What you see above you is a collage of the many different musicians, artists, actors and actresses who were known to frequent NYC’s infamous Studio 54 during it’s most famous years between 1977 and 1981. There were very few places of it’s time that so famously symbolized what people loved,or detested about the sexual revolution. It was glittery. It was filled with famous people dancing and hobnobbing. And it was filled with cocaine as well. I was only alive as an infant during it’s final year of operation. So I can’t speak directly about any influence the disco era had on my life. But there is a personal thread in my own life I’ve traced back to this era. Often when I am listening to a song recorded the past half century,from any genre,in the company of another person they’ll make a comment on a song with a positive social message or an abstract lyric as “trippy” or refer to the performer as recording on drugs. Interestingly enough also,if I play a funk record I like to someone unfamiliar with the music they will refer to it “sounds like a song from a porno movie”. Honestly I have a tendency to find that particular remark rather insulting.
Since adolescence I’ve continually attempted to figure out why the vast majority of people still continue to associate negative social behavior such as sexual irresponsibility with culture phenomenons such as the disco era. And more so the further association of phenomenons such as the disco era with being utterly useless. The Broadway play/film Rent even said it right out: that bohemianism was dead in modern culture. That was in the mid/late 1990’s. What that seemed to mean to me was that anyone who was reveling in anything innovative and/or expansive musically and lyrically,especially if they had something to say that could change the world, they were almost certainly to be dismissed by the general public and the (semi) legitimate press as being sexually crazed drug addicts who were only inspired to make worldwide changes to satisfy themselves and their music careers. It was the march of folly for a very cynical age. Even if music said positive things, people tended to laugh at and dismiss it. So are people with musical outlooks such as myself naive and right off the wall? Or have things just flat out changed irreparably since the height of the sexual revolution?
Some independent research of my own helped to provide insight into some of these questions I had. In many significant ways the culture before,during and after the disco era was not dissimilar to the modern world. There was economic upheavals, fuel crises, the recovery from a long and controversial war and a general sense of paranoia and mistrust. Somehow though the ethics of the 60’s counterculture, which during that time had been on the fringe of society, had now become mainstream culture and fashion. So even amid all the turmoil of the 1970’s an entire generation was still fixated on the possibility that they could make the world better. And do it without the drugs habits that had dogged some of them earlier on. That in a nutshell describes the messages on the funk era side of the decade in particular. Later in the decade however, other drugs emerged on the club scene: cocaine and a new drug known then as “empathy”,now known as ecstasy. These were strong stimulants that might’ve made people want to dance, but they didn’t necessarily make them want to genuinely feel or think about anything.
By the end of my first decade, the same generation who had experienced this era were our parents. Many of them had actually been changed to the opposite of what they started out as by the “system” they wished to change. This created a more hostile generation gap than even they had faced with their parents. So in the 1990’s the orientation of the music and it’s lyrics began to reflect great disappointment of the new generation creating it. Physical desire wasn’t pleasurable anymore with the advent of HIV and other STD’s-sex killed. Arty, colorful clothes were now seen as laughable and even heretical. The popular drugs of this era were not stimulants. They were depressants such as alcohol and heroin. There was no wonder, no joy, no love. And most important, few people cared and just went with the new cultural flow. It was no longer enough to rebel against parents by looking differently than them or embracing different music and fashion. It was actually rather in vogue to laugh at their tastes. And in a generation that defined itself on complete disrespect of their family’s generation, the world went from the possibility of change into something of an unseen cultural dark age.
Now there are two generations, both at opposite stages of adulthood, both having a tendency to blame the given generations’ drug and sexual habits for the quality, or lack thereof, in their respective pop cultures. And this is especially true of music. Personally I have never linked sexuality with my interest in music, since in my own case my interest in music far preceded sexuality as an interest in my life. And I am in no way, shape or form part of any kind of drug scene-not only as a professed non user but from my completely outsiders perspective on that end of it. The way I see it is this. If human beings-fathers, mothers, ,sons, daughters, anybody would look beyond the dances they do and the music they listen to as being linked to their own ego and self absorbed regrets, perhaps the generation gap within pop culture would be at least more narrow. Its a lesson even I’m still learning. If your a person who yearns for more innovative music, meaningful lyrics and more captivating dances the best thing you might find yourself doing is looking at the best from the present into the future, rather than dwelling in the regrets and long gone concepts from the past and embrace that as a positive teacher instead. One of the many steps we learn in the dance of life itself.