The day after openly gay singer-songwriter Tom Goss performed at the GALA’s "Songs of the Soul" program, he met with EDGE at The Market, a local deli. The fit was a good one; Goss is a former seminarian whose songs still often carry a spiritual subtext.
"I’m just writing to find the truth," he said, as he sat at an outdoors table eyeing a cute dog that was with her master at an adjoining table. "That’s what my music is, it’s looking to find the truth... Hey, do you mind if I pet your dog?" Goss suddenly asked the man at the nearby table. Such earnest straightforwardness is characteristic of Goss; at another juncture, he called out to a passer-by sporting an enormous afro, "Hey, man! I love your hair!" Not everyone could get away with it, but from Goss it’s completely natural, unaffected, and charming.
Petting the dog, he seemed transported. "Hey," he said to the pooch happily, "you oughtta give me your number. Or Facebook me!"
Once done with his excursion into puppy love, Goss, who has boyish good looks and intense blue eyes, regaled EDGE with a reference to a South Park episode in which Cartman sabotages Kyle’s birthday party, a bash that takes place at Denver eatery Casa Bonita.
As it happened, I had visited Casa Bonita while on a 7th grade field trip. Goss grew visibly excited. "Was it cool?" he asked.
I certainly thought so at the time.
’I’m going there," Goss declared. "I can’t believe it! All my dreams for this trip are coming true."
Not long ago, Goss wasn’t sure if the detour to Denver, coming as it did at the tail end of a long and exhausting cross-country tour, would be a dream at all--or a nightmare. But he’d heard so much about GALA from friends in gay choruses around the country that his curiosity won out.
"I have a lot of friends in gay men’s choruses who would say, ’You should come sing at GALA. And I was, like, ’That’s awesome. I don’t know what that is, but I want to go and see.’ Then I was in Seattle and I went to one of their rehearsals, and I spent the good part of a day with them. I’ve been to rehearsals of a lot of choruses, especially if I don’t have a gig that day. So I hung out with them, it was really cool, we went out to lunch, and they were telling me more about GALA, which made it seem like, ’Oh, this is pretty cool.’ Then they had an opportunity for me to perform; Dennis, the director of the Seattle Man’s Chorus, said ’If you really want to perform, we could put you in the show. I think it would be a good fit.’ I was like, ’Let’s do it! I’d love to experience it.’ This year I’ve sung with a couple of the choruses and I know a lot of chorus members, and people have been telling me, ’We should sing together.’ So I finally got my act together and got a handful of songs arranged for choruses."
Not an effortless feat for Goss, who can’t read music and was unaccustomed to seeing his songs translated into musical notation. "I’m not a music theorist," Goss told EDGE. "It was hard for me to put these things together; I worked with three other arrangers and put together these pieces. I’m learning about different musical styles, I’m learning how to communicate with music on paper, and then practicing with people... it’s been fun. I feel like I’m much less of an idiot now."
Goss performed two songs during his appearance at "Songs of the Soul," the gorgeous "Till the End," which is included on his 2009 CD "Back to Love," and "You Don’t Question Love," which is on his EP from 2010, "The Politics of Love," which also includes tracks like "Prop 8" and "Pardon Me."
" ’Till the End’ was a big hit for me, it had a big video, it did really well," Goss recalled. As for "You Don’t Question Love," Goss relished the fact that "I sang that one with the Reveille Men’s Chorus out of Tucson" at "Songs of the Soul."
That wasn’t his first collaboration with a gay chorus, Goss noted. "I sang with the Norfolk Chorus in March, and I also sang with Potomac Fever, which is a subsection of the D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus in March, and then I sang with the Tucson guys last night. I’ve really enjoyed it."
Gay Cowboys and Indian Ragas
Your EDGE correspondent was able, with fleet feet and legerdemain at the door of a supposedly full-to-capacity theater, to get in just under the wire and see the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles perform their set in its entirety. (J.D. had saved me a seat and texted word of where to find him; otherwise, the usher was ready, willing, and able to send me packing.)
The group started with a spiritual called "Eli’s Comin’," before swinging into a suite of songs from the "Brokeback Mountain" soundtrack, including "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" and "He Was A Friend of Mine."
After a rendition of "I’ve Been Everywhere," the chorus balanced their gay cowboy offerings with an audacious presentation of a traditional Indian raga called "Ramkali." This entailed the chorus pulling a huge cloth over themselves, creating a makeshift tent, while a number of dancers garbed in bright veils poured in from the wings. Suddenly the tent-like cover was cast aside and the group appeared once more, with some of them arrayed in what I took to be the garb of the Rajs of India. It was a six-and-a-half minute maelstrom of color and rhythm and exotic chant.
Though I have only been with the BGMC for three and a half years, it’s been long enough to see some friends move to other cities and join gay choral groups elsewhere. Such was the case with a pal I’ll call CJ, who left us for the wilds of Des Moines a couple of years ago.
For months, newer members of the BGMC heard all about GALA: The music, the energy, the fun, the new friends we’d make. The added pleasure, obvious in hindsight, is that old friends are also here, this being such a large and well-attended festival. CJ and I had been texting for some time, looking for common free time in our respective schedules; finally, on Monday afternoon, just as cocktail hour rang, the stars and planets aligned.
Then one of my editors sent me into a panic by reminding me of an overdue film festival review. Ooops! Cue the blush and Margaret Cho pointy index skewering a cheek. I wrote the fastest text of my life to CJ, who was waiting in the lobby, telling him I would be right there, and followed that up with the fastest film review I’d ever composed. (But it’s okay. I had already written it mentally. Really.)
CJ and I caught up with the Usual BGMC Suspects, who were lurking in a quiet spot with their Yellow Lemons already in hand. The conversation started with politics, swerved into religion, and then... and only then... got really heated, nasty, and catty. I think it was about the merits of Grindr, or else the trashing of various exes, or the way using Grindr leads to having exes, or... Well, I’m not quite sure, really, but CJ sat back, pale as a ghost. "Were you guys always like this and I just forgot?" he asked.
Confused glances ensued. "Honey... you’re with gay men... right?"
CJ just looked at us nervously. Maybe there really is something extra sharp about big city queens; I’m not sure. He did seem genuinely shocked.
They made it up to him. They bought him some Yellow Lemons.
The curative power of this tincture proved effective: Color returned to CJ’s face, and a gleam stole back into his eye.
The evening schedule included a "Men’s Chorus Commission Sing-Along." At first, I was all set to skip it, because... I mean... a sing-along?
But in the end I went, partly because friends were going and it was going to be fun to be there with them. Peer pressure so seldom leads to good things, but in this case I found myself grateful to chance and my pack of pals for getting me past my prejudices.
As it turns out, a huge amount of music has been commissioned by gay choruses, and by GALA, and the sing-along program celebrated this by including only commissioned works--wonderful songs that speak to our lives and our experience like "The Gift of Two," from a larger work, "Songs of My Family," commissioned by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. The song features two soloists, each taking the part of a child raised by same-sex parents. One soloist has two mothers; the other, two fathers. The song celebrates the unique joys of each family structure.
Then there was the striking, resonant "If You Only Knew," from "Through a Glass, Darkly," a song cycle dealing with meth addiction that the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus commissioned in 2008. And the sad, funny, universality of "The First Day I Saw You," from the work "Millennium Mosaic," commissioned by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus in 2000, makes it a song that gay or straight hearts could respond to--but there’s an extra dose of poignancy in knowing that it’s about a young man smitten with another young man, and it cuts extra deeply.
"The Awakening" is a powerful song, as well. This composition was commissioned by the Turtle Creek Chorale in 1995, and describes a sense of isolation and oppression that stems from enforced silence. What if the whole world endured what gays have suffered? There would be no love songs, no devotionals, no odes of passionate yearning be it of spirit or flesh.
Yes, a sing-along is sort of corny. But what’s wrong with some good corny fun, especially when it celebrates the creative energy of our community? It’s great when Katie Perry gives us "Firework," or Cyndi Lauper provides "True Colors," or Lady Gaga pens "Born This Way," but we are also capable of creating our own music. And who knew that we’d already done so, and in such quantity? Not this GALA novice. But that’s, in part, what GALA is for.