Not Tripping the Light Fantastic

I was listening to NPR last week while eating breakfast and they were discussing the release of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and talking about the rise of disco music in the '70s.

I confess: I’m one of those people who really dislike disco music.

It’s a point of divergence between me and male gay culture (if not each and every gay guy) and, in our larger culture, disparagement of disco music by males is more than marginally associated with homophobia. It gets worse: I like rock, hard rock, the cultural home ground of many of the males known for chanting “disco sucks!” and the form of 20th century music associated with grandstanding males strutting around onstage with their penis-guitars angled upwards and out at the audience.

Disco was hated and ridiculed, we are told, by rock audiences for being light and happy fun and, in particular, for being associated with the urban gay scene. Not wanting to be tagged by others as belonging to that homophobic cohort, I’ve been a lot more reticent about my opinions of disco than I was as a young adult, but I still don’t like the stuff.

For me, being genderqueer was an indirect factor in becoming a fan of hard rock, odd though that may seem to some folks. I walked the hallways of junior high school in the early 1970s as a male who had spent elementary school identifying with the girls. My hormones were kicking in and my sexual attraction to girls was becoming a lot more imperative and important to me, but within a few short years I found that it was going to be complicated to be a male who was one of the girls and was also into them sexually.

Being attracted to girls gave me something in common with the boys. There hadn’t been many other factors that did and I had done what I could to repel classification as one of them, because I considered them violent, abrasive, stupid, coarse, crude, hatefully mean, insensitive, and disgusting. You know, snakes snail and puppy dog tails and all that.

But right around this time I became increasingly aware of an alternative portrayal of maleness, the flower child hippie countercultural guy. He was willful and rebellious but peaceful, nonviolent, and accepting. Everything was cool except being a downer and disapproving of someone else’s thing, and we could all do our own thing, you dig? He wasn’t into all that military violence-glorifying stuff or the authority-struggle impetus to be the one to boss others around. He grew his hair long and played music and wrote poetry and talked about love, gonna love one another right now, and all men are your brothers. He was, in other words, a lot more like the girls than the conventional notion of how boys were supposed to be.

And the bonus was that he was sexual, he was sexually active, girls found him cute and there was a model of sexuality that was a lot more mutual-sounding. On the one hand, get rid of all that puritanical uptight rule-making stuff about sex being restricted, let’s set it free, forget promises and marriages and sexual jealousies and possessiveness, just do it when it feels right. On the other hand, no more putting down of girls for putting out, no more enshrining virginity, all this freedom is supposed to be for both sexes, and that means no heavy trips being laid on girls trying to make them do stuff.

So although I didn’t get there overnight, I gradually drifted towards this new identity. It didn’t feel like I was turning my back on being like the girls but it allowed me to embrace an identity in common with the boys. And so for awhile in my life boys were not “them” and instead there was some semblance of “we”.

And “our” music was rock. Rock was passionate, fervent, serious emotive music. It was associated with hippies and social change and “meaningful” things.

But then disco took over. There were a limited number of radio stations in northern New Mexico and they changed format and stopped playing Led Zeppelin in favor of dropping the needle on KC and the Sunshine Band. Songs warning us about the grand illusion or reaching for higher consciousness at the risk of going insane were replaced by songs about boogie fever. Disco infested the airwaves, it stole our stations, and it was everywhere, unavoidable.

Disco seemed airheaded, frivolous, and yet also seemed to hail from a colder social world of popularity-seeking and of flirting on the dance floor and appearances being above substance; it came from a world of velvet ropes and lines of people waiting while other people, cuter people and celebrities, were allowed to cut in and be admitted.

I was initially oblivious to how much macho masculinity still remained just below the surface of the countercultural male role. In my book I delineate the years of embracing this identity only to be disappointed and to find myself marginalized and ridiculed and left out. It was still too much masculinity and it was not where I belonged. I was similarly – and simultaneously – oblivious to the more aggressively masculine preening bragging and sexually threatening element in rock.

By the time I’d reluctantly jumped ship on the countercultural male identity thing, I’d passed through the years generally regarded as folks’ musically formative years. I may roll my eyes when Robert Plant sings “gonna give you every inch of my love…way down inside, woman, you need it”, but I still thrill to the driving sound of Kashmir.

I don’t like disco’s beat. I don’t like that “boomp THUD boomp THUD” simplistic squared-off sound. I don’t like the way that any fill-in notes from the instruments all tend to fall directly on subdivisions of the main beat; disco doesn’t tend to syncopate, and it pounds mechanically like clockwork. It doesn’t tend to have delicate fragile passages or thrilling driving phrases or soaring majestic constructions. Most of it sounds like short repeated loops with no build, like listening to the squonk and clatter of the escalator motor at the 51st street station platform.

But yeah, it’s also my ponderously serious and boringly sincere personality coming to the fore. I’ve been told that if I were put in charge of film and theatre, every subsequent production would be a heavy-handed morality play with a Big Important Message with which to beat my audience over the head. I’ve been told that I really need to learn a lighter shade of expression and learn how to entertain gently and delicately season that with just a briefly sprinkled evocation of social relevance. And that I need to realize that disco was, for many people, a joyous celebration of finally being able to dance and move and flirt in a world that used to raid and batter and lock up gay guys simply for being in a gay-tolerant establishment.
———

This is yet another reposting of a blog post. OK’ed with the mods in advance.

You are not alone, and neither am I.

QFT. My one visit to Studio 54 left me with a migraine and a desperate longing for a Viennese waltz.

Like in Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell”?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySO-gryuO-c

I’ve always thought of “Run Like Hell” to be Pink Floyd’s disco offering :smiley:

Remember the Hooked on Classics recordings? Ghastly! I detest that machine-steady, unvarying drum work. It’s bad on real disco, and hideous when used to mar Beethoven or Mozart.

I really don’t like it, either. I don’t like a lot of stuff that came out of the 70s, except classic rock.

I loved disco, and classical and some country and blues and jazz. Now I still think fondly of disco and love dance/club music, and classical and very little county and blues and jazz.

For me disco music let me dance, six to seven nights a week, it was a slice of heaven.

I love disco because I love to dance (in private) and I liking watching other people dance. I totally disagree with you on the lack of syncopation in disco music. I dare you to listen to Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover” and characterize the rhythm as unsyncopated “boomp THUD boomp THUD”.

I agree very much with this suggestion.

Sometimes what we like/dislike is a reflection of something related to our identities, one requiring a 1000-word essay to describe. And sometimes we just like what we like.

I think most of us can identify with the experience of disliking something that the community we belong to holds in high regard.

I learned rather late that there was supposed to be a correlation between disco and gay culture. And I only learned from the OP that there was a correlation between antipathy to disco and homophobia.

I hated disco basically in solidarity with my girlfriend (AKA kaylasmom) who was a nightclub singer in the 70s. Disco put live musicians out of work, and that was reason enough for me to hate it.

I was born in 1970, and disco is part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Disco was Donna Summer, Barry White, Andy Gibb, Chic, etc. I’m not sure how gay people figure prominently in here but that’s ok, I miss a lot of things.

But being a 70’s baby is like this: When people tell me they prefer a certain music genre, I hear something like “I only eat chicken.”

If you believe all the stereotypes I should be the gayest guy around. But I’m not. I never let that kind of thing bother me.
I like disco. Until today I was unaware of any connection to the “gay scene”. I will continue to like disco until I die.
There are some hard rock songs I like but mostly it sounds like noise to me.

Perhaps our lives would be easier if you and I exchanged our tastes in music. Or our sexual orientations.