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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remembering disco

Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Donna Summer, and a third Gibb brother have died in 2012. Disco began to die in 1979 at a Chicago White Sox game, but the tail has been long.

When Dick Clark heard a song on American Bandstand that he liked, he'd add "you can dance to it." Don Cornelius' Soul Train broke a significant racial barrier. Donna Summer songs had four-on-the-floor, a bass drum on every beat to help the arrhythmic. The Bee Gees brought in women from middle America, and the men followed.

I didn't do discos; dancing isn't my thing and I'm averse to second-hand smoke. Therefore I never paid for diluted drinks, platform shoes, Travolta-like garb, or cocaine -- although I distinctly remember a co-worker in those days who claimed cocaine wasn't addictive. I didn't have to enter discos, though, to see the significance of them: a synthesis of music, dance, fashion, celebrity mania, interior decorating, clever marketing, high-power electronics, and most of all a permissiveness that transcended mere acceptance. Gay or straight, black or white, English-speaking or Spanish-speaking, in an exclusive relationship or playing the field, wealthy or not, it didn't matter -- as long as you dressed right. Safe sex was simply the pill, and there was no problem that cheap penicillin couldn't fix.

Studio 54 closed in 1980, and Atlanta's Limelight lasted only a few years longer. Parodies like the scene in Airplane! became as well-known as disco itself. It turned out that cocaine wasn't harmless, and AIDS redefined safe sex. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting time to be young or to act young.