On Saturday and Sunday, I stood on stage at the Galvin Playhouse in Tempe, Arizona, with about forty fellow members of the Phoenix Gay Men’s Chorus.
From the tenor two section of the top riser, I was dressed in black pants and my snazzy, solid-red holiday sweater. I was ready to raise my voice, have fun, open my heart, and bear my soul for two large, enthusiastic audiences there to see and hear us perform our ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas show.
As you might expect, I was amped up. My energy and emotions were running high. On stage or not, the holiday season can spur a range of feelings–from joy, hope, and peace to sorrow–for each of us.
Often, the music we hear or create is the catalyst for our state of being. It reminds us of who we are, who we love, who we’ve lost, where we’ve been, where we are, and maybe even foretells where we’re going.
Like life, this was a holiday concert that included a little of everything: luscious chords, soaring solos, a tribute to Hannukah, hot men wearing sparkly vests, a surprise tap dance underneath the tree (in the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas parody I wrote for the show), a caped gay superhero, a Christmas Can-Can not to be believed, sexy Santa Baby, assorted musical mash ups, and inspirational tunes.
The program was a delight to perform, and the crowds loved it. I felt thrilled and honored that about thirty family members and friends attended. One of them was Jeff.
Over the past three years, he and his husband Dave have become close friends for Tom and me. We’ve met for dinner frequently. Watched movies and played games together. Laughed and swam in their backyard pool. Shared funny stories from our past lives.
In March, Tom and I were honored to join Jeff and Dave and about thirty other friends to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. In October, they drove to Barnes & Noble in Mesa to be there for my book signing. Dave was a regular reader of my blog. He brought up my writing frequently. Each time, I was touched.
On Sunday morning, between the two holiday concerts, Jeff texted to tell Tom and me that Dave passed away Saturday night. He succumbed to complications of muscular dystrophy–a disease he lived with for many years. It confined him to a wheelchair, but–in the time I knew Dave–his disability never dampened his kind spirit, playful energy or warm smile.
I’m sad and stunned. I will miss my friend. On Sunday, as I sang Grown Up Christmas List on stage, I thought of Dave and all he must have endured. That song usually makes me cry anyway, but when I saw others in the audience tearing up, I fought hard to hold it together.
Of course, Jeff knows Tom and I are there for him as he grieves the loss of his long-time husband and loving companion. We will check in on him frequently.
This is just the latest personal reminder to sing and dance. Hug and kiss the ones you love. Fight hard for your convictions. Stand tall in the face of adversity. Raise your voice. And, if you are dealt a difficult hand, find a way to accept the unacceptable.
As a tribute to Dave, what follows is the full text of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (A Gay Love Story), which I wrote for the Phoenix Gay Men’s Chorus in July 2022.
It’s a parody, which Tony Crane and Tim Gorka (who played Uncle Gabe and Nephew Jay respectively) performed masterfully during our show in Tempe over the weekend.
Had he seen it, Dave would have laughed out loud and loved it.
Rest in peace, my friend.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (A Gay Love Story)
Copyright ©️ Mark Johnson, 2022
Uncle Gabe, tell me a story about finding your true love.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, alone in the house,
No boyfriend, no job, I felt like a louse.
My stocking was hung, but nobody knew,
I was lost in the desert, no clue what to do.
My neighbors were quiet, shades dark and drawn,
Though moonlight glistened on the pool of their lawn.
With a glass of red blend, I sat by my tree,
Oh, there was Sparky–my cat–curled next to me.
Out on the yard, there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from the couch and Sparky did scatter.
Then–Whoa–a gay Hallmark card did appear,
‘Twas a gaggle of gays–they were definitely queer.
They side-stepped a saguaro, they climbed up my roof,
They danced and they pranced–some in heels, not hoofs.
Before I could greet them, they sang all around,
Their message for Santa came cascading down.
(Musical interlude #1: Chorus performs “Dear Santa, Bring Me a Man”)
Then what happened, Dear Uncle?
Well, first the gays went home,
The lead one gave a whistle,
Then, away they all flew,
Like the down of a thistle.
When I woke up Christmas Day, I had a plan.
I really DID want Santa to bring ME a man.
So, I hopped in the shower, gave Sparky a treat,
I wondered, “Oh, where is that man I must meet?”
I knew I needed to get out of the house,
I left Sparky at home to play with a mouse.
I pulled on my jeans and a really gay shirt,
Found a coffee shop open, then turned with a jerk.
I ordered a latte,
I glanced all around,
Who is that hottie?
Could it be he’d been found?
He had a kind face,
A pink shirt he was wearing,
I felt the bells ring,
When his eyes caught me staring …
(Musical interlude #2: Chorus performs “Ding-a, Ding-a Ding”)
Oh, I just adore the ringing bells, Uncle. What a beautiful metaphor. It sounds like it was love at first sight. Tell me more.
Oh yes–his eyes how they twinkled,
His dimples how merry,
Isn’t if funny,
That his name would be Jerry?
The seasons passed,
The monsoons rained,
We moved in together,
Then next December came.
‘Twas Christmas morning,
Underneath the tree,
I found what I was looking for,
Next to Sparky and me.
It was Jerry–and I was merry.
(Musical interlude #3: Chorus performs “Underneath the Tree”.)