Always happy to be on the road with these two song slingers! Check out the shows tab for one near you
Coyote Joe Stevens
I’m off next week to the New York Musical Festival, where the Albert Cashier musical will have three readings! We will have a new batch of actors (except Dani Shay will be with us, as our young Al), a smaller ensemble of piano, fiddle, and me on banjo and guitar, an awesome new director Shakina Nayfack, new charts and arrangements, and an edited script. We had a great opening run in Chicago last year, it was the first time the creative team got to see the thing we have been working on for two years actually performed on stage. I got to experience it 30-something times during our seven week run, since I played in the band, but I had to sit in the pit, so I never actually got to see it from the audience.. So it goes. We were nominated for a Jeff Award, a Chicago area awards ceremony running for 50 years – and we WON!! Albert Cashier, best new musical!
This project came to me totally by surprise – Jay Deratany wrote the script, his friend and fellow writer Keaton Wooden decided it should be a musical, and went poking around for musicians and found me. I had no idea who these fellows were, no experience writing music for theater (except in college), but when asked, I said “sure,” as I often do. Two and a half years later, we are heading to New York to throw our hat in the ring and see what happens next. Ideally, this is an audition of sorts, to find whatever it is that will take us to the next step, whatever that may be. Hopefully there will be a big production next year, either in New York or on the West Coast.
The story is about Albert D.J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier and Irish immigrant who was born female and lived as male. There have been so many questions to probe as we are trying to tell an artistic rendering of Albert’s story.. how did Albert identify? Was he trans or merely seeking opportunity? Was he full-on FTM or maybe just non-binary? What pronouns should we use? I have found the answers seem to be more reflective of who’s giving it than of Albert. As the creative team, we have had endless discussions on what our intentions are, what we are trying to say, who we think Albert was, and what is ultimately important about the story. We have come to a few conclusions – no one can know how Albert would have identified today, with the plethora of modern identity markers available. Albert was illiterate, none of his own words exist in writing. Most of the information we have is from the many letters written by his friends, second hand sources, court documents, and other official records. All we know is that he chose to live as male. That is all we need to know. We don’t need to know “why” he chose to live as male to call him “he.” The creative team takes no official stance on his identity, and that is an important point for us – we do not have to fully understand someone in order to respect their wishes. He chose to live as male, we call him “he.”
In my personal opinion – I do think Albert was probably trans. There are enough tell-tale signs of dysphoria in much of the available evidence, and to me – to go to those lengths to live as male, when it would have been so dangerous and shameful, speaks to the power of one’s internal identity. Yes he had more privileges in society as male, but he couldn’t have a family or children, had to be VERY careful to avoid doctors or injury (which is what ultimately blew his cover), and generally had to live a more marginal life. People unfamiliar with the trans/queer community seem to be more perplexed over the question of his identity, whereas I know so, so, so many trans and queer folks… It is not crazy to think that someone back then might have been trans – it is more of a statistical certainty. One of the most poignant stories of Albert’s history – he was old and ailing, stuck in an asylum for the insane, wearing a dress. He was caught trying to pin his dress together to make some semblance of pants, a last act of self expression when everything else had been taken from him. If it weren’t poetic enough, he tripped and fell in that dress, which caused the wound that he ultimately died from. If that ain’t determination to live as you feel, I don’t know what is. But again – opinions about Albert’s identity reflect the person giving them.
Back to the deeper point – his identity doesn’t actually matter as much as the life he lived and how he was treated. He lived alone, he was a hard worker, a contributing member of society, was in service to his country. When his secret was revealed, he was treated as less than human and died away from his home in a humiliating condition. Albert’s story is more than a story about gender – it’s about how we treat our fellows, how we treat immigrants, how we treat our veterans, how we treat our elders, and in a way – how we treat ourselves. It’s about letting people be who they are and contribute in the way they are called to, even if we don’t understand them. We don’t have to fully understand people to treat them with kindness and respect.
Wish us luck!!!!
It’s been many years, but I finally did it – I signed a lease….
I have felt a wide range of emotions.. ambivalence, excitement, impatience, terror… like the walls are closing in, like I’m so tired and just want to hang my hat somewhere for a while. So here I am – my storage unit is empty, Valcore is in side gig mode, and there is an extra set of keys on my keychain.
(Valcore is the name of my trusty Sprinter van, btw)
The Real Boy gigs are winding down. The Albert Cashier musical is ramping up for the next phase of development. I have a little studio set up, and am getting ready to relaunch Songs of the People, which I have decided to rename – Real Folk. More on that as it comes together. I have very few shows on the calendar so far. I’ll be offering songwriting and guitar lessons very soon. I am spending lots of time with my family. It is a new era, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes.
The grass is green in the Central Valley, soon it will be yellow and dry. The oaks will stand out in stark contrast, and the temperature will rise, rise, rise. There is chaos and conversation in Sacto after the police shooting of Stefon Clark. The US government is like a kindergarden class smashing all its toys that the tax payers worked so hard to provide. New research shows that the ice in Antarctica is not only melting from the sides, it’s melting from underneath.. further raising sea levels and the probability of ice chunks slipping out to sea. I need new front brakes and a decent spatula.
Life is beyond surreal. The gap between the profound and the mundane is elastic. Everything is at once meaningful and meaningless.. agency and futility occupy the same space. Absurdity is the new common sense.
Signing a lease is the weirdest thing I have done in a long time – we’ll see what happens..
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I haven’t written a blog post in almost a year.. The easy answer is that I was perpetually drunk and high up until Feb of this year. To my credit I suppose I have managed to accomplish a fair amount in that shape, but it has not been easy and I have to look back through my calendar to remember much of it. What comes to mind are a constant stream of failed attempts to dry up, frustration, stoking the tiny fire of hope in the figurative rain, punctuated with shows, screenings for Real Boy, workshops for the Albert Cashier musical, family dinners, and hazy AA meetings – all in no particular order. Oh and not to forget the empty bank account and endless nights being wasted alone in my van, chain smoking and yammering on in my journal about how I wish I was sober. I haven’t had a night like that in almost five months now, and I can’t say I miss it. That’s a welcomed change.
This week Real Boy hit the greater public via broadcast on PBS, it’s amazing to remember back 4 years ago when this started with Shaleece and her camera, filming things I didn’t think were very interesting at the time. Since the film was released last year I have been hopping around the country and the world speaking and playing music and screenings and film festivals, fully enveloped in a world of Real Boy. I have seen it dozens of times now, I get the songs and bits of dialogue in my head as I’m trying to sleep. I am currently in Norway, getting ready to play at an event for Oslo’s Queer Youth Pride event, put on by Skeiv Ungdom, Oslo og Akershus, the organizer found me from seeing Real Boy at the Oslo Queer Film Festival. This is my last Real Boy event until the fall; I go now into full musical-mode, gearing up for the premier of The Civility of Albert Cashier, a musical I have been working on for the last almost two years that premiers in Chicago in September.
It has been a whirlwind of travel, early sobriety, a new ladyfriend, and many things to do that I have never done before, but I am mostly content, if a little scattered. When I get home I’ll have a few days of jet lag and dental work, then I get to drive my favorite route through the Great Basin and the Rockies with my new travel buddy en route to Chicago. I am working hard to get my wits about me again – I have fallen out of touch with many a dear friend over the boozy years, my online presence is terribly sporadic and out of date, and my reputation for being a flake precedes me in a painful way.. For any of you who have had the frustrating experience of corresponding with me, I am so, so sorry – agonizing over my poor communication keeps me up at night. I have been “sorry” for so long now, the only thing that can make those apologies mean anything is to actually change my behavior. I was hoping that just the act of quitting drinking and drugs alone would clear it all up, but alas, it will actually take some work. I’m on it.
I hope to be more present online, in my communications, in my family and my communities. For now I will go out into rainy downtown Oslo and find some food before a presentation tonight on the state of LGBTQ rights in America, should be interesting.
Yesterday on the fourth of July, I walked down to the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Long Beach, California. I said hello to the giant oil rig adorned with palm trees, cleverly disguised as some benign floating hotel. The lights of the other rigs flickered out on the water, breaking the waves that people used to surf along this beach. The lights on the giant cargo cranes in San Pedro sparkled, their red, white, and blue arms feeling the patriotic fervor. Boats anchored everywhere, awaiting the firework show. Families, people, and cars bustling up on the bluffs and down on the beach; folks riding every type of wheeled contraptions up and down the boardwalk. Children ran and squealed in the serf, lovers snuggled under blankets, parents held babies, teenagers gossiped, stereos blasted, and bar-b-ques smoked as the last of the sun cast a soft glow over the melee. I walked along the water line, letting the mild waves rush up around my ankles and recede, exposing little shells and causing me to stumble as the water changed direction. The tide was coming in, moving the line of trash further up the shore and melting down sand castles and foot prints. I have walked along this beach at least once a year for going on 15 years now. I take three mindful breaths, and smile at the view.
Up on the bluff as the sun has dimmed, I watch screaming children run around with sparklers and families set off small high-pitched fireworks. Occasionally a big one fires up over the crowd and explodes with a huge bang, and I watch the police drive around the beach in their little carts, trying in vain to find the perpetrators in the crowd. Helicopters, sirens, car horns, music, talking, yelling, screaming. On the south side of the pier fireworks bloom on the horizon, fireworks to the right from downtown Long Beach, rouge fireworks from the beach below, and now fireworks across the bay that the folks here have come to see. There are explosions everywhere – low rumbles from far off, the crackling of small ones on the beach, bigger pops from the formal displays, and crazy loud BANGS from the rule-breakers. The crowd can’t help but flinch and exclaim, but it is mostly with delight and excitement. Charred remains fall onto the beach, fall into the water and sizzle.
No one is deeply worried for their safety. No one is under any illusion that these pretend bombs might actually be real. No one here has ever experienced a real bomb, seen up close the damage it can do to buildings and people, heard the bang when it is dropped intentionally near you, unconcerned with you, and no one thinks they ever will.
We light fireworks to celebrate a war that we didn’t experience, a war that made our country what it is today. We celebrate with fancy faux bombs, meant to delight children and adults alike, with large warnings and protocols on how to use them safely so that no one accidentally gets hurt, implicitly making war seem like a big community party.
Meanwhile in Iraq, the death toll is rising to 200 from a bomb set off in a crowded market, intentionally meant to cause damage. This news comes to us so regularly that we can’t tell one from the next. Only when it happens in a European country do we discuss it online or change our profile pictures in solidarity. Meanwhile, other people will never understand why we would subject ourselves to a celebration of fake exploding bombs.
The world is surreal, life is strange, existence in absurd.
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