Monday, December 21, 2020

Song of the Day: 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?' by the Bee Gees

Watched "Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" on HBO over the weekend. As I'm sure your Facebook feed has already told you, it's incredible.

I had goosebumps for the entire 1 hour and 51 minutes -- so much rare archival footage and all those brilliant songs took me back to Hiller Elementary and Page Junior High -- and then I also sobbed the last 30 minutes because of the brother stuff. (Yesterday would have been my brother Bill's 59th birthday.) Truly a devastatingly wonderful film.

How can you mend a broken heart? Answer: You can't. 

Was also sickened revisiting the infamous "Disco Sucks" movement, which culminated in the frightening “Disco Demolition Night” during a White Sox doubleheader in July of 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, during which explosives were used to blow up disco records. My pal Michael Signorile then fleshed out the whole thing ("The 'disco sucks' movement and the cycle of white grievance that is still churning"), tying it directly to the Trump movement today, which got my blood boiling even more. 

Signorile builds on what Vince Lawrence, a black house music pioneer interviewed for the film who worked at Comiskey Park as an usher at that time, said he witnessed that day. In the documentary, Lawrence says many of the records brought to destroy weren't even by disco artists -- I believe Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye LPs were cited -- and called the event the equivalent to “a racist, homophobic book-burning.”

Many of Signorile's commentators claim it was really much more about the fact that the Bee Gees -- who obviously weren't black or gay -- were on the radio CONSTANTLY, racking up six straight No. 1 singles, and that many people's favorite radio stations had their formats changed to disco by radio executives looking to cash in. (At one point the Bee Gees were involved in five of the Top 10 spots on the Billboard 100, including little brother Andy's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," which I was so happy to capture off the radio on my new tape recorder, even with my mom screaming a little bit in the background toward the end!) And even Nicky Siano -- the gay DJ who opened NYC's pioneering disco The Gallery with brother Joe in February 1973 -- blames the backlash on the fact that executives tried to make a quick buck, filling the market with crappy music. ("Disco Duck," anyone?!) Signorile allows that for some it was merely about the music, but says that the over-the-top Disco Demolition Night and the fact that its creator -- a DJ named Steve Dahl who was fired on Christmas Eve in 1978 when his station switched from rock to disco -- continued to vociferously attack disco even after he was hired by another rock-oriented station show there was more to it. (Dahl went so far as the celebrate on the air when musician Van McCoy of "The Hustle" fame died of a heart attack at 39.)

Signorile recalls that Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh in 1979 noted how the “Disco Sucks” movement was a front for fear and bigotry: 
[W]hite males, eighteen to thirty-four are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks, and Latins, and therefore they're the most likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security. It goes almost without saying that such appeals are racist and sexist, but broadcasting has never been an especially civil-libertarian medium. 
And then Signorile writes:
Dahl’s efforts culminated in a horrifying event that is like so many we’ve seen in the Trump era, in which some white men who are threatened express their grievance via menacing actions, feeling emboldened to do it by a movement and leaders who spur them on. 
I was old enough to have been swept up in the music -- we used to do “The Hustle" during lunch hour at Hiller -- but too young to really remember the racial and social politics that were involved, despite living 10 minutes outside of Detroit. And while I find the former usher's claims of "nearly all black but not disco" records being brought to the baseball stadium a bit apocryphal, there's no disputing that racism and the rampant homophobia of the day played a key role in killing disco. The part of the narrative that never made sense to me, however, is why the same people who burned records and acted like lunatics didn't react the same way to the next big wave of music, which included two androgynous and dance-friendly black artists -- Michael Jackson (becoming bigger than ever) and Prince (new to most people) -- and a slew of makeup-wearing new wave boys, as well as gender-benders like Boy George and Pete Burns? 

I reached out to Signorile and he said this:
It's interesting question. I think a few things happened. The disco thing was so sudden and jarring. For those people it was largely a battle against a culture that they found threatening -- and it was a big overreaction obviously. Ultimately they didn't win the war, as disco morphed, dance music continued, punk/new wave and house etc., Madonna, Boy George, etc. That new dance culture itself became more diverse, including the music. A lot happened in a few short years in the '80s. On the one hand, they got used to it, even probably liked some -- literally grew up, with younger people maybe less reactionary --  and realized their music and whatever-culture didn't go away.  On the other hand, those artists were also called "fag" and "bitch" etc -- I mean, it is what made Madonna -- but it just didn't reach the fever pitch as before. Some things are sparked in a moment in time when the right person/movement comes along, tapping into something. So there's that too.
Fascinating stuff about a turbulent time in our history. He makes a lot of good points that tie it all together -- I certainly was called a fag enough for dressing like Howard Jones! -- and I also think David Bowie's calling out MTV helped, too.  

Do yourself a favor and watch the film.  

The Bee Gees' first U.S. No. 1

The Beehive Queen's rarely heard cover

1 comment:

Henry North London 2.0 said...

Watched it also. Recorded it or downloaded it anyway. Then found it was to buy and rent aswell. Glad I watched it.