Thursday, December 31, 2020

DDT-V (revisited)

The DDT-V All-Stars
(Can you spot Doug Dieken?)

Fred kept us honest. Any expression of ego was roundly mocked. We were kids, making a cheap comedy show. 

DDT-V (“Lethal Television”) was created by high school and college students, and broadcast intermittently on our community access channel from 1983 to 1986. It was a collection of sketches, fake news shows, and a lot of commercial parodies.

Fred was the driving force, no matter what any of the rest of us thought. He wrote most of the sketches, did so many of the voice-overs, even appeared in front of the camera a couple times.

After he died from a heart attack two years ago (on my fiftieth birthday, as it happened, thanks, Fred) I came into possession of the archive of our work.

Some of it holds up surprisingly well. And even where the humor is a bit obtuse, at least it has style. We used every square foot of the studio building, went all over Bay Village, hosted an entire episode from a booth in the North Olmsted Denny’s, did a location shot outside Cleveland Municipal Stadium downtown. 

When we held a charity baseball game against the high school faculty to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, our team had a ringer in the recently retired Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Doug Dieken.

Cartoon, The Bay Window
March, 1986
Watching these episodes I am able to track my development from a self-conscious freshman to a cocksure senior, which is a blessing and a curse. The one big regret I have, looking back, is that I never wrote anything for the show. That’s not true, I wrote one sketch that was recorded and aired. It’s not great.

I was intimidated. I didn’t know how it was done. Most significantly, I had nothing, at last, to say. I still believe that, at that age, I actually did not have anything of value to say. Or I did not know if I did. Most of what I did write and put out into the world, in the form of op-eds for the weekly high school paper, took the form of snark and grievance.

My editorial cartoons weren’t bad, however. They improved by the year. I suppose there is a lesson in that, that if I had tried to write, at that time, I would eventually come up with something worth being produced.

I guess that is exactly what I have been doing ever since. 

Wishing you creativity and happiness in 2021!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas This Year

We have a modest house. Three small bedrooms, one and a half bath. Some would call it a “starter home” but I have lived here since I was 24 and I believe I will some day die here. I hope so, to be honest, if I had to choose between that and somewhere else. 

And yet, this was the very first year I have ever had Thanksgiving dinner in my own home. Always at my parents’ house -- including last year -- on the other side of town. Or at my wife's folk's place. Never here. That changed this year, for obvious reasons. And the only Christmas morning I have spent here was in 2002, when my wife was expecting our January-born daughter.

So. A modest home. I love it here. But it’s not very big. And this year many of the things that would otherwise happen elsewhere are happening here. And it's taking up space.

We often wrap presents at my mother-in-law's house, to be doled out to nieces and nephews and other relations in person on Christmas Day. Our dining room has become not only this year’s wrapping central, but also the site for packing boxes for shipping, most of which has thankfully already been completed.

Normally, those presents that wrapped pre-travel would be stashed away somewhere, waiting to be stacked into our car. This year they are crowded under our usually present-free tree. They are stacked high, off to one side of the tree, or we would not be able to navigate the fireplace and the furniture of our living room.

There is also a cache of snack sized bags of chips and mini cans of coke and water and bars to put out for the delivery workers, postal workers, UPS, FedEx, Amazon, who stop by two, three, four times a day, working overtime to ship things which otherwise might be shopped for or brought personally to their destination.

The snack table has become an anthropological experiment. Given the choice of only Coke or water, most choose Coke. Chips over Nutrigrain bars. Doritos over potato chips. If I was delivering packages, these would be my choices, too.

Already one of our available downstairs tables has served as my quarantine office, there is little additional space to spare. The crèche of my childhood, recovered earlier this year from my mother’s house, is for the first time on display here, featured on the piano. I do not know its provenance. Norway? 

The child is made of wax, it has been kept cool and dry and has lasted I do not know how long. There is no longer anyone for me to ask. 

So here we are, we four. There is no one else I would more prefer to have in my company. We plan to rise late, open presents, Zoom with uncles and aunts and cousins and the grandmother. We will watch movies plays games, and dine on Chinese food. We have it good.

And the weather report is for a winter storm over the next three days. We may, indeed, have a white Christmas.

A COVID Christmas Carol
One of the grand prize winners of the Great Lakes Theater
"A Christmas Carol" Writing Contest (2020)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (2006)

The past two weekends some friends have been meeting on Zoom to read Edarwad Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

There has been a running gag among the actor-teachers that someday Lisa and I should play Martha and George, and so we did. We made it a drinking game. 

Drink whenever:
  1. Martha or George make an ageist comment to Nick or Honey
  2. Martha mentions her father
  3. anyone mentions George and Martha's son
  4. someone sings the "Virginia Woolf" song
  5. anyone mentions alcohol
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. You will die.

This will probably be the only time I have the opportunity to channel the person of George, and it was a pleasure. I was particualrly inspired by the perfomance Bill Irwin gave, almost fifteen years ago and which I was fortunate enough to catch in the West End.

At that time I made note of it in the blog I kept for performances of I Hate This, which, in addition to visiting my brother's family, was another reason I was in London at that time. I was struck at that time about the theme of childlessness. 

Here are my thoughts from the time, note the appearance of a young David Harbour who has since achieved fame as Sheriff Hopper in Stranger Things.

I Hate This Blog: March 30, 2006

After a quick meal of fish and chips, Henrik and I took off to see the recent revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner at the Apollo. Okay, not British, not the playwright, not the actors, but who cares? Couldn't see it in New York, thrilled to be able to see it in London. Besides, Henrik has never seen or read it, ever, so I knew it would be a kick for him.

Martha & George
It is as good as they say. I was on my guard for an understudy notice to be up when we arrived, but it wasn't. I knew the entire cast had gotten nominated for Tonys. Henrik tells me Ms. Turner missed a few performances a month ago, and when she opened her mouth last night I almost wished for her sake she'd taken the night off, her classic, dusky voice just sounded very, very tired. Big, but tired.

The event began a bit symbolically, as we took our seats, the folks from Chicago sitting next to us were being harangued by a red-headed drunk. Apparently he had been sitting on one side of them, and then the actual owner of that seat arrived, and then he had been in our seat, on the other side. He started talking to them politely, and then got loud and insulting, "You Americans think you're big shots, but your just fucking middle class," and like that. There were about a dozen people gesticulating wildly at the ushers and he was eventually escorted out.

Our aisle mates and we chatted for a bit, Henrik reporting that was the first time he had ever seen something like that happen in a dozen years of British theater-going. We concluded being verbally assaulted by an alcoholic wasn't exactly an inappropriate way to begin that night's performance.


I was probably supposed to read Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in college, but I didn't. I know I haven't seen the Mike Nichols film, and some say that's for the best. In any case, the only other time I've seen it was (surprise) at Great Lakes Theater Festival, about ten years ago. I really enjoyed that production. In fact, having never even read it before, I was shocked at how great the first act was, and equally amused to hear another audience member heading for the lobby during the first intermission saying loudly, "This is terrible, there's nothing to like about any of these people!" Great drama, very funny, and it was still pissing people off after 35 years! That's theater.

What I did not get ten years ago was the whole "no son" thing. Thought it was symbolic. Maybe there was a son, but he's gay or something so they don't want to talk about him. Or it was just a game. The kind of game that people don't want to have children play, those kinds of people. Intellectuals.

Except it's stated pretty clearly at the end, they cannot have children. Cannot. In the days of my ignorance, the idea that people cannot have children was a very simple concept. Intercourse, but no conception. You cannot have children.
NICK: (to George, quietly) You couldn't have ... any?
GEORGE: We couldn't.
MARTHA: (a hint of communion in this) We couldn't.
What I did not know at that time was that means trying to have children. A lot. Hoping for children. Having miscarriages, maybe a lot of them. Stillbirths. Not so simple.

Honey & Nick
The play takes place on the advent of the 21st birthday of this imaginary son. A private ritual, George and Martha make up a life for their son, and on this night she breaks the rules and tells someone else. And on this night, George kills him. It's over. He's dead.

So he was never imaginary. Was there a boy? A small boy, a stillborn boy, or a boy who died shortly after birth? He was real.

"There's nothing to like about any of these people." Maybe not. It's ugly in its hysterical-ness. It's a play about failure, so many different kinds of failure, for everyone in the room. The younger couple have much in common with the older one. Nick and Honey can't have children, either. Hmn. Another take on the word "hysterical."

The performances were uniformly brilliant, but I simply adored Bill Irwin. A monument to passive aggression. But I was also struck by Mireille Enos' Honey. Never gave her character much notice before, I think I had the least sympathy for her in the past. But she was heartbreaking. Oh yes, mousy and yet so, so sympathetic. So vulnerable.

It was a great show. Capped by a migraine. Ah well.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Twenty Twenty-One

Eight years ago I began a tradition of writing a post of my expectations for the coming year. The first time I did this, I knew I had two productions and one workshop in my future. Some years are not nearly so fertile, but I have been posting them, anyway.

My expectations for 2020 were modest; a production, a workshop, and the commencement of grad school. And here we are, and no one can be blamed for their lack of clairvoyance. We had no idea what was going to hit us next.

The next year will be even more a mystery. There’s a vaccine! There are a couple of them! What will happen next? Will we be protected, are we safe, if not now, then soon? What will happen? 

I mean. My daughter will graduate from high school. That is something I am pretty sure of.

We will continue to work and protect and care and create. That is for certain. I wrote a new script, and I will be slinging that to anyone who will read it. The publication of one of my scripts is in the works, more on that when it is announced.

Also, great news -- Savory Taṇhā will receive a remount at Cleveland Public Theatre!

And the schoolwork will continue. I did very well this semester. I hope to maintain my GPA.

The year 2021 marks an auspicious anniversary in our family, the twenty year birth anniversary of our first child, born on March 20, 2001. I have no idea where we will be in three months time, or how we will celebrating this birthday. If it’s anything like last year, our family will be out of doors together, experiencing whatever the world has to offer.

But there’s also a new production of I Hate This (a play without the baby) in the works, and this time we will be able to share it with everyone.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ten Recommended Posts from 2020

Joshua McElroy, Khaki Hermann
"Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street"
(Great Lakes Theater, 2020)
Ten years on, what is this blog? It is a journal. It is a promotional tool. It is self-aggrandizing but also keeps me honest. It is a record of my progress as a playwright. And it is also an opportunity to research and record past events and tie them to the current moment.

These ten blog posts from 2020 may not have attracted as much attention, But hey, I took the time to research and write them and I recommend another look because they're pretty good.

On Procrastination

Accepting the opportunity to moderate a playwright’s panel at CPT while you are fresh in grief and trying to comprehend your mother’s eulogy is just another thing that has to get done.

The Bully of Baker Street: Week Three

Reflections on a tour in progress, and how gratifying it is to learn that adults find your educational play for elementary school children progressive and a challenge to their political beliefs.

The Short Play Project: Humiliation Series

There are about a dozen short play “collection” blog posts, but this one is my favorite. Three short play videos that beg the question: AITA?

"Residency On Demand"
(Great Lakes Theater, 2020)
Documenting Cleveland, Tuesday, May 12, 2020

We all think of ourselves as Samuel Pepys, diarists of extraordinary times. But the records of the Pandemic of 2020-21(?) are so grossly extensive. What have you, on May 12, Literary Cleveland in conjunction with Scene Magazine produced an exhaustive document of the city from one end to the other, and I was glad to be a participant.

Our Midwest Journey (1995)

Our first road trip was a test of our relationship, and in a way defined our future together. A rumination on our mutual love of the highway, tourist traps, and funky theater. 

Savory Taṇhā in Performance (Thursday)

Thoughts on opening night of a live, Zoom theater event, as part of a nationwide discussion on not merely the value, but the very validity of virtual theater.

The Mirror and the Light (book)

The third part of Hilary Mantel’s “Thomas Cromwell” trilogy was surprisingly affecting, and so politically timely. Back then when you fell out of favor, the monarch had you literally killed.

Our Midwest Journey (1995)
My First Fringe Festival

I had always wanted to dive into my first fringe festival (as audience member) experience, as it so deeply informed my next decade. I was amazed to find as much source material online as I did.

Three Hundred Sixty-Five Days of Practice

Would you like to see exactly what it looks like to write three pages every morning for an entire see?

Dobama ‘96 Trading Cards

I have always loved and been fascinated by package design and marketing. But this is the story of a gig that almost destroyed me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Ten Most Visited Posts from 2020

I blog about lots of things. And this blog is almost eleven years old. I like to keep track of what people who follow the blog like to read, and how people find the site who have never visited it before.

I have hidden certain posts for the time being, those which aren’t very interesting and yet seem to drive traffic to the site. The one on Chef Boyardee, for example, receives hundred of clocks a year. And the death of Eliot Ness. If that’s why you came here, you might never return.

This is a list of the most popular posts written in the year 2020.

10. On Revision

Final notes before first rehearsal for a new play script. Revision is good!

9. Culver City Public Theatre present “Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street”

A fascinating, pandemic-era return to a script originally written and performed for live audiences of thousands in schools and libraries, now packaged for safely viewing at a distance.

8. Assessment 

From time to time I have provided a self-assessment, where I am in my work. What has been happening in general. How is my mental and physical health. These often drop when I have been away from the blog for a bit.

At this point I was taking a vacation, and reflecting on three hundred days of consecutive writing (I am currently on Day 465) and what had transpired since then, the death of my mother, the pandemic, and even good things, like a show I had written that was about to virtually “open.”

7. Play a Day: John Proctor is the Villain

Each April I read one full-length play from those posted at New Play Exchange. This was one of my favorites, written by Kimberly Belflower, and has been receiving a great deal of deserved attention. The title of this play was actually the inspiration for my most recent full-length; the working title was “John Bender is the Villain,” but I have since changed that. 

It's now titled "Goatfucker".  

6. Fosse, Verdon and all that jazz. 

The recent passing of producer and choreographer Ann Reinking brought me back to this one, an examination of how to break down the “great man” theory of history.

5. Ben Is Dead (magazine)

A nostalgic look at an artifact about nostalgia. Many thanks to the folks at BID for pushing this one up the charts.

4. “Love’s” in the time of COVID-19

A document of the last live, public performance of a play I saw in a theater, the night of Friday, March 13. This melancholy celebration was only appropriate.  

3. Enola Holmes (film)

This one gained traction no doubt because the film had just dropped and folks were interested in that. But it generated a great conversation about adaptation, woman-centered narrative, and modern themes presented in period drama.

2. My mother’s hands.

A brief reflection, written the morning after my mother died.

1. A few bits of wisdom.

A letter from my grandfather to my college-aged mother, posted a few hours before my mother died. It is only just that this was the most visited and shared post of the year. It’s a good letter.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Ten Theater Projects in 2020

"High (short play)"
(Center for Arts Inspired Learning)
2020: The Big Cancel.

Last week WaPo theater critic Peter Marks made the argument for a cabinet level position for the arts, a Secretary of Arts and Culture, if you will. And were not living in a nation which has always been and remains a reactionary, Puritanical society I might hold out hope for such a move, a champion for the millions of arts workers and the hundreds billions of dollars a year that are tied up in the arts.

As things stand, the performing arts are either on hold or online. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, current estimates suggest it will be another year before we are safely congregating in large numbers.

Like so many writers, I had projects in development which were canceled, or postponed. But I was also one of the fortunate creators whose work either went online, turned into something else, or whole new works were developed as a result of the pandemic.

In chronological order:

"The Witches"
Jailyn Sherell Harris, Adrionna Powell Lawrence
Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street (Great Lakes Theater)

We began rehearsals for this year’s outreach touring play a few days after my mother died. Three weeks of rehearsal and fifty performances later, the show closed on March 8. At the end of that week, the office downtown was closed, and it remains so to this day. 

The Witches (Cleveland Public Theatre) 

We had our first read-through of this new play script in late February. It was to be workshopped at Cleveland Public Theatre over one weekend in April. We had to replace one of our actors, and had a single rehearsal with the new team on Tuesday, March 10. 

A couple months later I returned to that space, mask on, disinfectant at the ready, to use for an entirely different project, and the rehearsal table was still there, with additional copies of the rehearsal calendar lying around, one of the actors had left their script. It was all just waiting there for an acting company that never returned, a project abruptly abandoned.

"50 Hamlets"
Chennelle Bryant-Harris
(Great Lakes Theater)
The Short Play Project

What began as a feverish writing project took on a life of its own after the shutdown began, as I put out a call for folks to use my two-to-three page scripts and make short videos out of them, staying within CDC distance guidelines. And they did, over seventy individual, short films, created by artists from all over the county (and even overseas) with imagination and heart. Watch them all here.

50 Hamlets (Great Lakes Theater)

As we were striving to continue offering educational programming to the schools which have come to depend upon it, we were also learning ways we could take advantage of the opportunities presented through modern technology to bridge time and space. Arts educators who have proudly called themselves “actor-teachers” reaching back forty years collaborated to create this unique artifact from the beginning of the shutdown.

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (Brave Spirits Theatre)

As we were all learning how best to navigate Zoom recordings, I accepted a role in this live performance produced by Brave Spirits Theatre in Staunton, VA. They had plans to stage a slate of history plays, pre-Shakespearean works, many of which the Bard used as template for his own, more famous plays. They moved production online, and I learned an awful lot about the limitations of the medium, and also its tricks. Brave Spirits announced their dissolution on November 21, another financial casualty of the pandemic.

"Savory Taṇhā"
Hillary Wheelock, Zyrece Montgomery
(Cleveland Public Theatre)
The Way I Danced With You (Culver City Public Theatre)

As we were all learning how best to navigate Zoom recordings, my friends at Culver City Public Theatre were presenting bi-weekly new play readings through the summer, and this romantic two-hander was part of that line-up. 

Savory Taṇhā (Cleveland Public Theatre)

What began as a feverish writing project took on a life of its own when I was asked to curate a selection of short plays to be produced live via Zoom. We were all trying to figure out how best to share the experience of live theater utilizing available technology

Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street (Culver City Public Theatre)

Plans were made for the folks in Culver City to present another one of my works as their annual, free summer offering for families. Instead, they created a lovely, recorded adaptation of the play which started my year.

"Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street"
Richard R. Rosales
(Culver City Public Theatre)
Residency On Demand (Great Lakes Theater)

Like many arts organizations we have been trying to figure out how to reach our students. They are either still working from home, or those schools that are open are not permitting visitors. We rethought our lesson plans and created a makeshift TV studio in our rehearsal space, and have started piloting live classes. I can’t tell you how good it feels to get back into schools, even at a distance.

Untitled Pandemic Play Script (NEOMFA)

All of my doubts and anxieties have been distilled into a play script for two women actors and one set. The comment I am perhaps most grateful for from the workshop reading was, “I am surprised I get into this play so much.” Now it just needs a proper title. I mean, it has one. But I think I have to change it.

Thinking about calling it “Goatfucker.” What do you think?

Source: The culture is ailing. It’s time for a Dr. Fauci for the arts by Peter Marks, Washington Post (12/2/2020)

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Process XII

Okay, I was not expecting my play script to be read in only one hour. I mean, it will probably play at seventy-five minutes, right? Things happen. Cakes are baked, games are played, tables are turned over.

Over last weekend I had a brainstorm in which I was able to incorporate something I wanted to do into the script which was also something I needed to add, all in the same action I cannot tell you how satisfying that was.

It was a release to hear this slightly modified version read by the other members of the program, and their questions and comments were constructive and helpful. As the reading itself drew to a close I was almost, but not quite, in tears. It was cool, the camera was off. But this is my life. These are my fears.

I am a fifty-two year-old man. And yet, I was extremely anxious to see the comments on my flash fiction inspired by the works of Richard Wright. It is amazing how much I have forgotten, or never knew, about writing papers. The comments were supportive. My professor “got” what I was trying to do. And yet, academia is not art, you are supposed to make your point clear. There were many places in my analysis in which I could have been direct, instead of coy.

I was satisfied with my grade.

My first semester draws to a close, all I need to do is complete and upload a fifteen page paper, drafted from twelve weeks of handwritten pages, underlined quotes, and a lifetime spent carefully learning lessons of circumspection and gradual if incomplete awareness.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Pudding Mixes

Ohio University used to break from Thanksgiving to New Year’s leaving those of us without anywhere better to go at home, with or without a job. Home for the holidays my freshman year my girlfriend broke up with me and that was particularly devastating because no one had ever broken up with me before.

She is still the only person who ever has. Yeah, I said it.

Sophomore year, for better or worse, I was much more self-possessed and relaxed into the holidays in a manner I never had before. They were big fun. I was taken by the spirit, the spirit of Christmas, if not of Christ. There were three albums I listened to a lot that season, driving my mother to distraction: George Winston’s December, Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the new compilation to benefit the Special Olympics, A Very Special Christmas.

Since then I have become something of a holiday music nut. I look forward to that time after Thanksgiving when I have permission (in my house) to begin playing holiday music. The house is decorated, I want my mind decorated.

But I don’t like all Christmas music, not just any will do. In the early 90s I made a cassette of my very favorite Christmas songs, C-90 minutes of tunes and that was the soundtrack for me. It was called The Pudding Mix, after the name of the extended version of Wham’s “Last Christmas.”

In 2004 I made a new Pudding Mix CD to share with my colleagues, another in 2007, and again in 2009. But I wasn’t happy with these, because in an effort to fill them out I added songs I didn’t really care about.

I made this fan video of the Firesign Theatre bit "Toad Away" ten years ago.

But anyway, who listens to cassettes or CDs anymore? A few years ago some folks who worked on Bad Epitaph’s production of The Santaland Diaries asked for a playlist of the songs we used, and so I obliged. It is a great collection of songs. And it’s only an hour, perfect length.

When I played "Crumpet the Elf" three years ago I was inspired to make a collection of songs that I think of as holiday records, but really aren’t.

This year I received a passing request for a new "Pudding Mix" (it was from Daniel) and I was torn. Was I just going to throw together more Christmas songs, without a theme? Just to do it? I decided if I had an hour’s worth of music I could listen to more than once, by December 1, then I would share it. And surprise, I did.

I don’t need to explain too deeply just how to make a mixtape or playlist, Nick Horby has already done this much better than I. It’s not just about clustering a bunch of songs together, they need to sound like they belong together. And there are a number that I have been enjoying listening to recently -- and a few surprise covers I want to point up, cover versions of strange holiday favorites I’d never heard before.

The Closing of the Year: First performed by Wendy & Lisa (formerly of The Revolution) for the holiday bomb Toys, starring Robin Williams. Written by producer Trevor Horn, in its original version it is appropriately sentimental late 80s pop, but in the late 1990s he created a totally bonkers orchestral version featuring Plácido Domingo and Sarah Brightman.

Christmastime in Painesville: In the early 90s this novelty song by the band Slack Jaw was a favorite on WENZ. More recently the song’s composer John Koury joined former deadboys bassist Frank Secich to form The Deadbeat Poets, and it’s their version which is available for streaming. It’s more polished than the original, but then, they are older. And aren’t we all?

Even a Miracle Needs a Hand: In 1974 the Rankin Bass factory produced the cartoon (not stopmotion) special Twas the Night Before Christmas, in which an inventor has created a special clock to welcome Santa on Christmas Eve. However, when it is broken (we don’t need to get into this) a family of mice work to repair the damage. That explains this song’s lyrics … but I must tell you, I did not actually expect to find it when I searched on Spotify. Imagine my utter Christmas joy to discover this beautiful, retrofuturistic rendition, recorded only last year by soundcape hipster Sonntag (Zach Johnston).

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Red Hot + Blue (album)

Use your mentality. Wake up to reality.

Thirty years ago, on Saturday, December 1, 1990, the Red Hot + Blue special debuted on ABC. This was an hour-long collection of videos from the Cole Porter tribute album (of the same name) which was a major fundraiser for the Red Hot Organization, dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS through music, pop culture and art. 
“Cole Porter was one of America’s greatest songwriters, and his music spoke about love and sex and experimentation with intelligence -- and that’s what you want when dealing with an AIDS benefit.” - Leigh Blake, "Red Hot" project co-director
It is difficult to communicate how controversial it was to discuss HIV/AIDS on television. It is shameful to think. This televised special of music videos of Cole Porter songs was aired at 10:00 PM on World AIDS Day, after a particularly disturbing episode of Twin Peaks in which Agent Cooper finally captures the murderer of Laura Palmer (no spoilers.)

The home video recording included the bumpers and intros to each music video that had been originally created for the broadcast, including Richard Gere's suggestion that people use condoms or not share needles, to prevent infection. These bits were cut at the last minute as a result of pressure, and fear, from the network, and replaced with inoffensive tributes to composer Cole Porter.

However, several of the videos that were broadcast were embedded with activist messaging, inlcuding Erasure's ACT UP inspired Too Darn Hot and  k.d. lang's devastating take on So In Love which includes imagery of one caring for her ill partner.

These covers sang to the pseudo-sophisticate in me. Several of them are faithful renditions of Cole Porter classics (Sinead O'Connor's You Do Something To Me, Lisa Stansfield's Down In the Depths, the aforemention k.d. lang track) as they emulate big band or cocktail lounge piano stylings.

The Thompson Twins Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? is an 80s pop throwback, but several tracks look to the future, original hip-hop singles which only use Porter titles for the hook or chorus. The plaintive piano breakdown at 2:27 on Neneh Cherry's I've Got You Under My Skin was a loop I sampled and used on several amateur audio projects as I diddled around with nascent computer sound programs. It even showed up in my design for The Gulf at Dobama's Night Kitchen, ten years later.

We played this album often, and the music reminds me of so much from an intense and fleeting moment in my (very) early adulthood; it was heard in shops in England during a university trip that December, and was part of our soundtrack during the winter run-up to the Persian Gulf War, my final quarter at school. The subject of the album itself was emotionally confusing, mournful and celebratory all at once.

I had one foot out the door, ready to graduate and head I did not know where.

And, of course, HIV is still with us. The COVID-19 epidemic has shown us - again - how social inequity, intolerance, and plain ignorance contribute to the human cost of any transmittable human infection. The theme for this year's World AIDS Day is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility."