Sunday, September 29, 2013

light up

i spent some time today engaging in my guilty pleasure of watching the xfactors- both uk and australia- and have come across sam bailey who is currently stomping out all the competition on the uk show. she really is a remarkbable singer. and then i found a vid on youtube of her singing a snow patrol song and i thought that at that moment life just may not get any better. i love snow patrol, but her version puts that incredible song into another category entirely.

I'll sing it one last time for you
Then we really have to go
You've been the only thing that's right
In all I've done

And I can barely look at you
But every single time I do
I know we'll make it anywhere
Away from here

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Louder louder
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say

To think I might not see those eyes
Makes it so hard not to cry
And as we say our long goodbye
I nearly do

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Louder louder
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say

Slower slower
We don't have time for that
All I want's to find an easy way
To get out of our little heads

Have heart, my dear
We're bound to be afraid
Even if it's just for a few days
Making up for all this mess

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Friday, September 27, 2013


“Sentient beings, self and others, enemies and dear ones—all are made by thoughts. It is like seeing a rope and mistaking it for a snake. When we think that the rope is a snake, we are scared, but once we see that we are looking at a rope, our fear dissipates. We have been deluded by our thoughts. Likewise, mentally fabricating self and others, we generate attachment and aversion.” ~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

this last year seems to have spun around like a drum of pastel cotton candy. nine seems such a passive number- especially when compared to 5 or 10 or even 20. but 9 is my number today and i humbly admit that i am full of wonder and satisfaction. i can't say i care to repeat any of these past 9 years. but i do believe i have repeated several aspects of those years because i haven't discerned all the lessons to glean from life yet.

sometimes those repeats come seasonally. one might say that september rings in a cyclical situation for me. in hindsight, each september has heralded some very crazy emotional chaos. this year is no exception. i might as well be standing inside a car wash with the suds writhing and building, the jets streaming, and the noise so loud that i can hardly hear my own thoughts.

i dropped my car off at a corporate run garage to have a gauge replaced. when i went to pick it up after work they were unable to locate the key to my vehicle. i stood around for an hour until i started to squawk. this caused one guy to look in the same place 2 other guys had looked twice but he found them. happily i got my car and heard a kathunk kathunk kathunk coming from the back axle somewhere which wasn't  around when i dropped it off.  i took it back and heard the tech shout i don't know what he's f**king talking about . i changed a gauge and that's it- who knows what he's up to. feeling some sting from the total  experience, i quickly drove to get the emissions tested which was a 2nd goal for the afternoon.

i waited in line 40 minutes and then realized that i would not be able to pay with a credit card and there was no atm. i drove to a bank for a withdrawal and then drove back but arrived 5 minutes past the closing of the emissions shop. all so stupid it isn't funny. but i have to laugh. my plans are simply that- my plans- not the law. the absurdity here is overshadowed by the grace-filled perspective these 9 years have given me. this is the best gift i have known.

all the levels of awareness that make up my being have shifted during these 9 years. i have let go and let go and let go once more. the onion metaphor holds true as well. each layer of understanding i peel away reveals another layer with another following that.. with the 12 step program and my journey with buddhism, i have uncovered a design for survival which allows me to be awake during turmoil.

what i haven't mastered yet is the blueprint for my crazy. this year coupled with a quick but insightful phone conversation (phone-a-friend) shed light on the september insight. throughout my lifetime, it seems i have always begun something a this time of year. i got sober in september. i hopped the tracks in september and caught a train going in a different direction. it just could be that i am perpetuating that process.

whatever the answer really may be, i have learned that i don't have to know it all today. so i'll have my slice of quiche and my dark chocolate gelato and hold a wish for all of you that you find this relief i now wade in.

“When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so Long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” –Alexander Graham Bell

oh yeah- happy 9-years drug and alcohol free bird day to me! september 28, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

wicked game

What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way.
What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you.
What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way.
What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you .... chris isaak

frances farmer.. image credit

a situation came up this week which jettisoned me directly back to a film titled "frances" which came out in 1982 and starred jessica lange. that story, told in words and pictures, still haunts me today. lange turned out a performance which embedded the struggle she was portraying into my mind's eye. 
and all the nuances of that particular bio-pic's telegraphed turmoil came popping up on monday like dandelions on a summer lawn. i found myself suddenly steeping in the primal dance i remembered watching and experiencing a reflection of ms. farmer's internal struggle with her own body chemicals looking for balance. 
farmer lived by her impulses. her very nature was ruled by those impulses and her intuition. there are brain chemicals released when impulses are acted upon. fear, anger, sex, paranoia can all fuel these brain charges. people who are manic demonstrate this on a daily basis. i see it with frequency and have some personal experience with it. and her placement in an environment which put her directly under the watchful eyes of 'healthcare" providers  (really just behavioral police) created a situation which caused her to just seem crazier and crazier- even though she was most likely in touch with quite a lot of what she was experiencing. her behaviors were the 1st thing people were noticing and not her insight nor her brain. this sense of dismissal only continued to frustrate her and cause her to "act out" even further. her anger and her frustration were the part of her that was knocking on doors.  it was a vicious and crippling cycle for her and created an environment for a lobotomy. 
all this flashed  before me as i encountered an updated version of someone i love from my past. i felt sad. horrified. i felt helpless. i felt as if i were witnessing an accident in slow motion. these feelings were so pervasive that it could have been deja vu. none-the-less i tried to help. i spoke some truth. i used strength-based support. i have no real concept of how my information was received. 

''FRANCES'' is based on the sad, profoundly troubled life of Frances Farmer, the golden-bright Seattle high-school girl who had some measure of Hollywood fame in the 1930's, in such films as ''Rhythm on the Range'' and ''Come and Get It,'' and one Broadway triumph in the Group Theater's production of Clifford Odets's ''Golden Boy.''

In the early 1940's Frances Farmer went into a physical and emotional tailspin that, according to this film, was arrested by something that can only be described as ice-pick therapy. Apparently with her mother's consent, she was subjected to a transorbital lobotomy that turned a talented but disturbed woman into an eerily calm humanoid who lived on until 1970.

At the age of 56, Frances Farmer died of throat cancer in Indianapolis where, she spent her last years as the hostess of an afternoon television program.

''Frances,'' which today begins a one-week engagement at the Cinema 2 to qualify for 1982 film awards, is such a mixed up movie that it still seems to be unfinished, as if Graeme Clifford, the director, and the writers hadn't yet discovered the real point of the Frances Farmer story. It contains too many show-down scenes, too much raw material that hasn't been refined, and more brutality than either the movie or the audience can make dramatic sense of.

Yet it also contains a magnificent performance by Jessica Lange in the title role. Here is a performance so unfaltering, so tough, so intelligent and so humane that it seems as if Miss Lange is just now, at long last, making her motion picture debut... reprinted from

jessica lange as frances.... image credit

i have been watching footage of news coverage of the floods of 2013 with hodge podge curiosity. it somehow startles me just how rapidly a sense of security and safety can be washed out from under us. i have moved from the honeymoon  phase of a part of my life to somewhere that feels entirely different. i  struggle with inspiration, recognize betrayal and am reminded of the scent a hooker must encounter when she realizes that she is merely being used without much care or concern for the rest of the skills (person) she brings to the table- she is only there for 1 thing. it is if a mudslide has sabotaged my sense of home and safety, washing most of the daily comforts away, leaving silt and mayhem in its midst. in no way am i even attempting to compare my current discomfort to the actual devastation left by the floods i mention- i am merely creating a metaphor to demonstrate my emotional life. my real home and my belongings are still very much in tact. i can still watch tv and take a shower. but i have lost touch with a feeling of safety that had helped me shake loose a prevalent feeling of uselessness that had become home.

walking through the aftermath is what recovery has come to mean for me. not only are there the tangible challenges that life has to offer, but there are the primal patterns and labyrinths we have created as well. maturity affords us perspective, courage, and hope. these attributes feel very different when instinct and impulse are no longer driving the bus. i am going to do my very best to see myself through this challenge, just as i encouraged my dear friend to do. anything less is hypocracy.

"If you are never scared, embarrassed, or hurt, it means you never take chances.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thirty Seconds To Mars - Stay (Rihanna) in the Live Lounge

It turns out we have more to learn from Jared Leto than just haircare tips.

The "Dallas Buyers Club" actor's latest role has the heartthrob playing a transsexual drug dealer, a part he perfected with the input of transgendered women, Leto reveals in a recent interview with Cosmopolitan. "[They] taught me how to live," he said.

Perhaps the most perilous part of the actor's attempts? Wearing high heels. Though Leto reveals the experience was a constructive one.... reprinted from Huffington Post... read here

lose yourself to dance

First, rely on the spirit and meaning of the teachings not on the words. Second, rely on the teachings not on the personality of the teacher. Third, rely on real wisdom. Not superficial interpretation. And fourth, rely on the essence on your pure wisdom mind. Not on judgemental perceptions.

the end of summer brings with it again a shift in my computability and perception. my perception of my time and work feels as if it has shifted somehow from a gift i have been given into something much different and slightly dark. i remember quite vividly when the illumination of all this changed, but i don't have much more insight than this. and the saying goes- "if you don't know what to do, the best thing to do is nothing". this describes my current environment. full of impulse and intuition tempered by caution and resistance.

the really numbing aspect to this is its familiarity. i am hardly an ingenue and yet i seem to do-si-do myself into the same position emotionally over and over like a choreographed bit on a network tv show blah-blah. it's a little bit flashy and interesting to watch for a minute, but the experience becomes empty and flat after a short time. 
this routine is familiar to me now, like stubble on my chin and i keep shaving it off hoping to be rid of it for good. yet it keeps coming back without fail. it is often said that life spirals, and i will continue to find myself in this same position until i have learned what i need to learn. of course this is where maturity becomes annoying- when i can no longer blame anyone else for my own behavior. it gets complicated by the repeating questions in my head like "what if i never get insight into what is going on?",  "what if nothing ever changes?", what if this is my karma somehow?"

more importantly though, might be my knowledge (not yet synthesized as true ability) to zoom out of this repetitive situation to understand that it may just be my dance. my work may not to be to remove it, but to embrace it somehow. not be done with it, but learn to work with it and even have it work for me. 

“Everyone defends his treasure, and will do so automatically.The real questions are, what do you treasure, and how much do you treasure it? Once you have learned to consider these questions and to bring them into all your actions, you will have little difficulty in clarifying the means. The means are available whenever you ask. You can, however, save time if you do not protract this step unduly. The correct focus will shorten it immeasurably.” 
Helen Shucman A Course In Miracles

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

defense ... not offense


Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past. ~ Lily Tomlin

off balance
surprise attacks
mental health

" rod- although this isn't usually the case, you actually look nice today. those pants really fit and make you look slim" he has been sidelining me every time he sees me in the last few weeks. in front of others, within ear shot, making sure he is loud. i listen without flinching or reacting, but it sickens me.  it reminds me of picking up dog doodoo in the park- it stinks but it is the right thing to do. i believe he is angry for several reasons. all of them have to do with him. i am resisting the urge to retaliate. i am pondering the concept of turning the tables. somewhere inside i believe that these are not appropriate responses. i am not sure if have grown to that level spiritually. i long for the fortitude it takes to turn the other cheek. i wish desperately to be strong enough to do nothing. this is just another test of my resolve to understand that the right action may be no action.
 i am flawed- but cleaning up so well. 


When we undertake the practice of forgiveness we find a portal to grace. A window to acceptance. We find at the core of every heartbreak, every betrayal, every event that we feel victimized by, every person we feel has harmed us, and every person we feel we may have harmed, that what we truly have been seeking is forgiveness of ourselves.

In times of sadness, deep grace, anger, happiness, gratitude and confusion it is helpful to incorporate forgiveness into our daily lives. This is the oil that runs the machine of our hearts. When the doors of the heart rage and threaten to close it is us who suffer and not who we feel is the justful target of whatever has happened. Forgiveness stokes the flames of beauty that live within our hearts. Saying this Forgiveness prayer in all situations can have beneficial healing effects. As Jack Kornfield says: "Forgiveness makes our hearts grow sweeter."

A Buddhist Prayer of Forgiveness

If I have harmed anyone in any way either knowingly or unknowingly
through my own confusions I ask their forgiveness.

If anyone has harmed me in any way either knowingly or unknowingly
through their own confusions I forgive them.

And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive
I forgive myself for that.

For all the ways that I harm myself, negate, doubt, belittle myself,
judge or be unkind to myself through my own confusions
I forgive myself..... reposted from The Alchemy of Healing

Sunday, September 15, 2013

september song

“The seasonal urge is strong in poets. Milton wrote chiefly in winter. Keats looked for spring to wake him up (as it did in the miraculous months of April and May, 1819). Burns chose autumn. Longfellow liked the month of September. Shelley flourished in the hot months. Some poets, like Wordsworth, have gone outdoors to work. Others, like Auden, keep to the curtained room. Schiller needed the smell of rotten apples about him to make a poem. Tennyson and Walter de la Mare had to smoke. Auden drinks lots of tea, Spender coffee; Hart Crane drank alcohol. Pope, Byron, and William Morris were creative late at night. And so it goes.” 

i just finished working the busiest month i have had with service since december. i have worked for a family during the jewish holidays for about 5 years now. each year it seems that there is more responsibility. but each year it the holiday celebration becomes more personal and i become more invested. regardless, i may just be realizing how a second vocation has developed for me. i highly doubt i could ever engage in domestic service as a full time gig, but somehow it affords me some decent additional revenue and a glimpse into life on my planet that i would not see otherwise.

 working in teams as well as with repeating events and clients lends itself to familiarity. this type of work has allowed me some enjoyment on a very different level than my day job does. private service involves being with people who have ample resources and options. they don't need nor do they want my advice regarding how to conduct their daily lives. indeed, this is a sharp contrast from the client i see during the day. most of those encounters are enmeshed with fear, avoidance, anger which is most often underlined by poverty and lack. i am actually curiously invested in this dichotomy. it titillates my brain and it soothes my heart to consistently enter these very different labyrinths with regularity. 

this two-step i engage in brings many gifts. perhaps the biggest of those is to feel engaged with my daily doings. i am surrounded by people who don't project this same enthusiasm. i remember what that was like. i also am clear that i would like to not be there again. 

september always brings reflection to me. beginning a new year, starting over, summer ending, another year of living begins, my sobriety date - these are a few annual points on my life's medicine wheel and each september these markers and my relationship to them grow and change. 

The greatest achievement is selflessness. 
The greatest worth is self-mastery. 
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others. 
The greatest precept is continual awareness. 
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything. 
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways. 
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions. 
The greatest generosity is non-attachment. 
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind. 
The greatest patience is humility. 
The greatest effort is not concerned with results. 
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go. 
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

In criticizing, the teacher is hoping to teach. That's all....

this september enters in much the same fashion, by maybe with one noticeable change. there is a sort of peace and satisfaction this year that seems fresh. i am fairly confident that i have a physical cycle which correlates to my birthday. i resonate with change and growth each anniversary. and 2013 brings a new depth and understanding. thank you universe.

Monday, September 9, 2013

pot luck

i am still adjusting to having mondays off work. it is strange, but it is becoming part of the routine. i went to cardio class this morning, fell during class and sprained my foot. i hit the cleaners, the grocery store, and watched a really sweet gay hip-hop film titled "bashment".

we are having a pot luck at the peer recovery group on wednesday so i bought the goods to make sausage, peppers, and onions. i may need to cut everything tonight as i have theater plans tomorrow. strangely, i will be going with a catering friend to see "priscilla" at dpmc with dinner first. thought i would do the cooking in a slow cooker on tuesday night.

Sausage, Peppers, and Onions re posted from
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
4 to 6 fresh Italian sandwich rolls, optional
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on both sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain.

Keeping the pan over medium heat, add the peppers, onions, salt, and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the Marsala wine, tomatoes, and chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits. Bring to a simmer.

Cut the sausages into 4 to 6 pieces each, about 1-inch cubes. Add the sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Serve in bowls. Or, if serving as a sandwich, split the rolls in half lengthwise. Hollow out the bread from the bottom side of each roll, being careful not to puncture the crust. Fill the bottom half of the roll with sausage mixture. Top and serve sandwiches immediately.

i worked a hella lot last week. regular work week plus 4 parties. i was pooped today really. i trimmed some bushes, did some laundry, and am planning on re potting about 10 plants i got at paulino gardens. i have a busy week finishing with 2 parties this weekend. rosh hashana on saturday signals the end of the crazy holiday month. but i do love spending time with other communities and circles. i prolly long for a life that includes these circles, and this may be as good as it gets.

september is recovery month and this will be the 7th year that i actually recognize this.. in  2006, i spoke at a rally for recovery in downtown denver and have been involved in some sort of recovery celebration  this year, is kinda special as i have been working with people in recovery on campus. the pr department seems to have taken a liking to our efforts. they produced a 9 foot banner to hang in our entrance way, have produced brochures for the peer recovery network- with some mention of treatment options, and are featuring one of our group on the company intranet each week throughout the month. so much to do and it's only september 9th.

last week, i posted jacob arnold's article about medusas music hall. please read it if you get the chance. it happened 30 years ago and i still find myself musically travelling down memory lane.

Friday, September 6, 2013

another little piece of my heart

me, robbie little (foxy), and jeff van camp
pam and me

blue and i

below is a written piece  by jacob arnold recently published in resident advisor and reposted here.  jacob was even kind enough to quote me a couple of times.

 it seems well researched and quotes many of the key players involved in the creation and sustenance of a 10 year dance hall that seemed to become iconoclastic in chicago culture of the 80's and 90's. it was opened on a shoestring budget in a dusty lakewiew neighborhood in 1983, quickly rose to the "gotta do" list, welcomed the underage population and gave them a peek into adulthood and modern culture, and provided a space for very different subcultures to mix, mingle, share, and gain respect for one another.  and the music was legendary. i have posted a vid in case you would like to listen while you read... :O
music crossover was a big part of the scene, but so were fashion, ideals, artisitic expression, and sexual preference. in those days, all these cultural idiosyncracies had remained isolated for the most part. but the sheffield shake shack let loose our mortal coils and many young chicagoans became one culture, one club, one people. it changed my world forever.

i got to speak with jacob arnold for about an hour on a saturday morning in july 2013. it is the 30th anniversary of medusa's opening in october 2013. 30 years is quite a stretch of time. it was a pleasure to look back to those days with a fresh eye. i remember scraping old paint off the ceiling beams and helping paint the bazooka pink that the club remained for several years. i remember the guy named marshall who was staying in the basement via the landlord and set the building on fire with his space heater. it was a friday night and we had to close the place. i sat on the stoop with my friend sue anderson and watched some snow flakes fly. marshall's cat (and only friend) didn't make it from the blaze. it was certainly an emotional night. 

there are so many golden memories from those years i had at medusa's. in the space of 4 years, my life evolved what seemed decades. one big key to  the club's success that did not get mentioned in jacob's article was the influence of billy miller. he coordinated most of the performance art pieces and many art shows that happened throughout the club on many floors. billy was insane and wonderful and a  free-thinker. he reveled in the absurd and his joy infected the way we operated on a weekly basis. he remains to this day a handler and marketer of artists and their work. i can't even type his name without smiling. 

i hope you enjoy jacob's work here. the 1980's were definitely a time of renaissance for us. the culture shifted and technology infused itself into our work and our play lives. our world became at once larger and more connected at the same time.

Medusa's: Chicago's missing link

Jacob Arnold explains how a little-known teen club for weirdos came to make a deep social and musical impact on Chicago's scene. 

There are a handful of American dance clubs from the 1980s—the Paradise Garage, the Warehouse, the Muzic Box—whose names have become synonymous with underground music. Then there are those whose impact has gone unacknowledged. Medusa's, a Chicago teen club that opened after the Warehouse closed, inspired an entire generation of dance music producers, from mainstream figures like Tommie Sunshine and Kaskade to underground artists like Hieroglyphic Being. It was a place where leather-clad industrial music fans rubbed shoulders with preppie house music jackers, shaping both genres in the process.
The club was founded 30 years ago this October by David "Medusa" Shelton, an energetic party promoter nicknamed for his curly blond locks. I first met Shelton on a foggy summer night at his latest club, out in the western suburb of Elgin. After ascending a steep stairway past noisy teens and velvet ropes, Shelton guided me through an airport-themed lobby to a dark, mostly empty lounge where three women in fishnet stockings go-go danced on the bar. We took a shortcut through a fire exit and a brightly lit back stairway before weaving through the crowded dance floor, eventually arriving in a shabby back office with an enormous oil painting of Liberace leaning against the wall. Shelton wore a sweatshirt and skinny jeans, his frosted hair artfully arranged above his tan face.

Shelton grew up in Elgin, but quickly found an escape. "In my early days of clubbing, I actually lived in Hawaii for a while," he says. "That was part of the whole glam rock period." In Waikiki he and a group of fellow beach bums danced at hula bars and discos that "went kind of gay and mixed—bi-sex—all the whole mix. We helped transform that island a little bit, I think."

Medusa's roots lie in the Warehouse, the club that inspired the name "house music." Returning to Chicago around 1977 to work at United Airlines, Shelton wasn't happy with the music scene until hearing Frankie Knuckles at Robert Williams' afterhours club. Shelton found the Warehouse concept intriguing. "I learned a lot from [Williams]," he says. "He taught me how to do all the not-for-profit stuff."

In fact, Shelton threw his first event at the Warehouse, March 17, 1979 calling it Men In Progress, with Frankie Knuckles as DJ. He then threw a series of "hit and run" parties at established discos throughout Chicago, including the Bistro and Coconuts. In October 1980, inspired by the Warehouse, Shelton founded his first afterhours club, 161 West, on Harrison Street near the Loop. Knuckles played there for a series of Friday night costume parties. A print ad for the club describes dancers "jacking their bodies all night." Williams evidently saw the club as competition, writing a pointed letter to Gay Life in December declaring, "[161 West] is not the first after hours club of its kind... and also not the first to offer top name entertainment to its clientele."

"He really didn't like me and Frankie together, and I know and I get it now," explains Shelton. According to Shelton, Williams briefly considered moving the Warehouse to 161 West, but ultimately Knuckles left to start his own club, the Power Plant. At the end of his letter, Williams graciously described 161 West as "our sister club."

Shelton picked 161 West Harrison Street for its water tower and rooftop views, but he soon discovered the windows steamed up when the party was packed. Shelton says his lease was doomed as soon as the building owner realized it was "a black crowd, and it was this wild club." A year later, he was forced to relocate.

Shelton recalls the day he discovered the site for Medusa's, at 3257 North Sheffield. He was walking by when he saw a "for rent" sign in the window. "I rented it that day not knowing anything about licensing, neighborhood issues, nothing!" The building was an old Independent Order Of Vikings lodge before becoming home to one of William Russo's experimental Free Theater companies in the early '70s.

According to Gay Life, the club's first night, Saturday 22 October, 1983 was an invitation-only affair. At first, Shelton employed a rotating cast of local DJs, including Frank Lipomi, Mark Hultmark, Michael Graber, Mark Vallese and Kasey Crabtree. Then he began to focus on two: Bud Sweet, who was known for playing "modern" or "new" music at Neo's, and Mark Stephens, a 29-year-old former manager at Sears, who Gay Chicago once named DJ of the year.

Greg "Blue" Pittsley, a close friend of Shelton, worked at Medusa's and became the club's manager. He explains that even though Sweet and Stephens started as DJs with completely different styles, they "began influencing each other and their tastes in music," and soon were spinning records he never would have expected, from electro to industrial to New Wave. "All of a sudden we had a full dance floor Friday and Saturday," Pittsley says.

The rise of Medusa's coincided with the rise of Wax Trax! Records, a label founded by Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher. In 1978, the couple opened a record store on Chicago's North Side. Their label's first releases were Strike Under's "Immediate Action," Divine's "Born To Be Cheap" and Ministry's first single, "I'm Falling," all in 1981. By the time Medusa's opened, Wax Trax! Records was introducing Belgian industrial group Front 242 to the US.

Mark Stephens' playlist for June 28, 1984 (as recorded inGay Chicago magazine) ranges from Midwestern pop stars Prince and Loleatta Holloway to budding house artist Jesse Saunders' "Funk U Up." Mix tapes from 1985 demonstrate a shift to darker fare, including Ministry's "All Day," Portion Control's "The Great Divide," Anne Clark's "Our Darkness," Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes" and Vicious Pink's "Cccan't You See." Mark Stephens "could play everything, and he could mix it seamlessly... but his strength was really programming. He knew how to make a dance floor move," Teri Bristol, a fellow Chicago DJ, recalls. "He was like James Dean kind of cool—just sort of like a natural cool guy, and people were so drawn to him."

Teri Bristol soon began spinning at Medusa's, too. "[Stephens] took me under his wing and mentored me," she says. At one point DJs Bristol, Stephens and Psychobitch all lived in rooms at the club, as did Shelton. Asked for signature tracks, Bristol immediately cites the Wax Trax! singles "I Will Refuse" by Pailhead and "Everyday Is Halloween" by Ministry, admitting she would play "pretty much anything by Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb." Surprisingly she also mentions the early hip-hop/electro cut "Watch The Closing Doors" by I.R.T., which house DJs Ron Hardy and Farley "Jackmaster" Funk were also known to play.

At the time, with popular sounds like post-punk and post-disco, boundaries between genres were fuzzy. In the June 19, 1982 issue of Billboard, Cary Darling notes that Kraftwerk was getting "massive R&B and dance play" across the US and so-called "new music," a somewhat more accessible version of new wave, was "spurring renewed interest in 12-inch singles and EPs and providing crossover material" for clubs and radio.

In 1984, Medusa's began to host live performances, including ESG and Violent Femmes. In September, a Ministry show was followed the next week by Front 242's first US appearance. "It was a roar of machines and the hammering of a thousand boots jumping up and down," Smart Bar and Metro owner Joe Shanahan told Spin.

Ministry and Front 242

The Red Hot Chili Peppers played that November to a room filled with skateboard ramps, though, Shelton quips, "No one knew who the hell they were." 1985's lineup included Liquid Liquid, Front 242 again and Divine. "She showed up at the back door, her wig off, just this bald head!" says Shelton. Anne Clark, whose song "Our Darkness" was a club favorite, performed live in June 1986.

Medusa's third floor was divided into shifting spaces, including an art gallery, a room for performance art and a video room that had beanbag chairs and a large projection screen with stacks of monitors on each side. Video jockey Joe Michelli was poached for Medusa's while working at Berlin, a nearby club that opened around the same time. The video set-up included cutting edge technology, such as an editing deck that allowed Michelli to insert brief non-linear snippets of footage. At the time, not all singles had music videos, so Michelli and other VJs put together their own custom visuals. "We would have boxes full of VHS tapes," Michelli says. "I was the guy who would come in there and sit from 10 'til 3 in the morning assembling and insert editing all this crazy stuff that I'd get off the television—steal from movies. Leroy [Fields] would go to the video store, and he'd just come back with a stack of stuff."

From the beginning, David Shelton encouraged performance artists to create installations for the club. One group, SSPU, which later became SXPU, created an installation called Digest Blood Beat. Rod Rushing remembers "pseudo-electrical machines" with noises and blinking lights. Upstairs, a bathtub was full of red liquid, and a bound Louanne Ponder writhed to a tape loop growling, "You know you like it like that, don't you, baby!"

Another performance group, Family Plan, lived together and ran a storefront. Its members walked the streets of Chicago in bizarre, custom clothing. Pittsley describes their performances as macabre and disturbing. "There was a glass case on the mezzanine which was basically a small sliver of a room with two big picture windows," he recalls. "One time, on one side it was an elegant cocktail party with all of these people in black, and on the other side were people who were sitting in this sort of clinical setting, and they had IVs in their arms that were pumping their blood into tubes that were filling the glasses of the people on the other side."

Every few months the club's decorations would change. A Chicago Tribune article, from October 1986, describes neon and black lights, "giant Tinker Toy replicas dangling overhead," and a dance floor "broken up by obelisks decorated with apocalyptic graffiti." One of the first theme parties, according to Rushing, involved a human zoo. Wooden cages all over the club contained specimens such as a secretary, a TV viewer on his couch, and a heavyset man in a pig mask and ladies underwear preparing for a night out.

Early on, the Medusa's family faced dark times. "By '85 a lot of our friends were getting sick and dying, 'cause AIDs was happening," Rushing says. "There was a lot of unspoken fear and sadness that was swirling around all that at the same time. I tested positive in 1985. My best friend passed away a month after I tested positive. And then Mark [Stephens], I think, tested positive right around that same time."

Medusa's DJ Mark "Hot Rod" Trollan, who mixed and edited the first commercial release of Jamie Principle's house classic "Your Love," passed away December 19, 1986 at the age of 31. Rod Rushing helped sprinkle his ashes on the dance floor, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes." In some ways the club provided a welcome escape. "The experiences were richer because they were some respite," Rushing says. "At nighttime when the music was loud and everything was going on, there was really an opportunity to sort of forget."

Because Medusa's was in a residential area it met with immediate resistance from its neighbors. In November 1985, Alderman Bernie Hansen led a police raid of the club for alleged occupancy violations. In January 1987, Hansen and Eugene Schulter introduced an ordinance forcing juice bars to register (for a fee) and follow bar hours, citing complaints from residences. Hansen claimed clubbers were hanging out near Medusa's drinking, smoking and having sex in their cars. Another factor was Medusa's clientele, which the Sun Times described as youths with "spiked fluorescent hair and [a] penchant for black leather." Stoking these fears, the same article stated that three teenage regulars "confessed to Hanover Park police that they plotted to kill the father of one of the trio in a meeting at Medusa's."

The juice bar ordinance passed January 1987, going into effect April 1. Afterhours clubs throughout the city were affected, including the Muzic Box and the Power Plant. Ironically, the changes to Medusa's hours made for a younger crowd, since it was no longer a destination for drinkers after last call. To encourage the transition, Shelton worked with a promoter to create special hours for 13-15 year olds and to place ads in school newspapers. It was around this time that the house producer Jamal Moss (AKA Hieroglyphic Being) first visited the club, at the age of 14. "And that was by accident," he says. Moss and his friends walked by one night and were drawn in by the crowd outside. For Moss, it was a "culture shock to be around that many people of non-black origin... coming from the hood and then hanging out in the spot, it was mind-blowing."

Chicago has always been a heavily segregated city, but by all accounts Medusa's brought together teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. VJ Leroy Fields says, "Our club would draw straight kids, gay kids, punk kids, goth kids, skinhead kids, Asian kids, black kids, suburban kids, city kids—even sailors would come there from the [Naval Station] Great Lakes. The Navy sanctioned it 'cause they weren't drinking."

Shelton recalls sailors in uniform dancing next to house heads, drag queens and early goths. "You would see the jocks and the cheerleaders and all [of] them come because we were the place to be," Shelton says, "but the other people ruled. For once they ruled, you know?"

"Me and some of my friends, we became the equivalent of what you would call black goths," Jamal Moss says. "We started wearing the eyeliner, the hoop earrings, the whole black kilts with the black combat boots, the black suit tops. And I'm glad to say there ain't no photos floating around with me looking like that!"

Unfortunately, a crowd containing that many different groups of young people didn't always get along. "Fights would pop off in the club, on the side of the club. Definitely in the Dunkin [AKA Punkin] Donuts parking lot," says Moss.

"I had my worst night out of my life at Medusa's," Detroit techno artist Derrick May said via Facebook. "One time I was coming into the club and the door guy holding the clipboard with the guest list told me, 'We don't want your kind of people coming in here—go down to Halsted Street [to the Power Plant] where you belong. I punched him in his face as hard as I could, knocked his ass out cold, and I ended up spending my 21st birthday in jail. I never ever went back there."

Shelton admits, "I had all these skinhead securities." But not all Chicago skinheads were white supremacists. In fact, some were black, and they called themselves "Bomber Boys." A 1989 Chicago Reader article explains the phenomenon, profiling Medusa's patron Dwayne Thomas (who, oddly, had already been featured in The Observer).

Not everyone's memories of the security staff are negative. "Those guys were as loving and as caring as anybody else," says Pittsley. "We got them to go out with us in drag on Halloween, and they were proud of it. They would protect us and look out for us, and we did the same for them."

In 1987, Medusa's crowd began to change, in part due to a new DJ—Jonathan Gilbert, AKA Scrappy. "There was a period of time when I did teen and late night back to back," he recalls. "When I told everybody to get out for teen night, I would have to run down the street on my scooter, even in the winter, get a sandwich at the deli, get a fifth of vodka, and head back in time to get back there and start DJing." Gilbert began to draw a more preppie crowd. "I started playing house, and I got a lot of slack for that," he says. "We stayed with it and eventually it got received well, and Teri Bristol was starting to play it, too. It was working."

Gilbert decided to make his own house records, so he hired performance noise artists Die Warzau—Jim Marcus and Van Christie—as studio musicians. His first track, "Touch Me," was featured on the D.J. International and Westside Records' UK compilation Jackmaster Acid Trax. He then released five singles as Scrappy, including "Freeze," "Love Motion" and "Don't You Wanna Dance," the last on Atlantic Records.

"I used to leave my records there, locked up in a bin," Gilbert says. "On multiple occasions I would go into the DJ booth and the skinheads [had] sprayed swastikas all over the DJ booth. They knew I was Jewish, somehow, and it really bothered me, of course. Dave [Shelton] said, 'Oh, those guys are just playing around with you,' and I thought that he should be more sensitive to that." Gilbert left Medusa's for Limelight, a rival club, in 1989.

Medusa's was officially alcohol-free, but it certainly wasn't hormone-free. "I'm pretty sure I had sex in every room of that building," admits Jim Marcus. "I think the fact that it wasn't like a frat boy club or something like that, and that there were a lot of female voices as loud as male ones there, made a lot of girls feel much more comfortable. It was one of the first places that I went out and saw people dancing in their underwear."

Many of Medusa's employees referred to the sense of being part of a family. "Medusa's was one of the first places I saw actual gay adult role models," says Marcus. "I was growing up bi-sexual, and I had friends who were growing up gay, and a lot of us were like, 'What does it mean to be gay or bi and actually grow up?' And suddenly now you're at Medusa's and there's people like Dave and Blue and people like that who are just honestly and genuinely nice people... and pretty easy to talk to about this kind of stuff."

"It wasn't really only gay youths," Pittsley says. "It was a support system for people who were just going through the various types of angst that people go through as they're growing up. I was lucky—programmed to be optimistic and upbeat, and I had a wonderful family life, so I didn't ever feel needy or lost or anything and neither did Dave. We were both teachers at heart, so we would sit and listen to these kids telling us stories about why they hated being at home, and of course you do that a little too much and all of the sudden you've got somebody saying, 'Well, can I just stay here?' I counseled many people to go home rather than to run away."

Around 1989, Shelton began hiring house DJs, including DJ Rush, Lil' Louis and Armando, who drew a largely African American audience to Sunday night parties. "Lil' Louis' whole family worked there," Shelton says. "His dad searched, his mom or his sister took money at the door, and then at the end of the night we just split the money. No contracts." Lil' Louis popularized "French Kiss" at Medusa's.

Medusa's was featured on MTV's "120 Minutes" that year. According to Pittsley, the club's attendance tripled as a result. "The people who started showing up weren't the same group of people I remembered at the beginning," explains Marcus. "There's nothing wrong with that… But the very first groups of people who were there were people who I felt were more like me, where nobody got them. They were weirdos, they were freaks, and they had no place anywhere."

No party lasts forever. In June 1992, Shelton lost his lease. He believes the local alderman threatened to hold up his landlord's development projects unless Medusa's was forced out. The club's final weekend included Wax Trax!, retro and house music nights. June 25, 1992 the club held a final, private gathering for employees and friends.

A few months later, Shelton tried to hold parties at the Congress Theater, but the area proved to be too crime-ridden. Shelton decided to call it quits "before someone got hurt." He opened his Elgin club in 1997. Some of his current patrons' parents met at the old club. "At least we're still hip enough that their kids think we're OK," Shelton jokes.

There's no question Medusa's influenced Chicago's art and music scenes, but it had a social impact as well. "It forged some friendships for the better that actually molded Chicago to the way it is today," explains Moss. It drew teenagers from wealthy North Shore neighborhoods (as depicted in John Hughes movies such as Sixteen Candlesand The Breakfast Club) who otherwise never would have partied with youths from the city's South and West Sides.

Musically, it was a true mix as well. "There were punk clubs in the city where the minute they played a disco record everyone sat down on the dance floor," says Marcus. "Medusa's had a little more freedom." The relationship between house and industrial music is seldom acknowledged; Jamal Moss made his series of Medusa Edits to set the record straight. "I just wanted people to know it wasn't just all about the black soul aesthetic in Chicago when it comes to dance music culture," Moss explains. "This was what helped change and evolve the sound of Chicago for a lot of cats who were in house who got exposed to industrial."

As the '90s progressed, what was once avant-garde in art and fashion became commercialized and homogenized, but looking back at Medusa's rough edges—at the fights in the street or the teenagers who dyed their hair and were kicked out from home—it's obvious that the club provided an escape for many youths who had nowhere else to turn. "There was nothing glamorous about Medusa's at all," summarizes Pittsley. "It was really raw, and I think that was what its charm was. It didn't pretend to be something that it wasn't."


Monday, September 2, 2013

activate my heart

“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the
neurobiology of addiction in the brain.” ... Gabor Mate

i spent time with bill and his partner today at hunter's celebration of life. my relationship with bill and patrick has been strained since just after i came back from san francisco. bill gave me some help when i got back and i stepped all over it while i struggled with that crazy bitch tina.

i met bill when he first moved to denver from wisconsin. he joined the lgbt mixed chorus harmony of which i was also a member. he is a baritone, i a tenor, so we didn't hang together very  much during rehearsals. but about 5 of us co-hosted the parties at the seasonal retreats. those parties were epic- at least for colorado. we were traveling on different tracks in different circles but still in the same orbit.  i had already begun my big spin.

in retrospect, i realize that the 1990's were like a candle burning at both ends. i was running a travel company for an uncle and his college buddy. at the same time my immune system was disintegrating quickly from the stress of my working style and daily alcohol overuse. in 1996, i got my 2nd colorado dui, had a nervous breakdown, started on the new "hiv cocktail" and gotten frustrated with my work partners and decided to quit and move on.

after i started the protease inhibitor, i felt healthier and more energetic that i had in years. i had also spent most of 1997 completely sober due to my  court treatment. i remember being very angry and very confused. i had been pushing so hard for years to not let the onset of AIDS get me. now i found myself no longer in need of that motivation. i was lost and i felt empty. at a time in my life when i should have been rejoicing because i was no longer going to die, i felt lost and without direction. anger and denial had been my compass for so long.

in classic bi-polar mode, 1997 began the rhythmic and calculated deconstruction of a stable life, and the insidiously stealth overthrow of normalcy by my internal tendency to disconnect. in my zeal to run, san francisco became the aim for the desperate trauma-driven slingshot. and it was only a matter of time till the complete unravelling.

this is the benefit of hindsight. had i known any of this, my fate may have been different. but i did not. i played from my heart and ran for my life. and i spun myself into a darkly familiar hole. one just like the ones i had made for myself on several occasions before in my life. although it really felt so authentic and unique, i now realize that for all my intelligence and self seeking, i am, just like almost everyone else, a creature of habit. i play the same tunes over and over. my emotional memory may very well be just like a shakespeare plot- it gets re staged, reworked and replayed with almost every new company. and i have been preoccupied as a player mesmerized by the lighting and the audience and didn't realize that the story lines have been parallel.

when i found myself in yet another hole i had crawled in while i was in california, i decided to return to colorado. my romance with homeless performance art grinded to a halt. i had also burned almost every west coast bridge i ever had. denver bound it was. upon my return, i hooked up with bill in my undulating journey to find solid ground. i stayed with him at his home in park hill while i rotated through jobs and relapses. my last hurrah was while he was on a cruise in canada and the northeast. i helped my self to some of his belongings and betrayed one of the few friends willing to help me. it severed our immediate relationship. i had to move immediately and find a way to make amends. even after so much deceit, he refused to throw me shade. he stood by me- from a distance- and gave me permission to heal.

i don't remember my life changing direction so quickly as this encounter created. turned on a dime really. i found myself looking at my life and my behaviors in the light of day because of his kindness. i couldn't become a victim. i couldn't blame anyone. the only move i could make was change. spending time with bill brought all this back into view. he changed my life. with just one effort, he changed my world view.

and change i have. i hope. the dance i have been doing with substances to cope with my life has come to an end. i often use shopping and chocolate to buffer the sharp teeth of reality. i have realized that i am not in charge. and i understand as often as i can that i have to pay attention if i am not to make the same mistakes over and over. sometimes i get this and some times i don't. know which it really is in order to get beyond it. or maybe just to make another choice.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

in memoriam

i met hunter through another friend bill. bill and hunter had been partners for about 7 years and had called it quits in the 90's sometime. but they remained friends and confidants until the end. hunter had begun working for frontier and owned a home on the edge of broadway terrace. when i was first trying to clean up, i painted hunter's house to help him and give me something to do. hunter and i worked catering gigs together. we shared meals once in awhile and saw each other at the holidays. he was effervescent, he was inspired, and he will always be loved.

i am sad for me, but extremely sad for bill. he has this loss on the heels of losing another of his best friends in february to a heart attack. 2 posse members in the space of a year is an incredible blow - for anyone. there is not a clear path for comfort here. suit up and show up is the only thing that comes to mind.