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Tuesday, July 1, 1997
The Sandbox on the Plane.I was now on my last J.D. Salinger book (he only wrote four). It was "Frannie and Zooey," and I was nearly finished with it. I had hoped to nurture it slowly and make it last until we arrived in El Lay, but I am completely incapable of reading slowly when something excites me, so I was nearly finished with the book before we even took off. Hell, I was reading it in the car on the way out to the airport. That shows you how much self-restraint I have.
Still, I wanted to preserve just a little of it, so while were still on the ground, I put the book into my backpack and sat observing the beautiful young female flight attendant who was working the aisles. She was either Indian or African American or both. But she was a knock-out and she had a magnificent smile. The rumpled yuppie guy with curlie blond hair sitting next to me was reading "The Stand," -- obviously straight -- so I knew he wouldn't be any good for conversation (and sure enough he said not one word to me the whole trip).
We finally took off and I was already bored, but I had very little in the way of entertainment. Still, I had some clean pages in my yellow pad, so I knew if there was nothing to distract me, I could always just write a song.
(empty page = playground; sandbox.)
The map on the monitor on the wall ahead of me said we were barely over Jersey and my mind was restless and needing activity so, like a parched man in the desert trying to horde the last bit of water in his canteen, I picked up "Frannie & Zooie," lapped a few pages and then put it down, screwing the lid on tightly. But, then the hot sun of boredom overtook me and before we even crossed the Appalachians, I was down to my last few drops.
Since this was the last of his four books for me to read, I desperately wanted it to last, but also I wanted a conclusion. I needed him to tie up a loose end or make a statement. The maddening thing about Mr. S. is that he might or he might not. Some of his writings just end (or else I was too blind to see the point). Anyway, with no oasis in sight, I finally picked up the precious container and spilled the last few drops -- and then, there it was. He said something about shiny shoes and a fat lady and immediately, as if a summer shower had appeared from nowhere, I found myself drowning in the flood of a new song.
Of course, I had no pen. So, unwilling to disturb the sleeping Stephen King person next to me, I asked the beautiful flight attendant for something to write with. She graciously gave me a glow-in-the-dark tri-colored pen. I picked up my playground and built a most incredible new castle there in the yellow sand of that legal pad.
Just as I finished, they announced that the movie for today would be "The Beautician and the Beast." Well, you just don't do better than that, do you? Before the flight was over I had dashed off a couple more lyrics (incomplete but promising), and even managed to share a cab with a lesbian book author on her way to West Hollywood. Naturally, being a favorite of lesbians everywhere, I was surprised she hadn't heard of me, but since I hadn't heard of her, we were even.
I got home to a ecstatic Thurber the Cat, who seduced me onto the bed where we rolled around and played with each other until I remembered I had a new song in my bag. I raced to the piano, put the words in front of me, took a deep breath and, (I started to say, like Moses -- or was it Abraham? -- striking the rock since my metaphors are getting way out of hand), the words brought forth music and I sat holding my newly born baby, loving even its crooked nose and bald head. Oh, it will grow up and become a mature song some day, but nothing is ever quite like the day it comes from the wound.I sing for the fat lady in the third rowOf course, no lyrics of mine ever matched the ones quoted in "The Beautician and The Beast" where the junior high school kid wrote a musical adaptation of "Rosemary's Baby:"
Who never quite fits anywhere she might go'cause the seats are too smallAnd she thinks no one cares
and her shoes are too small
If she sits there at all"I love you Ro / Don't keep me waitin'"Babies and fat ladies, evangelists and day-glo pens. Who says there is no God?
This embryo / Belongs to Satan."
Wednesday, July 2, 1997
Home Alone.PEOPLE MAGAZINE!!
Look for me. It's official. I shall be in either this coming week's or the week after next's issue of People Magazine. The writer of the article said she found out about me from some "fact checker," came to this gloriously entertaining Survival Site, and that's all she needed! Who'd a thunk it? So, when does it become time for me to change the first paragraph of this diary page where it says I'm "unknown -- unfamous?"
This will be the test: The day you walk up to a total stranger on the street and say to them, "Hey, you ever heard of Steve Schalchlin?" And they say, "DO YOU KNOW *THE* STEVE SCHALCHLIN?" And you quietly get a smug look on your face and say, "Of course I do." Then you lean in closely and say, "I'm privvy to his personal diary..."
FAMOUS BREAKFAST SANDWICH:
I woke up about 7, took my Crix and then got out of bed. After an hour, it was time for my one great luxury: Steve's Famous Breakfast Sandwich.
I can only make this here because in NY, finding the correct ingredients is next to impossible in the glorified closets they call grocery stores. The key ingredient is big pieces of sourdough bread. The best kind readily available here is Pioneer brand because it is tough and crusty. Yummm...
Anyway, SFBS consists of two large pieces of Pioneer buttered sourdough bread, toasted. Stuffed between them is scrambled eggs, sausage, melted cheddar cheese & and served on the side are three has brown potato patties. I have this whole routine down of when to put the patties in the toaster, then the sausage and eggs into the microwave, etc.
It's absolutely divine.
And I know you're saying to yourself, "But isn't that fattening?" Well, yes, it is. But you see, when you have full-blown AIDS, gaining weight and keeping it on becomes a priority. I mean, look, if I have to have this stoopid virus, the least I can do is take advantage of the downside, right?
MY FIRST "REAL" DAY OFF:
I honestly did absolutely nothing consequential today (except for a few phone calls). I lounged around the house with Thurber, played the piano every once in awhile, went to see a matinee of "Men In Black," because they *DO* have discount matinees here (as opposed to Manhattan where they do NOT), cooked pasta for myself, slept more, played on the computer and then slept more. It was delicious.
I also worked more on a couple of new songs and played some old ones. The TV has not been on, the radio has not been on. The only sounds emanating from this apartment are Steve's Music and Thurber's loud calls for attention. I also visited the three little girls who live with their mom, the manager of this complex. They are all preteen, cute as buttons, and love to sneak up on Jim (because Jim jumps at everything).
Anyway, I promised to take them to see "Batman & Robin" sometime next week. Then we'll probably have a pretend tea party out in the yard. You should see Thurber is his top hat and tails. He's always the bell of the ball.
Thursday, July 3, 1997
Lock-In Day..Today, after doing a little business, I came home and locked the door, shut off the phone, shut off the TV and worked on music. Not much to write about. However, we now have snapshots from the production Currican/Playful Production!
Thursday, July 4 thru Sunday July 6, 1997
Independence Day.Here in the United States, this past weekend is a national holiday, so I took a few days off from writing in the diary. What I did mostly was sleep. I've been sleeping in so late and going to be so early. I think I finally just crashed from all the activity and excitement of New York. I couldn't even get up the energy to sit here and type up a diary page!
I don't mean to imply that I was debilitated in any way, just tired and sleeping a lot. No matter how much fun it is to pretend to be SuperBoy, I am constantly reminded by friends and family that I need to take care of myself. So, that's what I did over the weekend. I ate and slept and played with Thurber and the piano.
Monday, July 7, 1997
Getting Out And About.Such a strange feeling to actually be driving again. To get into my car and drive down these wide Southern California roads. The heat has been intense, but it's so dry here in this glorified desert, you barely feel it unless you are directly in the sun. It's a completely different feeling from the wet, mugginess of New York. And for this former asthmatic, the dryness is a welcome relief.
The first thing I checked was a newsstand to see if my People Magazine article had come out yet. But it hadn't. There was a big spread on Robert Mitchum, who just died and next issue will no doubt have an even bigger spread on Jimmy Stewart. So, maybe I'm getting bumped...
I've been cooking for myself, too. Trying to preserve every penny I can. I can cool for myself, kinda sorta. I do well boiling pasta and adding Prego. I can also make a mean chili, my own breakfast sandwich, cereal (no, I don't cook it), frozen pizza, frozen fish patties to make sandwiches, and... hm, I think there's more I know how to cook, but can't remember what. The main thing that happens is that I get to doing stuff here on the computer and forget what time it is. Then suddenly I got Thurber the Cat screaming at me and it's time to eat. So I go running into the kitchen to see what's immediately available.
Anyway, I've enjoyed getting back to my piano. Long ago (was it really so long ago? Two years ago, anyway), when I needed strength, just before I began writing the music for TLS, one of the first things I did was go over to the piano (Jimmy's piano, really), put my head against the wood, and just gently play come chords, allowing the sound to reverberate through my body. I spent a lot of time there that day and I remember that the very next day, how good I suddenly felt. As if the vibrations themselves performed some kind of act of healing. So, I've spent a lot of time playing and singing here alone.
Jimmy wrote me from NY and said the new changes in the script have been fantastic, especially Act Two. He told me that Michael Alden, one of the newer members of our production team, said, "Freeze it! It's perfect!!" Our team (now consisting of Carl D. White, Jamie Cesa, Jay Cardwell and Michael Alden) has been working overtime to attract investors, press people, and others, as well as record company people, film producers, HBO, and all the biggies who might find us an interesting project.
It feels weird to be away from the show. But, I'm enjoying the break and the chance to make some more music. I even had a crazy notion about what TLS 2 could be! (That's what I get for living in El Lay, the land of sequels...)
Tuesday, July 8, 1997
Updates on Jerry & The SHOW!Today I spoke to my pal, Jerry Gaither, who is going back into the hospital again this week for more surgery. Jerry doesn't have AIDS, like I do, but he is suffering from what seems to be a collapse of all his organs. He keeps hanging on and hanging on, wondering if the fight is even worth it. (I keep telling him that it is). You might recall that Jerry was the guy who went into a coma on the opening night of TLS and the only thing that saved his life was his neighbor pounding on the door because Jerry had set all his alarms to wake himself up when the show was to begin!
Anyway, Jerry was one of the first fans of our show back before it was even a show; back when it was just me on one of the local chatboards telling people about it! He's begun keeping a diary which he calls The Junior Bonus Round -- A Rip-Off of Steve Schalchlin's Survival Site! He said to me, though that he can't get himself to be as explicit about certain symptoms as I was this time last year and he thinks I was brave to be able to do so. I told him I'm not brave. I just got a big mouth.
MESSAGE FROM JIM!! (He's talking about some of the new changes to TLS and about the audience reactions -- Merck has been sending doctors and patients and their own people down to see it. They are proud that their drug, Crixivan, has kept me alive for all this, and they like that our show is about wanting to live...)GREAT show last night. The Merck people loved it. Funny thing about the opening scene. I cut it down to one monologue and it was terrific. Everyone is now questioning a new, new opening scene since this one seems to present the case very well. In Act two, when they find out about the suicide, Gideon now says the speech about being tired (pills, doctors, well-meaning people). It was shattering. The new Vicki scene -- where she is joking with Buddy -- was incredible last night. One lady in the audience even said something out loud which was hilarious and Binky "went." He had to turn completely upstage to keep people from seeing him laugh. It was truly hilarious. Carl the producer thought the new act two was gangbusters. I just heard snatches of Michael Gaylord's arrangement for the new number, "Singer and Song" and will hear the whole thing tonight at six. Mikey uses the word "Spectacular" a lot but in the case of the new arrangement, it's deserved. Gaylord went out of his way to make sure it captured the moment and has even incorporated bits of "One More Song" into it. It's going to take a few days to learn and proably won't go in until the weekend. HBO coming tonight. Are you keeping track of the bills? Going to Brooklyn to see the new place I'll be staying at.
Wednesday & Thursday, July 9 - 10, 1997
Hedda's Report & Theatre World's Best Plays!I got this note from a gossip columnist who looks a lot like a certain grayhaired playwright we all know:SYNDICATION: HEDDA PARSONS: INSIDE HOLLYWOODWhat Jimmy was saying was that a second producer of RENT came to see the show and so did the president of one of the world's largest and most successful record companies. And they both said they loved it. In fact, the record company's assistant came down the stairs at intermission and said to Jimmy and a friend standing there -- and she didn't know them at the time -- "Isn't this fabulous???"
Wednesday, July 9th. New York City
Well Hedda isn't in Hollywood today. Hedda's in the Big Apple looking to see what Broadway has got that Hollywood needs. Seems that the production that's perking the most perculation isn't on Broadway. It's near Seventh Avenue and Twenty-Ninth Street in the heart of the fashion district, or to be more precise - the FUR district!
Hedda was headed to the latest Broadway hit when she made a couple of calls - the first one was to my old friend K.M. who produced the big hit and Tony award winner RENT. He said he couldn't go to the theatre with me because he was seeing a small off-off-Broadway production called "The Last Session." Did I want to go? Off-Off-Broadway? Thanks, but no thanks.
So I called my backup, a very important record potentate (J.I.) with mega-clients and mega-hits, and he wasn't available either. He had heard about an off-Broadway show called "The Last Session" and was off to see it that evening.
Well, besides the thought of having two men fighting over the check for me, I thought I should see it for myself. So I did. All I know is that after the performance, the buzz in the lobby was "Hit. Hit. Hit."
I had a chance to talk to the tall, distinguished handsome playwright, Jim Brochu, a very charismatic figure. He says he and everyone else in the show owe it all to Steve Schalchlin. So from Hedda in New York to Steve in Hollywood - your show is swell.
BEST PLAYS OF THE YEAR!:
The letter came to the Currican Theatre today -- THE LAST SESSION has been named by THEATRE WORLD as one of the best plays of the season.
What all this means -- whether or not we get these big shots on our team or not -- is that word of mouth in the theatre community is spreading and it's all positive. I told you before how difficult it has been for the Currican to advertise or get publicity because of their small size and budget (and the fact that we opened right during the height of theatre season where all the attention was on the big boys).
Oddly, all that might have been in our favor because it allowed us time to hide from the big spotlight while we did our revisions on the book and the music, testing everything in front of those tough New York crowds. And now that we've been running over eight weeks, it's quite a feather in our cap to even *say* we've been running in New York for eight weeks.
Now, with a new streamlined show with infinitely funnier and more real dialogue and characters (not to mention one more song which is also a huge improvement over the previous one), the show these people are now seeing is a gigantic improvement over the one they might have seen if we were only just now opening.
The RENT producer asked Jimmy after the show, "How long have you been working on this piece?" (...bearing in mind that RENT took 7 or 8 years to get to the point where it is now) Jimmy answered him, "Since November a year ago." Jimmy reported the man's reaction to be one of astonishment.
Friday, July 11, 1997
A Review In Drama-Logue.Here are a few tidbits from the new review of TLS which came out today in the "New York New York" section of "Drama-Logue."...and lest anyone forget, the "stunning lyrics" on Friendly Fire were by the stunningly talented Marie Cain. In fact, Marie and I are getting together next week to see if we can concoct some more stunning music.
The Last Session
by Scott & Barbara Siegel
[First they describe the plot -- about Gideon secretly deciding to commit suicide after gathering his old band mates for one last recording session...]
"...What this show is really about is the music and lyrics of Steve Schalchlin. It's about the act of creation in the face of death, the spark of art that spits in the devil's eye.
"At its heart, this is a true story, the music and lyrics coming from the soul of Steve Schalchlin who nearly died of AIDS a year ago but who is still among the living -- and the writing. Among the songs that make this show worthwhile are "Somebody's Friend," "At Least I Know What's Killing Me," and "Going It Alone." But The Last Session suddenly goes into musical hyper-space with a dream sequence number called "Friendly Fire" that is stunningly written, performed and directed. Complete with the voice of John Wayne and bitingly satiric lyrics about how Gideon's diseased body is attacking itself, the production number is musical theater at its most provocatively entertaining. The cast is led by the impressively talented Bob Stillman who not only sings with feeling, he also plays the keyboard with a heartfelt expressiveness. Dean Bradshaw grounds the play with his natural performance as the studio engineer...
"Mike Wills shows what he is capable of doing as a director with the "Friendly Fire" number and that bodes well for his future. Set designer Eric Lowell Renschler created a credible recording studio, and Michael Gottlieb's lighting design was especially effective in creating mood and meaning."
THE PULL QUOTES GAME!
Now, it's time for the PULL QUOTES game where we take quotes from the review for use in ads and sales campaigns. Let's see...
"[The Last Session] ...goes into musical hyperspace...stunningly written, performed and directed...musical theatre at its most provocatively entertaining..." Scott & Barbara Siegel, Drama-Logue
"...the act of creation in the face of death, the spark of art that spits in the devil's eye..." Scott & Barbara Siegel, Drama-Logue
"...led by the impressively talented Bob Stillman who not only sings with feeling, [but] plays the keyboard with a heartfelt expressiveness..." Scott & Barbara Siegel, Drama-Logue
"...Michael Gottlieb's lighting design was especially effective..." Scott & Barbara Siegel, Drama-Logue
Isn't this fun?
Saturday, July 12, 1997
No People.The first thing I did this morning was jump in the car and head down to the grocery story because I was out of cat food (and people food). As I was checking out, I saw the new People Magazine my heart immediately jumped into my throat in anticipation. Of course, there was hundreds of pages on Jimmy Stewart and also Charles Kuralt, who also died this week. And Ivana's divorce. And a Mars scientist. I kept turning and turning... and no Steve.
Oh, well. Maybe next week. (I found out later that it was Ivana who trumped my space. Why can't these rich heterosexuals just stay married? HUH???)
It was disappointing, but since I've managed to survive this long without People, I can probably go awhile longer. When I got home, Thurber was up on his usual chair near the door screaming bloody murder. So, I stacked the catfood cans in the cubbard and found a tasty meal which he dove into like mad. I also made myself something and decided that that was it for me leaving the house. I'm still not completely rested and I haven't been working on music this week much because I was volunteering and helping a friend out most of the week. It's been tiring, but well worth it.
After feeding the animal, I went over to the piano and began playing the new song. Hm. Maybe I needed to have taken that break because it suddenly occurred to me to flip the verse backwards, slow down the beat just a hair and sing it as softly as was humanly possible -- and voila! -- it was suddenly perfect! I had been struggling with this thing for two weeks and in one day, it suddenly came together.SONGWRITER HINT OF THE DAY:THAT REINTEGRATING THING:
A common way to "fix" a song that isn't quite working is to throw verse one completely out and start the song on verse two. Don't know why that works, but it almost always does.
Anyway, I spent the rest of the day absolutely alone. I also made a few phone calls to friends and others I've been introduced to and lined up my week's activities. Money is really tight and since I've been given this new life extension, I have to earn a living and I don't think I can work at Burger King. I'm not saying I'm too good for Burger King, I'm just too old and cranky. SO:On Sunday, I go to my little songwriter circle and debut the new "Fat Lady" song so I can see if it makes any sense or if I should just can it.
Tuesday night I'm meeting with Marie Cain to talk about us writing a new musical together (Marie wrote the lyrics to Friendly Fire). It could be the vampire story (THE BITE) Jimmy and I concocted, or possibly TLS 2 which is barely a sketch in my mind.
Later this week, I'm also meeting with my friend producer Bonny Dore about planning a film of "my story" here on the net. Bonny, as I said, is a great friend. She and I and her husband Sandy had dinner together last night and she has been a steadfast supporter of TLS from the very first. She said she has been wanting to do something about this whole internet experience for a long time, but didn't want to interfere with our work on the show itself.
And lastly, I want to talk to EVENING*STAR Records about releasing an expanded new CD of songs. People have been clamoring for the full-length version of "Shades of Blue" which is only partly used in TLS and I have a few other songs people have heard. So, that could be fun. It's just difficult because I am to go back to NY early August. Not much time for doing anything.
Sunday, July 13, 1997
Songwriter Circles.I got up today and proudly put on my PIGS: A SANCTUARY t-shirt and headed over the Hollwood Hills to meet play my new song for the songwriter gathering. It was truly a beautiful day. The air was dry, the temperature about in the upper 80s and though there was a slight blue haze in the air, it felt really great to be out and about in El Lay. I felt a twinge of guilt, though, because I also knew Jimmy was back in NY staying in yet another apartment in Brooklyn with no air conditioning (and no ceiling fans). He referred to it as his gulag.
I've been very good about keeping up with my med schedule. The change in hours from NY to here went smoothly. I just delayed each dose one hour until I was back onto my regular routine. The only real problem I have is that I usually go to bed early and have to wake at midnight to take my Crix. That's kind of a pain.
I took a wrong turn on busy, crowded Melrose Ave. and wound up driving by the Zephyr Theatre where we did our workshop of TLS last year. My pal, Don K., reminded me that the one year anniversary of that workshop is coming up fast. The one thing I *do* remember is that this time last year I was hooked up to Louie for 14 hours a day last year and though I was feeling very weak, the rehearsals for our show was driving me forward. People still can't believe everything that happened last summer -- the summer Lazarus came forth from the grave (and started singing like Ethel Merman).
Anway, I made it to the Songwriter Circle and greeted everyone, gave them an update on our NY run, showed them the Drama-Logue review and then one by one, they all played their new songs. (The one rule in this circle is that only new songs can be played). I also ran into songwriter/NAS pal Brett Perkins, who invited me to join him at Highlands Grounds next Sunday and play a couple of songs.
Well, I played the "Fat Lady" song -- again, it's not a song making fun of overweight people; it's about suicide and depression (why can't I just write a love song every once in awhile?) -- and got great reaction. But something funny happened. One of the writers whose name is Andrew said he has a song that wasn't really "done." He called it a "zygote" of a song and he said, before he began, that he wasn't sure where to start. So I told him, "Start with the second verse. Works every time." So he looked down at the lyric sheet, shrugged, and said, "Okay." And he did!
After the circle, I went over Stan Freeman's house and helped him get his new WebTV started. Stanley is mystified by anything with a button, so it was slow going, but we actually made it. Got him an email address and everything. Even bookmarked this page for him.
It's been a good weekend. Lots of sleep and rest. Lots of playing with Thurber the Cat, and I'm looking forward to seeing if we can't turn my life and writings into a paycheck this coming week. As I said before, we won't be making money on TLS until we actually move into a larger theatre. Everything looks good so far, but nothing is guaranteed. One friend who reads this diary remarked that her favorite part of this whole thing was me down at the TKTS booth a month ago handing out fliers and signing autographs for people who never heard of me.
She said the only thing I should have done was stalk the Today Show holding up a poster. Well, you know, I'm going to be back in NY next month if all goes right. So, there's still time...
Tuesday, July 15, 1997
Sure! I tell One Stupid Story...I got this note was from one Nicholas V., a reputable music producer and record label President (who is also my very good friend so please take this in a tongue-in-cheek way), who told me I was spreading idiocy and stupidity with my remark about first and second verses. Then he proceeded to list at least five hit songs with which he was associated where he (or others of even higher stature) had advised the songwriters in question to keep ONLY the first verses. And that I should keep my lousy songwriting advice to myself.
Oh, the persecution when you're a genius who has to sell his car to make rent. Okay, songwriters!! Songwriters!!! Please ignore the advice about throwing out your first verse if you get stuck. There. All done. *washes hands like Pontius Pilate* Now, it's on your head, Mr. V.
The always opinionated Mr. V. also advised me to go into a kind of pretentious artist retreat in order to make people want to come to me, rather than have it appear that I am begging for public attention. You know, become the mysterious artist -- like J.D. Salinger, for instance -- or Joey Buttafucco.
My only response was, "How does a person who keeps his life on the internet go into reclusion?" Hmmmmm? I started this thing and I have to finish it.(Do I? Is this diary a never-ending story? You know, I have never contemplated that question. Last year, I was supposed to have died. Had it all planned out. Made peace with the world and with God and with all my past lives and everything. Am I now committed to doing this for the rest of my life? And how long is that, anyway?)THE SITE:
Soledad Obrien, the host of The Site was seated across the table from Ruby Yeh, the publisher of FolksOnLine and during the course of the interview, Soledad mentioned that her favorite story was the one about the guy with AIDS who put his diary on the net and found loads of support and friends from all over the world! (I wonder who that was?).
Then Ruby said, "Yes and he wrote a musical about his life with AIDS called THE LAST SESSION and it's playing right now off-Broadway." Good ol' Ruby... (thanks, sweetie).
ME & MARIE:
Marie Cain and I have now conceived a new musical and we are going to be starting on it immediately, if not sooner. It's kinda based on a premise Jimmy and I came up with last year and, like TLS, it will be a five person musical. One of our producers in NY said he gets calls all the time from theatres wanting five-person musicals. Cool.
Wednesday, July 16, 1997
The Raincheck...A MESSAGE FROM JIM IN NY:
Binky told us that last night after the show, he was walking down the street with Bob Stillman and a lady came out of the corner deli. When she saw them, she lit up and said she had just seen the show and it had changed her life. She explained she was an AIDS patient and was out of hope.
She had been planning her suicide for the past several weeks but told Binky and Bob that The Last Session was her "raincheck." She couldn't do it after seeing the show. She then asked them to autograph the white butcher paper that her sandwich was wrapped in. They autographed it for her, she held it up and said, "This is the raincheck."
Thursday/Friday, July 17 & 18, 1997
Anniversaries, Reunions, New Songs & People.All I did was go to the grocery store for catbox filler and cat food and cereal. Just as I entered, I saw at the checkout stand that there was a new People Magazine. Now, when I did this last week, instead of Steve Schalchlin, all I saw was Ivana ex-Trump. So, I tried not to get my hopes up too high.
As I rolled between the freezers of ice cream and carrot cake, I turned to page 41 and it smacked me right between the eyes: Steve Schalchlin in some kind of magnificent victory pose in front of stained glass windows! Oh, my god. It finally happened. And it's huge. Over a half page in size (bigger than Cameron Diaz at the bottom).
I just started to shake from excitement. I wanted to show it to someone! I grabbed a few groceries, but my mind was a total blank. I got bananas & water & cereal & paper towels but couldn't for the life of me remember what else I came in there for. At the checkout counter, I bought three copies and opened to my page. Then I showed it to the lady in front of me, the checkout lady and the guy who was packing them into bags! He said, "Hey! Can I have an autograph?" I said, "Sure, I'll sign your broccoli!"
Earlier this (Friday) morning, Chip Esten, who played Buddy in the El Lay workshop last year, came over and I showed him some of the NY production photos and told him how wonderful the cast is. He just sighed and said he felt like he had been part of the birth of TLS and he felt like a daddy watching his kid graduate. He's thrilled for us, but also it feels that bittersweet emotion of watching the kid leave home. He said Binky sounded fantastic in "his" role. After that, I had lunch with ol' pal, Paul Zollo, and heard some of his fantastic new record he's been producing.
At three o'clock I went over to Theta Sound, my "home" studio with my favorite piano in town (the basis for the studio in TLS, and did a quick single take demo of my new song with Randy Tobin at the helm. Randy's got the best ears this side of Jim Latham. He knows exactly how I like my tapes to sound. 15 minutes and I was out of there!
RONDA THE INFORMANT:
I took the tape to Ronda and played it for her. She said she had never heard me play music like this before, that it was really different. (I hadn't thought so, but she's the boss...). She praised the song, made a couple of lyric suggestions -- that's her job -- and then informed me that one year ago tonight, THE LAST SESSION workshop opened in Los Angeles at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose Ave.
CALLING OLD FRIENDS:
Back home, I called all the workshop cast members: Marjory Graue, Francesca P. Roberts, Chip Esten, and Doug Tracht (who is now in DC doing the morning talk radio slot as "The Greaseman"). Chip was the only other one home and I told him how bizarre it was that we had our little reunion this morning, the day of the anniversary.
(it was after this that I went to the store and found the people magazine article)
Later this evening, I went back into the diary and read July 18th 1996, remembering how I was still "feeding" off Louie, my IV tree and had needed two naps that day since I was playing Gideon myself and had only begun recovering.
The one thing that stood out for me was a moment earlier that day when I had lain down on Gary and Linda's little couch above Hollywood Neon and had a brilliant lucid dream where I was flying up and down Melrose, looking at tourists and weaving in and around the shops and the signs.
And I realize now that I had not even begun to fly.
(i'm sitting here in tears realizing how miraculous my life has become. i want to gush thanks to everyone who ever loved me and cared for me, but that could take a whole 'nother day. this bonus round is amazing. truly amazing.)
Saturday, July 19, 1997
Pals & Choirs.Today, my ol' cyberpal, Richard from my #aids/hiv+2 chatroom came down from San Francisco to visit. Richard works with a group called Wedge that does programs for students educating them about HIV prevention. (...driving a "wedge" between the kids and HIV...). I also was able to "test" on him some revised lyrics on the new song, which is not called "Fat Lady" anymore, by the way. It's now called "Sad Lady." I thought I could make a point about prejudice by using the more inflammatory term, but it didn't work. Now, it works much better and says more clearly what I wish it to say. I like it when that happens.
He was also part of the group that went to NY to see TLS where we did the first "midnight concert." We had a nice time becoming better acquainted and then we went to the ultra gorgeous Alex Theatre in Burbank to see a concert featuring the NY, San Francisco AND Los Angeles Gay Mens Choruses. It was truly fantastic. He knew people in the SF choir and I knew people in both the NY and LA choirs. At the end they combined and did a song. All I was thinking was how fantastic it would have been to hear When You Care with all those voices... *sigh*
Sunday, July 20, 1997
Riches to Ragtime.Richard was good enough to take me to see the new musical RAGTIME which is on its way to Broadway. It's playing right now here in El Lay at the Shubert Theatre and it is one fantastic piece of theatre. Of course, I'm prejudiced because one of my fave actors and pals, Brian Stokes Mitchell is the star of it. He's just fantastic.
(and until the glorious 'andbob' stillman came into our lives, i was mad at ragtime for "taking" stokes away from us... oh, here is a picture of Stokes, John Bettis (brilliant lyricist for When You Care, and myself at the first staged reading of TLS a year ago February. (has it only been barely 18 months since our first reading???)
RAGTIME is truly the embodiment of the huge Broadway spectacular. They didn't skimp on one single aspect of this show. The sets move around, the costumes are sumptuous... even the sound. We were in the Mezzanine and we could hear clearly every single word said by every performer. It was dazzling. (And if both our shows are on Broadway next season, we'll be competing with that for Tonys???? oh lord.....)
After the show, we were invited backstage to "hang" with Stokes for awhile. He insisted we sign his guestbook. Just as we were about to do so, Earl Holliman (the famous actor) ducked his head in and did the same. Of course, in Stokes' guestbook, I wrote that this "Ragtime" show would never last and that he should have fired his agent for steering him away from TLS! (It's only the most anticipated, biggest hit on the way to Broadway right now...)
By the way, I don't remember if I announced it, but we have now been extended through Aug. 31st at the Currican and the producers are now actively looking for a great off-Broadway theatre to move us to. Oh, and I added some new photos to the Currican snapshots album.
Monday, July 21, 1997
Taking Stock.I have surprised myself at how clean I am suddenly being around here. nORmalLY, I am the worlds' greatest slob, happily leaving the cleaning chores to Jim whenever I can con him into doing everything (gosh i wonder if i got aids because i don't like to vacuum. people need to think about these things...)
And Thurber has been a dream. He's very specific when it's time to brush him, when to clean the catbox. Positoids have to be extremely careful around catboxes. So, I keep his out on the balcony and I always wear a Dr. Kildare mask when I change it. He's happy. I'm happy.
I've been playing "Sad Lady" a lot. I'm going to make one more quick piano/vocal demo of it and also one of "Shades of Blue" sometime this week. I've written "Shades" a bit too high for me, but it doesn't sound as good when I sing it lower, so I'm having to find a compromise key.
THE COMPROMISE KEY
Perry Mason episode #38
I just reread yesterday's diary page and realize I forgot to tell you how I know Brian Stokes. One time at The National Academy of Songwriters, I put together a musical comedy workshop with John Sparks of the LA Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.
John provided a "curriculum" of sorts and I provided some "name" songwriters -- like Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Stan Freeman, David Shire, Al Kasha & Joel Hirschhorn, Dean Pitchford...etc.) who would contribute experience. It was a great marrige and great fun. Well, Brian Stokes Mitchell was in that class (Jimmy and I also participated in one of them.) And I thought Stokes was a fantastic composer. A really gifted composer.
So, when this RAGTIME thing hit, I was thrilled for him. END OF STORY. (that was short...)
Well, I guess one should be careful for what one wishes for. Suddenly, my counter is off the charts and I'm getting a ton of mail thanks to the People Magazine article and surrounding hubbub. I also realized that I have only about ten more days of hibernating and writing here alone. The time has flown, but I miss Jimmy and Mikey and Andbob and Amy and Amy and Andrew and Binky and Dean and Momo and The Diva and who have I left out? I know I've left out someone. Well, I miss you most of all, whoever you are.
I'll be seeing Dr. Ellie on Wednesday. My toe is still healing from the Amazing Bell-Toe Incident back in April or May. I need to do work on this site while I'm here on my own computer. In New York, I'll be graciously borrowing other people computers, so my online time will be limited, which is just as well, I suppose.
In the meantime, I have to focus on the demo and on cleaning up things and being organized. I also have to wash my clothes.
Oh, yeah, and I had this really cool idea for a new song today. It's only theoretical, but it intrigues me. So, I'll try to wedge that in Wednesday pm while remembering to enjoy this spectacular southern California weather. No wonder people spend money to come here in the summer.
Tuesday, July 22, 1997
SERIAL KILLERS & Lazarus Kids.ITEM:
Finally, after a lifetime of clowning around in public, I get a half page in People Magazine on page 41, and who's on the cover? THE GAY SERIAL KILLER!!! Sounds like one of those movies Shawn Decker watches. And on TV all day? THE GAY SERIAL KILLER!!! And of couse, he's not just gay, he's the AIDS REVENGE GAY SERIAL KILLER!!!
Now, why is HIS story more important than MY story?Am *I* all over the TV today? no. Is LAST SESSION all over the TV? no. Gawd forbid anyone should suddenly think that a show that makes people want to live instead of die -- a show that teaches people to love instead of hate -- should be worthy of discussion.
It's way more fun to fill the airwaves with murdering homosexual killerss than gentle positoids who write songs and keep diaries about LIVING.
(maybe my mom was right. maybe i *was* too mean to the southern baptist conventioneers...)
My buddy, Ronda, and I were talking about all the new "guests" in my Guestbook. She was marveling at how young many of the respondents were (are). Well, I think that's cool. I mean I know I'm no GAY SERIAL KILLER or anything, but I guess there's something they like about me anyway.
One thing is for sure: I never "talk down" to anyone here and I don't dumb down my site, either. I had a teacher in elementary school who used to say, "You can't learn any younger." And she would answer honestly any questions we asked her. I've spoken before how popular TLS is with younger people. In fact, I think our producers are going to begin offering a special student discount soon.
I'm still on my "writers retreat" these days. I had a very cool lunch with my friend, Bonny, and she was talking about -- you know -- life and stuff. She told the story of a friend of hers with newly diagnosed cancer. When he came to her, the first question she had for him was: Do you *want* to survive? He responded that no one had posed that question to him. Finally, he looked at her and said, "YES." He survived.
Many PWAs who are coming back Lazarus-effect style like I am are suddenly being expected to just want to live -- it's assumed everyone wants to live. But, for many, their immune systems are wrecked (like mine) and they have probably been through years of sickness and near deaths (like me). Many of them are overwhelmed by the thought of having to go through all this again if the drugs begin to fail. (i remember last year having my moments when i wondered if i *really* wanted to extend what had already been a long difficult period of hospitals and doctors. what if the drugs DID stop working? could i go through all that again? would i want to?)
Yes, I would. Life is completely different now than it had been before. For one thing, I look GOOD -- I might even be a babe (for the first time in my life)! (Bonny was marveling at the difference then and now) but on an even more serious note, I don't wake up the same way I used to, either, not to sound like a pollyanna or anything, but I honestly thrill to each new day. It comes from the days when I could barely walk. Or last year when I couldn't eat anything that wasn't white (i.e. rice, pototates, toast). It just seems like a luxury deluxe that I can just go "do" anything I want. Eat anything I want.
Bonny, who experienced her own Lazarus Effect once (not AIDS), and I found ourselves taking bites of curry chicken and just stopping all conversation so we could relish the tastes. She told about another friend who said that after coming back from the brink, everything was different. Food tasted better, emotions were "sweeter..." I just loved that. Emotions are sweeter.
She also said that being in People was going to change my life forever. Well, I only care that it helps the show get more notice. It's The Last Session that matters to me, not fame or fortune -- I can just see Jimmy's eyes rolling on that one. But it's true. As long as I have my time alone with my piano (and with Jimmy and my friends), what else is there, really?
No wonder Katy and Regis and Joan aren't calling -- I'm too boring. Of course, now, if I were an AIDS REVENGE GAY SERIAL KILLER, I'd be a lot more newsworthy, wouldn't I?
HEY!!! FORGET THE JERK ON THE COVER!! LOOK ON PAGE 41!!!! HellOOoooOOOOO!!!!!
Wednesday, July 23, 1997
Blood Tests, Dead Killers & Jimbo Speaks.Just so everyone knows, I got a letter from someone who thought I sounded bitter in yesterday's diary about not making the cover. Look, I was just goofing off and making a silly commentary. I'm more than thrilled about the People Magazine coverage and am NOT bitter. Okay? :) I just have a twisted sense of humor and I was having a little fun.BLOODWORK RESULTS:
The blood counts in my most recent tests were a bit off. I'm getting a bit anemic, it seems. And my blood sugar is a bit high. Recent reports are showing that the protease inhibitors have caused some people to get diabetes. On the other hand, my t-cell percentage is up to 9% (from 8%) and the T-4 to T-8 ratio is better than it was -- immune system slowly building.
IN ELLIE'S EYES:
Dr. Ellie looked at my picture in People Magazine and then he told me his side of "The Steve Story." We met shortly before my bout with PCP. I had no money but he saw me anyway. He remembered me as confused and frightened and cynical; and very ignorant of AIDS. Wouldn't take prophylaxis (preventative) drugs. Didn't want to know ANYthing...
After the PCP (pneumonia) -- something he and Jimmy did not think I would pull out of -- he remembered that I did a 180 turn by writing an article for Being Alive's newletter about my experience with ignorance, and about how important it is for a patient to know as much or more about the disease as the doctor. He said he was greatly impressed by that -- and amazed that I have gone from "don't want to know" to "I have to know everything" to an educational website to TLS to People Magazine. He was just stunned -- and said he's never had a patient make such a turn-around in attitude (and that it was fantastic to watch).
JIMMY SPEAKS! Well, Jim Brochu, brilliant author of The Last Session will be speaking at NYU about playwriting and theatre. It's not Harvard, of course, but it's something! (the poor man just hates standing in my shadow... hehehehe) GET USED TO IT!! HA! *LOL*
KILLER BE KILLED:
Well, the news from Miami this morning is that the AIDS REVENGE GAY SERIAL KILLER is dead. Other AIDS news is that Cuba has stopped putting all their AIDS patients into sanitariums. Not because of the inhumanity of that particular action, but because it was too expensive to keep them there.
HOW'D THEY FIND ME?
Someone asked in my guestbook how People Magazine found me. Well, the writer of the article, Anne Longley, told me a "fact checker" read about me somewhere and told her about it. She checked out the site, love it and told her bosses -- and voila! (And you know, some people pay other people TONS of money for a page in People. Maybe they should just hire more fact checkers!).
Thursday, July 24, 1997
Officially Going On Retreat.Okay, as of today I began my official "not available" writer retreat. If you write me, I might or might not get back to you anytime soon because I don't know if I'll be on the computer very much. Since I'll be returning to New York as of August 2 (a week from Saturday), I only have one week left to myself and I want to make the best of it.
After I get back to NYC, I shall be once again available. Ricki Lake will have to wait until then if she really wants me.
My pal, Lynn Keller -- Most Fabulous Bass Player -- came over yesterday for a jam session and she will be joining me on Friday as we informally record two songs at Randy's studio in Burbank (my home studio). It's just a piano/bass/vocal for me so I can stand back and hear it and see what I've got.
WEIRD SIDE EFFECTS:
I've made reference here to my "Crix Belly." It's a condition some people on Crixivan are experiencing. My belly is slightly enlarged, but it's solid. In fact, you can see the muscle lines across my stomach (if I stand in a really good light), so it doesn't feel like fat. It's hard. The other strange thing -- and I think I mentioned it here before, is that my belly button went from an "inny" to an "outy." We have been assuming a hernia.
Well, yesterday someone from my online Crix group said something about their belly button doing the exact same thing. Could be a coincidence, but if anyone reading this has had a similar reaction, I'd like to hear about it. The other side effect I'm having is sore muscles, leg cramps, etc. that happen constantly.
Anyway, as someone said, taking these drugs is like driving full speed down a highway at night with the lights off. I'm grateful that my life has been extended, but these are very powerful drugs and we don't know what they do to the "rest" of your body while they are fighting HIV.
Here's a note from Todd regarding my entry of a couple days ago:Dear Steve,Thanks, Todd. I thought everyone had become used to my Only Slightly Funny Rantings, so I apologize if I hurt anyone's feelings. Been watching too much Dennis Miller, I guess. And you're right about the "brazen declarations" of what TLS means and does and is. It was immodest at best and arrogant at worst. I stand duly slapped. (mmmmm, slaps)
I am glad someone wrote to you stating that you sounded bitter in your earlier post about the magazine article and the killer. I was very taken aback by it, and I've met you twice. My initial reaction was what's going on here? Is Steve becoming one of the typical Hollywood types we unsophisticated country folk hear about? If I had not also met Jimmy (who is the epitome of gentleness) and had not corresponded with you months before TLS came out, I would have probably decided not to visit your site again.
It wasn't everything that you said. It was the what seemed like brazen declarations about what TLS teaches (I think for the most part you should let others, not the songwriter/lyricist, describe that - you have reviews and descriptions of the play on the site, and the play should stand on its own merits, which it does admirably). It was also the parts about you or TLS not being on TV. I thought about this on the whole drive home from work today. The wonderful, earlier entry about the woman who had seen the show and had decided not to commit suicide spoke volumes about its message.
The thing is, Steve, I suspect a number of people would come to your truly fabulous site for the first time and see things like that without a prior understanding of what I believe are some of the essential elements of Steve: courage (which in reality is basically being too stubborn to quit and the willingness to take risks, not the absence of fear), compassion (your work with other PWA's, your thoughtful and gentle responses to folks like me), love (even for people you haven't met, such as your cyberpal who died before he could attend TLS - I cried when I read that and apologize for not offering my condolences, I meant to when I was at TLS the 2nd time) and your prodigious musical gifts (which should be obvious to people who hear you or another professional sing your music, but *not* acclaimed directly by you on your site, expecially not in a way that does not make it crystal clear that what is being said is in jest - for the benefit of the new diary reader who jumps directly to that day's entry). As you know, it's very difficult to convey emotions through the Net. There's no body language.
I thought the first paragraph, 7/22, was funny, especially with it's reference to the type of movie Shawn would watch. It was clear this was joking.
[snip -- for reasons of length]
Actually, I groaned when I saw the People cover and knew your story was inside. But then I soon realized that it was great that story was there to counterbalance the coverage of the killer.
And, having seen you twice, I do think you are a babe (you don't need to tell Jimmy about that :-) ).
Oh, and I couldn't "snip" the part about me being a babe, of course. But speaking of babes, our dear Shawn Decker, MTV has given him a video camera to tape his exploits with Mariana when she comes from Brazil to visit. So, he's going to be on whatever the name of that show is where they do that (was that vague enough?) Check his site for more details...
Friday, July 25, 1997
Notes From The Retreat -- 1.INNY-OUTY INFO FROM A NET PERSON:"It is not uncommon to see the formation of an umbilical hernia following weight loss, muscle wasting, and then regained weight. Although it is not a complicated procedure to have it "fixed" (via minor surgery), many of us just learn to tolerate it. It can be a problem if the contents of the hernia become twisted or "strangulated". This can present a surgical emergency, but it is not very common. I have also noticed a weakening of the abs in the middle, above the belly button. This is likely due to the muscle wasting, also."Ah ha.... Very interesting. Well, last year I went from about 135 lbs. to 175 lbs. That's 40 pounds of weight I added in only a few months. And previous to that, I had severe muscle wasting on two or three long term occasions over a three year period. So, this explanation sounds very plausible. Dr. Ellie also stated that it was a hernia. I guess it's time to see an abdominal specialist and look into having surgery. It's not a source of constant pain, but it is very uncomfortable and makes it difficult for me to lift heavy things.
OOPS! MY 15 MINUTES! *POOF*
I went to get catfood and peoplefood today and when I glanced at the People magazine at the checkout stand, Harrison Ford was staring back out at me. Well, I guess my 15 minutes of fame are up, now. But it was fun while it lasted. /8-)
It always feels good to be in Randy's hands in his studio in Burbank. Red Light Fever is a common studio affliction for me, but when I'm at Theta Sound, I am more relaxed than in my own living room. I prefer to record songs all the way through in a single take so the emotional drive of the song is not lost through through endless "punch-ins."
It's easier alone, but with an extra musician, it gets a bit trickier. For one thing, you have to do an arrangement. So, there's more to remember during the recording than just the words and the chord changes. Luckily, today I had Lynn Keller on bass.
She's this tiny little girl-woman with HUGE long red hair that seems to cover her like a tent when she's focused and playing transcendently. Anyway, Randy set her up and I sat down at his black Yamaha piano -- my favorite piano in El Lay -- and we ran through "Shades of Blue" a couple of times, throwing together a "head session" arrangement. Then we gave Randy the "high sign" and tried it. I think we got it on the first take, mixing live to DAT.
Lynn said she loved this song and wanted it for her own band. Probably because it's a straight love song, not one of my patented songs about AIDS or doctors. *LOL*
After that, we took a couple of passes at "The Sad Lady," the newest song. I hadn't realized it while composing, but this song is very complicated. The weird semi-classical, 12/8 rhythm shifts several times throughout the song and it changes keys once. Lynn said it wasn't so much a song as an epic. (in three minutes, of course)
We got it on the second pass. So our entire session lasted one hour. Two songs recorded and mixed. They're only demos, of course. No one would mistake them for "finished product" but they do sound good and will serve our purposes well. "Shades of Blue," has been requested by several singers and record labels. In TLS, only the chorus is sung, so it has whetted appetites for the full version. (gotta remember that little trick for future shows...)
Unlike "Shades of Blue," "The Sad Lady" is not a "coverable" song, in my opinion. It's very graphic and it's one of the heaviest songs I have ever written. I don't even know if people can take it -- and no, it's not about AIDS either.
It will probably be a part of the new song cycle I'm currently focused on. I've had some readers ask if these tapes are available. Well, I don't know. Demos are usually used as wastebasket filler ("Sure kid, I'll call ya!"), so you'll excuse me if I'm shocked that anyone would actually offer money for a demo! My instinct is to say, No right now. They're not a finished product. These are demos, no big arrangements, no frou frou, just raw live studio performances, flaws and all. But thanks for asking. You'll have to make do with a simple snapshot from the session taken by Randy, who did not find my good side. (what can you do with male hetero sound engineer photogs? -- oh, sorry randy -- didn't mean to "out" you as a hetero...)
Your hero recording "The Sad Lady" -- July 1997.
Saturday, July 26, 1997
Notes From The Retreat -- 2.Today I stayed in all day. I'm completely focused on a new lyric. It's a tough one because it involves an emotion which is still very deeply buried. I won't discuss it here, though. If I could discuss it here, I wouldn't need to write the song. One of the reasons I wrote Connected was because I was unable to express what I wanted to say in prose. I guess my life is a musical now. When I can't say it, I sing it.
All day today, this "thought" dominated my mind. It was glorious to have an endless day where I could shut off the rest of the world and allow myself to think only of this. I turned on the TV and watched "The Desk Set" with Tracey&Hepburn. Loved it. Caught a show on VH-1 where they had the members of Fleetwood Mac discussing the making of "Rumours." At one point, Lindsey Buckingham said something about a particular beat so I jumped up and went to the piano and played about 30 seconds of music.
When I went back to my legal pad in the bedroom, three or four full stanzas came flowing out. I also called an old friend, a songwriter, who recently went through a painful divorce -- something she said fired off something in my mind and I chewed on that bone until I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I took my pen and wrote about new three pages of lyrics. Just free-flowing, searching words in rhyme on my legal pad.
Frequently, I'll go to sleep and then suddenly wake up with the next line. Jimmy laughs at me when I do that. The only interruption in this process is the need to eat or take pills. My eye is always on that hated clock. I truly hate knowing what time it is.
Until AIDS, I never wore a watch. Ever.
Sunday, July 27, 1997
Notes -- 3 -- "Sleeper Hit...""Sleeper hit..." Playbill Online:
Playbill Online is featuring a "cover story" on your favorite new "sleeper hit," The Last Session. It's a great article and speaks at length about this diary page and the musical. Also, the author of the piece, David Lefkowitz, called me "...somewhat famous." GOTTA LOVE THAT! So, I guess I should change the "UNFAMOUS" description at the top of this diary page to "SOMEWHAT FAMOUS"? (is that akin to being "somewhat pregnant?")
MORE ON AIDS:
I've gotten more responses to the "change in body shape" happening to people on protease inhibitors. One doctor said there's a definite pattern of belly expansion and ass-flattening. ASS-FLATTENING?? I never had much of one to begin with, to tell you the truth. It used to bother me until some girlfrend of mine, decades ago, said she liked tall guys with flat butts. She thought it very masculine (she was also a quick thinker).
CRACKING THE CODE:
I'm getting closer to cracking the code on the next couple of songs for the cycle I have currently under construction. You know, getting down -- WAAAY down -- beneath something that is only an emotion or a feeling is not easy stuff. Once found, trying to find a way to describe it in terms that everyone can relate to is also a difficult process. I thought songwriting was supposed to be easy.
I don't want to talk too specifically about the subject matter, but let's just say that it's no less "autobiographical" than the songs from TLS. Are you excited yet? (I am. I'm getting so close...)
SUPPER WITH STANLEY:
I had a wonderful dinner with legendary pianist/composer/lyricist Stan Freeman tonight. It was sorta in exchange for helping him get his WebTV working. Now he can finally read my diary. When I first told him about my line diary, his reaction was, "Why would anybody wanna read that?" Now he says it's the first thing he reads everyday. Hi, Stanley! Stan used to conduct for Marlene Dietrich and he let me use his piano when I was composing TLS. Stanley composed the music for two Broadway musicals, "Lovely Ladies Kind Gentlemen" and "I Had A Ball." Stanley's funny. He makes me laugh. Hi Stanley!!
Monday, July 28, 1997
Notes From The Retreat -- 4Dear Family,
Had a fantastic time with Ginger Freers, Lynn Keller & Barry Fasman last night. We through together an impromptu recording session at Barry's to recprd another demo of "Shades of Blue" but this time with Ginger on lead vocal.
I spent another day of sheer torture trying to unlock the key on the new song cycle. If you'll recall, that's what you sent me here to do in the first place. I did find some great new stuff, though. It looks like the first song has split itself into three parts, so it's quite absurd, really.
Oh, thanks for the letters. I answered most of them today in the new guestbook. It's fun to get new questions and things.
One friend wrote me asking about "wasting." He had read that I had suffered from it and didn't really know what it was. Well, wasting is a condition that occurs when your body is unable to absorb nutrition for one reason or another. You muscles deteriorate and soon you look like a skeleton.
This has happened to me on two or three occasions and it was quite debilitation. The first time was when I was attacked by PCP (pneumocystis pneumonia). My musculature had so deteriorated that I could barely walk. Jimmy can tell you that it took quite a few months before I was back to a semblance of normalcy.
Toward the end of that bout, I was attacked by some kind of stomach thing, which set me back almost to square one. The only thing that "fixed" this condition was Somatistatin shots three times a day in the stomach. I learned to do them myself. I had to stop when the insurance company refused to pay for them. Luckily, I had pushed myself past the point of no return and I slowly rebounded.
The last time I suffered with wasting was last year when I almost died of more intestinal parasites (which normal immune systems easily throw off). This was the worst time. I went down to 135 lbs. and looked horrible. Ronda wants me to post some pictures from that period, but I'm not sure where any are. I'll keep looking.
Now I'm told this abdominal hernia I have is from too quickly gaining my weight back before the muscles in my abdomen had gained enough strength to hold the cavity wall. So, wasting is when your muscles disappear. By the way, wasting is how most people with AIDS have died. Something finally would attack them and they would just waste away. It is still happening to too many.
The gift is life. We cannot measure ourselves by how strong or how weak we are. I measure my life by the people who are a part of it. They are the ones who have kept me alive. The caregivers never get the full respect or reward of the burdens they have shouldered or the grief they have borne. I feel it is my job to make sure that I repay my family and my friends.
I intend to do this by torturing them for the rest of their lives by making them listen to my music and read my mad ravings in this diary.
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Notes From The Retreat -- 5Dear Family,
Worked late into the night with Barry Fasman getting the "Shades of Blue" demo finished. It's going to be fantastic, I think. I had forgotten what an incredible vocal Ginger did last night. And though Barry had been working all day long on other projects, as soon as "Shades" came on, it was as if he was shot through with a new dose of adrenalin.
Also, a friend of Barry's, songwriter Steve Sperry, was there and when he heard the song, he went crazy. Said it was one of the most melodic songs he had heard in eons -- and he especially loved Jimmy's lyrics. Couldn't believe his ears.
This morning I woke up to a phone call from -- Sheila MacRae! She used to be in the Honeymooners when Jackie Gleason shot it in Miami. She had gone to see TLS in New York (for a second time) and just wanted to call me and say how much she loved the show -- and so did her companions, Mr. & Mrs. Larry Storch. She also said she loved the changes Jimmy has been making to the book.Sheila is in one of Jimmy's and my FAVE "I Love Lucy" episodes where Lucy and Ethel meet Don Loper and Lucy does the fashion show. It also has one of our favorite "Ethel" moments when she meets Mr. Loper.Well, only a couple days here in Songwriter Camp. I'm making progress on my assignment (to myself) and I'm getting really excited about going back to New York. It's been a very healthful time here. I have to admit I was completely stressed out when I got here, but I'm feeling fantastic now. My energy level is high, I've got two new projects in the planning stages, and I had a whole month of Thurber the Cat waking me up -- his usual method, if I'm being recalcitrant, is to leap from the floor onto my stomach accompanied by a kind of catgrowl. If that doesn't work, he puts his little wet nose against my ear.
Wednesday, July 30, 1997
An End of Retreat Tea Party.Feeling the end of my El Lay Daze coming, I decided today it was necessary to wash my clothes and get them ready for packing. Friday is coming up fast. So, I went downstairs and ran into the Building Manager, an attractive 20s-ish single mom with three girls, ages 7, 9 & 11. The kids came running up to me, marveled at my muscular legs, and said they were sorry I was leaving soon.
I said I would miss them and would they mind doing my laundry. (Isn't that a natural transition?) They screamed YES YES YES PLEASE PLEASE. I told them I was just joking, but when I looked at their mom's eyes, the look was more like, "yesyesyesyesyes pleasegivethemsomethingto do." With school out, I supposed they are constantly underfoot.
So, I said Yes and gave them some quarters. Then I came back up here and tried to answer my mail. I got a great letter from a teenage kid who had gone off to the Air Force (and who I lost track of) and I wrote a thank you to Anne Longley & Kimberly Butler, the writer and photog of People Magazine. By the way, it wouldn't hurt if you sent a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and told them how much you liked the article about that sexy Positoid on page 41.
When the girls finished, I gave them each a dollar and thanked them for their hard work. Then I invited them to clean my apartment next. But when they came up, I didn't feel like making the do that, and instead I served them tea while I paid the bills.
It wasn't real tea, of course, and it took them a moment to "join in" and drink the pretend tea, but soon we were into interpretive dance and piano concertos. They told me of their trips into Paris and Africa and showed me the customs of the lands. I don't really believe they had gone to those places, but I didn't say anything to them.
Then I played them "Shades of Blue." The little 7-year old sat right next to the piano in Thurber's tall spin chair. Just before I sang, I played for about five minutes just setting the atmosphere. In the middle of that, I heard her lean over to the others and whisper/shout, "He's got his eyes closed!"
I told them I only had eight copies of the original demo tape of me doing "Shades of Blue" and "The Sad Lady" and that I would give them one, but that the sad lady song is very scary and mom would have to hear it first. So they invited mom up. She told me how happy it made her to have them "out of her hair" for the last hour or hour and a half. I told her about our party so far, offered her some phantom tea and played the song for her.
Unfortunately, I could barely sing the song. It made me cry to do it in front of another person or persons. The 7-year old said it made her cry, too. So, I played "Shades of Blue" and put the cassette in "mom's" charge to decide if it was too graphic for her kids. I showed her last week's NY Times Magazine, also, because they featured a cover story on the particular violence described in this song.
Thurber made an appearance. The girls also remembered the late, great Howard Katz, Jimmy's cat of 17 years who we put to sleep last year. The older girls remembered that Jimmy used to wear Howard like a hat. Anyway, they left and I took the time to write a few more lines of lyrics, a little more music, and take a nap.
I stayed in the rest of the night and prepared for tomorrow. I'll have to pack so that means trying to remember everything Jimmy told me to bring, copying the emails and lists I have to remember, and making sure all the letters go out, etc. etc. I'm going to miss Thurber. I gave him extra spins in the spin chair and brushed him. (People asked about what we do when we go out of town. My old friend, Bob, comes here and lives. He cared for Thurber when Thurber was newly born, so they have a long relationship.)
Tomorrow night I finish up the demo with Barry. Friday morning I'm off to the airport. David Robyn's going to drive me, although he was really sick this morning. Is this the end of a book? How many months have we gone in Book Five? Is it Book Five?
Oh, we have at least one more good month left in Book Five. Back in the Big Apple with the whole gang. I'll be on borrowed computers and I'll be bringing my new songs back with me for dissection (scary), and I'll see the all new TLS! I don't know if Currican can keep us after Aug. 31, so this might be it until we find a larger off-Broadway house who will let up jump ahead in line. Keep your fingers crossed!
Thursday, July 31, 1997
Back to Business.I was going to try to sell my car but didn't realize the tags had run out. Now I have to wait until I get back in town. I woke up a bit late and Thurber had not tried to wake me. I guess he knew I had a long day ahead of me. When he heard me stir, though, he quickly began demanding breakfast. I got out my white gloves and served His Lordship, of course.
I have printed out most of the emails I thought were essential. I'll have limited access in NY, so please feel free to write me, but give me leeway on answering. Thanks.
The suitcase is in the middle of the living room floor and a basked of newly laundered clothing sits next to it. For my next trick, I will collapse this huge basket into this little suitcase.
I finished up my "last session" with Barry Fasman tonight and the new demo with full arrangement and Ginger Freers on vocals is a rousing success. I just kept saying to Barry, "This doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard." The ethereal quality of the string parts really heightens the mood. I'm so excited! *And* -- it sounded great in the car (which is the final test).
Sunday, August 3, 1997
Safely Back in NY.I don't have time to update all the goings on of the past two days, but I will do it soon. Suffice it to say that I have arrived safely and happily in New York.
Monday, August 4, 1997
A Long, Long Weekend...Friday:
Nightmare at Tower Airlines. I won't tell the whole dreary story, but I did NOT make my flight. It also exhausted me so badly, I went home, dropped onto the couch and didn't move the rest of the day or night.
Got to the ticket counter right when the opened to assure myself a seat. Brought along a big ol' empty notebook and did some writing. Got into Manhattan and made it to our new digs about 10pm.
Finally saw the "new" TLS and am greatly impressed with the new dialogue and changes. I mean, essentially, it's the same play, but there is much more characterization and it's fun to learn more about these wonderful characters onstage.
It was great to see Jimmy, but -- well, perhaps you know how it is -- you haven't seen someone in a month and it's as if you're strangers and have to get reacquainted all over again. By Monday night, though, we were back to "normal," watching TV and eating a good ol' Jim-meal (his famous slumgullion).
It's great to be back seeing the show, of course, but I also have mixed emotions about being back here in New York. I love the city, of course, but -- well -- I have to be frank. I'm hesitant to do so because it's personally embarrassing, but here we go: Jimmy and I are totally broke. (And NO I do not accept conributions, so don't ask). It's just a fact.
My friend, Bobby Cox, said it's very romantic, this picture that's been painted of what's happening to us with the show being in NY and us flying coast to coast. And I don't want to seem like a crybaby or ungrateful for all we do have, but facts is facts. And being in this city is not helpful.
Luckily, we do have a nice place to live. Someone who knows someone who knows one of the producers had an empty apartment available for the month of August, so at least we're not being bounced around from room to room, and we're near Times Square -- so that's really cool!
Tuesday - Wednesday, August 5-6, 1997
Jim Gets His Tony.[Note: My computer access is severely limited still, and I have not figured out my email-send problems. Please write me in the guestbook if you want a response. I'm happy to do so.]TLS BIZ:
This morning, Jimmy and I met with Keith Sherman and Kevin Rehac, who are doing public relations for TLS. Like most of the people related to this project, they are doing much of their work on a deferred basis because of how strongly they believe in it. (They promote the Tony Awards and other high profile clients.)
Since this was my first time to meet them, I was really stunned at how passionate they were. For them, as for others who are involved in this show, they don't see this so much as "another job" as much as they see it as a "cause." They feel like this is a important work that *must* be seen.
As a songwriter, I'm supposed to be good at describing my feelings, but I cannot describe how overwhelmed I was at their boundless enthusiasm and spirit. It just filled me with renewed energy.
After that Jimmy and I went to see -- well, let me describe what happened, first:While I was still in El Lay, Jimmy told me of a tall man in his late 50s who came to see The Last Session. At intermission, he came out and he looked absolutely white. He even went to the box office, told them that it was one of the most powerful experiences in his life and made a $200 donation.So, today we went to his office and he just threw his arms around me this time, effusively praising my music and songs. After we sat down, he pulled a "genuine" Tony Award from his desk and gave it to Jimmy (to look at). The look on Jimmy's face was priceless. As a man who's spent his whole life in the theatre, he was overwhelmed by the whole experience.
After the show, he grabbed one of our producers and told him he was "speechless." The producer introduced him to Jimmy as "the playwright." The man threw his arms around Jimmy and openly wept on Jimmy's shoulder. Then he said, "This is why I'm in the theatre; to see things like this happen." Then he gave Jimmy his card on the way out the door:
Bob Callely, Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing -- the organization that gives out the Tony Awards.
Tonight was one of the most magnificent performances of TLS I can remember. It was just stunning. The new scenes are so funny and add so much to what's already there. Tomorrow, Jamie (producer) is taking Jimmy and me to see several off-Broadway theatres that are possibilities for the move.
Anyway, I'm still catching up on things and my computer access is extremely limited, so please give forgive me if I am unable to respond to emails presently. As I said in the intro here, you would do better to write me through the new guestbook.
END OF PART 2.
© 1996 - 2001 by Steve Schalchlin