Monday, May 21, 2012

The Disco Scene at Xavier High - Part One

Let's forget the politics and think about the politics of dancing.

So we lost Donna Summer and Robin Gibb over the weekend, two of the biggest musical stars of the late 1970s. The disco era pretty much coincided with my high school years (1977-1981), waning pretty quickly after the summer of 1979.

When "Saturday Night Fever" came out at the end of 1977, disco became a sensation and the Bee Gees, who we mostly knew as a second-division British Invasion act, became superstars, singing falsetto over synths and strings at about 100 beats per minute, the mother lode for disco. We didn't get it. The disco scene didn't translate well to my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. There were a few discos around, most notably a place called the Fire Alarm on the east side of town, but it wasn't widespread. And while we certainly heard the music on the Top 40 stations, it wasn't the music that we liked very much. Disco was an urban thing, too -- they might dance to that stuff in Milwaukee or Chicago, but not in Appleton.

At least in the first part of my high school career, we weren't able to sneak into the bars. We had school dances in the school cafeteria after the basketball games, but disco wasn't the thing. Instead, we did strange things like trying to dance to Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" and Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses." You had to be there and you probably should be thankful that you weren't.

Of course, it was really the girls who were out dancing, while the guys were lined along the sides of the cafeteria, most trying to wait out the "fast songs" so we might then pick off one of the girls as they left the dance floor for a "slow song," usually something like this or this, with the goal of trying to get in on the last slow dance song, which was invariably "Stairway to Heaven." After Donna Summer's "Last Dance" came out, they'd try to sub that one in for the last dance, but it wasn't received very well, so it was back to Zep, perhaps the least propitious dance band ever.

Some 30 years later, it's easy to laugh at how silly the musical selections were, but I suppose it was just how things were in a place like Appleton, where they still had regular half-hour polka programs on local television in the 1970s. I remember watching those because my aunt and uncle were regulars on the show, almost like the kids on American Bandstand but a little more wrinkled. But watching Uncle Pete and Aunt Rita dancing along to the stylings of Alvin Styczynski was easier to understand than what was emanating out of Studio 54 at the time.

1 comment:

Gino said...

funny story:
1st dance frosh year, i was grabbed by one of my sis's friends (she was a very good looking senior) for Stairway To Heaven slow dancing.
the gal played it up like she was really getting into me (i knew she was playing) putting on a show for the other frosh boys who were watching.
that was cool.