THE STORIES BEHIND...
THE LAST SESSION
words and music by Steve Schalchlin
This is where it all began. The first song. It's an absolutely 100% true story of my first trip to Santa Monica Hospital. The doctor did not think I would pull through.
I remember how I felt as it was coming. I was at the piano, my heart was beating in my chest. My dear Aunt Freida had been asking me "What does it feel like? Are you sick all the time?" I tried writing letters and emails but it felt like the real story was still jammed inside.
So one afternoon in July 1995 I was at the computer and it was like the piano threw this magic Wonder Woman truth rope around me and pulled me to the keyboard. Heart pounding, breathlessly, I put my fingers on the keyboard and I remember thinking, "I don't care if anyone likes this. I don't care if Whitney Houston would sing it. I just want to tell the truth of what happened to me in the most personal, uncommercial way.
I even put my hands on notes I don't normally play, in a key I never wrote anything in before: F sharp. Then I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and began to sing.
How can I describe what I've been going through...
(This line did not survive. Jimmy was the one who suggested the more descriptive "I saw a neon sign that said Emergency." I loved it.)
I saw a neon sign that said "Emergency"
I barely even know what happened next
collapsing in a doorway and then down the hall
Connected to a meter
We should all be connected to a meter
I don't know where that last line came from. I remember only thinking, "This song needs some black humor" and out it came.
For verse two I went back to what happened in the story. That night, after everyone had left, it was about 1 am. I had been in the emergency room all evening and night waiting for a bed to come free. Finally, this totally cool looking black dude with multiple earrings wearing a green doctor-like uniform labeled "Transportation" rolled me from the emergency room. I guess he could see how distressed or pitiful I looked. So after we got in the elevator, me on my back, him looking down at me, he finally said -- well, it's word for word in the song...
A very nice young man with three rings in each ear
Said "We don't lose that many patients in a year"
He rolled me to a lonely room
With a light beneath the bed
Connected to a bottle
We should all be connected to a bottle
It looked like the bed was hooked up to an IV. I'll never forget the image of what the room looked like through the opened door; the lights were off except for an eerie glow that seemed to illuminate the floor. I didn't realize until later that there was a light beneath the bed.
Why? So the nurse can find you in the dark. (Songwriting tip: I always try to paint with words using as much imagery as I can. It gives the listener's mind something to "see" and it helps avoid "explanations." We hate explanations.)
I was in for AIDS-related pneumonia, PCP. They gave me a broad spectrum antibiotic (pentamidine) every 12 hours by IV. But first they had to put sugar in my blood or the medicine would destroy my kidneys. So the nurse would come in at 1 am and give me some cookies. A half hour later she'd start the pentamidine drip, which would make me nauseous. I'd throw up about half the time.
And every night a one am
the angel of the night time
would wake me up and give me something good
and then give me something bad
At first I was so weak, I couldn't so much as lift my head up off the pillow. I didn't have the strength to hold a book in front of my face and I was too weak to walk.
All day long I'd channel surf
that's all that I could do
I couldn't read a book or walk around
You know you've hit the bottom when you're glad to be
Connected to a TV
We should all be connected to a TV
I dreamed I was on Happy Days
That I was playing Richie
With Potsie begging Richie not to die
The first time I played this for Jimmy, the Potsie verse wasn't in there. But because of something that happened in the emergency room, he said the song wouldn't be complete unless I included Potsie.
Anson Williams was in the emergency room at the Santa Monica Hospital. He was standing in the doorway. When he saw me, he asked, "What's wrong with you?"
I said, "I have AIDS" except I didn't say it. I screamed it. I thought he'd go running from the room but instead he came over, took my hand and gave me a little pep talk. It was very sweet.
Cause they'd never let Richie die
My reasoning was this: They'd never kill off the lead character in a sitcom. Richie was the lead character.
Friends would come around
and give me little things
And say how much they needed me to live
My friend Dennis stood at my bedside during my stay at the hospital. He brought me little stuff like crackers and cookies and CDs. One time he looked at me and he said, "If you die, a piece of me will also die."
They told me I would make it
Cause they said we were
Connected to each other
Oh, Gawd. When this line came out of me -- remember, I wrote this sitting at the piano and the words were coming at the same time the music was coming -- I broke down completely. Huge, gasping, heaving sobs as it dawned on me why I ever pulled through in the first place.
We should all be connected to each other
Remember also that I didn't plan this song out. The words that spilled forth were as much a surprise to me as they have been to others. After describing being connected to meters, bottles and TVs, I could feel my heart literally saying, "we should all be connected to each other." It was just Truth.
When I first wrote the song, this is where it ended. I didn't have the last verse yet. I remember, though, that when I played the song for people, I knew it wasn't finished so I'd just repeat the last verse above and let it go at that.
It was John Bettis, though, who told me, "You're not finished. You need another verse and I'm not gonna help. You'll have to find it yourself."
So I struggled and struggled to find the concept of what I needed to say. It was two months later, on one of our "last cruises of my life" that it came. I was in one of the lounges playing the song for some passengers when it suddenly just came to me...
Someday if I lose this fight to carry on
please send me someplace gently out to sea
Then listen as I whisper softly in your ear
Connected to each other
We will always be connected each other.
As you can imagine, this huge smile spread over my tear-stained face and I realized I had finished the song. We really WILL always be connected to each other.
NEXT: The Group
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Connected copyright 1996 by See No Evil/Lil Shack O Tunes