an image of Grandpa Dave sent to Sama'an Ashrawi by John Kander.

Viral Thread: Grandpa Dave and John Kander

When I first tweeted this thread out, I simply thought it might be a fun story for my friends to read — I had no idea it would end up going viral. Truthfully, I feel a bit bad about it because I’m not sure Mr. John Kander signed up for all this when we met up for lunch, but the response was completely overwhelmingly positive, so I hope that he will forgive me!

Below is the original text I wrote for the thread, you can listen to me tell the story here.

My grandfather told me he was sure he was gay when he was moving into his dorm room freshman year of college and there was a boy “with the prettiest eyes;” after Grandpa passed away, my mother told me that boy was John Kander. After college, John would go on to compose a song called ‘New York, New York’, which was immortalized by Frank Sinatra, and two of the greatest Broadway musicals of all-time: ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Chicago.’ 

I always thought that was so cool, that grandpa and this guy Kander were in love, but during the pandemic I noticed something on a bookcase. 

It was a bookcase I walked by probably a dozen times a day, maybe more. Why had I never noticed this 7” vinyl poking out of one of the shelves? I pulled it out. It was a custom pressing and written in pencil were the words “Our Boy,” the year, “1951,” and the composer’s name: “John Kander.” 

Why did we have this record?

I put the record on and listened… some very moody piano solos, it sounded theatrical. I needed to know more. 

I went online, was John even still alive? 

To my amazement, the answer was yes! 94 years old. 

I already knew I wouldn’t be able to find an email for John so I got in touch with a relative of his and a few days later I had an email from the man himself. 

He told me the record we have is a whole entire one-act musical that he wrote at the age of 22; and not only that, my grandfather was the lead in the play. It was a play about a boxer grappling with the existential feelings of defeat. 

Then John sent me some photos of my grandfather that we’d never seen before. There was my grandpa, Dave Fisher, in his shiny boxing shorts, looking young and curious and serious all at once. How incredible. 

In New York, my family (minus one sister) went to meet up with John, now 95, in person. My mother hadn’t seen him since she was a child. 

“We were honest with each other,” said John of his and grandpa’s relationship. “Not in terms of not lying, but honest about who we were and who we were becoming. [Your grandfather] was a great gift to me.”