When songwriter Eric Lane Barnes realized he was gay in high school, he became a born-again Christian. Raised Episcopalian, he joined a local Pentecostal church because he hoped the church would help him find a cure for his homosexuality.

For the next few years he prayed and sang and went through a series of exorcisms, attempting to cleanse himself of the demons that made him desire men. Nothing helped. Finally, the summer after his sophomore year at the University of Michigan, Barnes called his spiritual guide at the church and told her he was feeling suicidal. He wasn’t able to deal with his homosexuality and was troubled by the sexual abuse he had been subjected to by a relative. His guide told him to come with her on her errands and talk. They drove around, running from the dry cleaners to the grocery store, and every time he tried to discuss his feelings, the woman would interrupt and tell him how Jesus had changed her life.

“And then she dropped me off at home,” Barnes says. Just before she pulled away she said, “Don’t kill yourself. You have so much to live for. Bye!”

“It was then I realized they couldn’t offer me what I needed.” Barnes left the church, came out as a gay man, and initiated an affair with his teaching assistant. “That was when I started drinking heavily and sleeping around and doing all the things I thought gay men were supposed to do when they came out.”

Barnes’s wild life continued through college and after he moved to Chicago, where he started writing songs and performing in cabarets–the Raccoon Club, Boombala, Orphan’s, the Gentry. “I hit a number of bottoms, which I would rather not get into except to say I stopped drinking, joined a 12-step program, and started looking at my life.”

This period of self-scrutiny led to his 1992 musical Death and Pancakes, a sometimes witty, sometimes searing semiautobiographical work about a suicidal 32-year-old man who comes to grips with the fact that he was sexually abused as a child. “I don’t need to mention names, but a lot of the show was a fictionalized account of true incidents shuffled around so as not to point fingers.”

The show gave him the courage to confront his parents about his abuse. “I went home and read parts of the script to them and said, “This is my childhood. You guys realized what was going on,”‘ Barnes says. “They really weren’t, and they still aren’t, and they probably never will be, in a position to really hear what happened. But writing the show, rehearsing it, and watching it every night helped me begin the healing process.”

Since Death and Pancakes Barnes has worked on a number of well-received shows–Freud, Dora and the Wolfman, Memento Mori, Dear Jackie–and settled into a more stable domestic life with his longtime lover, whom he married last May at Evanston’s Unity Church. “It’s not a legal ceremony, but it’s a spiritual one. Our families came. Our friends came. They brought wedding gifts. My mom cried, which she did not do at my brother’s wedding or my sister’s. Just a regular old wedding.”

Barnes currently has two shows running: a revival of his revue Fairy Tales, which ran for six months last year at Bailiwick, and Devour the Moon, a musical written with S.L. Daniels based on Italian futurist F.T. Marinetti’s bizarre book The Futurist Cookbook, which combines bombastic manifestos with recipes for such futurist dishes as steel chicken–chicken roasted with ball bearings under the skin.

Fairy Tales runs through August 11 at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:15 PM and Saturdays at 6 and 9 PM. Tickets are $18 to $20. Call 327-5752. Devour the Moon runs through July 14 at Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM. Tickets are $10 to $15. Call 871-1212.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.