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Godspeed, Donna Summer and Robin Gibb: How Do You Mend a Middle-Aged Broken Heart?

I feel like the remnants of my adolescence are slowly dying away.

You see, I was a teenager during the '70's.  I never thought disco sucked.  I loved disco, so much so that I threw a tantrum in my junior high school orchestra class demanding that we be allowed to play disco instead of Beethoven.  Why not?  Disco was heavy on strings.  We were string players.  Heck, Barry White had an entire freakin' orchestra to himself!  My junior high school orchestra teacher, Mr. Douglas, rolled his eyes at my insouciance and told me I had a lot more of the basics to learn before I'd be prepared to play disco or anything else written for strings for that matter.  He did make sure that I auditioned for all-city orchestra, though. 

So you can imagine that I was saddened by the loss of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, within a week, no less.  My introduction to Donna Summer was, like most folks, the seventeen minute track, "Love to Love You, Baby."  It was also my first introduction to sex.  Sure, I knew about the birds and the bees, but I didn't know what they sounded like.  All I could think was that whatever Donna had been doing the studio, it must have felt pretty darn good to sound like that.  It would not surprise me if Donna Summer had been responsible for her own little baby boom just because of that song.

My introduction to Robin Gibb and the Bee Gees was, like most folks, the soundtrack to the movie "Saturday Night Fever."  Oh, the angst of Tony Manero, and the joy of the music that lifted him out of it -- "You Should Be Dancing," "Night Fever," "How Deep is Your Love."  Tony Manero was my generation's Holden Caulfield, or at least we thought he was, but without the mental illness.  I was in junior high school when "Saturday Night Fever" came out, and after that, my girlfriends and I were not only hooked on the Bee Gees, but on Andy Gibb as well.  We started backtracking through the Bee Gee's '60's catalog looking for meaning as deep as what we perceived to have been captured in the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack.  To this day, my favorite Bee Gees song isn't anything from the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack; it's "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart."  Deep meaning, indeed.  The Brothers Gibb were gifted songwriters, a gift that I would suppose sustained them long after disco died.

To me, Donna Summer was the queen of disco only because we never allowed her to be more.  My favorite Donna Summer song isn't a disco song at all; it's her performance of "O, Holy Night," that she gave on a television special long ago.  It's my favorite Christmas carol because of her performance of it, and because of her performance alone.  She sang it with so much feeling.  It wasn't until later that I realized why -- she had grown up singing in the church, as many of our Black singing divas have (Whitney Houston, for example.)  She probably really did feel it.  I also loved her song, "State of Independence."  And boy, did I ever feel like a "Bad Girl" when I chanted the chorus, "Toot Toot! . . . Hey ... Beep Beep!"  Even my mom was a fan, identifying with the song, "She Works Hard for The Money," as did most working women at the time.

With the loss of Donna Summer and Robin Gibb goes a part of my adolescence, a part of my life when the music that made me want to dance also made me feel good, something that a lot of today's music doesn't do for me on either count.  I am thankful for having walked the planet at the same time as Donna Summer and Robin Gibb, and for having shared in the experience of their talent.  But I'm still saddened by their loss.

So . . . how do you mend a middle-aged broken heart?


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