“God is love…and love is evolution’s very best day.” U2
Hi. I’m Paul Johnson and over two years ago I agreed to collaborate with chorus members to write the “Man in the Spotlight” articles. This time, due to dwindling amounts of biographical information from chorus members, I’ve made the dubious decision to put myself in the spotlight. That’s why this article is in the first-person; it seems sort of creepy referring to myself as “he.”
Here’s the biography stuff. I am a Southern California native and the youngest of seven children. My father died when I was fourteen, and many years later I lost two of my sisters on the same very-bad day. My family is currently navigating the surreal waters of Alzheimer’s with my mom. I live with a very gentle, loving man in a Victorian home he rescued from demolition, and my life includes a job working in a County Office of Education. Although losing 120 pounds was probably what kept me around this long, I feel my best accomplishment was meeting and marrying my now ex-wife, because it has been through experiencing life with her that I became strong enough to face many of my most significant demons. Together, we raised two great kids- one of which you’ll see volunteering during concerts. Another remarkable accomplishment for which I am grateful beyond words has been integrating my families; recently, my kids, their mom, my partner, and I returned from celebrating New Year’s in Las Vegas for my daughter’s 21st birthday. Besides singing in large groups, I like playing keyboard instruments, enjoy the writing process, and will eventually return to playing tennis.
How did I end up in a gay men’s chorus? I’d like to think it was an evolutionary progression. We all have our own stories as to how we end up here. For me, I was a fat kid who learned how to take control of his life. I had this plan- one that did not include being gay. So, like many men in my situation, we rationalize and sublimate and push it away and down, and we ignore that which is quiet until it becomes too loud to overlook. We make choices that affect others and attempt to honor them to the best of our ability. But if we don’t deal with stuff, we let the fear control us, stop growing and die a little more every day. And my not dealing with it was hurting the very relationships I was trying to protect. So for over a dozen years, my ex-wife and I participated together in my coming out. Since I was a cloistered married guy, I was not aware of many healthy social outlets for a newly-defined gay man. Until I saw a MenAlive concert.
Perhaps this is less spotlight and more sermon, and if that’s how you read this, I apologize—it’s only partially designed to be that way. But if I were asked the question “What does MenAlive mean to me?” I’d most likely answer that the reason I stick around is because I see its potential as part of an evolutionary process for each of us- and for everyone in the larger community. Man continues to evolve at different speeds, and the best endpoint of evolution is love. I think MenAlive contributes to the evolution; through our singing, we promote qualities that, when combined, move us away from ignorance and fear and toward acceptance and, hopefully, love. Little-by-little, this promotes a community evolutionary process, which creates a ripple effect of evolutionary development. Think of MenAlive as a “revolution in evolution”- promoted by guys who love to sing.
And I think that’s what Rich Cook has been telling people for over ten years.