Those “Good Times” by Suzanne Mills
From my twenty-something old neighbour, a decided double take.
I flashed him a syrupy smile, and cooed:
“Yes, honey, it´s Donna Summer on the radio, well on Spotify. When Kanye, Eminem, David Guetta and your other icons start dying off, you´ll remember this moment and me.”
Too much confession as it was. The nagging, haunting sentiment carried on the hypnotic strains of the late Queen of Disco, as Donna was dubbed: death was fast catching up with my generation. Donna Summer-gone. Robin Gibb-gone. It was not a merry May for the youths who contracted Night Fever in the seventies. Mac Arthur´s Park is melting in the dark. Someone left the cake out in the rain.
What a classic! “Spring was never waiting for us dear, it ran one step ahead, as we followed in the dance.” Those magical words, penned by American songwriter Jimmy Webb but made immortal by Summer, defined my formative years, disco´s escapist beat pulsating in time with a newborn, burgeoning, oil rich nation´s ambitions. Money declared no problem; the adults of my Caribbean twin island state, Trinidad and Tobago, quaffed Johnny Walker, munched on imported hors d’oeuvres and danced the night away.
It was a sweet time to be a young woman. Our mothers, founders of the Women´s Liberation Movement were on the march, preparing the way for us to become the leaders of tomorrow. Their daughters were the progeny of Independence and as luck would have it, our country had great timing; liberty coincided with an economic boom. With access to free secondary education, we felt like we were blessed, the wind at our backs. We could dance forever.
I´m no musicologist, but it´s my belief genres of music triumph in specific times, for specific reasons. The rise of disco marked the end of the US war in Vietnam. People worldwide felt free to dance once more, and wanted to be carried away into a fantasy land of strobe lights. For years they had chanted songs of protest; folk and rock music had dominated the sixties scene. In the post war days, the desire to dress up and to be ridiculously free and sexy prevailed.
Disco, in contrast to rock and folk, was a fusion of soul, funk and Latin music. It was ethnic; it was black, and came on the heels of the civil rights movement. In Trinidad and Tobago, the seventies had kicked off with Black Power and an army revolt, which had shaken and stirred. Though quelled, militancy bubbled below, filtering into the mainstream, empowering many and that new liberation found expression on the dance floor. To a young woman, the rhythms and voices of disco spelt freedom of all sorts. Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand showed us that we could leave any man who was unsatisfactory and that we didn´t have to shed another tear. “Enough is enough, I can’t go on, and I want him out that door now. Goodbye mister!” we screamed.
Those times of self-acknowledgement would not last long enough. Disco died by the late seventies just as our economy was tanking and the country was falling into the clutches of the IMF. By the eighties, disco dancing would have seemed absurd, particularly in the lean mean heyday of structural adjustments, Reaganomics and Thatcherism. Disco and Donna Summer on the radio were replaced by the revolutions of MTV and Madonna; Whitney became the fresh-faced, black super star. Time, as is its wont, moved inexorably on.
And it has moved on again. RIP Donna. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen. Dim all the lights sweet darling and let´s have a last dance. For Donna, for love. For us.
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