Monday, October 03, 2011

A Trip Down Disco Memory Lane

I'm not sure what kind of nostalgic melancholia influenced me to wallow in this song and ones like it this past weekend, but this I did. Musique was a studio assemblage, the brainchild of Patrick Adams, one of the pioneering geniuses of the disco art form, based out of New York. It's the product of a room full of semi-anonymous studio musicians, including the later-to-become-a-diva Jocelyn Brown among the cooing female singers, most assuredly not the same trio of models seen cavorting on the album's cover. The album "Keep On Jumpin'," released way back in 1978, spawned one huge hit, the precocious ode to, depending on your perspective, pubic hair or public-park sex or perhaps a daringly risqué confusion of the two, "In The Bush" (as in "Push, push, in the bush"). Ironically I first heard the tune as a young gay man at a Chicago gay bar equally precociously named The Bushes. You had to rely on context to know if someone's "I'll meet you later at the Bushes," was a call for a midnight rendezvous in Lincoln Park or merely an invitation to a trendily accoutremented pub on Halsted Street. The ads for this bar in the local gay bar-rag happily evoked the possibilities. I personally didn't experience the joys of night-time park-going until I moved to New York, but that is a different story.

If "In The Bush" is promiscuously propulsive and funky (do track it down if you've not heard it), its album-mate "Summer Love" was the kind of tune reserved for the later hours of the disco near closing time when its sugary-sweet first taste would soon dissolve into bittersweet self examination and a veritable tidal wave of stoically repressed tears on the dancefloor.

Patrick Adams understood how clearly good disco music had to manipulate not only a listener's feet and pelvis, but his emotional inner life as well. Listen to what vocal arranger and singer Christine Wiltshire has done with the vocals here: the playful sexiness of "In The Bush" is abandoned in favor of an almost somber and restrained harmony, wondering whether the Summer Love — past or present dancing partner, presumably — would stick around through thick and thin or wander off into an autumn dawn, never looking back. In 1970s gay disco dancing there was not a lot of conversation: each dancer is alone with the sensory overload of the experience and with the feelings conjured up in the musique, er, music. Here Adams gives us something to think feel about. On the floor, and I remember it well, pain is transformed into catharsis and when the flashing lights and the sound of pounding loud drums are left behind in the night, so much painful emptiness has been healed by hearing hope and worry and love or lack thereof strummed away, as it were, by the dj's fingers. Your body's a little sore, and if you're coming down off some good psychedelic drugs, you're feeling like you may have just fought a battle but you emerged victorious, having traveled to the far realms of the innerverse. At least that was what 1979 was like for me.

The heroes of this music are the strings, giving real definition and substance to the cliché "heartstrings." Even the instrumental "Love Theme" version of this song, also on Youtube, manages to convey the same bittersweetness without the presence of the voices and the modest lyric. Give the funky drummer some, sure, but it's that real old-fashioned analog string orchestra that makes this music so human, and at least to me, maintains a certain emotional impact thirty-plus years later. They don't make disco music like this anymore. But maybe you had to be there.

(Apologies for the unbelievably horrible visual accompanying this video. It was the best-sounding clip of this song I could find on Youtube. This album has stayed in print on CD and download.)

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