Legacy: Happy Birthday, Barbara Jean

…this song was written for my mother on July 24, 1984 (but I dedicate it to all mothers). 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 74th 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…]

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 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 I never forgot you, and 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: Joan Rivers, Exit Laughing



If there was a god, it’s apparent that he/she has no sense of humor. Still recovering from the loss of comic god Robin Williams only three weeks ago, another comedy giant has left the building.

Joan Rivers is gone.

After a routine throat procedure, she stopped breathing and was taken to Mount Sinai hospital. After going into cardiac arrest, her doctors put into an induced coma, and after hoping for a recovery, and spending her last few days on life support, her family issued a statement that she had passed. I’m still confused as to how this happened at all. And I surmise we’ll be hearing much more about the Yorkville Endoscopy procedures that ended her life in the coming weeks/months.

So to say it’s a sad day in the entertainment world is an understatement. I – most of us, really – grew up, with Joan Rivers as a part of our very fabric, for better or worse.

Her rise and temporary fall is practically mythic. After establishing herself as a stand up comic force to be reckoned with – and in a male-dominated field at that – Johnny Carson made Rivers a household name with her numerous appearances on “The Tonight Show,” during the 1970s, then by allotting her the permanent guest hostess gig in 1983. Her star was in orbit until she was fucked over by that “friend” (well-documented, and something she never really emotionally recovered from). After landing her own talk show, the ill conceived and short-lived “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” Carson shunned Rivers as a friend and a talent, and never spoke to her again; she was barred from the show and unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood. Her show’s subsequent failure also briefly destroyed her career and was one catalyst to the suicide of her husband Edgar Rosenberg, which shattered her, in 1987.

She was persona non grata and sadly, a punch line for a cruel, albeit temporary, time.

She inched her way back, adamantly, forcefully and tirelessly, regaining her name, her brand, and her humanity. She made brilliantly funny guest appearances on Howard Stern’s FM radio show, started another more successful afternoon TV talk show, “The Joan Rivers Show” (which won her an Emmy and lasted for five years), made a fortune on QVC designing and selling costume jewelry, was center square during a 90s revival of “The Hollywood Squares,” and was Tony-nominated for her performance as Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce’s mother, in “Sally Marr…and Her Escorts.” She never met a gig she didn’t like. She never allowed fragility to define her, rather perseverance and tenacity. From this point on, she was unstoppable, and where once she was a superstar fading, she was ubiquitous from the start of the aughts until the end of her life.

I won’t play revisionist history and state that I’ve been an ardent fan in recent years (I mean, even before her “fall” there were times I cringed rather than laughed). In fact, more often than not, I’ve been angered by the paths Rivers has taken in her final decade or so. There was/is a fine line between being an “insult comic” (Joan was Queen to Don Rickles’ King) and being hateful, vindictive. Always a brilliant, incisive commentator of the world around us, she (in my apparently minority opinion) diminished her art for pure commerce and ego. Where, once upon a time, she eviscerated her targets with intelligence and truth seeped with hilarious sardonic overkill, in recent years she circumvented the truths and went for the jugular, often mean-spiritedly and too-often maddeningly ugly. Particularly as the go-to fashion mouthpiece for every post-Awards show since the mid-1990s, until it became her (in)famous “Fashion Police” specials, which were merely loathsome bully roundtables by a select group of individuals who really had no business insulting or critiquing anyone’s fashion choices. It pissed me off that this comic genius relegated to this. Which, for better or worse, begot countless other wannabes, making any Awards season almost unbearable (it didn’t help that I already thought that fashion killed Rock n Roll). But, it’s been her métier for the last two decades of her life, and cemented her already-icon status for eternity.

Besides, it doesn’t depreciate her overall legacy. Only a liar and a fool would negate or diminish her stature as a trailblazer, nonpareil. She was a cultural emblem, and a tireless proponent of equality (even before it was hip to be that, headlining one of the very first – if not THE first – HIV/AIDS awareness charity events back in 1983! Unheard of for a celebrity of Joan’s stature!), and, most importantly, as one of the last of the great legendary stand-up comics. And that’s how I’ll always remember her. From howling with laughter listening to her classic 70s album, “What Becomes A Semi-Legend Most” (which I listened to again a few days before she passed, and boy, it still holds up), to her outrageously funny “Tonight Show” guest host gigs (I always wished that Carson would retire and she would take over) which I’ve often perused YouTube to watch, to those aforementioned Howard Stern appearances…the woman epitomizes steadfastness. She lived for her family and, unwaveringly, her audience – and they loved her. She loved what she did, even when she didn’t have to do it anymore. But, thankfully, she did.

So Rest in Prada, funny lady. You deserve it. Knock ‘em dead(er) on the other side.


Joan Rivers

Legacy: For Adam, On His 36th 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 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.

Legacy: Elaine Stritch Everybody Rise!

Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch 1925 ~ 2014

How do you mourn a legend who’s lived more than you and me combined? At the ripe old age of 89, the great Elaine Stritch has taken her final bows. To see her in a show was to expect the expected AND unexpected, and to bear witness Broadway royalty non pareil. I’m thrilled, delighted, and now nostalgic that I was able to be a mortal spectator over the years – in the astounding “Eliane Stritch At Liberty,” over a dozen years ago, and more recently as Angela Lansbury’s replacement in the revival of “A Little Night Music.” And, I can still, forevermore, as Colleen Donaghy on “30 Rock,” my already worn out copy of the making of the Original Cast Recording of “Company,” and countless YouTube treasures.

Rest in peace and respect, Elaine. And everybody rise…rise…RISE!

Recording her legendary “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Sondheim’s “Company”:

On The Rosie O’Donnell Show from the 1990s:

“I’m Still Here” at the White House:

The full “At Liberty”:


Music Box: Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow


The Late, Great Phoebe Snow

The Late, Great Phoebe Snow

 The idea was noble, the benefit, beyond worthwhile, the execution a little cheesy in hindsight, but back in 1995, Lincoln Center staged a concert reading of “The Wizard Of Oz In Concert: Dreams Come True” to benefit the CDF (Children’s Defense Fund), the child advocacy group whose motto of No Child Left Behind defined their great cause.

The cast included Jewel (as Dorothy), Debra Winger (The Wicked Witch of the West), Natalie Cole (Glinda The Good Witch), Nathan Lane (the Cowardly Lion), Jackson Browne (the Scarecrow), Roger Daltrey (the Tin Man), and Joel Grey as the Wizard (he also narrated, played various other parts).

Rather than an absolute faithful concert, the songs were altered – stylistically – to better suit each singer’s voice, rather than role (e.g. a Rock N Roll-ish “If I Only Had A Heart” – a la Daltrey’s classic rock front man persona).

But the single moment I fell in love with from the whole affair was the addition of the late, great Phoebe Snow. Acting as a muse, of sorts, she performed a medley of “If I Only Had a Brain; a Heart; the Nerve” – as a reprise, alone with only piano accompaniment (with lyrics in hand), and it’s the most glorious 3 minutes of the production. Her voice simultaneously bluesy, bittersweet, nostalgic and haunting, she soars while staying grounded.

The concert was never released on DVD – I transferred the Phoebe Snow medley from an old VHS recording, and converted it digitally (so excuse the shoddy quality) because as a lifelong Snow fan, I feel it deserves to be seen. And what better day than on the date she would have celebrated her 64th birthday?

So, Happy Birthday, Phoebe Snow. Your voice…your brain, your heart and your nerve…are still – and will forever be – missed.

Music Box: Sheryl Crow & Stevie Nicks Live 2002

Sheryl & Stevie

Sheryl & Stevie

On March 6th, 2002, Sheryl Crow filmed a concert for TV benefiting Breast Cancer Awareness (it aired later that year). She invited the Queen of Rock N Roll (Stevie Nicks, of course!) to perform with her on a few songs.

Strong Enough
Come On, Come On
The Difficult Kind
Midnight Rider (Allman Brothers cover)

At the end of “Midnight Rider,” you can see Stevie mouthing to Sheryl, “I think we should do…” suggesting that she wasn’t happy with the performance. So, they re-recorded “The Difficult Kind” and “Midnight Rider” (Stevie missed a cue during one chorus on this second try and looked adorable when she realized it), and then part of “The Difficult Kind” for a third time (they missed a verse – and needed to re-record it).

These are rare performances – so enjoy!

Strong Enough/Sorcerer

Come On, Come On

The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rider Take 1

The Difficult Kind/Midnight Rambler Take 2 / Difficult Kind Take 3