Strange Flesh

by Steve Slagg

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I was given strange flesh And then for 29 years It grew and it stretched From my broadening shoulders To my muddying shoes It’s been flogged and it’s been coddled It’s been worshiped and abused They still get it wrong in the movies They still get it wrong on the news And it leaves me confused It’s a mystery, but it’s pointing me to you Boys like us bleed strange blood It flows out from us like the songs that we sang in our old neighborhoods Where we walked down the street, but we could never be sweet Where we flew hand-in-hand, but we could never find land Where we wanted to be the men our parents longed to see No, what we wanted Was to be Not another sad history to repeat It’s still a mystery When you kiss me, it’s complete! These arms I wrap around you: They lost a friend His heart was pumping strange blood right up until the end Now I carry him in my bones The world was too much with him, now my heart’s his home The voice that whispers in your ear: It sang in a choir My feet danced in the Spirit, and my chest held fire Now I sing that tune alone: Dominus vobiscum, et cum spiritu tuo But I can also sing with you You look me in the eyes, man, there’s nothing I can’t do But you’ll have to share my heart It lies broken like Communion And mine is the smallest part Lover, we make strange love When I’m with you, I do things I’m proud of! We’ll walk down the street and go ahead and act sweet We’ll fly hand-in-hand to every corner of this land Help me say what I mean I’ll help you do what you should Our love may not be clean, but love, I think it might be good And if we are wrong, like they have told us all along Call me a fool, love, cause I am He’s a mystery, this strange man
Dad, can you help me understand what it means that you're gone? Just yesterday, I wanted to ask you a question: What was the hymn that my grandaddy still sang Years after all language and memory left him? Was it "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" or old "Amazing Grace" in that New Florence nursing home? Whichever one it was, he knew more verses than you or the hymnal (But I wasn't singing along I was in the corner with the TV on) I wonder why that hymn lingered so long in my Granddad's memory And did he learn it as a boy In that same brick church where he was buried in North Dakota? Or am I mistaken? Did he move there when he was grown? I just asked Mom, but she didn't know Dad, can you pray I learn how to show love Like the love you showed when Grandpa was dying? You sat for hours and sang and read to him From the hymnal  And the Bible And when his lips grew dry and cracked Covered in sores and blisters You swabbed his mouth with a wetted sponge "I hope that feels good" Your voice cracked and you cried (And I cried a little bit too, I had the presence of mind to put the TV on mute) Then, just a few years later, when your own turn came to die I watched my mother do the same And go to sleep alone in the bed you'd shared for my whole life I wonder if my lover ever lingered in the same way Would I have the strength to care for him? Speaking of my lover, would you have kissed him like a son? Or, scared and angry, would you have pushed us both away? I just asked Mom, but she just can't say O for a thousand tongues to sing My great redeemer's praise The glories of my God and king And triumphs of His grace Hear Him, ye deaf; ye voiceless ones Your loosened tongues employ Ye blind, behold, your Savior come And leap, Ye lame, for joy Ye blind, behold, your Savior come And leap, Ye lame, and leap, for joy
Barbara 03:51
Some moments flare out with love Others, love sneaks silently in We met on the sidewalk in slanted Spring light We talked for hours and hours ‘bout the things that bothered us then It didn’t mean nothin’ but it passed the night You sat beside me, Barbara In Blanchard Lecture Hall The man with the bowtie was church He said we are beautiful But the beauty’s not from us at all Neither one of us believed him at first Barbara, oh Barbara I’ll see you in September When the poplars wear the night air like a glove Barbara, oh Barbara I think I’m starting to remember we are loved When life was shit, we shot it and tossed back rum & coke And then we learned better and prayed instead And I still remember the letters You wrote me when my Daddy died Those letters were my food for weeks Those letters cleared my mind   Hmmm (And so we live) Barbara  Oh, Barbara I’ll see you in September When the longest aisle in Memphis bears you up Barbara Oh, Barbara May this song stand as a witness We are loved
I drove with you through Craters of the Moon We fought about the air conditioning We didn't know your time was coming soon We didn't know that my condition would be worsening Well, anyway, we had the windows down  The blackened earth stood stark against the sky My arm was getting blisters from the sun Your leg was getting restless from the drive It was almost like a dream: The ground grew hot and bubbled beneath our feet Cause the earth let out a scream Sixty thousand years ago And spilled its heat To scour a path from here way down to Yellowstone Having lifted up the Cascades and melted Idaho Where you and I, we fought about the radio At Craters of the Moon I knew I'd have to tell this to you soon I still tell you things, even though you're gone It's Spring, I'm driving back across the Moon As I make my way without you to Oregon I think of how we carried ourselves then Your neck craned upward in wonder, my own frame doubled over and in I was horny, scared, and faking You just stared, slack-jawed at God's creation We didn't know - Lord, how could we have known? That death was bubbling up from underneath your skin We didn't know - Lord, how could we have known?  That love would make me a stranger to my own blood kin No, like everybody else, we drove to Yellowstone To see the sleeping giant for an hour, then go home And then you drove home to North Dakota And so did I, was sitting right beside you And now I Drive West to Portland, Oregon Cause there are things we just beat up until they're gone Like that busted, listin' boat we called your body And how I'm driving in a car that is empty
Once When I was part of something bigger I’d look up at the sky and feel small Small Like a finger on a trigger One part of a powerful whole Whole A word I used without confusion Irony or anger or fear Fear Made its bed with me each evening I’d close my eyes and know you were near Now It’s all in my head Show me the immanent world And I’ll climb back in bed Cause there’s a mystery That used to live inside me But for many years now it’s been gone Gone Gone without a witness But the places where you stood still remain Names on a calendar, the church down by the a corner And a space in my brain Same sacred moments spill over Same ordinary sufferings come every day No blessed assurance either way You know, it really fucks me down You’ve got nothing left to say
I saw you and knew There’d be trouble with you They told me that trouble’s no good And to turn my head I saw you and knew I wanted to keep seeing you They told me to gouge out my eyes!  So I gouged out my eyes When you said my name Every idol fell lame! They told me to plug up my ears Cause trouble’s no good You sang me an elegant song That made the evening grow long (And I sang along) They told me to cut off my ear So I cut off my ear They told me to pull out my tongue So I pulled out my tongue They told me that if I kept up any longer Trouble and I would be one! Crawled all over this land Feelin’ around for your hand And then I found it Felt pretty good I wanna hold your hand In this godforsaken land But soon enough, my love, they get to me And I cut mine off So you take me in your arms You and your ten or twelve charms They say, “How does it feel, my brother? Does trouble feel good?” I say, “I guess it kinda does But other days, it kinda doesn’t It feels about the same as anything else In this troublesome world” So I stood up I stood up Right then In front of you And me And God And us And them Scratched with my fingernails And I scratched with my toes Then I started pulling at the tip of my nose Til I was pulling off all my skin Til I was pulling off all my skin I’m gonna call it off and begin again I’m gonna call it off and begin again Sorta shrug you off and begin again So make me a new man Where is the new man? Make me a new man now Where the hell is the new man? Where the hell is the new man now? I’m waiting on the new man Where is the new man now? Where the hell is the new man now?
What I Need 01:57
When I see your face What I see is an video screen Switching between All the faces Looking back at me What I need is your gaze to meet me When I listen for your voice What I hear is a scared kid Same scared kid I’ve heard Since I was ten Since I was him What I need is your hand in mine When I drink this wine I don’t believe that it’s really for me When I touch your body I feel like a fraud Cause I am, oh my God What I need are your arms around me
Saint E. 03:57
When you remember me Close your eyes and consider me Read my letters tenderly Read them aloud, aloud, aloud As you tend to me Don’t forget When you remember me You’re my friend and my enemy Keep the best and worst of me Because I’m bound, I’m bound, I’m bound To your memory Don’t forget Keep your faith heavy And memorize my lines You’re gonna need to know them all, know them all If you forget me Or if you have to bring me low I am yours, and they never can take that away Love, you’re a stripped live wire I wrestle you at night when I can’t get tired It keeps me occupied It keeps you quiet I hang on the line all all night And even if it’s plastic and string I hold tight Our broken telephone It’s all I know I keep my faith heavy I memorized your lines I know I need to hold it all, hold it all Don’t get to forget you I take you with me where I go You are mine And I never can put you away Old friend, look at us now, we get on somehow Old friend, look at us now, we get on somehow Darling, what I need now is to go lie down Old friend, look at us now, we get on somehow
I am a man’s body Strung up on an old buck fence In Wyoming The arms are tied with twine The head slightly inclined As though listening I have never been mine At first I was a scarecrow If you look twice, you can almost behold the man I was chosen to stand for those who couldn’t stand I am a school-kid walking Southbound on 71 Ohio is frozen I’m seventeen years old I know all about this world And it’s broken Why and why and why Should I call these people my people?  Why and why and why  Should I call this place my home? I have never been mine Now my body moves the nation If you look twice, you could almost believe I’m  free I was chosen to speak by those who wouldn’t speak For me When we go out walking I’m still scared to hold your hand I’m still afraid When we go out walking I’m still scared to hold your hand I’m still afraid On Belmont and Halsted I’m still scared to hold your hand I’m still afraid When we go out walking I’m still scared to hold your hand I’m still afraid But I was made to look just like the one who formed me So hold my body tight, cos it never was for me Someday I’ll learn to sing Like those who learned to sing Before me Billie singin’ Strange Fruit Johnny singin’ Lush Life Nina singin’ My Sweet Lord Antony sings Another World Neil is singing Alabama Randy sings Louisiana The Duke sings Word on a Wing My mother taught me to sing Like my Daddy sang Jesus, Priceless Treasure Like my cousins sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness together Like my sister sings Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing Like my lover sings Book of Love while he’s undressing Like Nonna sang the Holy, Holy, Holy when she died Singing Holy, Holy, Holy Like Nonna sang the Holy, Holy, Holy when she died Singing Holy, Holy, Holy Holy, Holy Holy Holy, Holy Holy, Holy, Holy
Still waiting for the new man I built this one with my two hands He’s funded by the big brands  But he knows how to please his true fans He’s put together but he’s hardened (We gotta get back to the garden) New heart and mind and game plan God grant it, God damn it, God save my man Still working at the saved life I watched my gramma spend her days and nights In rare gratefulness and labor To love the Lord and love her neighbor Most of her life she went to sleep alone When the phone rang for Walter, she'd say "He's not home" New spirit every new day Little by little I'm learning the old ways* We will all be healed O daughters of Zion We will be washed clean With a Spirit of judgment And a Spirit of burning Don’t be afraid I woke up this morning I thought I felt a little warning As usual I missed it Though there've been mornings when I’ve kissed it And seen the light Shining on my lips like a secret And felt the heat Burning on my tongue like a red-hot coal I’m still learning how to feel good I like clean linens, I like wildwood Soft chambray and cologne The tang of tanqueray on tongue I like the way you look in half-light Half-dressed by the bed at midnight  I'm still waiting for the new man But in the meantime come and hold my hand We will both be healed My lover, my witness Love will wash us clean With a spirit of judgment And a spirit of burning Small booth for shade Don’t be afraid


Steve Slagg's third album, Strange Flesh, is the culmination of Slagg’s life as a musician and his work–both personal and public—as a queer person raised in the Christian church (Slagg has been involved for most of his adult life with organizations providing LGBT support within faith communities). The album’s songs mingle intensely personal details from Slagg’s own life with stories that are not autobiographical but could be—the types of stories one hears over and over again when building long-term relationships within a marginalized community. A lot of these songs’ “I”s are really “we”s, and in their triumphs and tragedies, love and sexuality, excommunication and communion, they aim for truth, whether through memoir or fiction.

When choosing collaborators, Slagg chose to highlight his deep bonds within the Chicago music community, working with producers (and longtime friends) Lee Ketch and Kit Shields at Harlot’s Progress and engineer Dorian Gehring at Foxhall Studio. Contributors to the record include members of Mooner, Contorno, Dusk, and The Obleeks, as well as cellist Cathy Kuna and singer-songwriter Allison Van Liere. Ketch and Shields complement Slagg’s sad choirboy vibe by drawing out the inherent camp and humor in these songs, with arrangements that pay tribute to the baroque pop singer-songwriters of the 60s and 70s, as well as queer artists from Queen to Judee Sill to Labi Siffre.


released June 27, 2019

- Steve Slagg (piano, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, organ, vibraphone, melodica, harpsichord, harmonica, micro-KORG, EML-101, other synths & VSTs, vocals)
- Lee Ketch (bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, EML-101, Roland JP-08, other synths & VSTs, percussion, vocals)
- Kit Shields (acoustic guitar, vocoder, EML-101, stylophone, glockenspiel, vocals)
- Andy Ketch (drums, tambourine, shaker)
- John Gargiulo (12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap steel, acoustic guitar)
- Cathy Kuna (cello)
- Allison Van Liere (accordion)
- Julia Blair (viola)
- David Ketch (guitar)
- Dorian Gehring (synths)
- Choir vocals by John Bagley, Brent Bailey, Alyssa Barringer, Blade Barringer, Julia Blair, Josiahduke Harrist, Lee Ketch, Amy Myers, Kit Shields, Allison Van Liere


produced by Kit Shields and Lee Ketch
recorded by Lee Ketch at Harlot's Progress and Dorian Gehring at Foxhall
mixed by Dorian Gehring at Foxhall
mastered by Greg Obis at Chicago Mastering Studio
cover artwork / design / digital collage by Allison Van Liere
photography by Jonathan Randall Grant:


thank you to lee & kit, erin mckeown, linford detweiler, karin bergquist, daniel knox, david rubin, tim hunt, allison van liere, matt jones, blade barringer and brent bailey


for nancy, ray, gramma, and dr. foster


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Steve Slagg Chicago, Illinois

God-haunted, gay-of-center weird singer-songwriter with death problems

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