GCN Radio - September 16, 2005
Transcribed by Vombatus
To listen to this episode, visit http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio
BRIAN: Justin is away on a much deserved vacation, so here I am all by my lonesome today. I'll try to behave properly if I can. No one to keep me in line, so you never know. Well, one of the things that we're doing in Season 3 is occasionally featuring some of our past interviews and people who we feel have made an impact. Some would call this a rerun; well, all right, you caught us. But these interviews are just as fresh today as when we first aired them. So today we go back to last summer when we Steve Schachlin, a Christian who happens to be a multi-talented entertainer who's gay and living with AIDS. The interview had a big impact on me because of how profoundly honest Steve's music is to me and how authentic and real Steve as a person is when listening to his story and some of his convictions. So, listen again, listen for the first time now as Justin and I take you back to the interview with Steve Schachlin.
I want to make music
I want to sing to the Son
I want to make music
I want to dance, I want to run
I want to lift my voice to heaven
And touch an angel's heart
I want to sing for all my brothers
And try to make them start
To want to make music.
I want to laugh in the spring,
I want to make music
And fall in love with everything
And when I'm finally dying
And I take my final breath
Music will keep on playing
'Cause even in my death
I want to make music.]
BRIAN: That's the voice of singer, composer, pianist, Steve Schalchlin. Welcome!
STEVE: Singer, actor...
JUSTIN: How are you doing today, Steve?
STEVE: Good! Very well.
JUSTIN: Great! We're glad to have you on. For the folks who aren't familiar with you, you have actually written music for two musicals now, right?
STEVE: Yes, we had an off-Broadway production called The Last Session which was a play which started out with my own struggle with AIDS but actually became a play about a young, homophobic Baptist boy who meets his hero, a pop star who used to be a gospel singer but who left gospel music. And the little boy is kind of freaked out because it's a recording session and he finds out his hero is gay. So the whole play really revolves around the old gay Christian debate that we are all pretty familiar with. Except we do it with humor. Usually it gets ugly... we stay un-ugly.
JUSTIN: That's awesome!
STEVE: And then the new show is a show called The Big Voice: God or Merman? And it's a musical by my partner and myself and it's about a relationship--it's basically a musical about a gay marriage, but also it traces our history. He was raised Catholic, he wanted to be the first Brooklyn-born Pope because he has a huge ego, and I was raised Baptist in the South. So we talk about our clash of our religious sensibilities and then put on a big slather of what it means to be gay on top of all of that.
BRIAN: Okay, that's wonderful. Tell us a little bit about your website and your diary and what it means.
STEVE: The website is http://bonusround.com, and I call it Living in the Bonus Round. I started it back in 1996 after coming back from a lot of AIDS-related infections. I had finished writing the music for our first musical and the Internet had just become available for normal folks and they had a site where you could put up a free webpage, and I became one of the first bloggers. In fact, I think I'm number 26. Out of all of the millions of bloggers, somebody actually documented and I'm the twenty-sixth blogger on the Internet.
JUSTIN: Oh wow!
STEVE: So it's been going for seven years now. I began as sort of a day-to-day keeping up with my own struggle with the disease plus all of the people that I would meet and talking about a lot of the issues with regards to homophobes writing me and wondering how I could be gay and be a Christian, or am I still a Christian, am I not a Christian, what does it mean... All of that good stuff. And so I just began spelling it all out, writing it all out in detail and it started to become sort of this underground sensation. Because of the diary I've been featured in a lot of national publications and television and I've spoke at Harvard and Stanford. So it sort of became bigger than I ever dreamed it could be. It was really just me trying to communicate with my family and my friends about how I was feeling.
JUSTIN: And you turned it into a cult phenomenon.
STEVE: I became a cult! And it's called Living in the Bonus Round because I call this part of my life the 'bonus round'... kind of like: I was supposed to die, but I didn't die, so this is all the extra time that I'm getting on the planet. And also in the bonus round, in the game shows, as you know, the time speeds up and the prizes are better.
JUSTIN: Yeah! You always have such a positive attitude about everything. And now, because of the website, I know you hear from a lot of youth. What sorts of things do you hear from the youth?
STEVE: Especially in the earlier days of the Internet, I'd get a lot of e-mails from young people who felt trapped in their homes. Perhaps they were in a conservative Christian environment and they were contemplating, as many young people do, whether it was worth even living. They felt no support. There was no real support for being a person of faith. They related to my own stories where I told about how in my twenties when I finally came out I thought my only option was just to get away. And I was mad at God, I was mad at the church, I was mad at everything and I didn't want anything to do with anybody who was remotely faith-based at all, I didn't care what religion they were. In writing about that, I discovered that I was not alone, that that is common to most people who were gay Christians, they just don't feel like there's a place for them. So they wrote me looking for advice, looking for support, asking me questions, "How can I be the person that I am?" "What can they do now?", looking for support. So I took it upon myself to answer all those e-mails, which I still do, but also it got me out on the Net looking for young people who could give peer support to them. As much as I love talking to young people, really young people should be talking to each other because that's how you can find out the most about yourself. There's a group on the Internet called Youth Guardian Services that was started by some teenagers, so what I try to do is to help connect young people up with other young people who are going through the same thing.
JUSTIN: People can purchase your CDs on the website, and I notice that a portion of the proceeds goes to support Youth Guardian Services.
STEVE: That became my one charity, I suppose.
JUSTIN: Now, there was one young man in particular whose story inspired you to write a song that makes me cry every single time I listen to it, called "Will It Always Be Like This?"
STEVE: Unfortunately it's a tragic story; he's a young man who took his own life. I met his mother shortly after through the PFLAG list. I met his mother and she was trying to find a way to work through her own sense of loss and guilt. Because she was even accepting of the fact that he was--he called himself bisexual. He got beaten up in school, he was nearly killed. What he felt was that he though his whole life would be about watching someone come around the corner, getting ready with a baseball bat, and he couldn't stand the pressure of thinking that's what his whole life was going to be. And she found some of his writings after he died; there was a notebook filled with some of his writings and I don't know if it was the exact phrase, but what I gleaned from the writings that she shared was that phrase just popped out to me, "Will it always be like this?" and to me, that was a song that just kind of wrote itself.
She found some words left in his notebook
The only clue he left behind
And from the words left in his notebook
She saw into his tortured mind
Fear was hanging in the air
He left a simple questionnaire
Will it always be like this?
Is everything set in stone?
Is there nothing I can change?
Will I always be alone?
Will it always be like this?
Is everything set in stone?
Is there nothing I can fix?
Will it always be like this?
BRIAN: Steve, what inspires you as a composer?
STEVE: What inspires me is truth, and a very strong emotion or life story. I tell stories in my songs. If I was in the Middle Ages I'd be a troubadour, you know, walking around with a four-stringed instrument telling the stories that happened in the town that I just came from. I really love hearing the stories of people's lives and their struggles, and especially how they overcome them. For instance, if you'll notice in "Will it always be like this?", it's not a story about the boy, it's a story about his mother and it's a story of how she took the tragic story of his life and turned it into a victory. So what I like to do is to start from a place of tragedy, perhaps, and look for the victory inside of it. To me that's what life is really all about. It's very easy to find the negative, but for me as a person of faith, the negative is the starting point, and then going from the negative into looking for the victory or how we can overcome, that's what intrigues me or interests me as a writer. That inspires me.
BRIAN: There's another song that you had that really struck me. It's about a dialogue with God and feeling like you're praying but God isn't there.
STEVE: Yeah, that's a song called "Where Is God?" and we've moved that into--that is a part of our new musical The Big Voice, although I wrote it before The Big Voice. I think that any person who's a thinking person of faith, at some point--this is my theory--that when someone goes out into the front yard and points their fist up at God and curses God, you know: "I don't believe in You anymore, I think it's stupid, I think this whole thing's ridiculous!" That's when God metaphorically puts His hands together and says, "Well, it's about time you started getting serious." I think that until we ask the hard questions, until we express our doubts, and lay them out there, we're not really being honest. We're not really communicating the depths of our soul. If we're serious about any kind of spirituality inside of ourselves, then the sort of Hallmark(TM), "I just pray, everything will be nice, everything will be alright'... that sort of Hallmark(TM) card sort of religion to me is just sort of pathetic and useless.
STEVE: It's only until we hit the hard stuff and are faced with something difficult and ask the hard questions... if God can't take a tough question then it's not God. And if God can't take an honest doubt or an honest fear, and we can't express it, then there's really no reason to even talk to God. To me that's the whole point of it.
Sometimes when I pray it feels like all my words
Are bouncing up and down the walls
And wandering down the halls
Sometimes when I pray it feels like God is laughing
If He's even there at all
To listen for my calls
Sometimes when I pray it feels everything is pouring
From my soul but I can Never seem to cry
And sometimes when I pray
It feels like I'm barely getting by
STEVE: At the end of the song, the lyric changes and I tell the story about my grandmother saying if God has hands they're your hands. Stop waiting around for God to do something: your hands are God's hands, your eyes are God's eyes, your body is God's body... this is how God is manifest.
JUSTIN: There's a reason that we are referred to as the Body of Christ; we are here to do God's work. All of these songs, "Will it always be like this?", "Where is God?", these are all available on the Bonus Round Sessions, which is an awesome CD which is available through Steve's website at BonusRound.com. That's sort of your 'live in the studio' recording?
STEVE: I did. I sat down and recorded most of those songs, it's a very simple recording, just piano and vocal for the most part, although some songs have some extra singers and some band things. I put together most of the tracks on that record during a time when I was kind of sick.
JUSTIN: I think, listening to those recordings, to me, captures an element that is simply lacking in a lot of today's contemporary Christian music. Because like you said, it's very sort of fuzzy and feel-good and doesn't ask a lot of honest questions, and I like just the raw emotion of that album. I love it.
STEVE: One of the greatest compliments I received was when a friend of mine here in the music industry--and you know, music industry people hear everything, and they generally hate everything, cause they heard it all. And I gave her that CD and she put it on... and they especially go against anything that's just a piano and a vocal, because they think, "Oh, they didn't spend money on production, blah blah blah..." So she puts on this record and she wrote me an e-mail and said, "After about the third song, I had to stop, start the record over, put everything away and just listen." She said, "I wasn't really prepared for the fact that you really are singing about something." I like to write songs where I feel like I have plunged a knife into my arm and I have bled all over the disc and you are getting raw emotions and real life and substance. I spent literally hours and hours and hours crying my eyes out, wrangling over every single word and emptying my soul.
JUSTIN: Well, it very much comes across, and that's an album that I don't think you can listen to without being moved because you deal with AIDS, you deal with gay people and gay youth and oppression and being beaten up and all those kinds of things. You deal with faith and doubt and so many very real issues.
BRIAN: You have a song that really gets to the nitty-gritty of your style, and that is "William's Song". Let's listen to a little of this.
William was a boy in Arkansas
A little bit different
In redneck country
this was not very cool
So they called him a fag
And they called him a queer
They then jumped him on
the sidewalk after school
Tell me why does it take
five great big guys
To beat up one little queer
What do they fear? What do they fear?
STEVE: Yes, the chorus on that is a really charming chorus.
STEVE: That's another story, about my friend Carolyn from Arkansas whose boy was literally beaten up after school and he dragged himself home in a trail of his own blood. She went down to the school, she complained. Of course, the principal didn't care, he was a homophobe. "Oh, you know, it's his own fault because he can't walk like a butch guy. And if he would straighten up everything would be all right." So she sued them! She took them right to court and she actually is the cause of, in this tiny little town, or this whole county in Arkansas, of them having to completely revamp all of their rules for how they deal with kids who are bashed. And they have to create a safe zone. Do not get between a mother and her kid! You know, it's not just about us, but it's about our families, and when you have a mother that is not going to take it lying down that her kid was beaten up, that's another great victory song! I mentioned earlier in this interview that these songs are tough, and these songs deal with stuff, but I don't leave anybody in the gutter. I don't take you down into the depths and leave you there, we go down there and then we come back out together, and that is why I think these songs work.
JUSTIN: I think so.
BRIAN: I do have one last question. After people hear your music, what do you want them to come away with?
STEVE: What I hope is that they will become as empowered as the characters in the songs. These are songs that deal with tough challenges, but they are songs that show you how to deal with tough challenges. And so what I hope is that people will become inspired to overcome and to find the victories in their own life because they see that it is possible that it can be done.
BRIAN: Steve, thank you so much for being on our show today. We really appreciate it.
STEVE: You bet! Any time.
BRIAN: And let's give the name of your website again so that people can order your music.
STEVE: You bet, it's www.BonusRound.com, Living in the Bonus Round. And I answer all my e-mails; anybody who wants to write me, please write me and I'll be happy to correspond with you. And I appreciate the fact that you guys have put together GCN and I think that it's really great.
JUSTIN: Thank you, we appreciate that.
BRIAN: You've been hearing an interview with Steve Schachlin recorded last year. Steve is a gay Christian entertainer living with AIDS. A brief update on Steve, according to his blog at bonusround.com, he's getting ready to take The Big Voice to Rochester, NY for performances that run September 22nd through October 8th. For more information, you can visit TheBigVoice.com or Steve's personal website, BonusRound.com. And so that concludes another edition of GCN Radio. You can always e-mail comments to us at email@example.com and you can listen online at http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio/. Justin returns next week! I'm Brian, God bless.