17 May 2012

RIP Donna Summer, Who I Once Saw

Adieu, then, to the Queen of Disco: born LaDonna Gaines but more popularly known the world over as Donna Summer. The Billboard web site reports say that she has passed on into the afterlife at the age of 63 after a bout with cancer.

The younger generations will probably not know her; but apart from amassing hit after hit in the seventies with her unique brand of dance music, she also won five Grammy and six American Music Awards.

Billboard further reports that she amassed three back-to-back Number 1 albums between 1978 and 1980. So dominant was she in the charts that back when I was a teenager, her songs were played not only in disco bars but everywhere: in jeepneys, in buses, in food joints, in malls and just about every place imaginable.

She remains the one and only bona fide American entertainment industry celebrity that I ever got almost within touching distance of. I do not remember the exact year, but I was in college in the late seventies and she had a concert engagement in Manila.

I was at the National Bookstore in Harrison Plaza one late afternoon – as I rather tended to do when I had no classes – browsing through the fiction shelves to see if there was a new Robert Ludlum or James Michener novel.

Pretty soon, there was a slight commotion; and an intricately coiffured dark-skinned woman walked in surrounded by store and security personnel. She went straight to the music section which was right next to where I stood.

I was, in fact, no more than seven or eight feet from where she stood for a while posing with her own vinyl record in her hand while the fotogs quickly snapped away. After exchanging pleasantries with the suits – or, shall I say, the barongs – she went off after a mere few minutes.

I initially had no idea who she was until one saleslady whispered excitedly to another, “Si Donna Summer!”

The irony of it all was that I was not exactly a fan; not of the disco genre or of Donna Summer. I could tolerate listening to her music on the radio; but not for one moment did I even contemplate buying.

Growing up as I did to music with deliciously poetic lyrics, disco music despite its up-tempo beat just sounded so lacking in eloquence. Suddenly, entire songs were being crafted with barokish lyrics like ‘Oooohhhh baby yeah yeah…’

Besides, nimble as both my feet were on the football field, they both became left on the dance floor.

I would be dishonest, though, if I say that there were no Donna Summer hits that my feet tapped to if it these were played on the radio. The anthemic ‘The Last Dance’ comes to mind.

That said, the words ‘the last dance’ are repeated over and over to the death as though the words of the English language had suddenly been reduced to a handful. But that was disco for you… It was all in the beat.

There were countless others. ‘Hot Stuff,’ ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘She Works Hard for the Money,’ to name a few. She was still recording and releasing solo singles and albums well into the eighties when disco had already slipped somewhat under the radar because of the emerging and subsequently dominant genres of Punk Rock, New Wave and Hair Metal.

In fact, her last studio-recorded album ‘Crayons’ was made as recently as 2008; and according to Billboard from this album came no less than three number one dance hits.

While I was never a Donna Summer fan, there is still something about her passing that touches a nerve. She was a certifiable icon of my own generation and her death is yet another reminder that time indeed not only flies but also takes no prisoners.

Fan or no fan, maybe I should have asked for her autograph, anyway, when I had the chance…








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