Josh Grodsky :: Long-Time HIV Survivor Makes SF Cabaret Debut

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday April 20, 2016
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Josh Grodsky :: Long-Time HIV Survivor Makes SF Cabaret Debut

Throughout his life, San Francisco native and longtime HIV survivor Josh Grodsky has dreamed of a career in cabaret and musical theater. The 58-year-old's dream is now coming true. After several years of singing during open mics at Martuni's, Grodsky is making his debut as a headliner. On April 15, he'll bring his one-man show, "Even Mad Men Need Love" to Society Cabaret at the Hotel Rex. Grodsky describes the evening as a "jazzy trip on a train." He'll be crooning popular tunes from the mid-twentieth century.

"I'm pursuing my dream at this time because I will no longer settle for a life of regret," Grodsky told Bay Area Reporter. "Singing is about the only thing remaining of me which I feel I can still do reasonably well. Singing is the gift from God I have to share with the world. Singing is what I do. I do it for love. If I never make a dime from it, I'd still do it because music is great therapy and medicine in my life!"

Grodsky worked at nine-to-five office jobs during his earlier life. In recent years he's struggled against a variety of HIV related health issues. He's collected disability since the early 1990s, but he survived. His survival played a major role in inspiring him to pursue his singing.

He said that he was born in the city "during the Beatnik era, when rents were cheaper," and has lived in a variety of locales: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Florida, and Brazil. Throughout the years he never lost the desire to return home to San Francisco.

"I was able to return to the City with the assistance of a HOPWA voucher and got my first studio apartment in the Outer Richmond in 2009," he said. "Coming out was difficult for me, since coming from a Jewish/Catholic background I had guilt in stereo! But after starts and stops, I officially came out when I joined the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus in 2011 and I sang with them for three years."

Grodsky's story is similar to that of other longtime HIV survivors.

"I think I sero-converted when living back in the City in 1982," he recalls. "I finally tested positive in 1987, so that makes this over 30 years I've been living with the disease. I've been on every cocktail and suffered from many side effects, including neuropathy from Zerit, kidney stones from Crixivan, diabetes from God knows what, and of course, a life-long battle with depression before any of the other diagnoses hit."

As with many who were diagnosed with HIV during those early years, Grodsky endured a number of close calls.

"I almost died, losing vision, hair and teeth and was down to 40 T-cells in 1994," he said. "I spent the next 20 years planning to die. The only reason that makes sense to my long-life and relative health for the moment is this desire to perform."

And so, in between monitoring his health, Grodsky honed his craft at Martuni's and with the Gay Men's Chorus. When he steps out onto the Society Cabaret stage, it will be a more than a musical debut.

Josh Grodsky at a recent Martuni's night.

" 'Even Mad Men Need Love' is going to be a fun, mostly upbeat show," he said. "I'll leave the audience with a great parting message about love. And part of my story is revealed during the show. My big reveal, and what might explain why I'm finally able to start pursuing my dream at this stage in the game, is my chronic depression and being 'healed' from it. San Francisco has that power to heal you. To take the 'wretched refuse' and to help make them whole again."

Grodsky will perform songs from legendary composers such as Harold Arlen, Jules Styne and Johnny Mercer. He'll be joined onstage by Dave Austin and His Trio De Swing, who will provide the music. Grodsky's set will include "Give Me the Simple Life," a song he refers to as "wishful thinking."

"I'll also perform 'This Could Be the Start of Something Big,' a great mid-1950s tune from around the time of my birth," he said. "And 'Ballad of the Sad Young Men,' perhaps my darkest/most revealing tune of the evening."

Grodsky added that he's saddened to see the music of The Great American Songbook all but disappear from the contemporary landscape.

"I'm fixing to water it, give it some light, jazz it up and let it bloom again," he said. "It still deserves to be heard."

"Josh Grodsky: Even Mad Men Need Love: An Evening of Songs From the Mid-20th Century." Friday, April 15, 8pm. Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter St.

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