Especially all my divas of color. Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and honorary diva Luther Vandross should all still be with us.
I’ve been out of town for the last two weeks so I’ve been unable to post my tribute to Donna Summer. She died from cancer just as I was leaving on my trip. I drove from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, singing all my iPod’s Donna Summer at the top of my lungs all across the desert.
For many girls (and gay boys) my age, Donna Summer’s double greatest hits album On the Radio was one of the first albums we ever owned. Staring at the cover, I could never get over how uncomfortable and stiff her pose looked on top of that jukebox.
On the album, each anthemic disco track ran into the next, which was great for “an evening with Donna Summer” but tragic for stealing out songs for a mix tape.
I don’t know a single pre-teen immune to the charms of “Macarthur Park,” who didn’t re-enact it’s melodrama alone in their room with a jump rope handle for a microphone.
As older girls in college, we all identified with the unusual oddity of “Enough is Enough,” the marathon of dueting between Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. On a kitsch level, it was a bonding moment of bitchy girl power.
Ten years connected to LA gave me a better appreciation for “Sunset People” and “Dim All the Lights” ranks right up with Rita Coolidge’s “All Alone” for sultry scene setting. I never tire of the toot toot heey beep beeps of “Bad Girls” or the duet of “Heaven Knows”...and wasn’t “On the Radio” the anthem of our ever-hopeful teenage love lives? The sentiment is so innocent it’s almost painful if it wasn’t so lovely.
I even remember, with some amount of preserved disgust, Steve Allen doing a reading of the lyrics of “Hot Stuff” on some awards show in the late 1970s. Although reading inane pop lyrics was part of his shtick, I was irritated by it seeming so condescending, square and…a bit humorless.
Cher tweeted her memories of dancing at Studio 54 in the late 1970s: "I remember 'Last Dance' ended my nights at Studio 54! By that song, I was drenched! Hair too!"
While Cher was dancing in Studio 54, I was hearing “Last Dance” inevitably as the final song of the high school dance. It was a melancholy moment every time, for if the boy crush of the season had not asked you to dance all night, this was his last chance. The song was literally calling him out. What a Cinderella moment we were all waiting for. But he never did. You loved the song but hated what it meant.
But in your bedroom fantasies, blasting the album on the record player while you were all alone after school, the boy crush did ask you to dance which made the song magical. You could play Donna Summer so loud you could hear it in every room of the house. In each room you were the diva singing on a stage to the universe.
In 1983 “She Works Hard for the Money” was an early MTV staple. It was played so often, you grew tired of seeing it. Last week, my friends and I struggled to find a full-length version of it on the youtubes.
In 1984, Donna released Cats Without Claws which had The Drifters ballad “There Goes My Baby” which didn’t do so well on the charts but I loved to belt it out in my bedroom when it came on MTV and my high school friend sang it at the high school follies show. I loved the whole album: “It’s Not the Way,” “Eyes,” “Maybe It’s Over” and the spiritual ballad “Forgive Me.” Although I didn’t identify myself as Christian, I was still deeply moved by its brave spiritual message of self honesty to “love more than I accuse.”
Later in the summer after I graduated high school, I remember loving the single “Only the Fool Survives”(1987 from the album All Systems Go) she did with Mickey Thomas from Starship.
I had my first and only chance to see Donna Summer in LA in 2005 at the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal’s City Walk. I had an unabashedly good time and reviewed the show for the webzine Ape Culture.
At the end of the day, we don’t expect our earliest MTV stars to be leaving us so soon. I am beginning to feel like the 80s-generation kids are more attached to our music stars than are older or younger generations. I don’t know if this is because we were utterly consumed with pop culture growing up, with MTV, award shows and arena concerts. Music stars pervade our memories. We so identified with those upbeat, offbeat 80s images.
I read on the Cher News blog that Justin Timberlake has signed to play Neal Bogart in a movie called Spinning Gold about the Casablanca years: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1671556/justin-timberlake-spinning-gold.jhtml
Cher and Donna Summer are the two biggest disco divas to have shared time at Casablanca Records (see picture to the right). You can read about Cher and Donna Summer and the Casablanca Years in Cher Zine 3.
Cher tweeted about the death of Donna Summer: “So sad. One of the GREAT voices of our time!...She was exquisite!"