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    Making a joyful noise

    Susanna of Cut on the Bias has been having trouble registering to comment. This cannot be tolerated: what could be more piquant than commentary on a gay guy’s ravings about disco by a conservative Christian woman living in rural Alabama? Here was Susanna’s comment:

    It’s not a dance song, but I always liked “MacArthur Park” for it’s sheer incomprehensibility. And when did Madonna get in the disco thing? I thought disco died before The Non-Virgin got her start.

    I lived through the disco years, having been born in 1961, but as I was a teenaged Christian tucked away in the hills of Kentucky in the late 1970s, I can’t say I have a good handle on the full range of music from the era. My mom actually broke and threw away my single of “Rock N Roll Heaven”. I liked the BeeGees. I was more enamored of the Eagles. I confess to not remembering more than half the songs on Camille’s list.

    My dad did have leisure suits though. He may still have one around. Want me to send it to you so you can fit in with the new mode of down-dressing in Japan? 😀

    I think that wearing a suit with a jacket is considered an infraction, but thanks for the offer. Short-sleeved Qiana shirts might do it, though I don’t plan on finding out.

    To respond to the other parts of Susanna’s post: “MacArthur Park” wasn’t originally written as a disco song, but Donna Summer’s version of it certainly was one. And, no, I have no idea what the, um, blazes (just in case Susanna’s mother is looking over her shoulder) the lyrics are supposed to be about. Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” was one of the first disco recordings to score with the American mass audience–kind of ironic: in my experience it’s a bad choice at a club, because just about everyone looks like a complete idiot dancing to it. There’s something about “Love to Love You Baby” that makes people surrender to their Inner Stripper, and most of us have Inner Strippers that aren’t very talented.

    As for why Madonna’s music can be considered disco, I think that as long as it’s uptempo, has a 4/4 meter with every beat hit on the bass drum, has a heavy and syncopated bass line, and has hi-hat or cowbell fills, it’s disco. (This Wikipedia article tells you that, but you have to be willing to dig for it.) It’s the steady drumbeat that reminds people who don’t like disco of a pounding headache, though it’s the bassline they think they’re complaining about. They stopped calling it “disco” because the public backlash meant the term was no longer marketable and there were lots of little sub-genres forming.

    My family was very devout, like Susanna’s. My mother had been reared Catholic, too, so you can imagine what she thought of Madonna. A lot of our ministers frowned on any pop music edgier than Pat Boone; but my parents had met playing in a cover band after high school, so while they wouldn’t let anything that was frankly lewd into the house, they didn’t go ballistic over songs with passing lines expressing mild, good-natured bawdiness.

    Of course, as Susanna said in a later message, the dividing line was different back then. It’s not disco, but the other day I was listening to Physical by Olivia Newton-John and remembering how brazen everyone considered it at the time (1981). These days, Physical is the kind of album a pop star would make to tone down the sexuality of her image after marrying, having a child, and converting to Seventh Day Adventism.

    2 Responses to “Making a joyful noise”

    1. Maria says:

      Oh, my Gawd! How old is Camille?! 22? Ok, so I was only a child in the 70’s, having been born in 1969, but how can you say anything by Madonna, Gloria Estefan, or Irene Cara is Disco?!

      My recollections of Disco include the BeeGees and KC and the Sunshine Band…Oh, yeah, and Saturday Night Fever…

      I know I was sheltered to a certain degree having been raised in the same cult as Sean, but really!

      I was also lucky in that I don’t recall my parents ever censoring my music nor my books.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Maria, do you remember that sermon–I think it was one that was distributed as a kit to the local pastors, as opposed to being a tape from headquarters–about popular music, in 1984 or so? It was one of those special Sabbaths they dispensed with the sermonette to have a double sermon. They played taped snippets from “Suffragette City” by David Bowie (bisexuality), “Cold Ethel” by Alice Cooper (necrophilia), and “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zep (Robert Plant’s orgasm, naturally). They had slides of pagan album covers like In Search of the Lost Chord by the Moody Blues. They played up the Paul-is-dead stuff supposedly in “I Am the Walrus” (I’m not sure where the sin is there) and the alleged drug references in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (more obviously incompatible with conservative Christianity, but not proved to be accurate). There was a list of pop artists that ranked them according to whether they were generally innocuous or certain to lead you directly to membership in the Church of Satan.

      My parents, and just about everyone else their age, ended up throwing out a lot of albums, but one of them got a laugh when we went out to dinner that night by commenting that he was struggling to keep from tapping his foot while “Whole Lotta Love” was playing.

      Anyway, I think it was because of that sermon that my parents were hesitant to be as draconian about the no-music-from-the-World thing as a lot of others were. The whole thing had obviously been cobbled together by a bunch of middle-aged people who just presumed that every accusation about backwards Satanic messages or disguised celebrations of drug use was true.

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