Actually, at the time, I officially hated disco music...but I was a closet Chic fan...and when the big gross commercial rock acts like, uhhh, Kiss made there tentative forays into disco, well there was some kind of a perverse thrill for me...Then I moved to NYC and started playing and writing rock music and seeing the interaction between club music and punk/no wave...it was a very licentiously fertile and incestuously miscegenatious musical atmosphere. Anything could happen and it did. Perhaps the band that most successfully proved that all things were possible, aside from David Bowie, was Roxy Music. Roxy Music was so conceptually advanced that they could become all things....and you could always dance to the beat. Brian Eno, who left the band to blaze his own artistic path into the future said about the Donna Summer piece I posted here, I Feel Love, "When I heard this, I realized I heard the next 25 years of the future of Club Music". Eno was right, because what Giorgio Moroder created with Madame Summers here did change the face of Dance Music forever. This was the birth of Techno....Moroder was a genius....But a lot has changed since Donna held the spotlight.
My attitude towards the entire Disco era, for one thing. My wife, who I will humbly admit is a lot smarter than I am, adored Donna Summer and Grace Jones. We worked together back then, We played in a rock band, then later worked together composing music for Dance performances and Plays. She was so much more eclectic in her tastes and influences. I was always always so Ramones and Clash and Gang of Four-but when I think about it now, there were some truly talented people back then. Songs, though they were teeth-grinding repetitive, were actually arranged well. The people playing the instruments knew what they were doing. This gradually filtered through my skull. I programmed drum machines, came up with bass hooks and guitar lines....I got slicker and slicker with out realizing what an influence my wife was exerting on my soft and porous skull....
But, then, Donna Summer could sing. There is no doubt about that. When I compare the pop of then to the favored performers of today, like superstar/white trash who deserves to be in a trailer park somewhere Katy Perry, there simply is no comparison.
But there were a lot of other things notable about that era that are gone from this world we live in now.
I knew people in the mid-1970s who actually managed to eke out a living on minimum wage. You weren’t going to get rich, or even comfortable, but you were going to survive. I know, I did as an independent artist living in New York...it would be impossible now to do what I did.
I also saw less homeless people in that era; even the derelicts all lived somewhere. They didn’t always go home every night, but they all had that option. The cities were very different places then. Squattin was an option! That's how communities like SOHO were created....people could live outside of the system and then negotiate.....
Young people, like me, still had a lot of optimism that our lives would turn out all right. Sure, we’d seen the oil shocks, and the inflation, and the cyclical layoffs, but there was a general optimism that things would right themselves, because they always did. This was before Saint Ronnie appeared, and enacted tax and budgetary policies that did things like empty out the mental hospitals, and freeze the minimum wage until you couldn’t feed a cat on it. Sure, the rich got richer, but the poor got a hell of a lot poorer. The morons that try to re-enact the visage of Jimmy Carter as an unfavorable likeness for the present President either didn’t live in the 1970s and know nothing about it, or are in denial about how things really were then, or are idiots. Carter’s era was the last one in which the American working people held their own, except for a little spurt at the end of the Clinton era. And that was after Clinton’s tax policies took hold, too. Imagine that! But, I digress…
We were, in general, trying to find our way forward then. We were having discussions about race issues, instead of trying to demonize minorities (and make no mistake, “crossover” artists like Donna Summer did a LOT to get that conversation going.) We were trying to figure out how to clean up the air and the water, instead of trying to find new ways to undermine the environmental regulations that we put in place in that era. We were committed to making sure that people didn’t die from a lack of medical care, instead of cheering the suggestion that an uninsured man ought to just die. We’d have been appalled to find out that 1 in 6 of us went hungry at some point in time over the last year.
Yeah, we lost Donna, and that is most certainly a damn shame. Especially if she was right about contaminants from September 11 being the cause of her illness and I have personally lost a few very close friends from the same type of lung cancer she died from. All lived in the plume of contaminants that swept up Broadway after 9/11.
But losing Donna makes me think about all of the other things we’ve lost since she was the Queen of Disco.
And it’s all very sad.