"...there are now more than 10,000 discotheques in the U.S.: last year no less than 37 million Americans got out on the dance floor at least once. The total revenues of that first big season of operation were in excess of four billion dollars -- equivalent to two thirds of the combined gross income of both the recording and movie industries..." Albert Goldman, "Life" magazine, November, 1978. "Once every night a surrealistically distended coke spoon is thrust under the Moon's limp schnozz. Cocaine represented by white bubbles goes racing up the elephantine proboscis... The dancers scream!" Goldman, in the same article, describing the legendary Studio 54 Man in the Moon dancefloor visual.
XI. LOVE TO LOVE YOU, BABY
Giorgio Moroder is truly a Renaissance man of music. Songwriter, Academy Award-winning composer, producer, artist, designer and filmmaker, he specialized in developing what would be called the Euro-disco sound in the '70s.
He was also Donna Summer's producer. Summer met Moroder in Europe while she was a cast member in the hippie musical "Hair." Donna was working on a song entitled "Love to Love You, Baby" that, she claimed, was based on her vision of the sex pop star Marilyn Monroe. Moroder arranged the song and it was produced by Pete Bellotte. Originally three minutes long, it was released as a seventeen-minute twelve-inch single designed for disco DJs. "Love to Love You, Baby" is basically Summer simulating an extended orgasm over cymbals, guitars, clarinet riffs and synth chimes. It marked the initial wedding of flesh and machine in dance music.
The first entirely electronic dance hit was the Moroder-produced "I Feel Love" where more simulated psychedelic Summer orgasms were arranged with a completely synthesized background.
Both were huge hits, and marked the beginnings, really, of popular electronic dance music. Our music.
Electronic dance music and culture, therefore, were born literally in an orgasm of voice and machine in the gay-inspired disco era. The two hits pretty much defined the intensely erotic dance environment of the time and are certainly landmarks in the development of house music and the other offshoot genres of electronic dance music.
A. BUT CAN YOU LOVE EVERYONE?
It is my firm belief that viable alternative subcultural communities can, and should, be built around electronic music and dance as a positive anecdote to an oppressive and alienating materialistic mainstream culture that divides body and soul. The gay community was one of the first such modern intentional communities constructed around the transformative power of dance music. That community has survived more than thirty years of oppression, plague, commercialism and other adversity because dancing kept the tribe unified through the social and spiritual interactions of the dance floor.
The rave subculture is another viable subculture that is unified by the tribal power of dancing and music. The specific music that brought this tribe together in the beginning was house music, a genre that evolved from the music -- disco -- that fed the souls of another oppressed tribe.
But to say house music is a modern term for disco is simplistic because it fails to account for the complex social and cultural forces that helped create it. House music arose from a subset of the popular disco scene of the '70s and '80s. It was not the glitzy Studio 54 or uptown discos that created the foundation for house. Rather, it sprang from the same fertile soil that gave us disco: downtown gay, black and Hispanic musical experimenters.
1. DIVISIONS IN THE DISCO SCENE
It's convenient to use terms like "gay" and "straight" when discussing the divisions in the disco scene of the '70s. I don't believe the issue of sexual preference is best defined by these terms. Sexuality is not, fortunately, that simple and far more fluid. For my purposes here "gay" means those who define themselves as mostly attracted to the same sex, as well as bisexuals. "Straights" are those who see themselves primarily as heterosexuals.
When Saturday night fever struck the American populace in 1977 most of us in the underground gay scene were surprised and then concerned.
The primary concern was that the gay dance culture that had been created to provide a safe haven for dancers who were generally despised by the larger culture would be overrun by people who wanted to dance but who were homophobic and/or racist. This was not paranoia. As the fever intensified people with all kinds of beliefs, some with very negative vibes, would line the streets begging to get into venues that just a short time before they considered evil and sinful. How does one filter out the trend followers who believe homosexuality is a crime against nature?
There was a similar issue in the punk scene in which I was an avid participant. The primary culture viewed us as ugly freaks and anarchists (no punk would have disagreed with this, philosophically) who elicited negative stares and comments on the streets. Then, like overnight, punk was fashionable. The trendoids would go to Fiorucci's, spend hundreds of dollars on punk-inspired clothing, dye and spike their hair, and show up in limos at places like the Mudd Club and CBGBs.
I dislike judging the motivations of others, but the Fiorucci "punks" represented everything that was evil in the authentic punk milieu. Again, what do you do when you have a venue like the Mudd Club that held 400 and you have thousands of uptowners who really don't care about your music or culture mobbing the front door? Steve Maas would go out front and give free passes to the nerdiest people there and ignore the "fabulous" imitators, hoping they would go away. And the real freaks would arrive at two or three in the morning to avoid the poseurs. Even Steve Rubell of Studio 54 fame was refused admittance with his entourage one night and bitched about it for weeks.
Commercialism and fashion can, truly, destroy the integrity of one's subculture.
Many venues initiated stringent door policies, and the door staff became very powerful and often arbitrary gatekeepers of the vibe. Some gay clubs would not, for example, admit people who wore cologne. Other clubs that were not private initiated membership policies. Many gay venues without membership requirements became so flagrantly homoerotic, with wild strippers and sex on the premises, that only the most open-minded straights would venture in. Even with that, raunchy gay clubs like the Anvil, with sawdust on the floor, strippers on the bar, and porn flicks and sex downstairs, still attracted a fair share of the glitterati.
In the end, however, commercialism somewhat solved many of the demand problems it created. As the money rolled in more and more clubs opened and the scene became fragmented. Most uptown, straight couples didn't really want to dance on sawdust floors with half-naked gay men, not did a lot of the uptown gays. So clubs that catered to mostly uptown types, gay and straight, opened in safe neighborhoods. Many were mixed straight and gay. These places were mostly cookie-cutter disco-ball imitations of each other, many requiring upscale dress, with mediocre music and DJs.
Then there were the famous clubs that catered to the glitterati and the wannabes. Places like Studio 54 and Regine's. Everyone wanted to get into these venues to mix with the famous and those on the A-lists. Including me. These were places where one went to be seen.
Door policy at Studio 54 was very judgmental and elitist. I got in because my boyishly sexy punk look was in at the time. But even some of the recording artists whose stuff was being played inside were refused admittance for whatever reasons.
The most vivid memories I have of Studio 54 are of the Man in the Moon coke spoon thing, lots and lots of cocaine, talking with Andy Warhol and his group, and the adventure of going to the bathrooms where there was always some kind of energetic sex or drug scenario going down.
Quite frankly, I don't really remember the music, and that's important. The DJs were competent. People danced. But this was clearly not a place where there was musical innovation. This was high-end performance. A stage where one could play out fantasies with other actors who passed the audition. Amazing place. Entertaining experiences. The post-mortem reveals, however, that no one ever talks about the Studio 54 sound.
The real musical innovation continued where it had begun, in the erotically defiant, primarily gay, black and Hispanic downtown clubs where the dress code was the body, not Fioruuci's, and the music and dancing were primary. Places like the Paradise Garage. Where house music was really born.