Encomium 9/11 – George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]


George Merkouris

Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This also always reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that while I never forgot you, I never will…


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

Encomium 9/11 – George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]


Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that I never forgot you, and I never will…


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

 

Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

[I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…]


Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please join me in my sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul, even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew, and loved me anyway (while some didn’t), and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care. His exact words were, “One day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing. (This reminds me of something I still often think about, of one of the funniest experiences we shared together: George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George proverbially laughed his ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, proverbially laughing my ass off as well. It was a sight to behold, I guarantee. Of course, he was concerned, but how can one NOT laugh?)

Once he graduated, I saw him a sporadically until my own graduation. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young friends. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that.

It was effortless for one to love him.

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months after that day to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too epic to scroll here..the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories.

So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that I never forgot you, and I never will…


About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

I wrote this in 2003 in tribute to the one friend I knew (at the time) who was murdered on that most heinous of days. I’ll post it annually, for as long as this blog remains active…

…and a big thank you, again, to my dear, beautiful friend Donna Falcone Palescandolo – in my countless moves in my life, I’ve lost hundreds of photos (since I originally posted this) – and when I reached out to her, she was kind enough to send me the two pictures of George that are in this post. Thank you again, Donna…for allowing me to display George’s timelessness…

*****


Encomium 9/11: George Merkouris

The loss was staggering, and so much has been saturating our lives since that day 2 years ago. So, I wanted to pay tribute to the only FDR graduate I personally knew [or know of] who perished on that diabolical day. If you, too, know someone who was ripped from our lives, or knew who George Merkouris was, please, join me in our sojourn back…

I hadn’t seen George in almost 20 years. He graduated in 1983, I, in 1985, but what I learned from him resounds within the storehouse of my soul even today. He held me as a friend at a time I felt socially awkward. He was the most popular person in his class, “Mr. FDR.” As popular and well known as I was, it was still hard being a gay teenager, especially in the early 80s. Some knew and loved me anyway, and I felt protected by those forces. George was one of those friends who told me he did not care – and that I should not care – his exact words were “one day the world will catch up…” How profound. We performed in 3 Sings together, and the International Festival of the Arts, where his enchanting twin sister, Anna, was one of the choreographers. One of the wonders of my high-school life was being a part of Senior Sing even though I was a Junior. George was one of those who argued on my behalf, stating since I was an “Honorary Senior” [actually being voted that later that year by the Senior powers-that-be] I deserved to be part of their Sing.

I still think of one of the funniest experiences we shared together. George and I did a mutual friend of ours (the magical Lenore Pavlakos) a favor and performed, outside FDR, a dance routine from “Cats” for the late Marie Haney’s dance studio. During one of our countless, strenuous rehearsals, we had to simulate a ‘cat fight’ and one of the moves required George to flip me over his shoulder and I had to land in a Russian split behind him. Well, needless to say the first time wasn’t a success, and I smashed my head on the floor. What could one do? Well, George laughed his proverbial ass off! So, with his infectious laugh so damned addictive, I had no choice but to stay on the floor, writhing in pain, stars swirling around the outside of my head, laughing my proverbial ass off as well. Of course he was concerned, but it was a sight to behold! How can one NOT laugh?

Once he graduated in 1983, I saw him a few times until I graduated in 1985. Every so often I would see him in the streets and he’d give me one of those enormous George bear hugs, letting me know that his life was good – he would never let us part until I let him know that, yes, my life was good too.

Naturally my infatuation with George lasted for all the years in high school. Gay or straight, I would say that most people had some sort of crush on this luminous, wacky, intelligent, hilarious, reflective, insanely funny, beautiful, wise man…a man whose smile would spill a cascade of dancing quivers down one’s spine. And, oh, what a dancer! I used to call him a ‘Greek Guido’ because of his dancing and overpowering proclivity toward that crowd of young men. He’d laugh at my remark, because he knew that I knew he was a chameleon and that it didn’t matter what class of people, or what race of students, or what gender – he glowed! Everyone called him “friend.” And he liked that. It was effortless for one to love him.

****

It was Jimmy Falcone who called me up months later to tell me that he found out that George was one of the victims. And sadness permeated so prodigiously within that I wept again. I spelunked my closets and re-discovered photos from all those years ago…look at George dancing next to me in Junior Sing [yes, I was Junior at the time, too – another long story], in Lenore’s great dance number…and there we all are, in an ensemble (everyone agreed that that year, the Junior Sing DESERVED to win! We didn’t…). I wish I could find photos from Senior Sing. And of our International Festival of the Arts.

I’ve wept for the strangers, I’ve grieved for the thousands and their families, I’ve been tormented by the horror of that day…but, now, there was a thread…an inherent connection that further changes time, and I had to mourn, again, this time for my old friend George. Years and years pass, but admiration and love always linger.

The stories are endless; the tales too scopic to scroll here…the flux of emotions run the gamut from joy to tears to fury to bittersweet memories. So, here’s to you, George Merkouris – stolen from us by evil, you’re dancing on the other side…your goodness resonates through so many lives even today and I know, that I never forgot you, and I never will…

*****

About a year after I wrote this, I learned another friend from High School, George Llanes, had too perished, two days before his birthday. George and I would bump into each other all the time in the years, post-High School. He was a wonderful soul, a fine poet, and “father” to Mae Mae, his pug. Another good soul, lost from Earth. Here’s his NY Times obituary:

*****

Memory (A Song For Anne)

*****

Julie, Dianne, Lillian, Anne, Me and Theresa

*****

I heard the voices beyond the mountains….the roar of magical laughter, as if the dark shroud of midnight has, at long last, enlightened from its dormancy to shine again.

To see these faces again is to understand timelessness; to be in their presence was to feel how minute time really is.

Facebook, as I’ve often defended to it’s increasing claque of naysayers, has been a great tool for many reasons, especially for we, the catalysts, in our searches – not for the long-lost youth we’d be imprudent to hope for, but for those friends who’ve floated onto other paths because, well…life happens. And it granted one wish of mine…to see my friends again…

So here we were, gathered, like her children beckoned home…to celebrate Anne’s retirement. And it was as if mere months, weeks, days – even moments – had abated instead of the actual decades that filled the scope between. How can that be? How can it be that the billions of instances have dissipated into mere fragments of time? How can the once intangible feel so innately corporeal?

That is the power of true friendship. Years drift, storms pass, (again) life happens, and the sojourns once so clearly embarked upon twist into countless labyrinths until you somehow lose your way from the palpable breath you once shared. Yet, the invisible threads – those ghosts that haunt you – are what forever connects you. And, eventually, if you tug long enough, even if ever-so-delicately, you eventually pull your hearts together to once again gather in the sanctuary that is friendship.

Nissa and I try to recreate an out-take of our 1985 album cover...

The original...

Friends and loved ones of the enchanting Dianne and Theresa understand that to know them is to love them, sure, but it is also to howl with unparalleled abandon…I haven’t laughed as I laughed this evening in so long it that it pained my gut for hours, temporarily losing my voice in the process. Incandescent Nissa – my once and (hopefully) future musical muse has the most infectious laugh that only parallels her natural beauty (it was a dream come true  – and a hoot – recreating, to the best of our memory – an out-take of our ‘album cover’ that we took back in 1985 on Staten Island). Julie and Lillian (like Theresa and Dianne) seemingly have portraits slowly aging in the attic, because time has only enchanted them. Again, how? And to have Spike – a constant in my life for over 30 years – share this experience was a natural. He was Anne’s musical compatriot during most of our shows and bore witness to thousands of hours of our memories.

And Luz, oh Luz…what she did had me in awe.  Having the honor of hearing that…that…VOICE…sing MEMORY, after far too many years, was akin to having the gates of heaven open and the angels sing upon us. And, still I quiver in the wonderment of the moment. Luz’s dedication was a spur of the moment decision – a gorgeous way of honoring Anne, decades after she performed it during the 1983 International Festival Of The Arts to such an astounding ovation (in which Anne, of course, accompanied on piano) that an encore was immediately heralded. A highlight of the night was sitting at our table while the party danced, quoting the lyrics for Luz while she wrote them on a used envelope because a sheet of paper was nowhere to be found.

Luz surprises Anne with a most special, hauntingly beautiful MEMORY...

And, as she sang (and before the first verse was even finished) Table 2 (our table) was in tears…again…

Julie, Dianne, Lillian and Theresa weep at the MEMORIES....

...and so do I...

*****

And what of Anne? Words can be spoken or written celebrating Anne and her years as an educator, as a musical icon, as a sister, daughter, friend. But those words, as true as any words would ever be spoken or written, wouldn’t (couldn’t) do justice to the woman she is. I will never forget when she held my hand through my dark ages…for giving me a home when I had no home, for giving me a spirit when I lost my soul…all those years ago…with unconditional love, because, well, that was…is…Anne.

Lillian said it best when she so eloquently and beautifully wrote, to Anne:

Ms. Rebold….I had to find the words to give you the utmost and most sincere Thank You I could find from the bottom of my heart….so here it is….as if our actions could not speak any louder…..I hope you realize just as I did Wednesday nite…just how special and truly a part of my life you have remained for the last 27 years. Having an 18 year old now….and experiencing the teenage realities through her….really brings closure to me as to the very big role you actually played in my life off stage as well as on stage. Looking around the table at all the old familiar faces just made me realize how many of our gaps you were able to close for us at this very delicate age. We all dealt with…as many teenagers do….insecurities that could have affected our life long term. You, my dear, sweet, teacher, friend, mentor…..managed to close those gaps for us….helping us to build each of our individual beautiful bridges of life……Wednesday night…you turned on the lights of those bridges for all of us and made us realize what a “Spectacular” show our “Memories” will always be. Love you!! Please stay in touch. xoxoxoxo Lillian Mandracchia

Such has been the impact of Anne Rebold…

*****

Twenty-seven years ago, during some of my most starless days, I wrote the following song for Anne. And twenty-seven years later, not a single word can be changed. Time knows no limits when you’re unafraid, and, while the distance prevailed, again, love remained behind. The opportunity and privilege to still be able to call her my friend makes my heart glad…

to be (Re)bold…

Who may be so wrong…
they may never be so right?

I sailed so often to hell and back
I lived through all the unfaithful attacks
I survived the coincidences
and all the love I lacked
But I had you on my left wing
While we rode the serpents back

With you I steered through polluted skies
With you I made stable the hurricane sighs
As I glanced into the mirror
and simply asked “why?”
I couldn’t see my reflection until there appeared your eyes

Who may live through jovial times…
…alone yet baring no fight?

But through it all you grasped my hand
I could lay my head upon your shoulder
You didn’t mind my endless tears
You lifted me, eminent, made me bolder
You placed me upon the pedestal
So high…
…as high as Mount Olympus
And I cried…Mother Earth, how I cried

Yet, through it all
…through the invisible figure in the mirror
…through the blinded eyes within my soul
…through the abysmal depths of pain I endured
I had you there, tangible and wise

I had your soul…from a child to man
…to be (Re)bold

September 2, 1983

©1983 SageSongMusings

*****

Congratulations again, Anne. Along with Dianne, Theresa, Nissa, Luz, Lillian, Julie and Spike – and the others who so wanted to be here on this night but could not – I raise the proverbial glass and honor you – and all of us. Here’s to yesterday, here’s to today, here’s to tomorrow….

***All photos by Kathy Valentine (except “the original” of Nissa and me)

Music Box: On The 10th Day Of (Jeffrey)Christ-mas…

Me, rockin’ the 80s pornstache, dressed as Santa, dazzlin’ the audience with OH, HOLY NIGHT

…Jeffrey gave to you…“Oh, Holy Night” by…well, just about anyone, really.

From the most classic voices in history (Mahalia Jackson, Donna Summer, Luciano Pavarotti) to the artists I adore, to those I ordinarily can’t stomach (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey), rare is the version of “Oh, Holy Night” that I don’t succumb to (not to get my Scrooge on, but putrid recordings that do come to mind – say, Jessica Simpson’s, Il Divo’s, Danny Gokey’s, Celtic Women’s – are not the norm, but rather musical anomalies better left to the art of sign language).

The song is, in my opinion, not only the most beautiful carol of them all, but one of the greatest melodies ever written, hence one of histories greatest songs. And, lest I am accused of hypocrisy again, I’ll reiterate what I wrote in my 1st Day of (Jeffrey)Christ-mas post:

…some decry or belittle my passion for Christmas and its seasonal tunes – I’m often accused of hypocrisy; “How? You’re an atheist – a non believer!! Blah blah blah!!!” Fair enough (those same town criers say the same because of my love of gospel), but as I alluded earlier, it’s the spirit (yes) but also the ideal of the holiday, and what it should bring out in mankind. It often fails, apparently, but there’s no harm in the yearning. So, I love religious carols too, despite the doctrine.

So, it’s not the lyrical content of “Oh, Holy Night”, but its rapturous melody, and more importantly, the ideal of its dogma. It’s a beautiful thing to believe in such fairytales, and if it makes one human being a more contented soul, then who am I to negate its effect/affect?

It also unearths a wave of emotional stimuli from the core of my very soul.  I was honored to perform the song back in 1984 during my High School’s annual winter concert (I wrote a little about that same night HERE).  When the solos were being issued weeks earlier, a lesser voice attempted to acquire it, but Dr. Morris wouldn’t even entertain that notion.  She knew it was my favorite song, yes, but more importantly, and for the better of the show, she knew – steadfastly and adamantly – that not a single body in the entire school would be able to resonate on this canticle as I would…she knew my voice better than even I understood and there wasn’t a scintilla of a second thought in her decision that I would sing this solo.

So, come showtime, with the chorus as my own personal backup choir, I took to the stage…in my Harley Davidson MC boots, my Rock ‘N Roll hair, my 80s pornstache, and dressed as a nearly-clean shaven Santa (I had, at this point, removed the fake white beard), I stood before the packed auditorium and sang out to the masses.  And it was magical…my voice, like a clarion, singing in the night as my classmates wept, and the audience roared to a thunderous standing ovation, and as I glanced over to a teary-eyed Dr. Morris I knew then that it was, undoubtedly, a highlight of my High School “career”.  (Update – As my brother Sean reminded me, the powers that be made me change “Christ” to “He”, as in “Oh night, when HE was born..” I had forgotten that bit of history.  Thanks, Sean!)

I don’t write these words as a man putting his ego to pen, or as a braggart seeped in self-aggrandizement.  I write these words merely as an emblem of a simpler time…and of the influence that the song had in my life.

I was recently bestowed a gift from a friend and a genuine celebrity.  Back in October, my friend Jim Cantiello, for an MTV News piece, was interviewing David Archuleta of “American Idol” fame. Jim asked David to go caroling throughout the company to a few people who were fans, and one of those visits was to me.  When Jim arrived at my office, David asked which song would I like him to sing and without hesitation I told him that I’ve been listening to his recent holiday release and his version of “Oh Holy Night” so it would be an honor for him to sing that to me. Well, words can’t describe the emotionality of the moment – here was this young man, so humble and authentic, with a voice that rang through my mind like an angel on earth, singing “Oh, Holy Night” to a mere mortal like me, in my dark little cavern of MTV.  In a word, celestial! (You can watch Jim and David’s MTV Carol extravaganza HERE)

Feast your ears on these various incarnations of this most heavenly hymn.  Believer or non-believer, atheist or a theist, sinner or saint, “Oh, Holy Night” is undeniable.

Patti LaBelle’s transcendent 1990 Johnny Carson performance

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Mahalia Jackson’s definitive version

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The Queen with the Fifth Beatle

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The incomparable Donna Summer from Solid Gold’s Christmas Special

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Music Box: On the 4th Day Of (Jeffrey)Christ-mas…

Dr. Andrea Morris Accompanies The 1984-1985 F.D.R. Chorus On "Carol of the Bells"

…Jeffrey gives to you… “Carol of the Bells”!

One of my fondest memories of High School was our annual winter concert. As the lead tenor in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School Chorus, in Brooklyn NY, the most exciting night of my winter was our annual seasonal concert.  Led by the glorious Dr. Andrea Morris, the head of the music department and our fearless choral leader, we were quite…well, mediocre. There was little interest in performing live for most of the miscreants of the class, but the few of us who thrived live bandied together and made sure that it felt like it was the night of all of our lives. And it was.

One of the songs we sang was Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych’s “Shchedryk”, which was later adapted to English as “Carol Of The Bells”. Or as some people know it, “Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells…”

It’s an exhilarating emotion to sing a cappella, but due to the limits of the actual vocal finesse of the majority of our choral members, who couldn’t differentiate harmony from melody, Dr. Morris wisely decided to accompany us on piano for most of the numbers, including the wondrous “Carol…”, to masquerade any musical infidelity we (they) might have proposed.

Just to remind you, this was 1985 and school shows were rarely, if ever, videotaped for prosperity. Part of me would be awestruck to be able to relive such momentous heartprints of our youths, to watch part of the very thing that helped mold us into the grown-ups so many of us still strive to be.  So, sadly, there is no 1984-1985 F.D.R. Chorus recording.

There have been popular readings of this (most notably by the overblown, pretentious Manheim Steamroller, not to be confused with the equally atrophying Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or the soul-free, droning Celtic Women) but my favorite by far is by the successful, enchanting a cappella group called Straight No Chaser.  Weaving in and out of the intricate melody are their voices in majestic harmony, simultaneously lilting and haunting, powerful and prodigious. No other interpretation is more sweepingly simplistic.

Here’s a live performance, recorded by an audience member, from a concert from a few weeks ago:

Or you can listen to the track here, from their wonderful holiday collection HOLIDAY SPIRITS: