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.