Friday, March 6, 2009

Stew on the menu

At 5 o'clock today in Kaiser's Radiation Oncology Department, I'll lay down on a metal platform, get my head clamped inside my ThermaSplint mask, and hold a stuffed toy frog against my belly as my 20th session of radiation therapy begins.

At virtually the same time, in the Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center, a singer-songwriter named Stew will walk on stage.

Last fall, I snapped up a ticket to see Stew in New York tonight.

A buddy turned me on to Stew many years ago, when he performed in and around L.A., usually fronting the band The Negro Problem, often performing quieter, more intimate sets accompanied by Heidi Rodewald on bass and vocals.

One night, after Stew and his band completed a performance at the west side club 14 Below, I plucked the master set list for the show right off the stage to keep as a souvenir.

Later, I heard that Stew needed that set list back. Eventually, I turned it over to Stew's manager and felt like a heel for taking it.

Stew sightings in L.A. then started getting scarce. When Stew composed a song called "Gary Come Home" for SpongeBob SquarePants, I really identified with SpongeBob's longing for his pet snail who ran away.

I wanted Stew to come back to L.A.

The last time I saw Stew was when I spotted him in the crowd at Sunset Junction in Silver Lake several years ago, and he didn't have a guitar around his neck.

The L.A. music scene's loss was the rest of the world's gain. Two years ago, "Passing Strange," a musical written by Stew and Heidi, and starring Stew, performed off Broadway, and won a gaggle of awards. Last year, "Passing Strange" moved to the Great White Way, which is kind of an odd nickname for a place seen as the pinnacle of theatrical success.

Stew triumphed there, too. "Passing Strange" won a 2008 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.

In a New Year's Eve post on Stew's website, he wrote, "I don’t know which was more unlikely: Obama becoming Prez or a middle-aged rock freak winning a Tony."

Here's something even more surreal: me opening my in box one morning last month and seeing an email from Stew.

In it, Stew told me that he checked out this blog and read about my cancer situation. Stew said that he is now a new fan, even as he acknowledged that he still remembers that I was the goon who grabbed that set list at 14 Below.

The subject line of Stew's email was "keep kicking ass."

That's exactly what I'll be doing later today at Kaiser when Stew and Heidi begin to perform in New York.

I won't be sitting in the Alice Tully Hall but I am bringing the cast recording of "Passing Strange" to my session at Kaiser today, and I'll ask the radiation tech to cue the CD to track one and bump the volume up to 11 before he starts to zap me with radiation.

Now you don't know me and I don't know you
So let's cut to the chase the name is Stew
I'll be narrating this gig, so just sit tight
We might play all night

In a reply to the email that Stew sent to me, I told him that I had hoped to make it to New York for tonight's performance, but my cancer treatments sidelined that plan.

I figured it was only fair to tell Stew I wouldn't be in the audience at the Alice Tully.

Otherwise, he might have decided to nail tonight's set list to the stage.


My ALC fund almost quadrupled on Thursday! Thank you, Monica and my friends in Philly for your donations to the the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Visit my AIDS/LifeCycle 8 page.

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