Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slammin’ to Disco

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, August 31, 2008)

Two weeks ago, I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Donna Summer ( perform a show to promote her first new album in 17 years, "Crayons". I didn't know what to expect, but I thought that perhaps the shows would be fun when she did the old songs I liked and we could just grin-and-bare it during the new material. I had never seen her live and I consider her a musical legend, so it was a show I wasn't going to miss.

And I'm glad I didn't miss it. She opened the show with a new song, "The Queen Is Back", which perfectly underscored her commitment to promoting her new material. The stage was a beautiful multi-level affair with 5 large video screens behind her and many smaller ones built into the stage itself. She also had three dancers who would join her periodically to bump-and-grind. She looked great, and looked better with each of her several costume changes. Most importantly, her voice was strong and clear. It turned out to be a great show.

She managed to play most of her new album. My favorite songs were "I'm A Fire" and Mr. Music", as well as her opening number, all of which
harkened back to those crazy days of disco. That's one of the things I liked about all the new songs. They weren't based around the slick studio-created dance pop that's so popular today. These songs were more in the old dance-pop style of the 70s, but that was accomplished without sounding nostalgic at all. They fit the tone of today perfectly. Of course, she also did almost all her hits as well and those were great, especially her live version of "McArthur Park", a record I wasn't all that fond of originally, but in this live setting became an exciting disco landmark that brought the crowd to its feet cheering. I could almost swear that whoever arranged this version was a huge fan of 80s Scottish rock band the Associates (, one of my favorite bands of all time. It was thrilling. Even if the rest of the set would have been terrible, which it wasn't, the whole evening would have been worth it just to hear that song.

You may be asking yourself what an old punk rocker like me is doing going to a disco show. Wasn't punk rock a reaction to the so-called soullessness and slickness of this 70s dance scene? Not as far as I'm concerned. For me, punk was a reaction to the over-the-top excesses of bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Yes. These bands had taken music to a level of elite musicianship that pretty much alienated the kid on the street. Those bands became so obsessed with their "talent" that they had lost their musical souls. But I always loved disco (, from the first time I heard it in the early 70s, until its imagined death in the 80s. (I say "imagined" because I contend that disco never died. It just reinvented itself, first as 80s new wave and then as electronic dance music in the 90s and into the 21st Century. If you don't think that New Order, Chemical Brothers, or Justin Timberlake is disco, then you never understood the music in the first place.)

Back at the start of the punk era, I was working at a record store called Licorice Pizza. I played my share of Ramones, Sex Pistols and Patti Smith records over the store stereo system, but I also played plenty of Donna Summer, Chic, and Silver Convention records as well. This usually opened me up to lots of ridicule from both my co-workers and customers, but I didn't care. I've never been ashamed of the music (or any art) that I liked. I would play a record by the Ramones and then turn around and dance around the store to "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc, which is still probably my favorite disco song of all time. This always caused confusion, and sometimes anger, but it worked out well for me in the end, as Skip once told me that one of the things that attracted him to me was that I so unapologetic for my love of disco in the face of so much negativity. People really thought I was crazy. (Several years later, I would run into the bands and people who formed the LAFMS, or Los Angeles Free Music Society, and realize there were actually a whole lot of people like me who liked both rock and roll and disco.)

And while I was still very firmly entrenched in the sexual closet at this time, songs like "I Will Survive", "We Are Family", "I Love the Nightlife" and "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" spoke to me in some primal fashion. (Not to mention "It's Raining Men" or "Shake Your Groove Thing".) They just made me feel alive and happy, much as the original punk scene did for me as well. If music doesn't make you feel alive and happy, then it just isn't doing its job.

So, that's why I was at Donna Summer, dancing in the isles of the Hollywood Bowl. And that's why I was bopping my head to Broken Social Scene at the Sunset Junction the next day. That's why I own records by KC & the Sunshine Band, as well as Fugazi. I also own records by Sammy Davis Jr., Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Big Mama Thornton, Joni Mitchell, Waylon Jennings and John Williams. When it comes down to it, I just love music. All kinds of music. I enjoy it all and I'll never be ashamed about it. Ever.

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