Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens


book and lyrics by Bill Russell
music by Janet Hood


Elegies For Angels Punks and Raging Queens is a dramatic and musical theater piece composed of free verse poems and songs reflecting the lives of people who have lived with and died from AIDS. There are over 30 poems… touching, dramatic, humorous. Each poem represents a character who has died from AIDS. The songs reflect the feeling of the living… the people who have felt the loss of so many friends and loved ones. Elegies… can be performed with a small group of actors playing several roles each or with one actor for each character, as has been done in the majority or stagings.


Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens had two primary sources of inspiration. When the Names Project Quilt was first unveiled on the Washington Mall in October of 1987, I was overwhelmed by its power and presence. I was also very familiar with Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, the collection of free verse epitaphs of deceased characters speaking from a cemetery in the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois. Having written poetry for a number of years, primarily in my own style of free verse, I had the idea to attempt a Spoon River of AIDS with the Quilt replacing Masters’ cemetery as the cohesive metaphor. So I started writing monologues in the voices of characters who had died from AIDS, based on friends and acquaintances and stories I’d heard. I thought there were theatrical possibilities in the material and asked Janet Hood if she would be interested in collaborating on songs to accompany the monologues, in the way that Charles Aidman incorporated classic American folk songs into Spoon River when he adapted that piece for the stage in the 60’s.As the piece developed over a number of productions in New York and then London, we tried to broaden its scope to reflect the wide variety of people AIDS has affected. Because the piece is modular, rather than linear, I still continue to update it occasionally. But I don’t see Elegies… as a literal history of the epidemic — rather a more personal response to the incalculable loss so many have endured.

To my knowledge, the benefit we did on April 2, 2001, in New York had the largest cast ever assembled for this piece. That was most gratifying, as the amount of loss due to this plague is, after all, part of the point. Over the years, Elegies… has afforded Janet and me the opportunity to work with many extraordinary performers and the production represented by the New York benefit recording gave us the gift of 52 amazing people inhabiting our characters and songs – the memories of which we will cherish forever.



posted by admin on December 20, 2007, at 3:00 pm | 65 Comments »

65 Responses

  1. Amber


    I have been searching the internet for it but am struggling to find the piano/vocal score for ‘I don’t know to help you’ and would love to sing it!

    I would really appriciate it if I could purchase the sheet music?

    Thanks so much!

  2. bill

    Hi amber,
    I’d be happy to send the music for “I don’t know how to help you” … If you send $8.00 US to my paypal account: billboyruss@aol.com I’ll email you a PDF of the music … If you’d like a hard copy by mail I have to charge $10.00 US …



  3. Celeste

    Hello, Mr. Russell !

    I’d really love the sheet music for “my brother lived in san francisco” so I can sing it for a competition!

    Thank you for create such extraordinary work! Celeste

  4. Mark Reed


    Just over ten years ago, Brentwood Theatre was kindly given permission to perform ‘Elegies’. The idea was to raise money for our new dressing rooms, it certainly kicked off that appeal, but more than that it fulfilled us in so many ways.

    As a small community theatre, we took on a huge challenge. Not only did we perform here, we also took it into the West End for one day only – for those who were ‘simply’ amateurs to those who were on the cusp of becoming full time performers, it was a huge honour and privilege,

    We also recorded a live CD and have about 100 still in stock (for a while they sold well at Dress Circle in London).

    IS there a public record of those about to perform the show please so that we could offer copies to them? We only really want to recover postage costs although donations (we are a charity) would never be turned away.

    Kind regards.

    Mark Reed
    01277 230833
    Brentwood Theatre

  5. bill

    hi mark,

    i’m very happy you did “elegies …” and it was a good experience …

    unfortunately, samuel french doesn’t keep a list of upcoming productions — i usually don’t know of them until months after the fact when i receive the royalty statements or through alerts on google … i’ve tried in the past to ask french to alert me of upcoming productions because there are people who would travel to see the show but they just don’t do that … sorry i can’t be of more assistance

    bill russell

  6. Francesca

    Hello, I am performing your song Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging queens for my grade 6 singing exam, and I have done some reasearch, however, I would like to ask you personally about the meaning behind the lyrics. I am specifically interested in how the character singing the song is linked to a death from AIDS, thank you.

  7. bill

    hi francesca,

    the singer is looking back on her early career where she sang regularly at a dive and met many people who later died from AIDS


  8. Christina

    Hi Bill,

    I’d also like to purchase the sheet music for “My Brother Lived in San Fransisco.” Is your paypal information still the same?


  9. bill

    hi christina,

    sorry, i just saw this … yes, the paypal info is the same


  10. Lauren

    Hello! I will be performing your song- I don’t know how to help you- for my grade 5 RAD singing exam. I understand that the musical it is from is all about people who have aids. However, I would love to know a more in depth analysis on this specific song and what relationship the girl had with who they are singing about. Many thanks, hope to hear from you soon.

  11. Lauren

    London school of music exam*

  12. Ailish


    I am performing your musical Elegies for Angels Punks and Raging Queens in February, which I am very much looking forward to. It’s a brilliant show. I will be playing the role of Rebecca and I was wondering if you had any information about the inspiration of the character.



  13. bill


    glad you’re performing in “elegies for angels, punks and raging queens”

    the character of Rebecca was inspired by a true story i’d read about this family in iowa … all the males had hemophilia and early in the AIDS crisis acquired the virus through blood transfusions … the story was even grimmer than that told by rebecca as all the brothers died and some infected their wives and families …

    the other inspiration came from edgar lee masters’ “spoon river anthology” which was the main inspiration for the style of the show … i forget the name of the character but she goes crazy and burns down the barn …

    so i drew on both resources


  14. Jess

    Hello Mr Russell

    I am part of a theatre group that is performing Elegies of Angels Punks and Raging Queens. I will be portraying the role of Helen and I was wondering if you could give my some information and backstory of the character. Thankyou


  15. bill

    hi jess,

    thanks for your inquiry ..

    the character of “helen” was inspired by a story i read about a grandmother who aquired hiv early in the aids crisis through a blood transfusion … diseases, especially terminal ones, make for some strange bedfellows (or ward fellows) … i was interested in how people who’ve never experienced each other’s types were brought together in the worst of circumstances

    break a leg with the show


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