Legacy: Happy Birthday, Barbara Jean


…this song was written for my mother on July 24, 1984 (but I dedicate it to all mothers – and I will post this for as long as this blog remains active). When she died in 1993, I looked at it again and remembered a brief conversation she and I had, shortly before her passing…about how she had forgotten what happiness was truly about, the mistakes she wished she could alter for her children, and how grateful she was to me for “rescuing” her (after years of a miserable existence with my father, we finally left; I saved up all the money I made while working at Tower Records, and found an apartment where we lived with my younger brother, two sisters and nephew). I often wish I had the insight to ask her to elucidate her sudden contemplation, but, sadly, I didn’t.

My mother wasn’t a saint, nor a sinner. She was a complicated woman, who lived a complicated, difficult life. She lived as only she knew how, and was as misunderstood by some in my family almost as much as she misunderstood the outside world. Being married to my father all those years was only a hindrance in that elusive illumination…

While it wasn’t her choice to die In April of 1993, I believe she waited until she was finally free…so she wouldn’t die in an unhappy microcosm…and, how, she may have finally found that long lost true happiness…or at the very least, the road toward it.

I loved her, then, now. Eternally.

Happy 76th Birthday, Barbara Jean Basso…Mother Hindsight…mother of us all…

Mother Hindsight

Silent mother cries in the rain
and asks will it stop coming
in her life the pain remains
No more loving

Quiet mother walks on the moon
bows her head in prayer
the struggle of her million runes
And the wish is still there

In her life nothing ever changes
Nothing remains to dream
When I see her crying in her pillow
I think of the streams
Candlelight in the night
Darken the light
Mother hindsight
Relieve your insight

I hear the echoes of her lifetime
Screaming in my mind
Her kingdom of candlelight seems
to slowly unwind
Quiet mother walks on the moon
bows her head with prayer
Cries for the litany
and wishes she wasn’t there

Silent mother don’t fade away
The tears will somehow pass
Mother Hindsight
Will your sanity last…

@SageSongMusings 1984

Encomium 9/11 – George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]

George Merkouris

 

Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This also always reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that while I never forgot you, I never will…

georgem


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

georgel

Music Box: Nobody Beats “The Wiz”

The Wiz NBC


Too many changes pissed me off: Ne-Yo is bad enough, but Ne-Yo writing an original song FOR this? Ugh. Removing “I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday” and replacing it with a song not even good enough to make the cut of the dreadful movie version, called “You Can’t Win”? Feh. (Though, I do know it was originally written for the stage, but never used.) Queen Latifah and Mary J Blige? As much as I love them, ubiquitous. Enough. Now I’m not really adverse to change, but sometimes I’m guilty off being too much of a traditionalist, particularly when it comes to something I cherish. Oh well. Sue me. 

Still, my anticipation was – and is – very high, as THE WIZ was the very first Broadway musical I ever saw, and it remains an indelible part of my very heart. And then I saw this. Now, I’m a religious-free man, but…oh my god. Oh. My. God. OH. MY. GOD!!!!! This sent tremulous shivers pirouetting down my spine.

OH MY GOD. December 3rd can’t get here fast enough.


Music Box: Hamilton the Musical – History Is Happening In Manhattan

Hamilton Banner Home Made

 


I’m dazed. Literally.

I first saw the off-Broadway production back in February, at the Public, as a birthday present to myself. It was a staggering achievement then, but even more so now.

 

IMG_4304

Every so often a work of art descends upon us from the heavens, via the musical theater gods – so breathtaking, towering in its scope, vision and execution – to dazzle us, to thrill us, to exalt us, to inspire us, to perplex us, to educate us, to illuminate us, and ideally, to transform us. Welcome to that pantheon, Hamilton.

Believe the hype. It’s one of the – if not THE – greatest musical I’ve seen in a decade or more, and ranks with the mightiest of all time.

 

IMG_4306


Below is a clip sent to various networks and outlets to use as promos – a partial of “Yorktown (World Turned Upside Down),” which excludes the into, and it’s thrilling. I’m going back in a few months, and I’m sure to make various visits over the next few years:

 

 

 

Legacy: Happy Birthday, Barbara Jean


…this song was written for my mother on July 24, 1984 (but I dedicate it to all mothers – and I will post this for as long as this blog remains active). When she died in 1993, I looked at it again and remembered a brief conversation she and I had, shortly before her passing…about how she had forgotten what happiness was truly about, the mistakes she wished she could alter for her children, and how grateful she was to me for “rescuing” her (after years of a miserable existence with my father, we finally left; I saved up all the money I made while working at Tower Records, and found an apartment where we lived with my younger brother, two sisters and nephew). I often wish I had the insight to ask her to elucidate her sudden contemplation, but, sadly, I didn’t.

My mother wasn’t a saint, nor a sinner. She was a complicated woman, who lived a complicated, difficult life. She lived as only she knew how, and was as misunderstood by some in my family almost as much as she misunderstood the outside world. Being married to my father all those years was only a hindrance in that elusive illumination…

While it wasn’t her choice to die In April of 1993, I believe she waited until she was finally free…so she wouldn’t die in an unhappy microcosm…and, how, she may have finally found that long lost true happiness…or at the very least, the road toward it.

I loved her, then, now. Eternally.

Happy 75th Birthday, Barbara Jean Basso…Mother Hindsight…mother of us all…

Mother Hindsight

Silent mother cries in the rain
and asks will it stop coming
in her life the pain remains
No more loving

Quiet mother walks on the moon
bows her head in prayer
the struggle of her million runes
And the wish is still there

In her life nothing ever changes
Nothing remains to dream
When I see her crying in her pillow
I think of the streams
Candlelight in the night
Darken the light
Mother hindsight
Relieve your insight

I hear the echoes of her lifetime
Screaming in my mind
Her kingdom of candlelight seems
to slowly unwind
Quiet mother walks on the moon
bows her head with prayer
Cries for the litany
and wishes she wasn’t there

Silent mother don’t fade away
The tears will somehow pass
Mother Hindsight
Will your sanity last…

@SageSongMusings 1984

Encomium 9/11 – George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]


George Merkouris

Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This also always reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that while I never forgot you, I never will…


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

Legacy: For Adam, On His 37th Birthday


 

(I wrote this in 2012 for Adam’s 34th birthday, upon discovering that he had died a few years prior, never having the chance to say goodbye. I’ll repost this annually for as long as this blog exists…)

*****

Adam and I met 18 years ago during a brisk and stinging winter morning. It sounds like a cliché, I know, but it’s actually true. I was standing on a near-empty underground subway platform at Church Avenue waiting for the F train, when, from the corner of my eye I noticed a young man (who vaguely resembled a young, handsome male version of Sandra Bernhard) bopping and sing-whispering aloud to Guns N Roses, with a pair of drumsticks protruding out of his back pocket. I don’t recall who initiated the conversation, or what our first words were, but I remember, after giving him the thumbs up for his pseudo-public performance, he smiled, took his headphones off and we started speaking. Soon subsequently, he and I were at my apartment – Guns N Roses was his favorite band, Axl Rose his favorite singer, and he was in awe of my massive CD collection that I ‘acquired’ while at my recent past tenure at Tower Records. As a fellow music lover he was enthralled spelunking the thousands of titles (especially those G ‘n R imports!) packed in my small one room apartment.

The above photo was taken on March 9, 1994 in that Bensonhurst, Brooklyn apartment on Bay Ridge Parkway and 17th avenue not too many months after we met. Unemployed at the time, living off my (ahem) “savings” from Tower, we spent limitless days lounging about. We kept each other company through that cold winter, lunching on microwavable hamburgers and diet Coke from the corner deli up the block on 18th avenue, traipsing through the snow to Manhattan to check out new CD releases from the copious import stores that saturated the East Village. We strolled to Bay Ridge in the springtime and sat along the water, people watching, dreaming. We excitedly talked of buying bikes so we could pedal to the Verrazano Bridge to enjoy the exercise and the view. I told him about my friend, Kenny, who took his life many years ago by leaping, and how the bridge has become, for me, a sort of sanctuary for contemplation, even amidst the clamor of the traffic above. I loved teaching him everything I knew about music, movies, life, politics, and I loved him, soul deep. Through this all, at some point between seasons, the eventual had happened.

But…how was I to know? Age never really mattered to me, up to some point (his age was definitely something I never pursued – my range was always a +10/-5 year circumference). But the age he told me he was upon our meeting – and appeared to be, in all his emotional and personable fortitude – was not what the truth was. But…? There was more than a decade difference between us, and he was too young, a teenager still. I was confused after I found out the truth – and angry (for a little while) – but…if it was beautiful, then how could it have been wrong? (It wasn’t.)

I never thought Adam was gay, despite our relationship – I knew he had been with other men, usually older, but he spoke so often about girls that I figured any same-sex dalliances were merely that of the heightened hormones of a horny teenager. He told me he was bisexual, and I accepted that, knowing even then that ours was a temporary sexuality – and one that was merely an extension of friendship rather than a torrid romance. I loved him, but I was never in love with him.

I started working shortly thereafter at Merlite Industries, a costume jewelry catalog company based in Chelsea, and our times together grew more fleeting, though we made our efforts to see each other whenever able. But it was purely platonically; once I started working, the sexual relationship had evaporated, as I knew it would and should. Over the next year or two, we saw each other as often as we could – even after I moved in with a roommate to a larger apartment not too far away from my previous one and sporadically beyond that.

Sadly, as time progressed, Adam had virtually disappeared. Our visits were more and more infrequent, our phone calls halted completely (it didn’t help that he no longer had one). The last time I had spoken to him, he was living with an older woman and her two children. He sounded happy, despite their age difference (funny, huh?), and I was happy for him. He was 18 at that time, I surmise. As I hugged him goodbye, I kissed his cheek and said, “I miss you, man!” He replied, almost bittersweetly, “I know. Me too.” We paused a little longer mid-embrace, and then he walked out the door, heading home. If I had only known…

Despite the years-long hiatus, I’ve often searched for Adam. I had no phone number for he had no phone; his previous address left no forwarding one. When I finally purchased a computer in 2000-2001, I began, in vain, my quest. I spelunked Yahoo and AOL chat rooms, on Guns N Roses fan message boards. With the advent of “social media,” I would peruse Friendster and MySpace then later Facebook and Google, all grasping onto the hope that Adam took to this new form of technology.

But the reason he was intangible breaks my heart, still.

In May of 2011, like an epiphany, I remembered Adam had an older sister – he talked of her fondly years before and I loved that her name was “Starr”. So I looked up Starr on Facebook on a hopeful whim and there she was! I eagerly wrote:

Hi Starr – forgive my intrusion but I was wondering if you were related to Adam Forgetta. He’s an old friend of mine from back in the 1990s and we’ve lost contact over the years. I know “Adam” is a common name, so let me describe my friend Adam – he was about 5’9 – reddish curly hair, a HUGE Guns N Roses fan (big music fan in general). He’d be in his early 30s now, as I knew him when he was a teenager. If Adam is indeed a relative of yours, can you please let him know that his old friend from Bensonhurst Jeffrey (the music man with 8,000 CDs) has been looking for him for a few years…and if he is indeed a relative, please let me know and I will give you my number so you can give it to Adam. If Adam is not related to you, please let me know as well. Thanx for your time…I hope to hear back from you soon. ~jeffrey

She replied with the worst words I never wanted to – or expected to – hear:

I’m his sister and he passed away in 2004. U can call me at xxxxxx

I momentarily froze. My hands quivered and I sobbed uncontrollably. Through the tremors, I responded:

I can’t talk…I’m in tears…I will call, but I can’t now…too emotional…how did he pass…?

Ur going make me cry! I loved my brother very much. He died from HIV and cancer and he left a set of twins behind, a boy and girl. They’re 9 years old now…

Oh my…I am so sorry for your loss…I didn’t mean to make you cry. I loved your brother…he was special to me and when we lost contact a piece of my heart left…I still have photos of him from a few parties I threw…Oh, Adam!!! I am weeping so hard… I’ve looked for him for years…I wish I never lost touch…oh, sweet, sweet Adam!

I called Starr after I composed myself and we spoke – and through our tears she told me the tale of her brother’s later life, of the woman who had given him HIV, his twins he loved so much, the AIDS-related cancer he had finally succumbed to. How it was 7 years since he died and how she misses her brother beyond comprehensive words and how she longs to embrace her twin niece and nephew, Adam’s children. She told me of the tattoo she had made in her brother’s honor so he would forever be with her. She told me if I Googled his name, I would find his death notice. I have Googled his name in the past, and always came up with nothing. After we hung up, I did so again. And there, like a serrated blade, it was. So I wept again.



I know it’s a cliché to say it, but there really aren’t words to convey the prodigious size of the hole in my heart. I had prayed to a god I don’t believe in that the aforementioned hiatus would be just that…that I would find my long-ago lost, itinerant child…that I would embrace him and feel that breathtaking hug of his, and to again smell his hair while doing so (which he always thought was weird, and we’d laugh); that, speaking of laughs, we would have a few good ones at the expense of his favorite singer’s eccentricity (though there’s no doubt Adam’s love for Axl would not have waned). I had always expected that I would see him, rocking down the street, air-drumming with those drumsticks he was rarely – if ever – without (they were his security blanket, his constant thread to his reality. And you wouldn’t recognize it instantly, but he’s twirling those beaters in the photo above). I anticipated the ensuing day I would hear the tales of his happy life, perhaps of a wife and kids, or a partner or husband. I fervently awaited the tales of how he had filled the missing years that separated our tangibility, but not our brotherhood or bond.

I just assumed that, given time…he would just…be here.

But, these are now evaporated aspirations, jolting evanescences, discarded dreams. Oh, if only I had tried much harder…used any resources at my disposal, extended my searches. I never should have allowed those expanses that life jettisons at us to allow him to slip away. If I tried more powerfully, perchance he would still be here.

Maybe, if we remained tangible, I could have, at the very least, held his hand when he left us.

I recently dreamt of Adam, almost a year after receiving the news, and one of a myriad of dreams he’s haunted for years and years. These dreams were always surreal, unexplainable, but commonly; they very rarely altered – they were of Adam and I doing what we’ve always done as friends, as if time were not merely a ghost. This time was different, though. I remember reaching out, imploring to him, “Don’t go…stay, Adam…” And he smiled that goofy, glorious grin, enveloped me in his arms and said, “I love you man. Always have, always will…”

Drenched in tears, with the sunlight bathing my face, I woke up smiling.

I don’t believe that dreams are anything other than our subconscious minds working overtime to get us through the night. But…that embrace…maybe, just maybe.

So, Adam, here’s to you on your (34th ) (35th) (36th) 37th birthday. You are forever tattooed on my heart, and will always reside within the storehouse of my soul, for as long as I shall live…and beyond…

On your grave, I will lie, it’s the closest I will get to touching you again. I will kiss the dirt, make love to the stone…I will always remember you…

…especially during those cold November rains…