DONNA SUMMER was writing “Love to Love You Baby”; I was Miss Missouri. “Last Dance” came out in 1978, the year after the BeeGees and John Travolta blasted on the scene and shook American culture. I was Broadway bound and once I got there one thing I’ll never forget is a couple of years later walking up 8th Avenue to pass the small intersection where Studio 54 was ensconced. It was the very last gasp of the lines, costumes and revelry that was well beyond my coolness, but I gawked at the glorious spectacle, even if it was a dying belch. The club was sold in 1981, when everything changed everywhere and forever.
Ronald Reagan was in, but the partying had just started, as it turned westward, and so did I a few years later.
Donna Summer and club dancing, joyous, raucous and wild partying on the floor like you’re on stage in your own “Saturday Night Fever” contest, went together like 8 balls, hot women and fast cars in Los Angeles.
As a professional dancer, once I walked happily away from the decades of grind, I began enjoying the right of passage for the unattached and permanently single.
It was a time of L.A. rope lines, flashy dressing, and late nights that ended at sunrise.
Everyone thought they could live forever, while an entire generation of gay men were dying in dozens as the band played on. Somewhere around 1983, culture answered the Reagan devolution with Madonna and the bustier as outer wear. We didn’t wake up until Iran-Contra crashed around us, followed by the Keating Five, then Michael Milken and the financial catastrophe that was Ronald Reagan. The union busting, deficit imploding nightmare, and deregulating hatch of Rush Limbaugh hate radio, you know, the years Barack Obama remembers fondly. Henry Hyde’s war against women revved up through Reagan’s embrace of Jerry Falwell’s Immoral Minority, which segued into an awkward introduction of America to the new face of Alzheimer’s and the question of whether The Gipper had been sick during his presidency.
It explained so much.
The Cold War was over and the decade of the last gasp of America’s youthful exuberance would be a great economic boon, while conservatives worked to get even for Watergate, and the press dreamed of Pulitzers, after the Reaganites were turned out by the hicks from the sticks, Bill and Hillary Clinton. A couple who turned the Republican party into knots that took their eye off the biggest ball of all.
It all ended the first year of the 21st century, when frittering away the time during Clinton over sex exploded in the Twin Towers, because a man’s penis became more important than following terrorists and heeding William Jefferson Clinton’s warnings. Republicans don’t listen to Democrats even if it costs a nation its soul.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s “Gulf of Tonkin” WMD fiction was followed by torture.
All that was left was memories and dreaming.
…about the years of Donna Summer and the lighthearted effervescence her singing and that music unleashed in those of us who could hear it and dance to it, or just wish they could.
Donna Summer is dead. We look back on her music wistfully today, because it reminds those of us who listened to it or moved with it that the teenager country that once believed everything is possible and dreams come true, because we can do anything in this country, the place where that America actually existed, is dead, too.