This morning I woke up to starting writing. As is my habit, I first checked my email. There were two new emails; both from a singer/performer I admire and have been friendly with and worked with once in the past under a rather difficult set of circumstances. The subject line of the first one read “favor.” The subject line of the second read “re: favor.” I thought, “oh, how nice! I haven’t seen [redacted] for like 2 years and now [pronoun redacted] is reaching out to me for something!” Well, actually that was my second thought. My first thought was “I haven’t heard from [redacted] in such a long time so this is probably one of those ‘I’m-in-a-foreign-country-and-need-money” spam scams. Either way, I clicked on it and read this:
Can you please take my name off [song title redacted] video?
I bristled. This is not the first time this has happened.
2 years ago, I put on a concert at the Beechman Theater called Good Clean Music: A Michael R. Jackson Song Thing. It was an evening I put up in response to a certain amount of backlash I encountered as I prepared for a concert I put up 3 years ago at Joe’s Pub called So Fucking Gay: Another Michael R. Jackson Song Thing. In the program for Good Clean Music I explained in a note entitled Why Good Clean Music?:
In terms of why “Good Clean Music” specifically, one would need to understand the number of times I’ve been told that a.) I use so/too much profanity, b.) I write about sex so/too much, c.) my lyrics have no emotional core, or to a lesser extent that d.) I write too much pointedly gay themed material. To that last point, I will say that about a year ago, I presented “So Fucking Gay: A Michael R. Jackson Song Thing” on National Coming Out Day at Joe’s Pub and it was the toughest concert I have ever together. Not because of the administrative difficulty, which I have come to expect, but because it was the first time I encountered actors telling me that their agents didn’t want them to sing my material. Or that even though they had happily sung for me before, their agents wanted me to take their names off a youtube clip of them singing a particular song so they could reposition their brand or that they would sing one “gay” song but not another. And I get it. The ensemble of a non-Equity regional tour of Hairspray is calling. Ooh, burn.
Part of the context for that is that while I was preparing for So Fucking Gay, among the many calamitous things that happened, another singer who I had worked with on Dirty Laundry, my first public New York City concert at Ars Nova in 2008, called me out of the blue, and again, when this happened—and to be fair, this singer couldn’t have known—I was in an extremely emotional fragile state and seeing [possessive pronoun redacted] on the caller ID of my then flip phone filled me with boundles delight. We hadn’t spoken in a number of years and I thought that it was the universe’s way of letting me know that the adversity I was facing with So Fucking Gay was not for naught. Imagine my surprise when it was the singer asking me to please take down a youtube video of a song [pronoun redacted] had sung for me 4 (FOUR) years prior because [possessive pronoun redacted] agents were trying to re-brand [possessive pronoun redacted] for I dunno, superstardom—who the fuck knows? I was devastated and angry but I sweetly agreed over the phone and made the video private and then promptly unfriended this person on Facebook. Up until then, I had operated from the position that I needed to give everyone the benefit of the doubt—that I needed to stand aside and not take these kinds of things so personally because well, you know, it is commercial theater and who am I to ruin the careers of these burgeoning superstars with my confrontational material? But I decided in 2010 to take a stand. I vowed from there forward that I was drawing a line in the sand with performers who do my work. I decided: “I’m gonna be a pimp walkin’ musical theater asshole too!” You cannot have it both ways with me. Either you’re cool with my work or you’re not. And in the end, it’s like Emily Dickinson wrote:
“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you – Nobody – too?”
I opened the second email:
In fact, I would rather you take it down and repost without my name in the credits. I respect your work and I was happy to participate in the performance but don’t want my name attached to this video online. BTW not singling you out– I make the same request whenever someone posts vids of me doing their work without my permission
Okay, fair. I didn’t ask for permission when I put up this video three years ago. And I haven’t been in the regular practice of doing so because all of the singers I have worked with have been friends who have been happy to be associated with my music. So I guess at this point, I know in a very real way, that that isn’t as universally true as I’d like it to be and I will make it a point to start asking more regularly.
In some ways this specific person asking me to take down the youtube video is random but not totally surprising—[pronoun redacted] had initially balked at [possessive pronoun redacted] name being in any press materials for So Fucking Gay because being associated with something so flagrant and uncompromisingly homosexual might ruin mainstream performance opportunities this performer, (who is, in fact publicly homosexual or more publicly homosexual than not from where I sit) might have in the future. That email came less than 24 hours before the phone call from my other redacted friend. But it worked out. The singer changed [possessive pronoun redacted] mind and agreed to be in the show with [possessive pronoun redacted] name in press materials. The performance happened and the youtube video went up.
I’m currently working on a musical theater piece entitled A Strange Loop. A Strange Loop is about a black gay man who trusts people so little that he’s created an inner world of disappointment that ultimately he controls. He has only himself as a reference for the pain and suffering of life and love and beyond. Like a cactus, he retreats inward for his emotional sustenance. He does not reach out his hand to you assholes for validation. He already knows you won’t give it and even if you do, you’ll just take it back somehow and knowing that fills him with a strange sense of power.
The other night I was with my White Woman and we stumbled back across this aspect of myself. With tears welling in my eyes, I told her about how I rarely acknowledge that I need nurturing beyond myself.
I am tough and I am resilient but I need nurturing beyond myself. I am not a cactus.