Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Disco Autobiography

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Inspired by Alice Echols' Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

I was born in July, 1965 and can't recall when I began watching "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train", rather than going to shul on Saturdays -- probably not till I was 14 (which I am in the photo above), after my Bat Mitzvah and toward the end of the peak of disco -- but I had practically always listened to WBLS - 107.5 FM, the closest R&B station, out of NYC. My two sisters, five and a half and nine years older than I, could not relate; they adored Judy Collins, Kenny Rankin and that whole folk-guitar genre.

Before reading Alice Echols' amazing disco analysis, I just thought I was irresistibly drawn to disco, since my criteria for top music are: cheerful with a beat, and maybe that's still most of it, but I like knowing that unwittingly, in parallel, I was participating in "the Remaking of American Culture". Alice Echols talks about the Middle-Americanization of disco, that is, how it started among African-American and gay communities and made its way to the suburbs, but I represented a class she didn't mention -- the then-isolated lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens, who roller skated to the tunes on suburban lanes, by ourselves, dreaming of belonging -- feeling cool and even a bit glamorous while skating, then returning to real-life and feelings of vast difference when we took off the headphones and skates.

Sister-Influence - 1975

My middle sister writes a prose-poem on the bottom of a cylindrical, cardboard Morton salt container, including the words, "Fly, Robin, Fly" and in our living room, imitates some girls she's seen singing and dancing to it in the halls at Stamford High.

Waking Up - 1976

Brick's "Dazz" comes out, and (starting at 2:37 into this video) I'm entranced by the flute and I dance to the song whenever it plays on the radio. It is the same year I realize I'm attracted to my best friend and pick a fight with her to ensure the end of our friendship.

"If I Can't Have You..." - 1977

My mother and Mrs. Kraut take Claudia and me to see "Saturday Night Fever", covering our eyes during all of the racy parts. Soon afterward, Claudia tells her mother she doesn't want to be friends with me because I am too much of a tomboy; my mother doesn't share this with me till I am an adult.

Dance Contest Victory - 1978

My friend Amy decides she will choreograph a line-dance to this Michael Jackson tune and we will enter a Long Ridge School contest. We win 1st place. Later the same year, I'm in dance lessons with a boy from my class, who is eye-level with the upper region of my torso and we're learning Bar Mitzvah party dance moves, including spelling "YMCA" with our arms.

Roller skating - I Can Be Cool (By) Myself! - 1979

Capitalizing on the roller-disco craze, the toy company my dad (z"l) worked for wants him to design a teen roller skate bag. We go to Caldor and he buys me this pair of sneaker-skates as part of his "research"; he might as well have bought me a car for the joy and freedom these skates bring me, and I love skate-dancing to tunes like this one:

They Disagree With My Taste, but Love Me Anyhow - 1965-Present

My love of disco remains mysterious to my two sisters, and I need to acknowledge their ultimate indulgence of me: To honor my first teenage birthday, they take me into New York City to a free concert in Central Park, The Pointer Sisters! It's a heat wave and the group sings as though the day is pumping cool breezes on-stage, though it isn't. Guess who opens for the group? Kenny Rankin!

(Skate) technology has changed, but I remain enchanted with skating to music that is cheerful with a beat; here's a 16-second sample of me from a couple years ago:

And after my adolescent struggles, I manage to find an indulgent wife, too: She lets me sing along loudly whenever we hear a disco tune on the radio -- which is as often as I can find one. And even at 47, I still feel coolest, most glamorous and most like I belong whenever I'm skating to disco.

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