A Sad Christmas Story About Andy Gibb
Updated: Feb 20
In December of 2019, I joined thirteen Minneapolis writers on stage to read essays capturing the intersection of the holidays and motherhood. My essay, of course, featured one of my favorite subjects: Andy Gibb. Scroll down to watch video of the reading (the beginning is clipped -- I note the exact place in the written version below).
By Kristin Nilsen
All I wanted for Christmas in 1978 … was Andy Gibb.
I wanted all the Gibbs actually -- even Robin. I wanted the Bee Gees to be my cousins or my roommates or maybe even my legal guardians. But what I wanted from Andy was … a little bit more than that. I wanted the sweet, sweet vibe coming off that poster; the one with the red satin shirt, his arms open wide, like he’s beckoning to me, calling out “Come on girl, let’s do this.” The one my grandma saw and said “He sure likes his chest hair.”
Yes, he does, Grandma. And so do I.
I had recently graduated from the sweet innocence of Shaun Cassidy’s smooth chest to Andy’s more openly sexual chest area -- often shirtless but still jacketed. As if he was on his way out the door, naked from the waist up, and said, “Ooh it looks chilly out there. I’d better grab a jacket.”
So you can see why I’d be so desperate to find Andy Gibb under the tree -- hopefully in the form of Shadow Dancing, his chart-topping smash album with the biggest song of the whole year on it, conveniently called Shadow Dancing -- a term I assumed had something to do with getting married. The cover of Shadow Dancing was just like the poster: red satin shirt, chest hair, “come on girl, let’s do this.” Get married, that is.
And on Christmas morning, I saw a flat, 12 x 12 square wrapped under the tree with my name on it.
“Oh please, God,” I said to myself. “Please don’t let it be a calendar.”
I held it in my hands and my mom looked at me, smiling, like she knew my mind was going to be blown. This 12 x 12 square was going to make all my dreams come true and she made it happen. She was going to win Christmas!
I ripped the paper off. And stared at it. And softly said to myself, “What the hell is this?”
(the video begins right here)
I had never seen this before. It said Andy Gibb on the cover but this was not my Andy Gibb. This guy was in black and white -- no red satin shirt! -- and he had a weird punk rock haircut that looked more like the Kinks than the Bee Gees. Where was his soft, feathered hair? You could barely even see his chest hair!
This was not Shadow Dancing. It was Flowing Rivers, Andy Gibb’s first album which came out before I even knew that he existed. A lifetime ago, like six months or more! Flowing Rivers sounds like a Lawrence Welk album -- not something from a teenage heartthrob with dark, curly chest hair popping out of his jacket.
I’m sure I had asked my mom for “the Andy Gibb album.” How would she know there was more than one? She probably went to the record department at Dayton’s and flipped through the G’s until she saw Andy Gibb. It’s possible that every last copy of Shadow Dancing was sold out that day and this was all that was left -- but how could she know that?
I was confused, holding Flowing Rivers in my hands while my whole family watched and waited for me to explode. I saw no other 12 x 12 presents under the tree. This was it. There would be no Shadow Dancing that Christmas. But I did my very best to kindly and politely look at my mom and whisper an awkward “Thank you.”
It was a sad moment. But not just because of Andy Gibb. I was sad that I could ruin a happy moment for my mom; the moment she had honestly and lovingly tried to make my Christmas dreams come true. Even as a child, I felt how important it was for parents to make their children happy on Christmas morning. And I sensed that growing up was making that more difficult.
As they get older, the things that are most important to our children are often the things that are unspoken. The deepest desire, the unrealistic dream, the awkward fascination, the search for identity. When you’re a prepubescent girl contemplating marriage to a rock star, most of that goes unsaid. What would my mom have said if I had told her about my married-to-Andy-Gibb fantasy, the one where we walk around in our apartment in our bathrobes? Should she break the news that twenty year-olds can’t marry ten year olds? Or just smile and say “fingers crossed!” We can’t know everything in their developing minds. And that makes finding that life-changing gift trickier as they grow up.
No, Christmas is not about presents. But don’t pretend you don’t live for that moment when you surprise your child with the PERFECT gift.
Twenty-five years later, I’m a grown-ass married lady, spending Christmas at my parents’ house. And the gift waiting for me under the tree is a flat 6 x 6 square. It’s either a CD or a desk calendar. And, truthfully, I’d be fine with a desk calendar. But when I open it, I see the red satin shirt … the chest hair … arms outstretched, saying “come on girl … “ Yes, it’s Shadow Dancing; and for a quick moment, I get that thrill again of hoping we’ll get married -- even though I’m thirty-five years old and he’s dead and my actual husband is sitting right next to me on the piano bench.
And both my parents sit on the edges of their seats, a little unsure, but looking like they fully expect to pop up and start high-fiving each other.
Because it is never too late …to win the whole damn holiday.