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 | 100 Comments »

100 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


  16. Lora Grace Scott

    I would like to sing My brother Lived in San Francisco at a charity concert for Teenage Cancer Trust UK as I think the song has amazing depth and is very touching. It would be much appreciated if you could tell me where to purchase the sheet music and if I could have you’re consent to perform this beautiful song at this event. Kind Regards

  17. Bradley

    Hi Bill, I am playing Roscoe in a production of Elegies, I was hoping you would be able to tell me a little about the character Roscoe, was this based on someone specific? What kind of a person was ‘Roscoe’?

    thank you,


  18. Conor

    Hello Bill,
    I am fortunate to be apart of a group to perform Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. I am looking into the background / inspiration of the show and my characters. I am performing Josh’s monologue and Dwight’s monologue. I have a feel of both from analyzing them both, but would appreciate it if you could give me some backstory or information about Josh and Dwight yourself.
    Thank you

  19. Kurran

    Hello Mr Russell,

    I am performing Elegies of Angels, Punks and Raging Queens with my college, and I was wondering if you had any information about the characters I will be playing – Nick and Nat. Was their monologue a true story?
    What was the inspiration of the character?

    Thank you

  20. bill

    hi lora,

    sorry, i just saw this … i’m happy to send you the music for “my brother lived in san francisco” if you will send $8 US to my paypal account: billboyruss@aol.com … i can email a pdf version of the music … just remind me what song you’re looking for … hope i’m not too late


  21. bill

    hi bradley,

    just saw this so i hope i’m not too late … the character of roscoe was inspired by a friend who was not a drag queen … but he did collapse in the doctor’s office and loved the attention he received … that was a starting point for me for the monologue … i was fascinated how the AIDS crisis brought together wildly different types which is why i paired roscoe with helen … as to what kind of person he was, the one word i’d use is outrageous … and oddly facing death in a hospital ward frees him to be what he’s always wanted to be — an entertainer (with a captive audience)

    break a leg!


  22. bill

    hi conor,

    glad to hear you’re doing “elegies …”

    josh is partly autobiographical — the scene on the beach happened to me and a group of my friends, a couple of whom succumbed to AIDS … josh is a clown, a joker — he even jokes about how awful he looks at the end of his life …

    dwight was not based on anyone i knew — though i know and work with a lot of his type … during the AIDS crisis it was especially upsetting to me how so-called christians could display such hateful behavior … dwight’s life is defined by musical theater and when he has to go home to the awful reality he escaped from he still finds release in his dreams of performing

    break a leg


  23. bill

    hi kurran,

    happy to hear you’re doing “elegies …”

    neither character you’re playing is based on a real person — though they’re both inspired by real types … during the AIDS crisis i did hear stories of guys who reacted to their diagnosis like nick does — trying to take as many people with him as possible … and also stories of guys (especially older gay men) who reacted like nat — directing their anger at the situation inward, reveling in their own self-hatred …

    break a leg


  24. Nathan

    Hello Mr Russell,

    I am lucky enough to be performing in a production of “Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens”. I am playing the part of Doug and was wondering did you draw on any inspiration for the role? and especially for the songs, “Holding On” and “Learning to Let Go”?

    Thank You For Your Time,


  25. Ben

    hi bill,
    i will be taking part in a college performance of Elegies and i have been given two parts, the parts of billy and paul. is there any help you could give me to help on characterisation and on character research of these two roles.
    thank you, Ben

  26. bill

    hi nathan,

    thanks for writing …

    both songs that doug sings come out of monologues which set them up … he’s part of the group of friends tripping on the beach in the Josh monologue — the one friend left standing who spreads josh’s ashes as requested … then he is miles’ lover who gives him permission to die which leads into “learning to let go” … he could be two different people but since you’re singing both songs i think it has resonance that he has dealt with the loss of his circle of friends and then has to deal with the loss of his soul mate

    break a leg


  27. bill

    hi ben,

    glad to hear you’re doing “elegies …”

    billy and paul are quite different characters … paul is typically played by an older actor though he could have served in viet nam when he was quite young and then is nearly ruined by drugs, beats his addiction, then finds he has AIDS and becomes a leader in the fight against government complacency … he is rightfully angry but channels that anger into action …

    billy is autobiographical in certain respects … i grew up in south dakota and longed to escape to the big city … even though his escape leads to his death, he makes peace with the fact that he went after the life he dreamed of … he’s horny! and his sexual needs are not met in his rural environment so new york is like a combination of disneyland and oz … you don’t want to miss his joy at being in the candy store of hot men

    break a leg


  28. Georgie

    Hi Bill

    I will be taking part in a college performance of Elegies and i have been given two roles, Charlotte and Miles. Is there any help you could give me to help on character research for these two roles.

    Look forward to hearing from you, many thanks,


  29. Ben

    Hi again,
    Just another quick questions. i was just wondering what your inspiration was for writing this musical and the why you chose to write it the way you did.
    Thank you very much for the time you have spent answering my questions.

  30. Jessica

    Hi Mr Russell!
    I am also performing in a production of “Elegies…” and have been cast as Tracey and I was wondering if you could give me any details behind the character?
    I absolutely love the show!

    Thank you so much!!

  31. bill

    hi georgie,

    i’m certainly getting a lot of these requests … did your professor/director suggest contacting me?

    i have to say a woman playing miles is not my intent … that completely changes the meaning of the monologue and “learning to let go” … i’m sure you didn’t choose your characters so i’m not blaming you but i really do not support this choice …

    that being said, miles is a fighter who, sick as he is, refuses to give up, let go — it’s only when douglas gives him that permission that he can … the story was inspired by way bandy — a famous make-up artist who died fairly early in the AIDS crisis …

    charlotte is a character i created when i was trying to fill out the mosaic of people infected and affected by the disease … i initially started writing about friends and people i knew and it was fairly easy for me to write in the voices of gay men … but i realized i needed to add more women … early on i felt i had to be clear about how each character acquired the disease but by the time i got to charlotte i felt that wasn’t essential and actually letting the mystery of how she got it remain one was interesting … she is driven and hard-edged and not the easiest, which is why she’s so successful … it’s only when her secretary becomes her care-taker and mother figure that she’s able to appreciate a human connection …

    break a leg


  32. bill

    hi jessica,

    i guess i’m going to hear from this whole cast …

    tracey is a character i created because of certain things i felt i needed in this mosaic … i wanted a sexy young woman in the cast … she is used to hooking up and kind of clueless about AIDS … i do think this monologue has laughs in it and i’m very intent on earning as many laughs as possible in this show … she is spoiled and knows it and even after she’s died goes, “wtf?”

    break a leg


  33. Jessica

    Thank you so much bill, sorry about any inconvenience. Your help is truly appreciated!

  34. Josh

    Dear Mr. Russell

    I’m taking part in my college performance of Elegies and need your help.
    I’ve been casted for two roles, one being Mitch and the other role being Bud. I was just wondering if you could help me out on the background on these two characters and how I would portray these characters differently to each other.
    My final question is about Mrs Janet hood, I cant find a lot of information about her on websites and was just wondering if you could help me with some detail about her so I can put it in my creative team.
    thank you for your time as I know your a very busy person, true inspiration and hope to ere form you soon.
    yours sincerely Josh b

  35. bill

    hi josh,

    i am getting emails from this entire cast …

    mitch is very angry — first at the diagnosis and then at dying … i sometimes feel the show doesn’t portray enough of the anger we all felt so this monologue is important …

    bud is sardonic … he protects himself from the horror happening in his life — his lover dying, being sick himself — with sarcasm … it’s important not to tip the lover’s parents as being monsters until the moment they turn at the grave … this was partly inspired by a case that happened in my husband’s law firm who sued to have the lovers buried together and won

    janet hood does not have a huge on-line presence … she’s my longest-term collaborator … we have written five musicals, starting when we were in college … i’m the only person she writes with …

    break a leg


  36. Jazz

    Hi Bill, hope you’re well.

    I am in the process of sending you $8 via paypal in the hope you could email me the sheet music for “My Brother Lived in San Francisco”. Hope that’s ok! Planning to add it to audition repertoire.

    Wishing you a prosperous 2017.


  37. Jade Taylor

    Hi Bill !

    For my musical theatre course we are performing Elegies and I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about the character of Joanne?

    Hope this isn’t too inconvenient for you,

    Jade Taylor

  38. bill

    when AIDS was virtually a death sentence i knew people who really maxed out their credit cards but then lived longer than expected … joanne is crazy — she invests in time shares when she’s got a fatal disease … i like her to start very seriously like a doctor relaying bad news … and then go nuts … humor is so crucial in this show and this can be one of the big comic moments

  39. Maria

    Thank you for the beautiful songs. Might I ask the precise date of the 1989 premiere of “Elegies”?

  40. bill

    i would have to dig through some materials but i think “elegies …” premiered on may 29, 1989 at what was then the ohio theater in soho

  41. Nicci

    Hi Bill,

    I’m a big fan of your work. I’d love to obtain “Elegies” specifically “My Brother Lived In San Francisco.” ASAP would you be able to send if I sent you a Paypal? Also, how much should I send? Thanks so much!

  42. Kahlil

    Hi Bill, I was wondering if it would be possible for me to buy the sheet music for “And the Rain Keeps Falling Down”? It is a beautiful song and I’d love to add it to my repertoire for upcoming college auditions.

  43. bill

    so sorry i just saw this … i’d be happy to send you “and the rain keeps falling down” … if you send $8 US to my paypal account: billboyruss@aol.com i’ll email a pdf version immediately


  44. bill

    so sorry i just saw this … i’d be happy to send you the music for “my brother lived in san francisco” … if you send $8 US to my paypal account: billboyruss@aol.com, i’ll email the PDF immediately …

    again, sorry for the delay in responding

  45. Danny

    Dear Bill, I am playing the roll of Roscoe in a November local production.
    I have done some research and watched on line some actors doing impersonations after Roscoe says= an audience ! which is fun i think, the director however has me doing the impersonations during Captive and Enthralled etc… which i have been working on and can make happen, Which way do you recommend? and any other pointers are very welcome, Thank you for writing such a wonderful show , I am so looking forward to being Roscoe ! Sincerely, Danny

  46. Lily


    I’m performing the song Angels, Punks and Raging Queens and was wondering what the lyric ‘Angels’ actually refers to?

    Many thanks,


  47. Lily

    Hi Bill,

    I’m struggling to find the name of the character who sings ‘Angels, Punks and Raging Queens’ and was hoping you could give me some information on the character?

    Thank you,

    Best wishes,


  48. bill

    hi lily,

    the character is named judith … but that’s when we do the show with 4 singers … otherwise we just think of her as a singer


  49. Emma

    Hi Bill,

    I am currently rehearsing your show as part of a musical theatre masters and I wondered if there were any particular areas of New York or San Fransisco that you thought about when creating the piece? I noticed in an above comment that some of the characters are based on your personal connections, I wondered if any of the places were too?

    Best wishes,

  50. bill

    hi emma,
    in regard to your question about specific locations — the opening song and the billy character both refer to the village, meaning greenwich village in nyc … the singer just references “the village” which really could be anywhere but billy is specifically talking about christopher street … i wasn’t thinking of anywhere specific in san francisco … the quilt has panels from all over and i wanted the piece to reflect that … i would advise against setting it all in new york because i think it’s limiting, though i’m not sure that’s why you’re asking

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