your heart is a radio

Wait. We need this before we can start talking.

Okay now that I’ve gotten Donna Summer out of my system(for now), I’m excited to share that my new play “Your Heart is a Radio” is getting ready for staged readings! It’s been a year in conception and writing so it feels good. Did I say excited? I meant terrified. After all, it’s not really theatre unless you’re scared shitless, right? The crazy thing about this show is how personal it got during the writing process. Like split open my insides, put lights around them and throw them inside-kind of personal. But before we go any further, I need to tell a Fleetwood Mac story.

On the morning of my 26th birthday in Los Angeles, I loaded up my beautiful but hyper dog and took him for a hike. It was one of those perfect beautiful LA days and my drinking felt like it was under control (ha ha ha) and my relationship hadn’t gotten terrible so that morning was pretty fantastic. On the way up the canyon, I listened to one of LA’s classic rock stations. Before playing the above song, the dj, one of those guys with a gravely voice and endless rock knowledge, told the heartbreaking story of how “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac was written. At the time,  Stevie Nicks claimed the song was about a friend she had loved and lost (It would later be revealed that Sara was about a baby she had with Don Henley and lost making the story even sadder.) The dj’s story was impactful to me for some reason as I parked the car. I then just sat there and listened to the song and felt incredibly moved.To this day I cannot hear that song and not think of that morning, that birthday, that moment.

Flash forward 16 years later, at age 42 my husband and I were having a conversation about writing and he said, “Music has such a profound impact on you. You should write a show about it.” He’s one of my most succinct collaborators and as a director he has an insight into theatre that I don’t. At the time, I thought, Hmm that could be interesting but didn’t know how or what I’d do exactly. This lead to thinking about the moments and the songs I’ll never forget, like “Sara” on my birthday or the time I was blaring Tom Petty and again with Stevie Nicks and got into a car accident with my sister

Or listening to the Promise by When In Rome on repeat and pining for a douchey, hipster goth guy.

Or dancing to “Thinking of You” high on ecstasy as the sun came up.

Turns out my life was filled with these moments and I suspected other people’s were too. Like Donna Summer, my life, my loves everything could be heard on the radio. So I took to Facebook and asked,”What’s that song the immediately takes you back to a place or memory?” Suffice it say, my suspicions were right. Over 100 people responded with touching, funny, bizarre stories.  It was then I knew I was onto something.This wasn’t about the best song or your favorite song it was about music impacting your life and your life happening while music was on. The responses were genuine and really inspiring. I started really writing the show, with the help of my writing group, in January. Piece by piece the show came together as s series of monologues that I starting calling Your Heat is a Radio, a monologue mixtape”. As my own memories of songs shaped the monologues, the show got really personal. And scary. Like I said at the beginning of this post, terrifying. Putting that much of your soul out there is freaking intense and I clutched onto the script and didn’t want to let it go. Until this week.

My plan was to have the show up in October. Pneumonia had other plans, however, forcing the show–and all writing into hibernation. Feeling better and ready to finally birth this darn thing, I got the courage and opened the document. Turned out, it was in excellent shape. (I mean aside from needing an ending and having whole portions rewritten or tossed out completely. Aah theatre.) I dove back in this week and it felt good. Of course I had the requisite, “Oh my God. This is horrible and it should never see the light of day” but that’s art for you. Being sober has taught me to not pay too much attention to the voices of fear. I can hear them and acknowledge they’re in the room wreaking havoc, give them the finger and keep going. My story, this story has merit and deserves a life so fear can suck it. I’m now planning on a staged reading in spring and submitting it to some festivals. The cool thing about theatre is once it gets in front of people it stops being about me. The audience gets their own relationship with it and takes it somewhere else. And I love that. At the end of the day, I’m proud of it and I’m proud of me and that’s fucking huge.

 

 

Advertisements

Swing From The Chandelier

A weird thing happened on the radio this summer– pop music got sober. Okay not all of it. But it’s hard to ignore one of the season’s most popular songs which talks about that special kind of self-destruction only we drunks and junkies can really understand. The song I’m talking about is Chandelier by Sia and to me it isn’t her faceless presence in the video that’s most fascinating. It’s the catchy lyrics and Sia herself’s story that I find utterly captivating.

The above video has a staggering 92 million views on YouTube and is without a doubt one of the most talked about music videos of the year. It’s an incredible visual interpretation of a song that’s nearly impossible to get out of your head. Having been a fan of Sia’s for many years, it’s the kind of arty, bizarre and entertaining video I’ve come to expect from her.

As interviews and details of the meaning behind Chandelier filtered through online press, my love for her and the song only got deeper. At first blush, you could consider lyrics like, ““I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier/ I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist,” to be part of a rebellious party anthem but the more you listen, the more heartbreaking the message really is. “But I’m holding on for dear life, won’t look down, won’t open my eyes\Keep my glass full until morning light, ’cause I’m just holding on for tonight.”  I certainly identify with that sentiment. “Holding on for dear life” is something I did in my addiction for many years and leave it to a fellow addict to succinctly come up with the words to capture that misery and isolation so well. Although she shies away from the press, Sia has talked openly about her own alcoholism and addiction. “I was really unhappy being an artist. I was always a drinker but I didn’t know I was an alcoholic. Then I got seriously addicted to Vicodin and Oxycodone,” she told Billboard last year.  Sober since 2010, Sia’s life and career have totally turned around. Since then, she’s written hit songs for nearly everyone

and some even that quote what we hear in the land of recovery.

Sia told NPR that AA has helped her stay sober and become a better songwriter. “”I can sit while people cry,” she says. “I can stand when someone’s angry. Like, I don’t know. I’m fine around other people’s feelings. It doesn’t make me nervous or anxious. Probably because of the program. If you’re in an AA meeting, people are sharing. Sometimes there’s crying. Sometimes there’s feeling. And we’re just witnessing it.” Her new album, 1,000 Forms of Fear debuted at number 1 and Chandelier has been nominated for several MTV VMAs including “Video of the Year”.  Sia’s not the only one singing about recovery. Sure, addiction has long been fodder for really dramatic pop, country and rock songs. Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Pink, Eminem, Aerosmith, Trent Reznor and the Postal Service are just a few of the artists who’ve covered hitting bottom in song. But it does seem like there’s a new crop of recovery rock on the charts. Global smash hit, Habits (Stay High) by Tove Lo details an unhealthy coping methods of a young girl dealing with a breakup.

While the inescapable  I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers talks about changing old behaviors, if not specifically getting sober.

As a writer and creative person myself, sober success stories like Sia’s are important. Seeing people like her or Robert Downey Jr or Zak Efron or Anthony Hopkins or Stephen King continue to create and stay sober is incredibly inspiring. It tells me to keep going and that if I stay sober anything is possible. I need hope in the rooms and online but it’s amazing to hear it on the radio too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Run and Hide Sunday Girl

0094633139558_600

I read recently that 68-year-old punk/pop icon Debbie Harry hopped up on stage and sang Heart of Glass with Arcade Fire at Coachella. Just because she can. Just because she’s, as Arcade Fire’s Win Butler introduced her, “Debbie fucking Harry.” But mainly, because she’s always had guts. Don’t ever get it twisted- No Debbie? No Madonna. No Gwen. No Gaga. No Miley. Period. The queen of the underground personified balls and moxie in the 70’s and 80’s.  Harry’s  tough stalkerish lyrics (I’m gonna getcha, getcha, getcha), jaw-dropping fashion sense, which basically every hipster chick would end up trying to copy for the next 30-years,

tumblr_mrkcfz5Qvn1rgb1kfo1_r2_500

and her never-ending ability to surprise (rapping, for example)

put Debbie on the top of the heap. Debbie changed everything America thought they knew about rock and roll frontwomen.

Debbie-debbie-harry-31504119-500-307

Personally, Debbie blew my little gay mind when I saw her on shows like American Bandstand and Solid Gold during my childhood.

Henri Matisse once wrote, “Creativity takes courage.” Debbie Harry has that in spades. Me as of late? Uh. Maybe not so much. Yes, I’ve been monthly toiling away on a collection of one-acts that’ll be read this summer and yes I’ve been working as a  producer on a new show. And yeah I’ve read 15 novels since December and tried to intake as much art as I can but over the last month I feel like I’ve been hiding. It’s like writing and creating stuff are the things that make me feel the most free but somehow I’m ignoring those things and choosing to feel paralyzed and uninspired instead. Yeah. That sounds really healthy. In fact, it sounds like the recipe card for my classic Self-Sabotage Souffle. Damn. I thought I threw that fucking thing out. It’s humbling to think that self-doubt can easily creep in my windows, tie me up in the basement and basically hold me hostage regardless of how long I’ve been in recovery. One way or another, it’s gonna get me, get me, get me.

 

debbie_harry_2128573i

Nevertheless, I’m doing what 5-years of being sober has taught me: telling on myself. Moving the things that scare me into the light is the surest way to thwart their power. So I’ve been hiding but what am I going to do about it? For one, I’m going to follow a friend’s lead and write a little every morning. Hence the rebirth of this blog (the suggestion of another friend).  The simple equation of “No writing= feel bad” is easy enough to motivate me to move past fear and hop up on stage, metaphorically speaking of course. Doing things that scare me or that seem impossible helps pull me out of the dark. I say all of this to hold myself accountable. I’m going to blog for the next 30 days just to get my brain moving and to help kick fear in the ass. Friends, I would love to hear about the things that scare you but you do anyway. PS- It’s nice to see you again.

has anyone ever written anything for you?

First things first please, take a few minutes to listen to this song and story behind it and then I promise I’ll talk your ear off.

There’s a special kind of grace needed when you have a “chronic manageable disease” like HIV. See people will tell you that “Oh yeah. My neighbor has it and he’s fine”, “Oh I just read a thing about a girl in France who cured herself from it by going vegan” or “Maybe you should take more vitamins/take less vitamins/get new medication/stop medication/do yoga/do Pilates/meditate more.” Grace comes in handy when you can nod your head and say, “Okay.” But the thing is these poor, well-meaning folks are just trying to say something to make you feel less awkward and don’t really realize that we’ve pretty much tried everything if we’ve had a manageable disease for a few years. I’ve told this story on these pages before but its a funny one and worth repeating. When I was first diagnosed with HIV nearly 4 years ago in August, my nurse when trying to talk me off the ledge said, “HIV is a manageable condition like diabetes.” Oh in that case, sign me up. because diabetes always seemed like a trip to the tropics. Tahiti? No thanks! Who needs it when you have diabetes!

Also, let’s talk about this manageable word they like to throw around.Doctors are in essence are telling us that we are becoming managers of whatever our given affliction is. Correct me if I’m wrong but management seems like a lot of work. Whether you’re managing Mariah Carey or a McDonald’s, managers are some hardworking motherfuckers. As my own condition has recently caused me some health problems with a side order of fear ( I would have rather had onion rings, by the way), I have to get into gratitude. I am grateful that it’s treatable and that I have good doctors. I’m grateful for all the prayers and spiritual assistance. Yet I acknowledge that it sucks and that it’s hard. So here is where Stevie comes in.

steienicks_4fe37368e087c359fb00046f

That song so beautifully talks about giving it away when you feel the absolute worst. I hope I can do that. I need to do that right now. Here’s my attempt to do so. If you have traumatic brain injury, manic depression, rheumatoid arthritis, bipolar disorder, suffered a stroke, are getting off drugs, have just lost a loved one, can’t get out of bed, tried to kill yourself, suffering from MS, learning to walk or speak again, trying to not pick upon a drink, living with HIV and yes diabetes; all I can say is I get it. As a bonus, I won’t tell  you what books to read or that my old English teach has whatever you’re dealing with.  All I can tell you is even if it is manageable, I know you hurt , that everyday is a battle to stay positive and healthy and that I am sorry. I hope you can laugh, I hope you do nice things for yourself and know that by fighting and managing everyday, you’re helping me and lot of other people. So has anybody ever written anything for you? I have.

And I hope you can do the same for someone else. As Stevie says, “If not for me, do it for the world.”

Gay Pride Mixtape: Vol. 2

tumblr_lp9yhetsSi1qbw92uo1_500

 

In honor of gay pride weekend, I’m celebrating with by making some YouTube mixtapes featuring some of my favorite big gay songs. Today’s edition pays homage to the divas!

No gay mixtape would be complete without a little Barbra Streisand. Not only is she a gay icon but her own son is gay too! Go, Babs.

And speaking of gay icons. One word: CHER. ‘Nuff Said.

Donna Summer may have had a complicated relationship with the LGBT community but by the end of her life, it had healed and all we were left with was her incredible legacy of some of the best dance music ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, Grace Jones. You’re welcome!

When it comes to my happy place music, nobody fits the bill like Kylie Minogue.

Cyndi Lauper was my first gay diva as She’s So Unusual was the first record I ever bought with  my own money. Here’s a vintage track from that record along with a booty shaker from her tragically underrated Take Ya to the Brink. I even saw Cyndi perform at West Hollywood Gay Pride back 2003.

To wrap it up, here’s Madonna at the peak of her powers having a holiday. Hope you do the same!

 

 

 

 

Gay Pride Mixtape: Vol. 1

raduga

Happy Gay Pride Denver! As I’ve mentioned, I’m not big on crowds of drunk people, gay or otherwise, and seeing as I’ve been instructed by medical folk to take it easy for the next few days, I won’t be celebrating my gayness with the entire city. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of who I am or of the progress LGBT people have made. Quite the contrary! I love being gay and I’m in awe how far we’ve come. Music is kind of how I celebrate everything. Once upon a glitter soaked night club, I used to dj and work in a record store. I know. Very 90’s. Anyway, I thought I’d make myself a little YouTube mixtape in honor of the occasion featuring some serious gay superstars!

We’ll start you off slow with disco and lesbian icon Alicia Bridges. Please enjoy the gold lamé boots.

Do you wanna funk? Let drag pioneer and all around badass Sylvester show you how!

Best. Baseline. Ever. And oh yeah, Freddie Mercury was a pop god.

If gets any gayer than George Michael in leather, than I have yet to find it. The dance routine at 2:44 is mind-blowing, by the way.

No gay pride mix would be complete without Boy George. Holy crap. I wanted to be him so bad.

Erasure covering ABBA? Gay, gay, gay.

That should get me started and feeling festive. Tomorrow, I’ll post volume 2 which is nothing but big gay divas!

Bjork, Nachos & God

When I used to fall into a tricky little hole called depression or the neighboring, less threatening hole named sadness, the tool I used to get out was my old pal liquor. Liquor, I thought, could make a ladder to help pull me out. What it did, though, every single time was fill the hole with more chaos until I was not only stuck in a hole but also drowning. Recently, the ladders I had to use to pull me out were of a different variety to say the least.

bjork

Sometimes pop music transcends pop music and while listening to “All is Full of Love” by Bjork, I finally heard something I have needed to hear for weeks. Like a lot of incredible songs in my life, this one showed up in my headphones and out of nowhere it told me the truth.

You’ll be given love
You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love
You have to trust it

Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at

Twist your head around
It’s all around you
All is full of love
All around you

I’ve  heard this song a million times but it wasn’t until now that it really shook me to the core. After a difficult month involving a creative breakup, some financial uncertainty and a batch of sad news, I had fallen down a hole. I knew it too. My first instinct was to panic and freak out and try to frantically dig my way out. I’m sober and I always thought feeling sad or being depressed was who I was and not who I am. But the truth is, I am a human and sometimes my life is sucky or hard or fucking sad. And this last month was one of those times. What I did know is that I needed to go through it, no matter how long it took. I have been relying on meetings, bad TV and nachos to pull me out. But mainly, and not to sound like some horrible coffee mug that you’d get at an inspirational bookstore, I’ve needed God as my ladder. (Country song idea #51: God is My Ladder) The fact is that all of this seemed to heavy or too overwhelming and too fucking much.I kept up my prayer and mediation practice even when I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew that this was going to eventually pass but I needed some supernatural non-human aid of the higher powered variety to help it along.

And just like that it did. After a month of pushing on and feeling my feelings, it happened. I was lifted out of that hole that seemed too deep and too scary and neverending just a few weeks ago.  As this lovely song, now added to my “Play it at the Funeral” playlist, filled me with gratitude. It made me realize that my life, holes and rough patches included, is good. That I am taken care of.  It is full of love and it is all around me. Even when I can’t see it. Especially then, I think.

Inspiration for 10/4: “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” by Janis Joplin

“If it’s a dream, I don’t want nobody to wake me.” 

42 years ago today, Janis Joplin was found dead in a Los Angeles hotel room. On that October 4th, the world lost a soulful, powerful vocalist who’s influence would be felt for deacdes to come. Janis was one of many artists whose flame was put out by drugs and alcohol. Her story has sadly become a rock and roll cliche and gets repeated several times every year. Yet it’s her take no prisoners music and badass vocal stylings that survive today. And “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” is one song which truly captures this legacy.

The track appeared on her 1969 record I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! While not lyrically, complex, “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” embodies the kind of attitude and sass that the world found irresistible in Joplin. While reading about Janis I found this quote by another idol, Stevie Nicks, that sums up Janis’ power perfectly:

“Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real. She sang in the great tradition of the rhythm & blues singers that were her heroes, but she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song. She really gave you a piece of her heart. And that inspired me to find my own voice and my own style.”

So on this chilly Thursday I’m going to rally and turn “Try Just a Little Bit Harder” into my funky theme song. Maybe I’ll blast other Janis tunes during my day to honor her.  Also as I work on some writing projects, I’m going to strive for that “beautifully real” quality that Stevie pinpoints in Janis. Finally, I’ll use the title of the song as kind of a mantra. Spiritually, creatively and emotionally I can try just a little bit harder today. And it’ll feel good. Or  as the lady herself would say, “You know you got it if it makes you feel good!”

 

 

Inspiration for Sept. 20th: “Fame” by David Bowie

Sometimes I need to start my day with a deep, reflective moment. And other times, I just need a funky, booty-shaking jam that serves as my soundtrack to my day. Today is the latter. Therefore imagine my delight when I found out that on September 20th, 1975 , Fame by the incomparable David Bowie was the number 1 song. That’s right- 37 years ago, the country had actual taste! I’m kidding. Kind of. “Fame” is one of those “attitude” songs. You know. The kind of song you move your head to and maybe even strut around your apartment to. It’s a track with a funkiness you can’t deny- see the Soul Train dancers in the above clip for further proof.

The song like most Bowie songs has a great back story. Apparently Bowie wrote it as a kind of response to being ticked off at his management company at the time. According to Wikipedia:

Bowie would later describe the song as “nasty, angry,” and fully admits that the song was written “with a degree of malice” aimed at the Mainman management group he had been working with at the time. In 1990 Bowie reflected that “I’d had very upsetting management problems and a lot of that was built into the song. I’ve left that all that behind me, now… I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”

To make “Fame” even more awesome, the song was co-written by John Lennon, who can also be heard on the backup vocals! Ever the collaborator, Bowie later re-released the song in 1990 with a rap from Queen Latifah back when she was still a badass.

So on a day like today where I’ve got a lot to do a song like “Fame” is the perfect jam to rock out to. But Bowie’s ability to channel a bad experience into something genius is über inspiring as well. Instead of stewing in situations or feeling hopeless, I will try to remember today that I have talents and tools to help me make things better. Also, Bowie’s willingness to collaborate and learn from other artists is something I need to take with me all day too. Mainly, I’ll use “Fame” as my funky, full of swagger, theme song today.

Readers, what’s your Thursday theme song? Post it below!

 

.

 

Inspiration for September 19th: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Cass Elliot

Nobody can tell ya there’s only one song worth singing.”

-Make Your Own Kind of Music

Had she survived a massive heart attack in 1974, “Mama” Cass Elliot would have been 71 years-old today. In a short but rich career, Elliot recorded no other song that better described her individuality and “screw ’em if they don’t like you” attitude better than “Make Your Own Kind of Music”. Recorded in 1969 as a followup to her hit, “It’s getting better”, the tune didn’t really make much of an impact at the time and only reached #36 on the Top 40. Elliot struggled to stay relevant as she departed The Mamas and the Papas and as the 60’s were becoming the 70’s. Nevertheless, this curious little pop tune has endured. Barbara Streisand, Bobby Sherman and others have recorded the track but it’s Cass’ version that survives. She really sells the songs corny but sincere message and elevates the track to classic status. Upbeat, catchy and unabashedly optimistic, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is own of those songs I picture playing during the opening credits of the sitcom based on my life. Anybody else? No? Just me? Okay. Moving right along…

Fans of the show Lost will undoubtedly remember Desmond playing the song on a record player during the season 2 opener entitled, “Man of Science, Man of Faith.” “Make Your Own Kind of Music” shows up in several other episodes and even had a surge on iTunes, thanks to Lost. 

According most biographies of Cass Elliot, she struggled with truly loving who she was and suffered a lot of emotional and physical pain due to her struggle with her weight. It’s a shame she never got to really believe the message of personal acceptance that she inspired in her fans. So on this slow-moving Wednesday where there isn’t enough coffee to get me going, I’m going to try to take the song’s message to heart. I have a few “what if they hate it” or “what if I fail” creative projects that I’m going to jump head first into today. Also, it’s important as a creative person to keep going and trust the process so I’m going to try to help others do that today too. Finally, I have to remember to do things in my own voice and not care if “nobody else sings along.”

Happy Birthday Mama Cass and Happy Wednesday, friends!