An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Desmond Child is a Pop and Rock dynamo. Even if you don’t instantly recognize his name, you most certainly know his work. Forty years ago, he formed the trio Desmond Child & Rouge, who began making a name for themselves once they moved from their home base in Miami to the bright lights of New York City. They made a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1978 and went on to release two albums that may not have sold as well as expected, but they certainly showcased Desmond’s knack for writing a catchy tune. Kiss’ Paul Stanley took note and asked Child to co-write a song with him. That song, “I Was Made For Loving You,” became one of Kiss’ biggest hits and kick started Desmond’s career as a successful and in-demand songwriter. You might be familiar with some of the other songs he co-wrote: “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” “Angel,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “Livin’ On A Prayer,” and so many others. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can sing every word in your head just by reading the song titles. Desmond Child not only wrote some pretty catchy pop tunes, he also is a big part of our pop culture – a man who has made a lasting impact in a business that sometimes eats its young.
But being a successful songwriter isn’t the most important role in Desmond’s life – that honor belongs to his role as a father to twin sons Roman and Nyro. In fact, when Stephen SPAZ Schnee chatted with the legendary songwriter, music barely entered into the conversation. Instead, the discussion focused on the documentary Two: The Story Of Roman And Nyro. The film documents the twelve year journey of Desmond and lifelong partner – now husband – Curtis Shaw and their connection with friend Angela Whittaker, the surrogate mother who would give birth to Desmond and Curtis’ boys. The movie works on many different levels. Not only does it follow Desmond, Curtis and Angela from pre-conception up through the boys’ first ten years, it also focuses on the power of love and family in a world that still doesn’t fully accept the idea that a gay couple can lead a happy, healthy family life and raise their children just as well as a straight couple can. The fact that both Roman and Nyro have become exceptional, bright and talented young men is proof of Desmond and Curtis’ love and commitment. Two: The Story Of Roman And Nyro is an emotional ride that will entertain as well as educate. Directed by Heather Winters and edited by Lennon Nersesian, Two is a powerful story of love and family – something we can all relate to.
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Two: The Story Of Roman And Nyro is just about to be released. How are you feeling so far about the reaction to it?
DESMOND CHILD: Well, we’re thrilled. You know, a lot of times our film is being played to kind of like-minded people, but we’re very excited that we’re starting to get a broader spectrum, which is who we made the film for – the people that are between New York and L.A. Our goal is to change hearts and minds and get people to understand that we’re just like everybody else, and that also gay families need all the rights and protections that everybody else has.
SPAZ: Now, I know that the seeds of the film started with Angela’s video diary, but who came up with the idea of sort of turning this whole journey into a documentary?
DESMOND: Well, I think that when we saw Angela’s footage, then we started taping our events as well. We all said, “Someday maybe we can turn this into something.” So that’s how it started. Usually we would hire a video guy to come and film events like birthday parties and that’s why it looks like we just go from party to party. We sort of knew that we had something and so when we turned it over to Heather, it was like three hundred hours of footage and stills and all that. Just her and editor Lennon Nersesian took two years to organize it in an artful way. When I first saw her cut – the first cut – it was like I was stunned because I thought it was just going to be chronological, but the way she went back and forward in time was the way people tell stories. They tell about something that’s happened and then all of a sudden it’s like now, and then back then again, and back and forth. It’s a very kind of organic natural way that it unfolds.
SPAZ: Did you have a say in what footage would and would not be used, or did you completely leave that to Heather and Lennon?
DESMOND: They found the best parts that they could. I saw that. I mean, I wasn’t happy when I looked like I was fat, but it worked so I went with it (laughs). There were bad shots that I had taken out that I just couldn’t bear (laughs).
SPAZ: To me, the film was ultimately about this journey of love and family. What do you want people to walk away with after seeing the movie?
DESMOND: Well, as I explained in the film, my own father was very intelligent and a very charming man. He didn’t think that gay men were fertile – enough testosterone to be fertile. So there is that thought out there. I remember sitting in an armchair feeding my kids their bottles, one on each arm, and George Bush was on the TV and he was asked, “What do you think about gay people wanting to be married?” He squinted up his face and said, (imitating) “I don’t understand why they want to get married. They can’t have children.” It’s like, really? So, I mean, it’s like their thought process didn’t go beyond the fact that a man and a man can’t actually impregnate each other. It didn’t go any further than that, and thus, we shouldn’t have rights because marriage was created to make babies. We know ninety-year-olds that get married in the nursing home – they’re not gonna be having any babies anytime soon. They have the right to get married. They have the right to marry a prisoner that they can’t have intercourse with, but they have the right to be married. So, the whole fertility thing is not connected to marriage. People marry because they like each other. They may have no desire for children. This whole argument was based on fertility, even in the Supreme Court. Way before in vitro fertilization, lesbian couples were doing the turkey baster thing. I mean, children that are now forty years old or more came from that generation. Our kids are from the first wave of male partners being able to conceive biological children through an egg donor and the surrogate mother, or just a surrogate mother that would have the child with them. There really are a huge amount of families like ours out there now. In vitro fertilization is becoming more affordable than it was when we started out. It was very experimental and expensive, and so we wanted to make a film so that we could also encourage other gay families to say, “Hey, we can do this. It’s doable. We can have this in our lives if we want it.”
SPAZ: People tend to forget about all the families involved with surrogacy. In this case there’s you and your family, and Curtis and his family, and then Angela’s family and all the people connected. Knowing how many people would be affected, how much soul searching did it take for you and Curtis to say “OK, yeah, we’re going to do this”?
DESMOND: We’d been together for a long time and so we got to that point in our lives. I was in my late forties. It was like I always wanted children. If we’re gonna do it, it’s gotta be now, because I’m sixty now and I find it hard to keep up with them. I’m almost like two generations away from them in a way. It’s different. I’m not a young parent, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to move on that. Maybe it’s a biological urge, but also for me, as I show in the movie, my origin is where I didn’t know who my real father was until I was eighteen, so that was very important to me because I had a missing part of my childhood. It was very important to me that I fulfill that biologically. That’s why I’m the biological father. It was really important to me. It wasn’t as important to Curtis to be a biological parent.
SPAZ: Do you feel that America is a little bit more accepting now than when you finished making the film two years ago? Gay marriage is now legal in how many states?
DESMOND: I don’t know how many. It’s like 19 or something, but you know, why do we have to fight for that? Millions of dollars are being spent on legal fights that we have to pay. Why should we have to fight so hard and waste resources on these fights? I mean, we’re still fighting. Even if we engage in some areas, it slides backwards in other areas. All of a sudden there will be a voter thing and then the people, the opposite side, says some scary thing like, “Your children will turn into transsexuals.” Of course, they go right to the people with the biggest fears and their propaganda, which is unfounded, so then we lose some of these things. Parents of gay people think they failed somehow. But then they realize that it’s just a norm. It’s a scientific norm. Just like blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, gay, transgender identities… You can’t change somebody from being straight to gay. You can’t change somebody who is gay into straight. You can make them act like they’re not because they’re afraid of the reprisals socially, or worse in Uganda and other countries, but it happens so much.
SPAZ: I noticed in the film just how amazingly different Roman and Nyro are. Both of them seem to be just fantastic kids with these great personalities, but both very different. Are you surprised by that?
DESMOND: It’s wonderful. I just love it that they’re so different. It’s great because every soul is different. Like, you know – not to be too New Age, but like snowflakes, there are no two snowflakes that are the same. In nature, all these conditions create all these differences, and we need that because people that are different from each other make an interesting world with better chances of our overall survival.
SPAZ: You’ve had this amazing career as a performer, songwriter, producer… Is this the most fulfilling time of your life – with Curtis and the boys?
DESMOND: Yes, it really is. Because I still have my health. I have a wonderful home life. We have wonderful friends. We feel very safe in our world. I have young artists that I’m working with. It’s a great time. I’m also doing a variety of different things – from making records still, which is my day job, and writing songs – to developing a Broadway show, developing movies, developing television shows, and maybe one of them will stick. Who knows? So, I’m doing things that are challenging, that I haven’t done before, and so I’m still growing and learning, which is fantastic. Like the guy that has three months to live and he starts learning Italian. Like, why? “I don’t know, maybe they’re wrong.”
SPAZ: What’s next for Desmond Child?
DESMOND: I was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2008 and I was asked to join the board of directors. I’m the vice chairman of the museum committee and we’ve been working very closely with the owner of the Brill Building to bring the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame museum experience to create a real attraction in New York City within Time Square. Hundreds of thousands of people will visit each year and learn about what songwriting is, why it’s valuable, why we should honor the music makers of the last century and also to understand why music has value and why people should pay for it. So, I’m involved with that. After my mom passed away – she was a Latin composer/song writer/poet – I helped to found the Latin Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and that’s at www.latinsonghall.org. We’re getting ready to go into our second gala October eighteenth in Miami Beach. We’ll be inducting our second set of inductees including Gloria Estefan. So we have a very exciting show happening. I have a pretty busy life. I’m pretty maxed out.
SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD, Blu Ray or record players?
DESMOND: When my mother died I had been listening to an artist named Buika. She grew up in Spain amongst the gypsies and she is a genius. She created her own kind of music, which combines kind of tropical or Cuban sounding boleros with flamenco and jazz, and I got to know her. We’re going to be writing together. I’m looking forward to her new book of poetry and photography that’s coming out. I’m working with her, but when she’s not around, I just listen to her. She’s incredible. She’s completely unique and so inspiring.
Thanks to Desmond Child