When Disco Was Amazing And Recession Had A Beat


There’s a piece in the current Vanity Fair that makes the early days of disco sound, well, awesome:

This was the decade disco got cred. In the 90s, it was still just Travolta poses and fat-Elvis costumes and Polly-Esther’s. Then, with enough distance, we got disco savants, talking deep cuts and source materials and talking disgustedly about its commercialization. Also, it became acceptable to make dance music.

All this is great, and no one can deny that nothing whips you out of a blue funk faster than Thelma Houston. But what’s so striking, reading the piece, is the extent to which, in the early, days, it really was countercultural: a soundtrack to a new era, and then, as popular music does, sliding new mores into mainstream society. Says Felipe Rose (the “Indian” from the Village People), “Being bi-racial and being gay, I was sort of in the ghetto. Suddenly Jacques is talking about records, and I wasn’t sure the mainstream community was going to get it, and I wasn’t sure how the gay community was going to look at it.” And campy as they were, the overt sexual overtones of songs like “Love to Love You Baby” were a shot of the same bawdiness (albeit with Moroder production) of the early underground disco clubs and bathhouses.

And while we associate disco primarily with latter-day gloss like Studio 54, or downmarket knock-offs like 2001, the beginnings were gritty, in lofts and basements in parts of New York that were still dangerous and cheap. Remembers Fran Lebowitz with characteristic acidity,

You were always afraid to check your coat; you were afraid that the coat-check girl would steal it, and you couldn’t afford to lose a winter coat. There would always be at least one person screaming at the coat-check girl: “Yes, it was a black leather jacket!” At the Loft, people would fold their coats and put them on the floor so they could kind of keep an eye on them. Then other people would sit on them, have sex on them.… I was always very concerned about the coat situation. Even thinking about it now, I become anxious.

We’re in a recession, and theoretically the art should be flowing, then be commercialized, as an outlet for our fears and frustrations. Because nowadays we’re just worried about our coats. Without the fun part. Read it and weep.

Boogie Nights [Vanity Fair]

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