“At first, God gave the judgement of death upon man, when he should transgresse, absolutely, Morte morieris, Thou shalt surely dye: The woman in her Dialogue with the Serpent, she mollifies it, Ne fortè moriamur, perchance, if we eate, we may die; and then the Devill is as peremptory on the other side, Nequaquam moriemini, do what you will, surely you shall not die; And now God in this Text comes to his reply, Quis est homo, shall they not die? Give me but one instance, but one exception to this rule, What man is hee that liveth, and shall not see death? Let no man, no woman, no devill offer a Ne fortè, (perchance we may dye) much lesse a Nequaquam, (surely we shall not dye) except he be provided of an answer to this question, except he can give an instance against this generall, except he can produce that mans name, and history, that hath lived, and shall not see death. Wee are all conceived in close Prison; in our Mothers wombes, we are close Prisoners all; when we are borne, we are borne but to the liberty of the house; Prisoners still, though within larger walls; and then all our life is but a going out to the place of Execution, to death.”
And so Donna Summer has not gone out to the place of Execution, trailing behind her my early twenties in Shreveport, Louisiana. But I’m going to take the serpent’s side of the argument, here. Whatever it was we ate (or sniffed, or smoked) back then, it made more sense to think Nequaquam moriemini than to think God would strike us down for discovering the toy store of our own bodies, since it was the demiurge that had stocked it. And this was a discovery that required a certain toy music. It was a delicate kind of thing, this music, as certainly really good toy’s are: containing just that small bit of unheimlichkeit which inhabits the doll, the clown, and the windup figure, reminiscent of that infantile moment when the line is blurred between what is living and what isn’t, when the categories aren’t fixed and the dreams aren’t quite captured and pent by the circle made by sleep. The Giorgio Moroder thump and the old Phil Spector echo effect made a space for a certain kind of voice, one that varied the diva aspiration to filling the song: this voice emptied it.
At the time, I had begun living in one of those classic small Southern towns where the old Dixie hierarchies still gamely held, and in holding distorted themselves into all kind of grotesqueness. Shreveport was like a weird combination of a Walker Percy novel and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It was a perfect outpost, actually, to watch the American system warp. And the perfect outpost within that outpost was the Florentine club, until it was finally blown up. Or so I heard. It was a combination disco and gay bar, and gay bars in the backwater South tend to be under attack, especially in 1979.
I don’t think any American craze has been hated quite as much as disco, for it combined all the unpleasant reminders that the old American verities (which went all the way baaaack baaack baaack to … 1945) were disconnected from reality: blue collar masculinity was a joke (prefigured by YMCA, and instantiated in the 80s by a leveraged buyout culture and a political leadership that had the knives out for the unions); heterosexuality was a joke; and not only had the doors of perception been kicked open by drugs, but we had all been unceremoniously hustled through them by an increasingly ominipotent media and ‘information economy’ (that produces anything but information that you, well, actually need), so that by this time it was already apparent that a rose was not a rose and not a rose – at best, it was a prop to be photographed for an advertisement to get you to buy a rose. As for American might – disco seemed not so much to criticize it, like the New Left in the 60s, as to ignore it, as though it didn’t exist at all. And if America wasn’t mighty, what was it?
Well, one answer was that it was place to get high on whatever was at hand, dance, and fuck, as much as possible. Hot stuff baby this evening.
Myself, I’ve always been more the bold boy in my head than out of it. I confined myself mostly to dancing. I was first taken to the Florentine by Dean, one of the first people who befriended me at the college I began attending in Shreveport. Dean had a major crush on me – which was not as flattering as it seems, since Dean eventually had a major crush on every straight guy that he met. But I owe him the trip to the Florentine, because after Dean, I began to go there, almost every night, with Cathy. We were both touched by some faint 70s version of the St.Vitus mania, and it played itself out under Rick James’ Superfreak, the Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, and every word that fell from the mouth of La Donna S.
This account rather compresses the dance years in one way: it was actually Dyretta who taught me, in as much as I am teachable in this department, to dance. Dyretta, much to her regret, could not drain that thing in me that irresistibly went to the freak – as Dyretta said, the white boy’s dance. The old Adam, here, try as he would, could not change for the New Eve. But she did her best to introduce me to what was up, and I responded in kind: she turned me on to the Sugar Hill gang, and I gave her, for her birthday, the Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot. A wholly satisfactory exchange.
The dance years finally came to an end when I went for a year to France, to study in Montpellier. They were succeeded, in the 80s, by the much different Talking Heads years, and New Orleans. And Donna Summer’s voice is not one I listen to very much anymore. But I am sad, sad, sad that she is dead. She crowned a better decade.