotional tool. I'm kind of embarrassed about them, to tell you the truth.
From my perspective, I feel more like a kid trying to prove himself when the teacher and the principal and everyone else has given up. That's why I get on these "look at me-look at me" jags, reprinting letters and trying to show "everyone" how effective my songs and my show is. Last week, my friend Mitch stopped me mid-sentence and said, "Steve, you don't have to sell me anymore. I'm a believer."
Okay. I'll tell you why I'm a bit down. Ken Mandelbaum, who is a very influential writer reviewed our cast album recently and though he said he valued TLS for it's "...therapeutic and political value..." didn't really think that much of it as "theatre." He further described my songs as "...personal, simple, relatively artless and sometimes attractive."
My friend Peggy laughed at me when I read this to her. I think I needed the laugh. My other friend Dana Rowe said, "I've been sliced up and left for dead by critics on two continents." In other words, it will pass.
I suppose. But writers and artists always believe, inherently, that they are frauds. There is something inside of us (and maybe in everyone) that no matter how many people tell you something you've done is good, you have this weird feeling inside that you merely fooled them and soon, somebody is going to call you on it and show them they are wrong. I think much of my own self-promotion and rah rah stuff is me trying to convince myself!
While I was pondering Ken's dismissive review, Jimmy sent me this from the Bergen County Record, one of New Jersey's most influential newspapers. They listed the top 10 theatrical events of 1997. Here they are:1. TitanicThat means they thought we were a more significant piece of theatre than most of the Broadway offerings, including Last Night At Ballyhoo which won the Tony for Best Play.
2. The Lion King
3. A Question of Mercy
4. The Last Session
6. London Assurance
7. The Gin Game
8. Jekyll and Hyde
9. The Last Night At Ballyhoo
It's maddening to be thrown back and forth between these highs and lows.
Meanwhile -- like a jolt of strong java -- my friend Dickie described to me a meeting between AIDS treatment specialists and patients for whom the drugs don't work. He said it was very frustrating because what can anyone say? Hang on? Keep it up? There are exciting new drugs coming down the pike but they're a year, two years, three years away.
He said it reminded him of back when the AIDS crisis began. Doctors who don't really have answers trying to comfort people whose only future seems to be hospitals and death. There was anger and passion and hurt throughout the room. But what can you say? What can anyone say?
I needed to hear all this if for nothing else than to just help me keep some perspective. How easy it is to get side-tracked by one's own little problems while others are fighting for their own lives. As I prepare for my little tour, it becomes more and more vital that I remind people -- especially young people -- that AIDS has not been cured. Reports show that some young people are acting as if it were, letting down their guard. All I can say to them is this: You don't want AIDS. You just do not want it. Okay?
Tuesday, January 27, 1998
Rage. Fear. Rage. Fear.I'm trying to get a grip. I really and truly am. I probably need a therapist right now, but I can't afford that so you're it. I got a few new responses to my recent diary entries. One guy said I was being "solipsistic" to apologize for being self-promoting in a diary that self-promotes while posting the diary page in a public forum. Try to wrap your mind around that.
One close friend felt I was going overboard making the huge pronouncements about people I wouldn't abandon, things I wanted to accomplish, etc. Her advice: "Just do it." Yet another said, "Where do I sign up?"
Another close friend said, "It is not only artists and writers who feel [they'll be] discovered a fraud. It is an inherent part of being human. It's the part we call fear. The fear of being disqualified...Our attempt as humans to make a difference or perhaps more importantly, be regarded as a representative of difference, is a common goal. When we feel/fear that we are not being noticed for what we are doing, or for who we are, we sometimes lash out...Or, as you said - find ourselves reminding others of our actions in order to remind ourselves that we are making a difference, that we are of value. It's an interesting internal conversation... One that I think leads us all too often into madness. You are brave to notice it and braver still to share it out loud."
Brave? I feel like a fool! Madness, huh? I *have* been acting a bit erratically. I nearly bit a woman's head off at the post office today about a package I keep trying to mail that keeps coming back to me.
I'd like to blame it on the testosterone and the steroids they've been giving me. Yes! Steroid Rage!! I'm only doing them one more week and then that's it for me. I got some bulk, which is why we were doing it in the first place. If I hadn't gotten the flu I'd probably be ten pounds heavier, but I still have time to really eat like Hoover.
Good news is my cough is completely gone at last. A little residual throat scratch, but that's also going away. I leave here a week from Sunday for my great Bonus Round Adventure. I can't wait. I'm so ready to be in front of people again. Maybe that's it. Been too long since I rock and rolled.
In response to the comment that my songs are: "...personal, simple, relatively artless and sometimes attractive, My pal Matt wrote: "Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Now, apply that relatively artless phrase to an actual human and ask yourself if you'd like to meet him."
And Karen Horn wrote, " Jimmy Brennan once told me it was hard for him to learn not to read the reviews, but he learned to do it. He said: "The bad ones are never helpful, and the good ones are never good enough."
Jimmy left this message in the TLS Chat Room:
Just got a mention from the great Sheridan Morley, Theatre critic for the London Times in The London Spectator: "Off-Broadway, The Last Session is a curious and courageous account of a rock singer turned composer who, dying of AIDS, assembles his ex-wives for one last recording session before he takes his own life: what might easily have become mawkish or macabre is turned, in Steve Schalchlin's musical, to an oddly hilarious plot in which the sudden arrival of a born-again Baptist, torn between God and his recording career, suggests a good bet over here for Dan Crawford's King's Head (Theatre), always assuming that we can keep it alive."
London. I'd love to go to London. Hey! Sheridan! You didn't find my songs relatively artless? What's wrong with you?
I wrote my friend Kerry telling her how "lost" I've been and how I'd like for her to write the diary for me while I just live it. So, here's my diary for the next year as composed by Kerry:Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu were elegant receptionists of their many Tony awards last night...That's perfect. Now I'll just go live it. Thanks Kerry for reminding me to dream again.
MGM buys movie rights to TLS for 6.2 Billion dollars.
An anonymous donor today gave 5.2 Billion dollars to the AIDS foundation.
"One Man's Tour touches Millions" today on Rosie.
SteveS wins 40 & up group in the NY marathon after new HIV gene therapy cured him of HIV
Pigs A Sanctuary welcomes the man who touches pigs through music.
#8 with a bullet, SteveS has mega platinum on his hands.
Barbara Walters interviews "At home with SteveS and Thurber"
Wednesday, January 28, 1998
I Can't Do It.[I cannot post today's diary page. I spent a lot of time on it, but it's too personal. I'll post it sometime in the future, probably. There are just some things I'm not ready to reveal yet. Please forgive me.]
Thursday, January 29, 1998
Showers of Dressings.I've never been to a wedding shower before. The invitation said this shower was being put on by "The Pampered Chef." We were to bring some money to give the bride and groom and they would buy nice kitchen items with it.
It was in West Hills, which is on the west side of the Valley, so I popped my new Creedence tape into the player, got onto the 101 and promptly got lost in the winding streets. Some kids hanging out in one of the neighborhoods kept taunting me as I passed them again and again.
At the party, there were about 12 of us. A woman who looked a bit like a June Cleaver as Soccor Mom gave us forms to fill out and tried to get us to come to order, but we mostly ignored her and talked amonst ourselves. Finally, someone shushed us and June began doing a cooking demostration while infinitely explaining every kitchen utensil and item she picked up.
I leaned over to Andrew the groom and said it was like being in the middle of an infomercial. After about ten minutes I looked around and ALL the men had vacated the room except for one very portly man who was himself a chef. And me.
Early on, June had us go around the room and introduce ourselves.When the got to me, I said, "Well, I'm the one who introduced them. Most heteros are completely clueless when it comes to the opposite sex and I knew they were right for each other. So... that's it." Cindi and Andrew. She, in her early 30s. Beautiful in a "normal" way -- not in the Pamela Anderson/Hollywood way -- and kinda glamorous. A singer. A now single mother who threw her husband (an actor) out of the house when he suddenly announced he wasn't in love with her anymore. Andrew: A lumberyard guy from Nebraska who is NOT an actor.
Now here in the El Lay Territory, young women are not looking for a guy who works in a lumber yard (even if he's in management). They are working on career advancement. I know this is cliche, but it's sadly true. So, here I am watching this stunningly beautiful man who hasn't an inch of "attitude" -- and who cannot BEAR the big-boobed blondes in this town.
And Cindi. I told one guy last night that Andrew was the first man she met in El Lay who thought she was prettier than he. In El Lay, the fight for who gets to use the mirror can be deadly. So, I knew if I introduced her to this hunky guy (with the most incredible blue eyes on the planet but didn't know it) -- a "man's man" -- she'd "get it." And she did.
It was December before last when I still writing the score for TLS. I told them both they were perfect for each other and I invited them to a special "concert" of my songs at Stan Freeman's house. They've been together ever since and he adores her child. I think I should start a hetero dating service.
And now they're getting married. *sigh*
(I didn't buy anything from June Cleaver, by the way. It was like $10 for a spatula. So, I gave them a cast album and said, "This is the music that brought you together and my wedding gift to you is each other. You're welcome."
Friday, January 30, 1998
Fear and Trembling.I'm excited about my trip to Cincinnati next month. It probably seems daft, but I'm touring the east coast and then flying to Cincinnati from New York City (and then back again to NY so I can catch our closing night at the end of the 47th Street run).
The reason this means so much to me is because I'm singing and assisting in a fundraiser for a local PFLAG group, the most vital and important grass roots organization in the United States. These are simple folks -- moms and dads and cousins, etc. -- who are united in their attempt to help each other understand what it means to have a gay kid, relative or friend -- and make the world a better place for these gay kids and gay friends.
It's fascinating being a part of the PFLAG (and Common Bond) mailing list(s). This past week, a mom who has been through hell and back got a note from a "dad" whose son committed suicide this past week (He found a note from this "mom" in his dead kid's wallet). The distraught dad had apparently "disowned" him for being gay when the son came out to him late last year.
The dad is now tormenting himself -- going through his son's things trying to piece it all together. In the dad's note, he confessed how he "let" his son be alone on Christmas, estranged from the family. And how the note left by the son basically said the he could not take the pain and hurt and isolation of being gay. The boy figured if this is how his own family -- the people who love him -- take the news, how will the rest of the world take it?
So now we have a grieving, heartbroken father and a dead kid who didn't need to be dead.
If you wonder why I do the things that I do; if you wonder why we went to such lengths to include this issue in The Last Session and why Jimmy and I went out of our way to emphasize why it's worth it to fight for life, look no further.
A preacher friend of mine in East Texas; a man with whom I shared a long friendship has told me that as long as I refuse to "repent" of being who I am -- as long as I continue to be an "abomination in the sight of the Lord" -- he will never allow me to darken his door or sit to eat with him and his family.
He tells me if I would only do this repenting and go back home to East Texas, he could cure me of AIDS and help me find Jesus again. To him, HIV is simply a manifestation of my own sinful life. So, he no doubt tells his own son this. I can only hope his own son does not turn out to be gay. (By the way, his son was born on my birthday, a fact that caused no small anguish in that household.)
As long as young people are fed these lies; as long as this corrupt interpretation of the Bible continues to darken and blind churches and parents, there will be dead kids. As far as I'm concerned, every single church in this country should house a PFLAG Chapter.
There are plenty of sins in this world and plenty of things that we all probably should repent of. But the people who make dead kids happen in the name of God; who insist on perpetuating the myth that being gay is a "sin" -- they should tremble and weep and beg God for forgiveness every single night of their lives.
What an absolutely pathetic waste.
Saturday, January 31, 1998
FLASH ANNOUNCEMENT & Answers.FLASH ANNOUNCMENT! I'll be singing a concert in Brea, California THIS THURSDAY, Feb. 5th -- Border's Books and Music, 429 S. Associated Road, Brea, Ca Thursday Feb .5 1998 at 8 PM -- Corner of 57 Freeway and Imperial Highway in the Mall. My pal Jannel will go on at 8pm and I'll follow at 8:30. It's a warm-up for the Bonus Round Tour!!
This was a last minute booking and the only way I have to publicize it is here in the diary, so if you know someone in Southern California, tell them Shack is on the way!
I just got this note from my cyberpal Pat who lives in Canada:Steve, this is a riot - I'm a Pampered Chef consultant and I can't imagine you at a P. Chef show - and the spatula is not $10.00 - the mini-serving spatula is $5.00 here in Canada.Now, Pat, I'll have you know that I'm teaching myself how to cook and I'm doing a very nice job of it. I have my fabled Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich. Then there's my stir-fry dish which I make very piquantly, and then there's my spaghetti with tomato sauce (to make this one special, I learned to sautee an onion -- there is no end to the thrills in my kitchen). As for the Pampered Chef items, I wanted every single one of them. I confess that even though I was making fun of June Cleaver, my mind was thinking, "oooo, a cooking stone... ooooo, a wok... ooooo, I love that knife thing and that..." Well, I was totally vulnerable but even though my financial situation is not as bleek as it had been, it was all a little too out of my range, yet.
I've been doing this as a "hobby" since October of 1996 and I love it; so far I've done 42 shows and the products sell themselves. Obviously, you're not a cook!!!
Also, I found out one of the "guys" who ditched the party when the infomercial started was the president of one of the Disney movie production companies. Why do I always find these things out after the fact?
By the way, I'm hearing more and more rumors about things that might be happening to TLS after we close in February. Some VERY exciting things but I can't talk about them yet because that's the best way to kill a prospective production -- talking about it before it's time.
But I can tell you this: There is a strong chance we could re-open in New York this year. Aside from what it will take on the part of the producers, etc., what will actually TRULY make it happen is for the fans of TLS to raise their voices in a loud chorus. Already, I'm getting letters from young people who want to become "TLS Groupies." And I'm getting letters from older people who feel the show has a vital message that needs to be heard by one and all.
That kinda means it's up to you.
All I'm saying here is that February need not be the end of TLS. Also, for you Stephen Bienskie fans, if we re-open, he will be right back with us. THE FIX is set for a limited run in DC, but he wants the fans to know that he is firmly committed to the character of Buddy and if everything falls into place, his contract states that he has first "dibs" on coming back. Now, how's that for good news?
I'm explaining this because some fans thought he was finished and moving on. Absolutely not. He was torn up inside and would have stayed if we had insisted. But Jimmy, knowing The Fix was something that would be great for his career felt it would have been a selfish move on our part to hold him back, so Jimmy told him (jokingly and lovingly), "If you don't go, I'll fire you." The only thing Binky asked of us was the right to come back and "be" Buddy again if we reopen in June.
One more thing: I'm hearing behind the scenes that there some journalists and fan sites are beginning to beat the drum for Binky and the others for the upcoming OBIE Awards, which are the "Tonys" for Off-Broadway. The Village Voice has already named "Going It Alone" as the best AIDS-related song in the last 15 years and another NY paper called TLS the best off-Broadway musical in years, so we have as good a chance as anyone.
I suspect if we garner a few OBIES this could really stir up the attention we have been craving from the "big media." Remember, the show won't open unless people WANT us to reopen.
SO WHO'S GOING TO PLAY BUDDY?? All of us are very excited about Will Gartshore, our new Buddy. He's been Stephen's understudy from day one and I suspect he will soon be fighting off his own group of raving fans. Jimmy and I knew from the first words out of Will's mouth when he auditioned that he would be a fantastic Buddy. He's different from Binky, but he's got great heart and a beautiful voice -- and he's a great actor. I suspect he's going to give Binky a run for his money when it all comes down to it.
Hey! Imagine that! A "Buddy-Off" in Times Square!!
© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin