By Fred Pollard, Freditorials.com
In just a few short months, singer/songwriter Doug Strahm’s debut CD, “Everything Has Changed,” has burned up the web and has the community talking. The first single, “Leaving it Behind” and its accompanying video tell the story of a U.S. soldier leaving his loved ones to fight overseas. The new single, “Better This Way,” also starring model Chris Miklos, currently has nearly 150,000 views on YouTube and is gaining attention nationwide.
Doug was first featured in the July “HEROES” issue of HIM Magazine, and was kind enough to spend some time with me this time to discuss his life, music, and views on life and love.
FP: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Doug.
DS: It is my pleasure Fred…thank you buddy!
FP: Well your music and your videos are gaining some attention for going beyond eye candy and vocal aerobics, touching people on a visceral level and proclaiming some pretty strong messages about love and equality. With October being Gay History Month, I have to ask you…what would you like your music to say to future generations? How would you like your message to be seen 50 years from now?
DS: Wow. 50 years from now, I would love for the message in my music to be so antiquated that people say, “Why are we listening to this crap?” (Laughs) Seriously though, it would be great if future generations could look back and remember the struggles that we faced as a community-especially if the struggles we face as LGBT individuals are non-existent 50 years from now. However it seems that there will always be struggles and injustices and it would be wonderful if these simple songs could still give inspiration to anyone down the road who may be dealing with similar issues, and help them find the courage to stand up for their beliefs.
FP: Your debut CD, “Everything Has Changed,” sounds a bit like a personal journey. Did you write songs and choose songs by other artists that reflect your own life?
DS: I wrote all the songs on the CD and yes, they are very personal…whether they are about me personally, which several are, or if they are about people or experiences I have observed. For instance, I wrote “I’ll Be There” about 15 years ago for my partner shortly after we first met. Since then, the song has been recorded by others over the years and I rewrote the lyrics for this album. It brings it up-to-date where we are in our relationship. Before the rewrite, the lyrics felt like the relationship was less mature and now I feel it sings more about a rock solid relationship that we have…or at least I hope the listener feel that.
“I’m Gonna Go” is almost verbatim about three trips we took, or tried to take, to Southern Decadence and the adventure when Hurricane Isaac came through. So yes there is a story behind each one of them.
FP: You brought up your partner, so let’s talk about your life a little. I know you were married and have children (and grandchildren, old man [Laughs]). Can you share a little with me what it was like coming to terms with your own sexuality? Do you have support from your family and loved ones?
DS: Yep, I was married when I was 18 years old and have four wonderful children and adorable grandkids. My daughter was born right after I got out of high school, and then two of my three sons followed shortly afterwards. I was divorced at 23 and had full custody of all three of them at that age. They were one, two, and three years old, and two of them were still in diapers. I remarried several years later and had my fourth son. When I was last divorced, I met Bruce and when he moved in, we had all four kids living at home with us.
Strange as it seems, I knew from the time I was six years old that I was different (gay) but always thought it was something I could overcome. I was raised in an Italian Catholic household and back then being gay was considered a mental disorder. There was no way I was going to admit to anyone that I was mentally ill so I did everything I could to “heal myself,” including doing everything I could to “butch it up” so no one would think I was a queer, along with praying as hard as I could to make this go away. Well it never did, and I even thought about suicide when I was sixteen which was a really low spot in my life. I guarded and hid who I was until I met Bruce. When I met him, everything in my life changed and I discovered this newly found courage where I just didn’t care what anyone thought of me if it meant I had to be without him. So I came bursting out of the closet in one swoop (Laughs). I remember like it was yesterday coming out to my daughter, 17 years ago. She was the first one of my kids that I told. Bruce had been hanging around the house for many weeks and he was just dad’s best friend. When I told her I was gay she was shocked, surprised, but totally connected all the dots in a few bursts of surprised laughter. The kids love Bruce so much and he is such an intricate part of the family that we just don’t know anything different any longer.
FP: You two have been together for 17 years. Are you married? What are your thoughts on the marriage struggle gay people are currently fighting (and winning)?
DS: We are not married but I would imagine we will once it is legal in Indiana. I think the whole struggle that we are currently fighting is a bunch of crap. I feel it all comes from certain religious beliefs that are situational, cut and pasted from old scriptures and other dogma where some terrified people can justify their fear of things they don’t understand. I mean really, it all boils down to love… and who has the right to dictate that? I will say that I was divorced three times and I did more damage to the institute of marriage when I chose to “act straight” than I could ever do as an honest and openly gay man. It amazes me that we even have to fight this battle but it is awesome to see that we are winning.
Photography by David Lengel
FP: When it comes to your music, what past artists have influenced your sound? Your message? Your videos?
DS: I grew up in the 60?s and 70?s listening to the Beatles, Elton John, anything Motown and all pop rock. I am very familiar with all of it and feel that I draw a lot of influences from them. Funny thing now that you ask this, I remember listing to Elton John’s album “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” over and over and over, especially the song “Blues for Baby and Me.” I think that is when I had my first bear or cub crush on him. (Laughs)
As far as my message, I am not sure if any artist influenced my message except for one profound statement I read that was attributed to Kurt Cobain that reads “I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” That was a life changer for me, and I pretty much live by it.
My videos are pretty much what is going on in my head and where my imagination takes me as well as the songwriting. You just never know what you are going to get. (Mischievous smile)
FP: I think I know where your imagination was at with your latest video! “Better This Way” deals directly with the dilemma of going public with your sex life, and stars the HOT model Chris Miklos as your love interest. Tell me a little about how that video came about and Chris’ involvement.
DS: Well the video is actually influenced by some dear friends of ours who are now a couple. When they first met, one of them was married and neither one of them really totally out of the closet. However, the whole construction side of it is pretty accurate and he was terrified of the crap he would have to put up with on job sites if the other guys knew he was gay. Not to mention the fear of loss of income at the time, etc. It is funny how that has changed, now the gay man is the preferred choice when it comes to making the project really fabulous!
So about Chris Miklos. I was a follower of his for sometime online and always admired how incredibly good looking he was. So I began chatting with him and explained that I had this song from the album and was going to make it the next video. He said he was interested so I sent him the MP3 and he liked it a lot. We ironed out the details and he came to Fort Wayne for the shoot. We actually shot the yard and bedroom scenes at our house. We have friends that have been in the backyard saying things like “that’s the hammock!”
Since the project was low budget, we put him up in our guest bedroom, ate breakfast at the house and shot the video in two days. A good videographer and friend of mine, David Lengel, shot the video and all of the stills you see in it. (We also took Chris around town to show him off and introduced him to our friends.) Everyone just loved him, and he really is a great guy!
FP: That video has gone viral and is still being shared all over Facebook. Did you expect that kind of attention right out of the gate? What kind of feedback are you getting from fans and new listeners?
DS: No, I didn’t expect it at all, but I am very excited about it. I am getting 99% positive feedback about how great it is to see this area of life and the work force in a video that has been fairly untouched by gay art, music, and video. Some people have written to me saying that I wrote their life in the video and it gave them the courage to come out. I also received a message from the Moscow Bears and they shared it on their webpage for the courage side of it. I actually cried when I saw that and am tearing up now just thinking about what our gay brothers and sisters are going through in Russia at the hands of Vladimir Putin.
The video has really exposed me to a lot of new fans, which is awesome, and I chat with a lot of them as often as I can. It has also exposed me to some haters as well. I just don’t understand why some people are so stupid at times? Sheesh! One post said about the video, “You two deserve each other because you are both faggots,” then went on to call me a Sodomite. Both of which are true, of course, but the coward said it behind an anonymous name instead of standing behind his convictions. Heck, if I could have tracked him down, I would have loved to send some gay magazines to his house. Let him explain that one to the postman.
FP: At the end of the video, you see a lot of support from blue collar friends regarding your character’s relationship with another man. How realistic is that scenario? Do you see more acceptance and growth in the last 20 or 30 years, or do you feel (as some do) that we are spinning our wheels?
DS: The ending of the video is my “perfect world” scenario. I do see a lot more acceptance in the last 10 years or so and it seems to be getting better all the time. I am totally out and have no problem holding Bruce’s hand in public or resting my head on his shoulder on a plane. If we are spinning our wheels then perhaps it is because we choose not to fully normalize our relationships in public. Now I understand that there are a lot of factors at play in individual lives that contribute to this so I am not saying that some in our community who have not normalized their love or that haven’t put it all out there are to blame. Heck, I spent 38 years in the closet! I just think that the more that we publicly show the same acceptable affection that any heterosexual couples would show, the quicker it becomes normal and the ignorance starts to go away.
Amazingly, 20 years ago seeing a black and white couple walking down the street holding hands would turn heads and provoke whispers and racial slurs. Now, it is socially embarrassing to think that that was ever an issue. Okay, that being said, we also, as a community, owe it to those who are struggling with acceptance and should understand that there are many things to consider when “coming out” and that it is a very personal decision. We really should support our brothers and sisters who are not fully out and allow them the grace of their own time frame. And now I am stepping down from the soapbox.
FP: I think you summed up in one paragraph what the struggle is really all about. October also marks the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. I know you are an outspoken advocate against hate crimes. How have those who have suffered and died for being who they are shape who you have become as a person?
DS: Wow. It has been 15 years since he was tortured and strung up on a fence to die. This hate saddens and infuriates me at the same time. I raised my kids to be accepting of everyone and have lived by this principle as well. It is because of all of those who have suffered and died for standing up for who they are that I find the strength to be vocal about such issues. What a waste of beautiful lives. [Pauses] This is so sad; let’s move on.
FP: Fair enough. How did you become involved with popular web series “Where the Bears Are”? Tell me a little about that experience.
DS: A dear friend of ours George Petropoulos, who also shot the video for “I’m Gonna Go” and most of the photos on my website, introduced us to the web series and got both Bruce and I hooked. So we chatted with Ben Zook online and decided to help sponsor season two. We then flew out to L.A. to meet the guys, hang out with them, do dinner, and be extras while we were there. If you watch the episode with Margaret Cho, I am the customer at the counter, and George and Bruce are shopping in the background. I did a scene with Margaret and my line was…wait for it…”Thank you.” It was totally an Academy Award performance, but alas it was cut from the scene. (Laughs)
We spent a couple of days with the guys and met the four leads. I have to say Rick Copp, Ben Zook, and Joe Dietl were absolute sweethearts and we had dinner with them, along with Jeffrey Wylie, who is the cameraman. All of them are great guys! Then we spent some time at the L.A. Eagle and met Scott Beauchemin (Cyril), who is now a friend of mine online and we chat occasionally. I tell everyone he plays a serial killer but is really a sweet guy. By the way, I wrote the video for “Leaving It Behind” on the plane to L.A. Man, I was a mess writing that one and if you’ve seen the video, you understand why!
FP: So what is on the horizon for you next? Touring? More videos? Another album?
DS: I have two more videos in the works from this album. One is for “Everything Has Changed” and I have the script pretty much done. I am also working on finishing the video for “Your Love” (Here is a preview… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlEK8wHMVFc) I write my own videos, run the camera sometimes, and do all of my own editing, so they are in various stages. I am working on songs for the next album and am booking gigs if I am available.
FP: Man…that sounds like a lot of irons in the fire. I am going to leave you on a morbid note…what will you want your tombstone to say about you? More importantly, what do you want people to say about you when they visit your resting spot?
DS: Oh I don’t know, perhaps that I was kind, I was smart, I was important. (Smiles) When I am dead and gone, it probably doesn’t matter, but I always say in life he who dies with the most friends is the winner. So I would like to win!
To learn more about Doug and his music, check out his website at www.dougstrahm.com
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER 2013 ISSUE OF HIM MAGAZINE