A couple on months ago, I read the following advice inscribed inside a fortune cookie: "Whatever you want to do, do it. There are only so many tomorrows." For Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco, Thursday was the last dance as she unfortunately passed from this earth far too young, at just 63, apparently of lung cancer.
Summer set the worlds of dance and pop ablaze in the 70s and 80s -- at one time having three consecutive LPs hit number one and she was the first female pop artist with four number one singles in a 13 month period.
The early to mid 70s saw the birth of disco, which has since morphed into several categories of dance music -- dance dominates the Top 40 even today. We may take that for granted now, but in the mid 70s we lived in a Rock and Roll world. Disco wedged its way in through the cracks of wall to wall rock and the fading embers of Motown and soul. The country was in transition from the Nixon-Ford/Watergate/Vietnam years to the hyper-inflationary era of Jimmy Carter "malaise," and disco seemed like a beacon of light through the endless miasma of the 70s.
Summer was second only to Madonna in dance hits and output -- scoring 19 number one dance hits and was one of the two "divas" that defined the era -- paving the way for the likes of Whitney Houston (who also tragically died this year) and Mariah Carey. Summer's songs peppered the soundtracks of iconic films of the time such as Flashdance and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She was honored with five Grammy awards and another 12 nominations.
She broke on the scene with "Love to Love You Baby" in 1975, the long version of which practically invented the single-song LP. Other big hits included "I Feel Love," "Last Dance," her dance cover of "MacArthur Park" "Heaven Knows," "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)," "On the Radio," "She Works Hard for the Money" and even "Unconditional Love" (with Musical Youth). This is just a smattering of her output over a fecund and prolific 35-year career.
Her brightest lights in the music firmament were the eight years between 1975 and 1982 after which her time and prime seemed to be usurped by The Material Girl but regardless of hit production, her songs dominated the dance floors from discos to bar mitzvahs well into the new millennium and her tracks were all "on the radio" without interruption.
It's hard to imagine that Summer was a mother of three and a grandmother of four as the image of her by most people is perpetually as the hot young disco diva surrounded by the swirl of endless particles of light reflected and refracted off that whirling ball suspended from the ceiling.
For people now in their 50s, Summer was a meme of onetime youth -- one which is slipping inexorably away as we now find ourselves attending not our friends' weddings but rather, those of their children. The march of time waits for and spares no one. Money, power and fame are no guarantors of a long life. Just ask Steve Jobs, Davey Jones or the aforementioned Whitney Houston. Waistlines expand, hair recedes, knees ache a bit and dancing is now confined to private moments in one's bedroom or den, just as it was when we were teenagers.
Donna Summer worked hard for the money and overall she was treated right. But heaven knows it's not the way it should be -- she should have lived a much longer life but no one can say that she frittered away or squandered her time here. All she asked "is that you dance with me," and dance we did. Donna Summer, the voice of an era, gone at 63.
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