Today is David Kent Burleson’s birthday. David was my musical director and piano accompanist, but more importantly he was my best friend and the brother I never had.
It was 15 years ago this past May that David passed away. His passing left a hole in the hearts of people too numerous to count. I still miss him everyday. But this post isn’t meant to be maudlin, because David sure wasn’t that kind of guy.
I first met David B (that’s what we always called him) when I was auditioning for a production of Godspell in Chicago. I had just dropped out of college, gotten a real job, and moved into the city.
Godspell was the first Chicago production I auditioned for and I was nervous. I got on the #36 Broadway Ave. bus with my sheet music and headed down to Old Town for the auditions, which were being held in a church. I walked in and there had to be at least 75 people milling about waiting to audition. My immediate thought was that I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of making the cut. But I figured it would be good practice so I signed in and waited to be called.
As with most auditions, there were some good people and there were some really awful people. But as each person got up to audition, I noticed that the music director was treating each person, good or bad, with the same respect. There was no frustration or stress and no curt, “That’s enough, thank you. We’ll call you,” after 8 measures of music. If you’ve ever auditioned for anything you know that is a rare experience!
About a half hour into the auditions my name was called. I approached the piano, and that’s when I met David B. I gave him a run down on the song, a ballad called “Out Here On My Own” which he said he wasn’t familiar with. But he smiled and said, “Give me the tempo and I’ll follow you.” What can I say? It was like we had worked together for years. The audition went great. I finished, thanked him, and walked to the back of the room in a bit of a daze. To make a long story a bit shorter, I was cast in the production and that started my friendship with David.
David was a mix of musical talent, intelligence, spirituality, humor, and Southern boy charm. He was also an exceptional teacher and mentor. It may sound funny because I was 22 when I met David, but he helped me to grow up. I said that David was a teacher, but not only in the sense of musical instruction, although he was the best! He taught me to take risks, both personally and professionally, and he taught me about friendship.
And boy did we have fun! Saturday morning pajama parties watching Pee Wee’s Playhouse with the fine members of the 620 Club. The 620 Club consisted of David B, Miss Diana, Carl and myself, and was so named because Diana, Carl and I lived in an apartment building at 620 W. Addison.
The 620 Club also decided to take an epic road trip down South in our beat up VW van called the Big Blue Pig. We drove to Tennessee and North Carolina to visit David’s family. It was an adventure that only a dysfunctional, slightly stoned group of friends could make. I still laugh now thinking about it.
And the music gigs. David B and I played just about every gay bar in Chicago (and some straight ones too). I loved that time of my life. Getting together to rehearse and try new material was just plain fun!
After several years of living in Chicago David B decided he wanted to go back to the South, and he eventually settled in Atlanta. I visited him often and we still did a occassional gig, either in Atlanta or Chicago. He loved being back in the South, and had a beautiful home that really reflected who he was.
In 1994 David was diagnosed HIV+, which then became cancer. He put up a good fight, but by May of 1995 things were not looking good. One Saturday morning in late May I received a phone call from Miss Diana, telling me that I needed to get to Atlanta as quickly as possible. I knew what that meant, and I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable. I was able to get there that same evening and be with him and the people he loved when he passed.
15 years, and I still miss him everyday…