That Color Up There is Mauve: a playlist remembering those we lost to AIDS

Hello world! Been a while since I’ve let everyone know I’m alive but I made a playlist I’m quite proud of and I want to share it, with all detailed notes, here on the blog.

My Cool Friends™ all DJ or make these amazing playlists so here I am, trying to be Cool™. If you don’t want to read my rambling thoughts in the next few paragraphs, skip down to where I start getting into the nitty gritty of everyone’s details and sharing their stories more. No offense taken!! ha.

I felt that my first playlist needed to have a theme in order for me to get it done, and I’ve spent much of the last two months listening exclusively to gay disco & HiNRG from San Francisco in the late 70’s so my mind turned to many of my favorite musicians we lost to AIDS. I found myself thinking about the fact that I now hold a device in the palm of my hand that can share with me the stories and lives of many people we lost to AIDS before the internet, whose histories were previously kept in books and newspaper clippings. With just a few clicks, I dove deep into the incredible work of so many joyful, creative people who were taken from us in their prime.

When I was born, the epidemic was in its early days, and the stories of those we lost bounced around the spaces I found myself in right after I left home, the theater and artsy spaces where queer folks, geeks, misfits, talented and “talented” folks alike, and everyone who found themselves not fitting in anywhere else hung out. I spent so much time in gay spaces before discovering my own sexuality (an experience many of my queer friends share).

I remember watching Ryan White’s funeral on television as a kid and learning about HIV & AIDS as part of the limited sex education kids in rural America got in the 90s, but I didn’t dig deeper into the stories, books, movies, and plays about the epidemic until going to college. when I was in college I worked backstage at the theater and I remember the feelings coursing through me as I worked backstage on Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s 1991 play which was later adapted into a miniseries for HBO.

The name of this playlist comes from this scene in Angels in America:

It’s so important, especially now, to remember all those we lost to the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Those in power completely turned their backs on the most vulnerable for years. There was so much that could have been done to save lives, to find answers, but because those in power didn’t care about who was being lost, an entire generation of creative, brilliant, joyful, individuals was wiped out. In many cases, only their friends and chosen family would even acknowledge their deaths and the truths of their lives. We lost far more people than we should have because of the stigma associated with the disease, which sadly continues today.

That Color Up There is Mauve: a playlist remembering those we lost to AIDS

Patrick Cowley (October 19, 1950 - November 12, 1982) - “Jungle Orchids” (from the album Afternooners)

Patrick Cowley is an electronic music legend so we started the mix here. Many folks have heard his remixes and the production work he did with San Francisco singer Sylvester (featured later on the playlist) without even knowing his name. From the description of Afternooners on the Bandcamp link:

”In 1979 Patrick was contacted by John Coletti, owner of famed gay porn company Fox Studio in Los Angeles. Patrick jumped on this offer and sent reels of his college compositions from the 70s to John in LA. Coletti then used a variable speed oscillator to adjust the pitch and speed of Patrick’s songs in-sync with the film scenes. The result was the VHS collections “Muscle Up” and “School Daze” released in 1979 and 1980. “Afternooners” is the third collection of Cowley’s instrumental songs, recorded in between 1979 and 1982. Some of these recordings are demos from the album "Mind Warp". All songs were originally untitled, so we’ve used the titles from Fox Studio’s 8mm film loops”. 

This is on YouTube with the note that it’s the only recorded live performance of Patrick Cowley:

You owe it to yourself to hear his remix of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”:

Sharon Redd (October 19, 1945 - May 1, 1992) “Love Is Gonna Get Ya,” from the self-titled album

Sharon Redd was a background vocalist for Bette Midler’s backing group The Harlettes, and went on to record three albums with Prelude Records. Stian Erikson writes on his blog:

Sharon Redd may be first and foremost remembered for a lot of dancefloor-filling club hits of the 80’s, but before those came out she had done a whole lot more! She started her recording career in the late 1960’s, and released a total of 6 singles during the next 4 years: “Half as much” (1967), “Do you want me?”, “I’ve got a feeling”, “Since I lost you” (all 1968), “Easy to be hard” (1969), and finally “Where the mind can breathe” (1971). All these records helped her to establish a reputation as a very fine R n’ B singer with an expressive voice. They reveal a much more soulful Sharon than what you find on most of her club hits of the 80’s…

When Sharon suddenly died in May 1992, at just 46 years old – the music industry was shocked; Though never a superstar diva, she had been a consistent hit maker for some time, and as a person she seems to have been very nice, as everyone who’ve met her will tell you that she was just wonderful to be around. The cause of death was given as pneumonia, then a magazine published an article stating that Sharon had died of AIDS, and that the pneumonia was just a sideline to her much more serious diagnosis.

Half as Much:

In The Name of Love (live):

Frankie Ruiz* (March 10, 1958 - August 9, 1998) “Solo por Ti,” from the album En Vivo… Y a Todo Color…!

*After digging deeper into Frankie Ruiz’s death, it seems there are some conflicting accounts of whether his death was due to cirrohsis or if his condition was a result of AIDS. Many articles about his death include the line “Sources close to Frankie Ruiz attribute his death to the complications of AIDS". This infographic depicts his death on a timeline of Latinos and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Due to people’s desire for privacy, and the horrible stigma that existed against people with the disease at the time, many HIV/AIDS deaths during this time were not fully disclosed to the public. This way of dealing with the death of a loved one is also a part of the complicated history of the epidemic. Also, the song rules, so it’s staying. “In Full Color” seems to be a perfect representation of the multi-faceted and complex lives we all live as human beings.

Frankie Ruiz was an American-born Puerto Rican salsa singer and songwriter. He was a major figure in the salsa romántica subgenre that was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. From My Dance Productions:

In 1971, he sang his debut with The Charlie López Orchestra. He wrote the song “Salsa Beuna”, which was released in 1993 as a CD titled Charlie López y La Orquesta Nueva – Canta: Frankie Ruiz. In 1974 he left New Jersey for Puerto Rico with his divorced mother, and there he performed with bands La Dictadora and La Moderna Vibración. In 1977, his mother secured him a job with the band La Solucion with whom he recorded two songs. Ruiz recorded a new version of his self penned “Salsa Buena”, and delivered a single “La Rueda” which became a hit.

Three years later Frankie Ruiz joined hands with the famous Salsa bandleader Tommy Olivencia. His song with Olivencia,  “Lo Dudo” was a major hit, and Ruiz’s solo debut album Solista pero no Solo, topped the Salsa charts of Billboard and other Latin American charts. The album was one of the best Salsa albums of the 80s. In 1987, he released another album Voy Pa’ Encíma which had six hits.

La Rueda (Live):

Impossible Amor (live):

Jimmy McShane (May 23, 1957 - March 29, 1995)
Baltimora - “Running For Your Love” from the album Living In The Background

Baltimora is considered a one-hit wonder band because of the success of “Tarzan Boy,” but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into everyone’s catalog to more fully honor their memory. I couldn’t get the riff of this song out of my head after hearing it.

Through this wonderful post from Josef O’Shea, I learned that Jimmy McShane was an emergency paramedic from Derry. (We’re not totally sure if he’s the one singing on many of these tracks, but goodness could he dance!) Another testament to the complexity of real human lives.

Tarzan Boy (live):

Dick Clark interviews Baltimora:

David Cole (June 3, 1962 - January 24, 1995) one half of C & C Music Factory and the production duo Clivillés and Cole: Mariah Carey “Just To Be Around You” from the album Emotions

David Cole and his partner Robert Clivillés founded several production groups & bands including C + C Music Factory. Since everyone has heard C + C Music Factory, I’ll highlight a group produced by Cole & Clivillés called Seduction:

As someone who lived through it, Emotions is a classic “sound of the 1990s” album and contains a few of the most recognizable hits of Mariah Carey’s early career. I wanted to highlight some of Cole’s production work as, despite my desires, I could not make any other track work in this mix!

From Cole & Clivillés house music group 2 Puerto Ricans, a Black Man, and a Dominican, Scandalous:

Mariah Carey’s 1995 mega hit “One Sweet Day” featuring Boyz II Men was written about Cole’s death from AIDS. I often wonder about those who lost a long term partner to AIDS, how they cope and how they remember their loved ones. I send all my loving thoughts to Robert Clivillés.

Sylvester James Jr. (September 6, 1947 - December 16, 1988) - “Was It Something That I Said” from the album Step II

In my opinion, no playlist is complete without Sylvester, "The Queen of Disco”. That’s why there are two Sylvester tracks on this mix. Get into Sylvester if you’re not, or don’t ever speak to me again! Facts!

If this song doesn’t get your ass out of your seat then just do me a favor and stop reading right now!!! I’m serious!!!! My life was forever changed the moment I heard this song and I will never go back!!!

From a wonderful piece on Sylvester and the complexity of gender identity from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Openly gay and unapologetically femme-presenting from his teenage years on, Sylvester was all about high fashion drama: white fur coats, vintage movie star beading and satin, disco sequins and every kind of indulgent embellishment. In his success as a flamboyant black male performer, he followed Little Richard as an unexpected mainstream star. Arguably, Sylvester paved the way for other fashion and gender-rebelling pop stars of color who followed, from Prince and Grace Jones to Jaden Smith and Janelle Monet.

Sharp-eared listeners might recognize the riff that comes in at 2:32 from a legendary 90’s debut, from none other than rap legend Kimberley Denise Jones, aka Lil’ Kim. “Big Momma Thang” has always been one of my favorite tracks from Lil’ Kim’s debut Hard Core. When I was listening to Sylvester one day and heard this sample, I nearly lost my mind!!

I love Sylvester and if I could see any performer, I would choose to see Sylvester live.

No Sylvester slander will be tolerated on this blog or in my life.

Renato Russo (March 27, 1960 - October 11, 1996) - Que Pais é Esse

I’m having trouble finding more information about this song in English, if anyone can find it please pass along to me. It’s so haunting and beautiful that I’d love to know more.

Renato Manfredini Jr. was born in Rio de Janeiro. At 18 years old, he came out as bisexual to his mother, and in 1988 he made it public by writing the song "Meninos e Meninas" ("Boys n' Girls") with the chorus stating, in English, "I like St. Paul, I like St. John, I like St. Francis and St. Sebastian, and I like boys and girls."

Bisexuals are used to having our identities erased. Many bisexual men are assumed to be primarily gay and many bisexual women are assumed to be primarily straight. We lost a lot of bisexual people to AIDS, and I’m not okay with losing them twice by not recognizing who they were in their own words.

A true punk bisexual legend, Russo was in a band called Aborto Elétrico (Electric Abortion):

Russo’s most famous work was with Legião Urbana, a Brazilian rock band. Get into it:

Arthur Russell (May 21, 1951 - April 4, 1992) “Habit Of You,” from the album Love Is Overtaking Me

Turns out that some of my favorite indie-ish bands (Jens Lekman, LAKE) are 100% obsessed with and influenced heavily by Arthur Russell and I did not know about him until a few years ago. What a shame.

From a wonderful old Slate piece by Andy Battaglia:

Arthur Russell was a musical wanderer best known as a disco producer, but understanding his place in the history of disco calls for a renegotiation of terms. For one thing, Russell followed an unlikely path to the dance floor. Before moving to New York in 1973 at the age of 22, he had lived in a Buddhist commune and studied Indian music in California. His early years in the city included a stay with Allen Ginsberg, an East Village address shared by punk maestro Richard Hell, and collaborations with Philip Glass and John Cage. He ran with filmmakers, painters, performance artists. His most beloved instrument, then and throughout his career, was the cello—not the first instrument one asks to dance to.   

By the time Russell died of AIDS in 1992, he had already been forgotten; although he played an important role in disco, conventional history of the genre has never accounted for much more than bright lights and big clubs, where opulent dance music served as a soundtrack to showy social scenes. That is now changing, thanks in part to two new collections of Russell’s work. The new discs—The World of Arthur Russell, a survey of his dance music, and Calling Out of Context, a set of previously unreleased pop songs—show Russell to be an artist worthy of rescue. They also shine light on a disco milieu now regarded as a critical flashpoint in music history.

One of Russell’s projects: Loose Joints - Is It All Over My Face (female version)

this is from some sources I can’t access, but on wikipedia:

As a young adult, Russell led a seemingly heterosexual lifestyle; at least two of these relationships (with Muriel Fujii in San Francisco and later Sydney Murray in New York) have been substantiated.

Although he briefly dated Allen Ginsberg in 1973, Russell did not identify as a gay man until becoming involved with hairdresser Louis Aquilone in 1976. After the relationship with Aquilone dissolved, Russell dated Donald Murk (who subsequently became Russell's manager) for several years. According to Steven Hall, the relationship was tempestuous, "with lots of threesomes and fighting and very dramatic emotional scenes". As this relationship drew to a close, Russell became acquainted with silkscreen operator Tom Lee; their friendship rapidly evolved into a domestic partnership. Although Russell continued to see other men and women, their partnership endured until his death in 1992.

I wonder how Arthur Russell would identify if he were alive today. In my mind, he might identify as queer, and he would be continually evolving with all the other beautiful people under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. I am reminded constantly of the complex lives that LGBTQ+ lead and the beautiful relationships we have. I would expect that someone as creative as Arthur Russell would defy easy categorizations in life, art, and in death.

William Jermaine Stewart (September 7, 1957 - March 17 - 1997) “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off,” from the album Frantic Romantic

You’ve probably heard Jermaine Stewart’s voice without realizing it in Shalamar and also backing Culture Club in “Miss Me Blind”:

from wikipedia:

Stewart gained recognition as a dancer on Soul Train. While working there he befriended two other Soul Train dancers, fellow Chicagoan Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel. After Soul Train relocated to Los Angeles, the three friends auditioned to become members of the group Shalamar. Watley and Daniel were selected for the group as backup/semi-lead vocalists, and Stewart lost out to Gary Mumford during his audition for lead vocalist. However, Stewart toured with the new group as a dancer for several years, and while in London for a show, he met Mikey Craig of Culture Club. Realizing that Stewart was a talented singer, Craig assisted him in putting together a demo tape, and Stewart was given the opportunity to sing background vocals on Culture Club's song "Miss Me Blind". As a result of the combination of a strong demo and his ties with Culture Club, he landed a recording contract with Arista Records.

But let’s give the man his honors.

“We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” is his biggest hit, so everyone should hear it. It’s also a snapshot from the AIDS era. In Jermaine’s words:

The single seemed to reflect more modesty when it came to sex in light of the AIDS pandemic at the time. In 1988, Stewart was interviewed by Donnie Simpson where Stewart spoke of the lyrical message within the song. "I think it made a lot of peoples' minds open up a little bit. We didn't only want to just talk about clothes, we wanted to extend that. We wanted to use the song as a theme to be able to say you don't have to do all the negative things that society forces on you. You don't have to drink and drive. You don't have to take drugs early. The girls don't have to get pregnant early. So the clothes bit of it was to get people's attention, which it did and I'm glad it was a positive message."

My favorite Jermaine Stewart track is the incredible “I Like It,” from the 1984 album The Word Is Out, which appears here:

Wayne Cooper (March 14, 1955 - September 22, 1984) singer in Cameo - “Find My Way” from the album Cardiac Arrest

I found the most info on Wayne Cooper from this thread on Anyone with any additional info please get it my way!

A fan favorite from this thread was the great tune “We’re Goin’ Out Tonight”

Peter Allen (February 10, 1944 - June 18, 1992) - “Bi-Coastal,” from the album of the same name

Some people know Peter Allen’s work as the co-writer of “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) or the song “I Honestly Love You,” co-written with Jeff Barry and made famous by Olivia Newton-John, or as the inspiration for the Broadway show that won Hugh Jackman a Tony, “The Boy From Oz.” Or perhaps you know him as being Liza Minnelli’s first husband. Whatever works, you should know Peter Allen.

I couldn’t resist the cheeky lyrics of Bi-Coastal. There are some other wonderful songs on the album. Get into it.

Peter Allen was the first male performer to perform with The Rockettes and you can view the entire concert here:

Ricky Wilson (March 19, 1953 - October 12, 1985) original lead guitarist of The B-52’s , “Give Me Back My Man,” from the album Wild Planet

So much to say about The B-52’s, the only band of their kind. You can’t go far on your average dance floor or club night in America without hearing a B-52’s song. It’s always been so funny to me how many people know and absolutely love only one or two songs from this band and will proclaim their love for the band without knowing even 20% of their catalog. Whatever! That’s the whole point of the World’s Greatest Party Band, yeah?

I think everyone who’s even a little queer loves the B-52s because … that’s just the vibe:

When I first heard them in the early 1980s, I was a teenager struggling to accept my own sexuality, and they were a beacon. Punk in their subversion of convention and celebration of the absurd, they were also defiantly fun at a time when President Ronald Reagan wouldn't so much as say the word “gay” or address the fact that AIDS was quickly becoming a pandemic -- one that would claim Ricky as one of its earliest high-profile casualties. At the time, the message that LGBTQ kids like me took from them felt urgent and necessary: Weird is good -- and it’s where the party’s at.

Four of the band’s five original members did, in fact, identify as LGBTQ: Ricky, Schneider and Strickland as gay men, and Pierson, who was involved with a man until the early 2000s, is now married to a woman. But Schneider says they didn't set out to explicitly write queer anthems, as later acts like Erasure would. “We just did our own thing,” he says now. “I guess subconsciously we were trying to say something. But it was sort of stream of consciousness, it was so out there.”

From Rolling Stone:

Ricky Wilson was the B-52’s’ master planner and main songwriter. His unusual approach to the guitar, using only four strings and special open tunings, went a long way toward defining the band’s unique sound. “He was really a character,” says Schneider. “He was very quiet, shy — real shy. But once you got him laughing, he wouldn’t stop.”

Wilson had become ill during the recording of Bouncing off the Satellites in 1984. Intensely private, he denied anything was wrong. “I wasn’t aware of what was happening,” says Schneider, who had known Wilson since 1972. “I thought that he’d been so nervous — we were under so much pressure, he was losing weight and … He was fine one week, and then the next week I found out he was gone.”

I’m in the midst of mourning my grandmother, who died in January. Grief is a wild journey and I’m learning that as we get older it doesn’t necessarily fade. I am so thankful the band was able to release new music after such a tragic loss, and that they’ve continued to share the memories of their bandmate, friend, and brother.

Theme for a Nude Beach, from Bouncing Off The Satellites:

Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara;) (September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991) Ay-Oh, from the Live Aid Concert in

Another bisexual legend makes it to the mix. Is there a more iconic Freddie Mercury Moment? I remember watching this as a little kid. I’ve seen it all over media while Freddie was alive and after he passed. When I discovered this was on Spotify, it had to go on the playlist.

Luckily for us, we live in a time when we can watch the entire Live Aid performance from 1985 here:

After his diagnosis, in Freddie’s own words:

"He decided to just invite us all over to the house for a meeting," Taylor told Rolling Stone in 2014. Mercury said, "You probably realize what my problem is. Well, that's it and I don't want it to make a difference. I don't want it to be known. I don't want to talk about it. I just want to get on and work until I fucking well drop. I'd like you to support me in this."

Sylvester - “Blackbird (live)” from the album Living Proof

Yes, more Sylvester on the mix. Living Proof was recorded live at a sold out show at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on March 11, 1979. Then SF Mayor Dianne Feinstein sent her aide Harry Britt, to award Sylvester with a key to the city and proclaim March 11 as “Sylvester Day.” This album did not sell well, which is a damn shame. So get into it.

Probably my favorite song from the album. Sylvester - You Are My Friend (live)

Howard Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) lyricist, “Somewhere That’s Green,” performed by Ellen Greene in the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors

Those who know me well know this to be true: I’m a musician, a pianist, a singer, and a composer, but above all else, I am a songwriter. I write SONGS, and I write SONGS because I love WORDS and I love to hear and tell STORIES. My musical orientation is songwriter4songwriter. When I was a teenager, I would pass the time in classes I hated by remembering the lyrics of all my favorite songs, almost always musical theater classics. I’d write the lyrics out over and over, arranging the lines on the page with where they fell in the song. I could be a medieval scribe someday if all I had to do was write out song lyrics. Over and over and over. I love lyrics. I’ve had so many conversations with people about lyrics, people who say they don’t count, people who say that words are distracting, or worse, that they don’t matter. If the words don’t matter, why are they there? I can love music with weak lyrics, but the songs with lyrics that tickle the far corners of my brain are the songs that forever live within me.

And what a lyricist we had in Howard Ashman. With his writing partner Alan Menken, he was responsible for kicking off the Disney Renaissance period with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, the first Disney fairy tale in 30 years.

The Little Mermaid is the film that reignited Disney’s creativity, the soundtrack that won Ashman and Menken a Grammy, and the blockbuster that won over the hearts of millions of little kids, including me, my sister, our cousins, and every other kid we knew. The summer after the movie came out (1990) my mom took Puffy Paint to off-brand Keds and painted Ariel, Flounder, and Sebastian on our shoes, along with seashells and seaweed. We wore them down the street and our little friends down the street wanted some too. My mama must have made ten pairs of those Little Mermaid shoes for us that summer. We saw this movie a hundred times a year if we saw it once. We learned all the words to these songs (apparently not every lyric as I discovered below!) and sang them at every opportunity. While my mom, in her own words, “can’t carry a tune in a bucket”, we would often shut the radio off in the car on long trips and sing together. We sang so many Ashman/Menken songs together as a family, and those are some of my favorite memories of the times when it was just us girls, me, my mom, and my sister, before my little brothers came along.

My favorite lyrics in Under The Sea have always been the build up at the end, the incredible story strings here. Howard Ashman worked in a COLE PORTER REFERENCE to this song I never caught until now! *crying_emoji.jpeg* I AM SHAKING! He really was that bitch who snuck the original Daddy of raunchy gay songwriting, Cole Porter, into a Disney movie! This is the self-referential songwriter4songwriter shit I live for, and the reason I will probably be blasting this in my car this summer, too:

Under the sea
Under the sea
When the sardine begin the beguine
It's music to me
What do they got? A lot of sand
We got a hot crustacean band
Each little clam here
Know how to jam here
Under the sea
Each little slug here
Cuttin' a rug here
Under the sea
Each little snail here
Know how to wail here
That's why it's hotter
Under the water
Ya we in luck here
Down in the muck here
Under the sea

Another legendary gay classic from The Little Mermaid is Ursula’s show stopper, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I will say, the ending of the Little Mermaid is very scary (sorry if I’m spoiling a 30 year old movie for you here), but during this song? You’re a little scared of Ursula, you know you shouldn’t trust her, but she’s sort of fascinating and yet you stay. You want to know more! She’s up to no good, but she’s got a plan. Was Ursula the first Disney Camp Legend? No, but Ursula is in my top 5 Queer Disney Villains I Hate to Love:

And I fortunately know a little magic
It's a talent that I always have possessed
And dear lady, please don't laugh
I use it on behalf
Of the miserable, the lonely, and depressed (Pathetic)

However, my favorite work of Howard Ashman’s will always be the “musical horror comedy” Little Shop of Horrors. A musical about an abusive dentist, a killer plant from outer space… and somehow a love story gets worked in here. A hill I will happily die on: This is one of the few perfect musicals to exists in the world. and the film adaptation did it justice. No slander of Little Shop will be tolerated on this blog. It’s horrifying. It’s weird. It’s campy. It’s groovy. It’s funny. It’s sad. You can see a high school production of it and feel the same joy as you do watching it with professionals. Boop, shoo-wop, get into it!

It was so hard to choose a single Ashman work to put on this but, but ultimately I went with “Somewhere That’s Green” because of my own personal experience with how the song continues to live and breathe out in the world. When I was singing with San Diego’s gay cabaret, Blue Velvet, my dear friend Maggie Taylor performed this song often. It’s one of Her Songs, one of the songs she can pull out at the drop of a hat. The reaction this song gets when performed live in a gay piano bar… it never fails. There’s always a handful of folks who know every single line, every pause, every inflection. The lyrics tell such a specific story from a specific perspective. She’s his “December bride.” The house doesn’t just smell nice, it’s “Pine-Sol scented.” The plastic is on the furniture, the grill out on the patio, disposal in the sink. Watching Audrey spell out her innocent and simple desires straight from Better Homes and Gardens is emotional torture, yet I put myself through it all the time!

It’s flawless and the song never fails to get me choked up. The best any songwriter can hope for is that one of your songs will come to life, sprout wings and float away, and live its best life with or without you, and I think this is the song of Ashman’s that’s done that the most.

Here’s the film version (get those tissues ready):

I also had to throw some of these YouTube comments in here:

Amie Fortman: I have never felt sorrier for a musical character than I did for Audrey. The poor woman doesn't have any big, lofty goals or ambitions--she just wants a decent life with a loving family and all the creature comforts she can't get in Skid Row. The fact that she doesn't even think she deserves that because she's a "loser" just breaks your freakin' heart.

gutz1981: "Somewhere" is perhaps one of the most tragic words in the human vocabulary. Because deep down we know that "Somewhere" means Nowhere as it represents a place we know exists but will never see for ourselves.

Janice Lynch: I love how this Is both a mockery and a tribute to the American Dream. Both at the same time

Rae Dai: I cried as soon as she started singing lol. But for some reason the toaster gets me every time. Her petting the toaster makes me burst With tears.

Ree Jones: This is the saddest song I know.

You don’t move people like this unless you’re able to channel a real story, and to channel a real story often takes your words. Howard Ashman would be 69 if he were still with us today. I’m sure he’d still be penning lyrics. What a loss. I have gotten emotionally overwhelmed several times while writing this thinking of the greatness and the joy that was stripped away from a generation.

Another tear jerker from Little Shop of Horrors, “Suddenly Seymour.” Let’s get some appreciation here for one of my favorite Canadians, everyone’s favorite geeky heartthrob, Rick Moranis. (Who is also a living saint, read more about his decision to leave Hollywood and became a stay-at-home parent after the his wife, Ann Belsky, died of cancer).

“Underneath the bruises and the handcuffs, you know what I saw? The girl I respected:”

Some additional bonus content of the incredible Ellen Greene singing these legendary songs live:

This is a gut wrenching account from some of Howard Ashman’s peers, from the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, which is available to rent on YouTube.

Queen - You’re My Best Friend, from the album A Night at The Opera

We can’t have just one favorite Queen song, so this is one of my favorites. It’s one I’ve sung and sent to many of my friends going through rough times, or just to say “hi,” or just to say “you’re my friend and I love you.” I put this one on the mix thinking both about the importance of friendship in queer community and Freddie Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin.

Freddie once said: "All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary, but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage… We believe in each other. That’s enough for me. I couldn’t fall in love with a man the same way as I have with Mary.”

Queer people lead beautiful and complex lives. I think of this often in reviewing bits of LGBTQ+ history that come up in modern times and are reassessed with modern knowledge and terminology. Very few of us will ever fully know anyone who’s a public figure, no matter what is told or shared with the media. We will never know every single thing about those we love and live with, who are our partners in daily life. Humans are extraordinarily complex and I love this about us. Mary Austin said after she lost Freddie: “I lost my family, really, when Freddie died. He was everything to me, apart from my sons. He was like no one I had met before.” Queer people make our own families, our own communities. Love ties us all together. Getting a bit philosophical now, but it’s clear that she and Freddie loved each other very much and in the end, that’s really all that counts.

Dan Hartman (December 8, 1950 - March 22, 1994) Hands Down (12” Remix), from the album Relight My Fire (Expanded Edition)

Within the past two months, I made some good life choices that led to me listening to nothing but disco for the past few months. If you are a decent person and do some okay things in your life and on your Spotify, you are blessed by the Disco Goddesses from on high popping several 12” mixes into your life daily.

The first Dan Hartman song that appeared magically in my life was Vertigo/Relight My Fire, which is a disco masterpiece:

Then the 12” mix of "Hands Down” popped onto my mix from the Disco Goddesses on high and I was like… what the fuck am I listening to (in the best way of the phrase). I shared it with my spouse, who said, “Wow, sounds like a Stevie Wonder style harmonica there!” Looked up the album credits to discover that it actually WAS Stevie Wonder on harmonica. If ever you needed a disco track in your life with Stevie Wonder playing harmonica and Edgar Winter on sax, say no more, here’s the album version:

You probably know Dan Hartman even if you don’t because of “I Can Dream About You,” but this isn’t a 101-level playlist:

Dan Hartman wrote Free Ride for the Edgar Winter group (!!!)

Hartman co-wrote “Living In America,” a comeback hit for James Brown, which appeared in Rocky IV, and also produced Dusty Springfield’s “Born This Way.” Some great pieces of Dan’s solo work and production on this post from GayCultureLand.

According to many sources, he was a deeply private man. Here is a memory from Charlie Midnight, trustee of the Dan Hartman Foundation:

"My wife Susanna was pregnant with our daughter, Shantie, and we were having a baby shower at The House Of Music in New Jersey where I was producing a band. Dan showed up a little late which was his wont to do and so I thought nothing of it. He seemed out of sorts and I inquired as to how he was feeling. 'It hasn't been a great day but I am happy to be here,' was his reply. And, as always, he was the life of the party. Years later, when I visited him at the hospital, he told me that just hours before his arrival at the baby shower he had learned that he was infected with AIDS."

Bruce Jay Paskow (b.? - d. 1994) The Washington Squares - “Gestures of Passion” from the album The Washington Squares

It’s been difficult to find out too much information about Bruce Jay Paskow: if anyone knows his date of birth and death, please let me know. From Wikipedia:

The Washington Squares are a neo-beatnik folk revival music group. Modeled after early 1960s groups like The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, the group was named after New York City's Washington Square Park, The group, consisting of Bruce Jay Paskow, Tom Goodkind, and Lauren Agnelli, came up with their name over free drinks provided by Agnelli, who was a waitress at a Mickey Ruskin's Chinese Chance off Washington Square Park where Goodkind and Paskow were regulars.

I found the most information about Bruce Paskow from this very interesting HuffPost article by a friend and songwriting of his, Larry Dvoskin, who discussed an unfinished song of his and Paskow’s, “The Kindness of Others",” that he eventually finished in 2014 with songwriter Taylor Casey:

By the early 1990s Bruce was diagnosed with AIDS. Back then, it was a death sentence. In his case it was transmitted through the needles he had used years earlier. Bruce was the first person I knew to be afflicted by this plague and he soon succumbed to a tragic and untimely death. The loss stripped me of my innocence. For years I would sit alone and play “The Kindness of Others” and cry. When I sang it for friends they too would get emotional. The song’s bittersweet melody revealed a larger, timeless truth. We each depend on one another and we often run till we can’t hide, till the sands of the hourglass run out.

A fairly recent writeup about the Washington Squares reuniting:

For Goodkind, however, the death of his friend [Paskow] was like the day the music died, and the goof-ball bandleader of The Washington Squares decided to cut his hair and commit the most unspeakable of crimes — going normal.

As I’ve said many times in this blog post, I think a lot of all those who lost someone in the early days of AIDS. I send all my love to everyone who continues to mourn and miss a loved one.

Lonnie Pitchford (October 8, 1955 – November 8, 1998) - “Shake Your Moneymaker”

From Wikipedia:

Lonnie Pitchford was an American blues musician and instrument maker from Lexington, Mississippi. In addition to the acoustic and electric guitar, Pitchford was also skilled at the one-string guitar and diddley bow, a one-string instrument of African origin, as well as the double bass, piano and harmonica. He was a protégé of Robert Lockwood Jr., from whom he learned the style of Robert Johnson. For a while, Pitchford performed accompanied by Johnny Shines and Lockwood. His own debut album, All Round Man was released on Rooster Blues Records in 1994. Pitchford performed at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and at the 1984 Downhome Blues Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pitchford is best remembered in blues circles as the “King of the One String” for his mastery of the Diddley-Bow. Here you can watch him play one at his home in Mississippi:

The 1992 film “Deep Blues” has some footage of Pitchford also. Here’s another example of Pitchford playing the Diddley-bow, this one attached to his front porch:

Rick Saunders speaks it pretty good on his blog post about Lonnie Pitchford - LOTS of blues information here! Highly recommend!:

The man was a brilliant entertainer as well as a master musician which only drove home to me what a loss his early death was. The title of his album All Around Man is so fitting as Pitchford totally embraced the very early blues, particularly those of Johnson's and made them his own without straying from the original sound or sounding kitsch or antique. He became that sound. At the same time he was like Hendrix with the one string diddley bow but was also fully at home with a more urban blues sound yet his modern blues I found to be years ahead of his contemporaries. He threw down elements of jazz and soul while keeping it deep and thoughtful and forward sounding without straying too far from the sound of the mississippi grocery store jukes and dark woods 'tonks. Sure there will never be a National Lonnie Pitchford Day any more than there will be a NationalHowlin' Wolf day or Son House Week. A couple years back the government declared a Year of the blues and nobody came so i'm not gonna hold my breath. Hell even Robert Johnson gets his his cigarette photoshopped off his stamp. No damn respect. You ever hear of Lonnie Pitchford before now? Tell your friends about him. It's our job to keep the dead alive and well remembered.

Bonus track* Doris Day, “Pillow Talk,” from the movie Pillow Talk, starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr; November 17, 1925 – October 2, 1985)

Doris Day, human ray of sunshine, just passed away a few weeks ago. Like any self-respecting gay icon, she spent her retirement doing animal rescue and just living her best life. I’ve had the pleasure of performing many of Doris Day’s songs for work events and I just love her bright and cheery voice. This is a bonus track due to the history attached, which I feel is important…

Rock Hudson was the epitome of a Hollywood “Golden Age” heartthrob; he made three movies with Doris Day: Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). He was a closeted gay man, though many in the industry seemed to know of his sexual orientation. A rare interview from Hudson’s boyfriend from 1962-1965, Lee Garlington, is here.

Hudson was a fan of Doris Day’s music before the two worked together:

Back in March, Barbara Rush, who starred as evil Nora Clavicle in the hit series “Batman” in 1968, told Fox News Hudson was head over heels for Day long before the pair bonded as close friends on and off the screen.

The duo starred together in “Taza, Son of Cochise,” “Captain Lightfoot,” and “Magnificent Obsession” during the ‘50s.

“He loved Doris Day before he even met her,” said Rush. “He did, he absolutely did. He just loved her singing. We were on location [filming] and he would play some of her music. He just loved it. Doris had such a wonderful singing voice. I remember him playing her records on the jukebox. He played it a lot.”

Here’s an adorable clip of Doris Day and Rock Hudson in “Pillow Talk”:

Rock Hudson was the first major celebrity to die of AIDS. from Smithsonian Magazine:

The news made headlines across the country. In 1985, there were few "out" gay public figures. When Hudson announced he had it, President Ronald Reagan had yet to publicly say the word AIDS, something he finally did in September of that year. For one of the Hollywood's iconic leading men to announce he was gay and had AIDS was a clear gamechanger, writes Geidner. In his 1987 book on the AIDS epidemic, journalist Randy Shilts wrote that AIDS in the United States could be divided into two distinct phases: "There was AIDS before Rock Hudson and AIDS after." 

Here are some important historical articles from the New York Times:

July 26, 1985 - Hudson Has AIDS, Spokesman Says
July 30, 1985 - Rock Hudson Leaves Paris For U.S. On Chartered Jet
October 3, 1985 - Rock Hudson, Screen Idol, Dies at 59

I think the account of Hudson asking his “friend” Nancy Reagan for help is an important one from this time. This is an incredible piece from BuzzFeed; though not easy to get through, it’s worth reading in its entirety. The image of the telegram sent to Nancy Reagan should forever haunt us all. Hudson was trying to get treatment at a French hospital and could not get in. His team thought that perhaps a request from his “friends” in the White House would allow him to access treatment.

Three days after Hudson’s collapse, he still lacked permission to go to the French hospital or to have Dormant see him in the American Hospital. His team’s initial attempts on the ground in Paris were not working. So they started working higher up: Collart would work her contacts with French defense officials. Back in America, Olson would ask for help from the American government.

In a desperate telegram sent at 12:22 p.m. ET on July 24, 1985, Olson made his case directly to the White House in a message addressed to Mark Weinberg — a special assistant to the president and deputy press secretary in the White House.

“Doctor Dominique Dormant specialist treating Rock Hudson in Paris, reports only one hospital in the world can offer necessary medical treatment to save life of Rock Hudson or at least alleviate his illness. This hospital is Ministere du la Defence Centre d’Researches du Service de Sante des Armees Percy Hospital in the city of Clamart,” the telegram read, with Olson going on to give the phone number to the hospital.

“Commanding general of Percy Hospital has turned down Rock Hudson as a patient because he is not French. Doctor Dormant in Paris believes a request from the White House or a high American official would change his mind. Can you help by having someone call the commanding general’s office at the Percy Hospital at the above number,” the telegram stated.

First Lady Nancy Reagan turned down the request…The White House did not decide that AIDS would be an issue to “get into” until nearly two years after Hudson’s death.

The actor and friend of the Reagans — struggling to receive treatment in a foreign country — had been regarded, at least by the White House, just the same as everyone else with AIDS at the time.

If anyone fixes their mouth to say with a straight face “what a great president Reagan was,” look them in the eye and remind them of all the people Ronald Reagan let die of AIDS. Make sure to tell them about Rock Hudson, and how the Reagans refused to help one of the “friends” as he lay dying of AIDS. Fuck Ron, and fuck Nancy.

Cleanse your palate with some friendship footage of Doris Day and Rock Hudson:

Doris Day on the last time she saw Rock Hudson:

“He’d get very tired,” she recalls of his last visit. “I’d bring him his lunch and fix him a big platter but he couldn’t eat. I’d say ‘What if I get a fork and feed you’ but he said ‘Doris I can’t eat.'” 

Their goodbye broke her heart. “They had a small plane to get him to the airport,” she says. “We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held onto me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.”

Another piece from the LA Times.

Liberace (born Władziu Valentino Liberace; May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic “I Don’t Care (As Long As You Care For Me)/”George and Critics” from the live album Liberace at the Hollywood Bowl

Did you know Liberace died of AIDS? I am somewhat familiar with Mr. Showmanship’s iconic work, but I had no idea the cause of his death until I began putting this playlist together. The tenderness of this live track felt like a beautiful way to close out our musical adventure.

Liberace was a complicated figure; the more I learned about his real life, the harder it became to write about in what was supposed to be a short blog post. Here’s the film trailer for Behind the Candelabra, based on the memoir by Scott Thorson, his former lover.

Most likely Liberace’s biggest legacy to the world of entertainment was his over the top stage presence and costumes, costumes, costumes! May I present this stage entrance “Well, look me over! I didn’t dress like this to go unnoticed!”

Some golden comments under the video:

Opapinguin: Never came out of the closet cause he was too busy wearing it.

ren hoek: makes elton john look like john wayne

newguy90: Rappers can only dream about this lifestyle.

Chettee: Sorry.. but I can't see any evidence that he was gay.

The Liberace Show in the 1950s, featuring the famous candleabra:

From Michael Thornton:

The Liberace I knew was kind and absurdly generous. I first met him in 1960, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate. He was playing the London Palladium and I was introduced by Noël Coward. He was heavily made up and overly tactile, with a tendency to put his hands where they ought not to be. It was clear that he was sexually predatory, but he was also friendly and charming, and immediately invited me to call him “Lee”, which I did until the day he died. 

To be truthful, I was not an admirer of his style on the piano, or the way in which he tended to murder the classics. What was clear was that he was a great showman and audiences adored him. If he got a bad notice, he would shrug and say: “I laughed all the way to the bank.” And, in later years: “I no longer laugh all the way to the bank. I bought the bank!” 

I never paid to see one of his shows. He always sent me tickets. In the interval, iced vintage champagne would arrive. He once bought me a ring and a designer jacket. I never wore either. The ring was huge and could have stopped traffic. The jacket was encrusted with bugle beads. 

Whenever I went to America, I used to visit him at The Cloisters, his home in Palm Springs. Its décor was glitzy, garish and incredibly vulgar, a bit like a high-class bordello, but his hospitality was legendary. In spite of his huge wealth and massive fame, however, I always sensed an air of deep loneliness, as if his life was somehow hollow.

Throughout his career, Liberace constantly fought back rumors of his homosexuality. His famous catchphrase “I cried all the way to the bank” came from a libel lawsuit in the UK!

from Wikipedia:

Liberace's fame in the United States was matched for a time in the United Kingdom. In 1956, an article in the Daily Mirror by columnist Cassandra (William Connor) described Liberace as "…the summit of sex—the pinnacle of masculine, feminine and neuter. Everything that he, she and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love", a description which strongly implied that he was homosexual.

Liberace sent a telegram that read: "What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank." He sued the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not homosexual and that he had never taken part in homosexual acts. He was represented in court by one of the great barristers of the period, 75-year-old Gilbert Beyfus, QC, who displayed all his old flair despite being unwell. They won the suit, partly on the basis of Connor's use of the derogatory expression "fruit-flavoured". The case partly hinged on whether Connor knew that 'fruit' was American slang implying that an individual is a homosexual. After a three-week civil trial, a jury ruled in Liberace's favor on June 16, 1959, and awarded him £8,000 (around $22,400) in damages (worth about £182,800 or $192,500 today) which led Liberace to repeat the catchphrase to reporters: "I cried all the way to the bank!" Liberace's popularization of the phrase inspired the title of Crying All the Way to the Bank, a detailed report of the trial based on transcripts, court reports, and interviews, by the former Daily Mirror journalist Revel Barker.

Liberace live in Las Vegas:

Did you know Betty White and Liberace were close friends? again from Wikipedia:

In a 2011 interview, actress and close friend Betty White stated that Liberace was indeed gay and that she was often used as a beard by his managers to counter public rumors of the musician's homosexuality

Liberace was secretly diagnosed with AIDS by his private physician in August 1985. From The Wrap:

After the diagnosis, “Lee and I made a pact never to tell another soul about our AIDS,” his lover, Cary James, would confess. “His worst fear was that his fans would find out he was gay.”

Only a month before the diagnosis, another Liberace lover, Rock Hudson, died of the disease. The pianist was terrified that, should his condition be revealed, he would be subject to the same media circus. Moreover, a devout Catholic whose fondest memory was his meeting with Pope Pius XII, he feared excommunication.

On his deathbed, the star confided to another former lover, Scott Thorson, that he would take his secret with him “to the grave” because, “I don’t want to be remembered as an old queen who died of AIDS.”

February 10, 1987 Coroner Cites AIDS in Liberace Death

Liberace’s cause of death being disclosed without his consent brings up questions of privacy. Did he have the right to hide his cause of death? Did it “set the cause [of gay liberation] back,” as his former lover Scott Thorson alleged?

In the Washington Post archives:

INDIO, CALIF., FEB. 9 -- Liberace died of a disease caused by AIDS, and his death certificate was a deliberate attempt by his doctors to "play fast and loose" with authorities and cover up the cause of death, Riverside County Coroner Ray Carrillo said today.

Liberace, 67, died Feb. 4 at his home in Palm Springs. His lawyer, his manager and his publicist all denied he had died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and Dr. Ronald Daniels, a physician who treated the entertainer, said death was caused by cardiac arrest due to heart failure brought on by subacute encephalopathy, a brain inflammation.

Carrillo rejected the death certificate, ordered an autopsy, which was performed Friday, and announced the results today at a crowded news conference.

"Mr. Liberace did not die of cardiac arrest and cardiac failure due to encephalopathy and anemia as certified by the physician on the death certificate," Carrillo said. "Our postmortem has precluded any conjecture. He did die of AIDS.”

And with this portrait of a complicated, closeted person, we end our playlist. The joke Liberace tells at the end is such a classic. If someone delivered this line at a gay piano bar today, I’d still appreciate it.

I hope you all have enjoyed this deep dive. it took me three days of writing to “finish” this blog post, and there’s still so much more I’d love to say. Mostly I hope this post helped shine a light on the memories of those we lost to AIDS and the beautiful complexity of queer culture, gay life, and this specific time.

I may be adding more to this post as time goes on, but I need to wrap it up to post it and share it with you all. Thank you to those of you who read to the end. I did my best to share the memories and legacies of those we lost, especially those who have been forgotten by time and have had their memories pushed away by the stigma still associated with AIDS.

ACT UP is an incredible organization still working on behalf of those with HIV/AIDS. I’d like to end this blog post with the story of how ACT UP activists seized control of the FDA on October 11, 1988.

From the NY Times Archives:

Advocates for AIDS patients, dissatisfied with the progress of developing and approving new treatments for the disease, are continuing to put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration through meetings with Government officials and demonstrations. Groups concerned about AIDS are planning to stage a demonstration on Tuesday at F.D.A. headquarters in nearby Rockville, Md., to shut down the agency for a day in what they called a nonviolent act of civil disobedience. While agency officials said the F.D.A. would remain open, organizers said several thousand people were expected to protest and hundreds planned to be arrested to dramatize their concerns.

ACT UP & ACT NOW Seize Control of the FDA, October 11, 1988:

from CSPAN - American History Johns Hopkins School of Public Health hosts a public forum talking about the legacy of the ACT UP confrontation.

Further recommended media & organizations:

ACT UP: ny

And The Band Played On: Full Movie (YouTube)

An update of sorts

I'm still alive! Wow! 

Time flies by when your country is rapidly eroding, am I right or am I right? I've been trying to create and working on many different things in the past year or so, and things have shifted, and I'm trying to be okay with that. I don't know what kind of person I would be if what's happening right now *didn't* affect me to the point where I don't sleep well anymore. We shall see. I am thankful for the friends & community members I have here in San Diego and online, I appreciate everyone's continued support! 

I've been enjoying writing & producing new songs for my girl group The Joyelles, you can catch us out and about in San Diego about once a month, and we are just about done with our debut EP. It's been so enjoyable to write songs for multiple voices and different voices than my own! I love it. 

I am also gardening quite a bit and enjoying the quiet and peace that's found in nature and in my backyard. 

Hope you are all well, thank you for your continued support and riding along with me as I enter my 12th year of making music, and all the rides and adventure and weirdness and unexpected stuff that lies ahead....




I'm sick at the loss of life in the Oakland Fire. Like many others, waiting for additional news. 

it horrifies me that we have money for just about everything but the arts in this country. 

it makes me sick that artists, especially young artists, had to choose between stable, affordable housing and their own safety. 

I'm sending my prayers & love to the Bay Area and to all those who lost a loved one, and those who are awaiting news. If you want to contribute to the fundraiser for the victims, here is the link