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Desmond Child

Two good to be true: an interview with Desmond Child

"We also made the film as a love letter to our kids."

by Gregg Shapiro
If you happened to have listened to the radio or watched MTV or VH1 (in their heyday) during the last 30 or so years, you've probably heard a song written (or even performed by) gay singer/songwriter Desmond Child. He's the man behind megahits for Cher, Bon Jovi, Kiss, Aerosmith, Ricky Martin and Joan Jett, to name a few. Transitioning from the front-man of the group Desmond Child and Rouge into songwriting superstar status, Child is a hit-making legend in contemporary pop music.

Child, and his husband Curtis Shaw, also added father to their resumes when their twin sons Roman and Nyro were born a dozen years ago. The award-winning doc Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro is an intimate story of the Child/Shaw family, how it came to be and what it is today. I spoke with Desmond about the movie and his life on October 28, 2013, his 60th birthday. (Reeling 31: The Chicago International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival screens Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro on Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. at The Logan Theater.)

GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Desmond, I'd like to begin by wishing you a happy birthday as we are speaking on your 60th birthday. Do you have big plans to mark the occasion?

DC: (Desmond Child) We did them on Saturday because this year my birthday fell on a Monday. We had all of our friends over. We had a beautiful party.

GS: Two is being screened at Reeling, Chicago's LGBT film fest. Has it also played at other LGBT film fests, and if so, what was the response?

DC: It's been in lot of gay and lesbian film festivals. We won the HBO Hometown Hero award for our director (Heather Winters) at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. We've actually won two awards at non-gay film festivals. We won the Audience Award at the Nashville Film Festival and at Arpa, the Armenian Film Festival in Los Angeles, which was a juried contest. It gives us a good feeling that we're being accepted by straight audiences.

GS: I'm really glad that you mentioned that because same gender parenting, the subject of Two, is a familiar one to the LGBT community. Do you feel like screening Two at mainstream film fests utilizes it as an educational tool?

DC: Well, the main reason we made the movie was to heal wounds and help to inspire people and to bring understanding to everyone between the New York and LA. We also made the film as a love letter to our kids. In general, the way it's gone in the United States, families like ours are marginalized. The kids of LGBT (parents) are marginalized. It wasn't urgent for our kids to have the same rights that kids of heterosexuals do. Somehow our kids didn't count. Now that we're legally married there are so many more ways that our family is legally protected. But we still have a long way to go.

GS: Roman and Nyro are truly delightful and perfect gentlemen onscreen. How do they feel about being the subject of Two?

DC: For a long time they were kind of worried about what their friends would think. Everyone they know has come to see it and they all loved it. They're proud of the film. The main thing Roman was embarrassed about was that he was wearing a Barcelona T-shirt and now he's a real Madrid fan [laughs]. That was a point of consternation for him. He wanted to reshoot the scene in a different T-shirt.

GS: Two also gives us some personal insight into you and Curtis' childhoods and family lives – both of which have distinctive aspects. How much would you say your own childhoods impacted your decision to become parents?

DC: I think it's a natural instinct to want to have children, whether you are gay or straight. I think it's more of an exception when somebody says, "No, I don't want to have kids." I think that in some ways because it has been difficult, and in some cases impossible, for gay people, they said, "I won't even think about that. I'll just get myself another cat or puppy [laughs], to keep me company." In my case, I didn't have a normal family. I came from strange circumstances. I came about as the product of an affair that my mother had and she didn't stay with the person that I thought was my father. Then I found out who my father was when I was 18. All that instability made me long for a stable family of my own. This way, by having the children, I got to relive my childhood in a beautiful way. On the other side of the coin, Curtis came from a very stable family. In his mind, it's what he thought would always happen. He didn't know how but it's part of his life. For both reasons we were the right to people to come together to have a family.

GS: Have either or both of your sons given any indication that they might want to pursue a career in music or film or other areas of entertainment?

DC: Not yet. Ironically, Roman went to work with Angela (Whitaker, his birth mother) at her voiceover studio (she's a voiceover artist). They asked him to try out for a commercial and he got five commercials! He has a very distinctive kind of scratchy voice. He sounds younger than his years, but he also sounds like a little man at the same time. He has a very unique voice and anything he's tried out for he's gotten. He calls himself a voice actor. Now he has money in the bank that Nyro doesn't have. That's become a problem [laughs].

GS: Are you worried that you and Curtis might become stage mothers?

DC: No, because we could be so much worse that we are. We try to keep them in a very normal setting with soccer and all these things. They could be over doing auditions all the time, especially here in Nashville. We haven't really pushed that because we want to have a normal family. We don't want to create kids that are just meat on a meat hook [laughs] for the industry.

GS: This might seem like an obvious question, but is Nyro named for Laura Nyro?

DC: Yes, he is. I became aware of her music when I was 14 years old. Lisa Wexler, the daughter of the famous producer Jerry Wexler, was my friend. She played me her record. We were sort of misfit kids because she's also gay, but we didn't know what we were. There was something in Laura's music that spoke to us in a special way. I was always obsessed with her even to the point of where I had her father to come and tune my piano when I lived in New York when I was in college so I could get news about Laura. Much later when she came to California and I was living out there she was performing at a nearby club called McCabe's and I went to see her. She was singing with a group of women singers, with her at the piano – it was gorgeous. I sent back my business card with a note that I would love to meet her. By the time I got home there was a message on my answering machine (from her). I remember sitting on the edge of my bed weeping because that took 25 years that call. She came over for dinner. The girls from Rouge were in town and we all sat around the piano and sang songs from Gonna Take A Miracle, all the harmonies and everything. How cool is that? Then she invited me for dinner at her house in Connecticut. She wasn't the best cook. She was so cute, she made spaghetti with Ragu tomato sauce and iceberg lettuce with French's dressing. I brought the Häagen-Dazs. It was so sweet. She played me one of her songs. It was the ultimate fan dream. When (our son) Nyro was born, I wanted him to be called Rivero; Curtis wouldn't have it. But he accepted Nyro. I've always stayed in touch with (Laura's son) Gil, the rapper Gil-T. He has twins, too, one of whom is named Laura. One of these days the kids will all be running around together, and someone will go, "Laura! Nyro! [laughs] Come over here."

GS: In the film, it is said that you and Curtis see yourselves as activists. Would you say that being gay dads in Nashville is one example of your activism?

DC: Yes. We could easily live in New York or LA and it would be kind of like, so what. By being here people are challenged by our family when we go out to dinner, wherever we are. Usually we are well received. Meeting a lot of Republicans and religious people who are on our soccer team, they've become wonderful friends. We're very involved in the community with our school and the soccer team. I think we have changed hearts and minds. We hope that when they go in the voting booth they will think of us.

GS: I have both the eponymous Desmond Child and Rouge album and the follow-up Runners In The Night on vinyl. Do you think they will ever be reissued on CD or made available digitally?

DC: They were and then a couple of years ago I bought the master rights from Capitol Records. I just haven't gotten around to pulling it together and making it available on iTunes and everything else. I just haven't had a chance yet because of the movie and everything to focus in on making sure that the legacy of Desmond Child and Rouge continues.

GS: Finally, rock legend Lou Reed passed away the other day. Do you have a favorite Lou Reed song and why?

DC: My favorite song is "Walk On The Wild Side." That's because when I was in college I dated Holly Woodlawn, who the song is about [laughs]. I met Holly at Reno Sweeney and Holly brought me into the world of Andy Warhol and his superstars. I was mesmerized. When I was still a teen I started seeing some of those (Warhol) movies with Holly Woodlawn. To me, Holly Woodlawn was a star [laughs]. It could've been Brad Pitt to me [laughs]. It was the coolest world to be in. We played in all the same clubs. We played at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club opening for Patti Smith, and CBGB's. We were in that world. The way Patti Smith described those times in her book Just Kids, is exactly what I lived. I couldn't put that book down, I just loved it.
 
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