Saturday, April 23, 2016


I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about this, but these 3 items about my neighborhood appearing simultaneously this morning was striking:

Katz's sells its air rights for a lot of money. The rest of the block is doomed.

And this about religious freedom and elevators.

And this from our Co-op Facebook group:
This is how East River's Orthodox community celebrates Earth Day in our park. These people are religious fundamentalists who only care about their own community. Nothing else matters to them. They lied to us telling us that they would empty & return the trash cans to their original locations. They certainly cannot complain about the loss of their religious freedoms. Their arrogance is repugnant. Tomorrow is Friends of Corlear's Hook Park's first clean up day of the season. Now we have no trash cans for our event.

Friday, April 15, 2016

What Am I Afraid Of?

I've been insisting that this primary vote, for me, is not just a matter of deciding whose values align with mine (that would be Sanders) but rather a process of contemplating different possible consequences of a Clinton or Sanders presidency. A good friend asked me what I'm afraid of with a Sanders presidency, which is a good question and here's my answer:

This is what I’m afraid of:

He’s unable to pass any of his legislative priorities in Congress because of GOP opposition, which will be fierce. I guess it’s possible he learns how to compromise and he gets some laws passed, but that would infuriate his diehard supporters to whom he promised no compromise.

So either because of anger over a diluted agenda, or disillusionment because nothing gets done, he loses his core of support which, to my eyes, is based on the idea that we elect him and he’ll ride into Washington on a white horse and make everything good again.

Having lost faith in the very idea that voting can change anything, his former supporters don’t vote in 2018, and the GOP lockhold on Congress is further entrenched. And they stay home in 2020 because they no longer believe that electing a “progressive” president can break up the banks, ban fracking and Monsanto, overturn Citizens United, make peace in the Middle East, send Wall Street into a giant sinkhole, and deport the Koch Brothers, McDonalds, and Walmart. The left in general loses support, loses steam.

And we end up with Cruz or someone similarly grotesque as president in 2020, all 3 branches of the federal government are controlled by theocrats and every small gain liberals have made in the last century or two are rolled back one by one, and on and on till the day I die.

That’s pretty much what I’m afraid of.

Of course all the above puts aside the question of who has a better chance of defeating a Republican. People have strong opinions on both sides. I happen to think Clinton has a much better chance, but it's really all guesswork at this point.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


When Mom died, I felt like I was the only one saying the words "died" or "dead." The words felt harsh coming out of my mouth because everyone was avoiding them. It's sort of how I felt when I moved to Tennessee from New York and had to stop saying "fuck" because people would react like I'd shot them in the face with a squirt gun.

I've gotten used to people saying "passed away," but I don't really like it. It reminds me of how people supposedly often fart upon dying, which Mom did not do -- her lower bowel was not connected so no gas had passed through it for 2 years. The woman died. Can we just say she died? Euphemisms rob the event of its seriousness, its profundity, its finality.

When Mom was sick, I hated all the military metaphors people slip into when someone has cancer. As I saw it, she wasn't battling cancer, she was treating a disease so she could live longer and better. The point was to live longer in order to enjoy her life, not to be locked in battle with a deadly foe. But after she died, the metaphor made perfect sense to me. She had fought like a dog for her life, no doubt about it. She had an ugly, painful disease and she beat it back valiantly for years. Years in which her appreciation for her life deepened and in which our appreciation for her and each other deepened. It was a battle well fought. And I feel like she won it.

This article is not as interesting as it could be, because it only considers obituary language, which is determined by factors like whether or not people pay for their obits so they can submit something written by the family, or whether only a "death announcement" is allowed. Also, newspapers have style guides that I would think maybe limit the expressions allowed. It's not everyday language. I mean, "entered eternal rest"?

It makes me smile to remember Mom so often, sitting at the kitchen table in the morning, reading the obituaries in their local Muncie paper and snickering at things like So-and-so was called home to Jesus, or So-and-so was carried on the wings of angels up to her Lord and Savior."

I inherited my mom's love of laughing at the hicks and though I don't necessarily love it in myself I embrace it as a sometimes necessary survival tactic, especially in rural Indiana, the land of compulsory Jesus-is-my-best-friend Christianity.

Monday, April 4, 2016

North Carolina Wants Less Gay? We'll Give It Less Gay.

I haven't been able to find information about whether or not other writers are joining Stephen Schwartz's boycott of North Carolina. I hope they will. Some of us might be boycott weary -- I know I felt like we jumped the shark with Target -- but this one is, I think, perfectly targeted and worthwhile. (I don't have any prospective productions in North Carolina, so I haven't been faced with this decision.)

This is serious stuff. It doesn't just mean the Broadway tour of Wicked -- which alone is huge, since those tours bring tons of jobs and revenue to cities. It means no high school productions of Godspell. No community theater stagings of Pippin. Stephen Schwartz's shows get produced a lot.

I feel for the commenter on this blog, a North Carolina theater producer, who says the boycott unfairly targets theater people, who are "compassionate of and fight for the equal rights of everyone." I'm sure it sucks for them to be the target of so much vitriol right now, and to be worried about the financial effect of a boycott on their institutions. But then he says later, "There are more compassionate, educated people in North Carolina than there are morons who want to set the state back fifty years." If that's true, then a boycott is asking you to prove it.

Seeing a boycott through the lens of who is being punished misses the point. Boycotts are not punishment, they're a call to action. They're meant to put pressure on people to change things. All you "compassionate, educated people in North Carolina": write letters, make phone calls, protest. And vote the morons out of office. We can't do that from here.

The comparisons to South African apartheid and Jim Crow are dramatic. Some may find them over-dramatic. But I doubt it seems that way to transgender people in North Carolina who are by law now prohibited from using public bathrooms.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Don't Know About You, but I'm In The Mood To Keep Talking About Susan Sarandon.

People are tired of hearing about the Susan Sarandon interview, I know. My feelings won't be hurt if you roll your eyes and skip this post. Well, my feelings would probably be hurt if I saw you do it, but I won't even know.

I'm sick of it, in a way, too. But what irks me is how far already the commentary has gotten from what actually happened in that interview. Because, to me, it was a moment when the lights came on suddenly and briefly. It was jarring, upsetting, and very disheartening.

But let me first take apart this essay, which is pretty typical of the quick spin the Sanders campaign has put on this interview, the damage control, the effort to discredit anyone who is critical of Sarandon as a liar.

It starts with an example of Hillary Clinton lying. The narrative of Hillary as a liar is important, so the idea that she may have just been mistaken is off the table. See, she’s a liar? Here she is lying. Now I have proved she is a liar.

Then a charge of “inaccurate reporting” on the Chris Hayes interview. This is the most frustrating aspect of the post-brouhaha Sanders campaign spin. A few outlets ran false clickbait headlines misquoting Sarandon as saying "Vote for Trump!" (which is easily refuted by listening to the short video clip), so they dismiss all negative reaction as “a lot of inaccurate reporting.”

No, Sarandon did not say “Vote for Trump!”

She said a couple of times that “a lot of people” can’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton, which is true. And then Hayes asks her if she herself will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee:

SARANDON: I don`t know. I`m going to see what happens. 
HAYES: Really? 
SARANDON: Really. 
HAYES: I cannot believe as you`re watching the, if Donald Trump… 
SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know explode. 
HAYES: You`re saying the Leninist model of… 
SARANDON: Some people feel that. 
HAYES: Don`t you think that`s dangerous? 
SARANDON: I think what`s going on now. If you think it`s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you`re not in touch with the status quo. The statue quo is not working, and I think it`s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are …. 

Then she restates the usual objections to Hillary's record (militarized police, privatized prisons, death penalty, low minimum wage,  income disparity, and so on) ending with “I don`t like the fact she talks about Henry Kissinger as being her go to guy for the stuff that`s happened in Libya and other things I don`t think is good.”

When I watched this clip (maybe an hour or so after the broadcast, a friend posted it, before I saw all the spin and social media amplification) I reacted with disgust, not because she said “I’m voting for Trump and you should, too.” Obviously she didn’t say that. What she said is that she didn’t know if Trump would be better or worse than Clinton, that in fact “some people” (and these “some people” being clearly, in this context, Bernie supporters) think he might be better. And when asked if she thought that was a dangerous notion, she answered with a statement of how  dangerous she feels Clinton would be. 

It is not necessary to exaggerate or misquote or in any way distort these comments to find them reprehensible. It doesn't matter that the next day Sarandon tweeted that of course she won't vote for Trump. What matters is that she floated the idea that Trump might be better than Clinton and then dug in her heels and refused to critique it. (An interpretation this essayist calls “stupid." So much for dialog.)

The rest of the essay is a point by point examination of Susan Sarandon's case against Clinton: Monsanto! Rich people! Banks! Wall Street! Fracking! Kissinger! Every time I or anyone is critical of Bernie Sanders or his followers, the response is this list. Question: "What do you think of this thing Bernie Sanders said that I don't think is quite true?" Answer: "Oh my god, how could you say that? Hillary Clinton is a monster!" All these charges against Clinton are interesting, often troubling, many times true, but sometimes they're not what we're talking about.

Just for good measure, he ends with a gendered insult about “what sort of woman” Clinton is compared to “what sort of woman” Sarandon is. And I'm sure he would respond: "Stop talking about sexism.  Criticizing Clinton doesn't make me sexist!" No, saying sexist things makes you sexist.

Anyway, this writer's point  I think, is that it is reasonable for Susan Sarandon, and by extension Bernie’s supporters, to say anything that might defeat Clinton because look at what a horrible president she’d be based on the fact that she’s a crook and a liar and war-monger.

So here are my thoughts, this morning, on the Bernie Sanders campaign:

It is a campaign, a movement, based on the idea that political integrity can be popular, can rally votes, enough to win the presidency. Its base assumption is that our government is corrupt and that we, the honest people, must take back power by calling out corruption wherever we see it, insisting on transparency at every turn.

It’s a powerful idea. The dark side of the coin, though, is that this idea creates a crowd who must believe in their own moral unassailability. They swallow whole anything presented as evidence of corruption. ("Clinton is corrupt because look at this evidence of corruption" "How do you know the evidence is true?" "She's corrupt, so the evidence must be true.") Transparency is hard work and I think often impossible when it comes to evidence of corruption. Most people don’t have the expertise, let alone time and energy, to analyze campaign finance law, or bank regulation, or tax law. Yet, from listening to Sanders's followers, it seems like we have a whole movement of experts on all these subjects, as well as foreign policy, geopolitics, and history. Or maybe it's just that they’re susceptible to demagogues who may or may not be experts, and may have good intentions, but they are politicians with agendas. “Follow the money” is good advice, but it's painstaking work, and there are always many lenses through which to interpret these numbers. It’s more complex than a Facebook meme.

I get the sense that Bernie Sanders is a good man of high ideals. I know no such thing about most of his followers. I don’t trust populists because I don’t trust the populace. Bernie Sanders seems to want to bring honesty and compassion to government. What many of his followers seem to want is power and a humiliated enemy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


I have a birthday coming up in a couple weeks. 55. Which feels harsher than 50 did, those 5's ganging up on me now.

My mom's death last year hit me with, among other things, an inescapable feeling that there's not a lot of time left, and most of the anxiety of that realization clusters around my work, my career. Just when I've only in the last few years begun to have some grasp on my talent or power or ability, the future no longer stretches out beyond seeing.

Big thoughts!

On that subject, I've been looking at songs and songwriters that have been models for me, conscious or unconscious influences, and I was reading the New York Times review of Disaster! this morning in which Charles Isherwood mentions the K-Tel compilation albums that were ubiquitous in the 70s and I remembered one in particular that I was obsessed with as a tween -- called Good Vibrations, it had a sort of acid trip yellow cover -- so I Googled it and it turns out it was Ronco, not K-Tel, but y'know culturally speaking more or less the same thing, relentless TV commercials hawking these albums with scrolling song titles over excerpts from the songs, only available by mail order.

Reading this playlist, suddenly everything about me as a songwriter makes sense. I was 12 when I got this record. It predates Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Heart, it predates Judy Garland and Joan Baez, musicals, it even predates The Partridge Family (all those Wes Farrell songs I always kind of thought of as my earliest musical influence).

Two songs on this record still play in my dreams: If You Don't Know Me By Now, and Melanie's Peace Will Come. And the Association's Darling Be Home Soon. Handbags and Gladrags. All the Young Dudes!

Possibly the momentousness of this is lost except on me, but I feel like Mary Leakey discovering the Lucy bones this morning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Patricia Renn-Scanlan.

It is International Women's Day, a fact which I learned on Facebook this morning but didn't learn what that actually means, which is I guess typically the relationship between Facebook and facts.

It has set my mind to thinking about women, more than usual. I've become a little obsessed with the Democratic primary, solely because of the gender issues highlighted by Clinton's candidacy. Other aspects of it are much less interesting to me. And this week I've been actively trying to find a story I can make into a musical -- though I have projects in progress with collaborators, I have time and energy enough as well as a strong urge to write something all by myself -- so I've been thinking a lot about how my last two shows have been about women. And not just that the protagonists happen to be women but that the fact that they are women is integral to the stories.

A couple related thoughts: One, I'm not really interested in telling stories anymore that don't have some queer element. I'm just not. I could pick it apart as to why, but I don't see it as pathological, so why would I need to do that? And, two, by way of justifying my permission, as a man, to tell women's stories, I've said it before but it bears repeating: I've always believed that homophobia and misogyny are two faces of the same phenomenon, so to battle one is to battle the other.

When I was in high school I worked after school and summers at the DePauw University library. My mother worked there and got me the job. For part of that time I assisted the head reference librarian. Her name was Patricia Renn-Scanlan. Mom always identified with the women's libbers (as they called them then) but Patricia was a feminist in a whole new league. She introduced me to Andrea Dworkin and Adrienne Rich, blowing a hole in my mind a mile wide. I wasn't out yet to anyone but myself, but Patricia knew damn well what the story was. She frequently mentioned in passing her gay and lesbian friends, and though I didn't come out to her I had never felt so safe in my life. She was an ex-nun married to an ex-priest, so she knew from queer. She was overbearing and loud, fat and wore lots of purple, and most of the women at the library, including Mom, didn't warm to her. I adored her.

And she wasn't much of a speller, as you can see from this letter she wrote recommending me for a college scholarship.

Toward the end of my senior year, she took a job somewhere far away, moved, and we didn't keep in touch. From time to time over the years I've Googled her with no luck. But this International Women's Day thing today spurred me to try again only to find that she died three years ago.