This little entry is in response to Renee Graham’s Boston Globe article, which my bullshit “friend” emailed to me yesterday, titled “Why does rock and roll hate disco?” You may remember that I titled this entry (see above) “Because it sucks.” Get it?
Heh heh heh. I am sticking with the sophomoric title not because I think I am so funny or even because that’s what I think about disco. I am keeping it because I think it is an apt response to the way Graham frames the article: why have so many disco musicians been excluded from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Answer: Because it, the hall, sucks.
Not surprisingly, it chafed the tender sensibilities of hardcore rock fans, many of whom were straight, white, and male — the antithesis of disco’s core audience. Branding the music as a threat to rock’s supremacy, they adapted “Disco sucks” with its thinly veiled homophobia as a sour war cry...
OK, I’d be a little too defensive if I said her take was wholly untrue. It must be a little or more than a little true if so many say it. I was born in the ‘70s but did not grow big enough to fit a Disco Sucks shirt until many years later, so I wasn't in the arguments to hear the bias. But I will concede the point while briefly adding: Please note that thinking that disco sucks and being homophobic are different circles in a Venn Diagram. Some rock purists may not like the beat or the falsetto or the crazy outfits or Studio 54 anecdotes just ‘cause we, like, don’t. So if you pencil me in one circle, don’t pencil me in the overlapping part. I’m way over there, off to the far side of the Disco Sucks circle, and nowhere near the other one.
Graham’s proof that rock hates disco does not stop or even linger with homophobia. For her, it really centers on the fact that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has not inducted many disco musicians. She offers Nile Rodgers as a clear great who has been ignored: the brains behind the band Chic and "a string of hits including 'Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah),' 'Le Freak,' and 'Good Times,'" and a producer of hits for artist like David Bowie, Madonna, and Daft Punk. Another induction class will arrive without him or anyone like him. What gives?
What gives is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a complete con. It is antithetical to everything cool about music and vital about art. Art need not live on the fringes to be relevant, but rock and roll must. Rock is by definition the guy unwelcome at both the family dinner and the cool-kid party. Rock rides a motorcycle and carries a switchblade and wakes up at noon. At noon. Real rock is not even homophobic-- it’s the gay kid going out for the cheerleading squad, getting taunted and beat up, and then, in a flagrant violation of the dress code, writing the lyrics to “Kiss Off” on a t-shirt and wearing it to an all-school Mass. And finally, insult-to-injury, foot-to-the-ass: picking up a Saturday detention for the trouble. Fuck, man. No one gets him. Not even Father Mike.
Graham barely, briefly alludes to this true ethos of rock and roll by noting (ironically to me at least) that disco was for outsiders. She then hobbles her defense of disco with a few “hallowed hall” cliches and by tacitly endorsing the pretension the Hall of Fame is a worthwhile thing at all. “This year,” she says, “when Bill Withers, Green Day, and the late Lou Reed, among others, are inducted into rock’s hallowed hall, musician-producer Nile Rodgers will again be left waiting at the door.” She is appalled by the dilatory manner with which the Bee Gees were honored. “The Bee Gees, who had a long career before their ‘Saturday Night Fever’ heyday, were inducted in 1997, though they were eligible as early as 1992.” Think about how absurd that is: like Cooperstown avoiding an overhyped relief pitcher the summer after he retires, there is an eligibility date for “induction” to a music museum. So take note, Lorde.
Now, I do think Graham is right and that I am wrong. Disco does not suck, and if you want proof that its musicians rank among the finest of the past fifty years, all you need to know is that a bunch of corporate stiffs in Cleveland or Akron or wherever that stupid hall is wouldn't know how to groove if they got slapped in the ass by Bootsy Collins’s bass. (Or maybe he is funk. Say, then, “...by Donna Summers’s mic stand.”)
I sure hope Nile Rodgers has better things to do than give a shit about being passed over. But maybe he doesn't. For artist though he may be, he is human and being shunned sucks. Yet perhaps such alienation, such sense of not belonging, such a feeling of rejection may fuel his desire to create, to prove himself, to show us all. Something like that fueled him in the first place.
John Lydon got it. Of course he got it. The dude is an oracle to anyone who bothers to listen. Punk’s rise was simultaneous with disco. Punk may have been whiter, more male, but it too lived where all vital commercial music does--way over on the fringes of mainstream culture. When the Hall tried to honor the Sex Pistol’s contribution to music, he had this to say:
Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL
So Nile Rodgers has been excluded from a cynical ploy to suck all that is living, dangerous, and vital out of popular music? Good for him. He does not need the approval of boring guitar-bass-drum traditionalists like me, and he certainly does not need it from the graybeards over at the Shaker Heights Chamber of Commerce. As long as he is outside the shit-stem, Nile Rodgers will remain a real SEX PISTOL.