Thursday, May 17, 2012
If it wasn't my first record, I don't want to know. It should've been my first record, and that's good enough. I like my version of history -- in which something in Donna Summer's music called out to me, spoke to me of the glittery disco balls and glamorous nightclubs and sans-souci fun that were waiting, waiting, waiting for me just beyond adolescence. Donna Summer was one of the voices of the gay generation just before mine. I felt the reverberations of her musical revolution -- I responded without knowing why. It would be years before I knew what "I Feel Love" was really all about (before I would feel love -- in the way that Summer meant -- for myself). But I knew it was my music.
As was the song "Bad Girls," which makes me think of my sisters. Not that they are bad girls (again, I think it was a while before I was hip to what "bad girls" were in this context). Rather I think we, or maybe just I when I was that age, aspired to be the candy-coated bad girls the song conjures: tough, playful, sexy, and streetwise. I can picture my sisters and me dancing around our living room to the song. This is likely a composite memory, and the song we were actually dancing to might've been "Hot Stuff," or it might've been the MTV video for "She Works Hard for the Money" -- or maybe we never danced to Donna Summer at all. But, again, I prefer my version of history.
All this is to say that Donna Summer's music was woven through my childhood. But by the time I got to nightclub-going age, disco had died twice. It was the late 1980s, and AIDS was killing everyone. Being gay had become a lot less sans-souci and a lot scarier. Then a nasty rumor (which had Summer saying something cruel and stupid about people with AIDS) greatly damaged Summer's standing in the gay community. She vehemently denied the rumor and worked very hard to repair her reputation among, and reaffirm her support for, gay people. I don't think anything was proved either way.
Who knows. But I believe and prefer Summer's version of history. You know how people love to tear down their idols. ... And even if the rumor were true, I'd be satisfied with her penance.
Anyway. These were the things in my mind today when Facebook -- our modern Greek chorus of celebrity death -- started singing Summer's eulogy to me this morning. What is a life? Well, there are plenty of half-remembered and misremembered moments, and then there are lies that become true, or true enough, through repetition. But there's also music, and disco rollerskating, and jubilant nightclubs, and moments of joy. ... That's what Summer's Facebook eulogy describes -- and who could ask for a better one? In millions of lives, Summer's music was the soundtrack to, or the very reason for, moments of joy: little kids posturing gleefully as "bad girls," hard-working women demanding to be treated right, and young gay men like me feeling love.
Thank you and farewell, Donna Summer. I hope you loved your life.