Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COLUMN: Disco Inferno

I'm hiding. As I type this, it's Saturday night and I've drug my trusty laptop down to the District. As many of you know, I moonlight on the weekends DJ'ing down here at 2nd Ave., and right now, I'm out on the back patio waiting to go on. As I look around, approximately eleventy billion are outside gyrating to the disco inferno of The Travoltas. What I'm trying to figure out is why.

This is no slight against the band. If you're in the Quad Cities and you've never heard of The Travoltas, congratulations: you officially live under a rock. What began as a random booking of a novelty disco band at Ribco has morphed into a mouth-gaping phenomenon. Some five years after their first appearance, the Travs' annual summer shows draw thousands each and every time they take the stage -- all of this despite the fact that their set list never changes. It's always the same disco songs in the same disco order.

That said, they put on a heck of a show. In fact, if your idea of fun is watching a pack of 30-something Canadians in wigs and shiny suits singing "Kung Fu Fighting," I can safely say I've seen none better than the Travoltas.

You might think I'm making fun, but truth be told, I've had a penchant for bad disco ever since I was 8 years ago and my mom let me buy my first K-Tel compilation ("Hot Nights and City Lights!") How can you go wrong with bell bottoms, platform shoes, and stairstep basslines? And even the crunchiest of metalheads has to admit that, in their day, ABBA wrote some hot jams.

I'll say with pride that the first R-rated movie my folks took me to was "Saturday Night Fever." And hey, if not for that movie, we wouldn't have its fantastically kitschy sequel, "Staying Alive," which is responsible for THE greatest ending line in the history of modern cinema:

"You know what I wanna do? STRUT."

Point is, I'm old enough (albeit barely) to appreciate disco. I was a macho man, I was a superfreak, and by golly, I WILL survive.

Ergo, it's appropriate for someone like me to enjoy a band like the Travoltas. But that doesn't explain why this sea of humanity mere feet away from me is comprised of mostly 20-somethings. At least 50% of the Travoltas fanbase are too young to know disco firsthand -- yet they're out there grooving away. Frankly, I don't get it.

Would I enjoy watching a 50's cover band play songs I didn't grow up with? Ick, no. So why would people younger than me enjoy disco? It's a mystery. Sure, tunes like "YMCA" and "Brickhouse" are inescapable -- if you've been to a wedding in the past decade, you've danced to 'em. But what are 20-somethings doing singing along to deeper catalog disco like "Car Wash" or "Hot Stuff"? Is there some weird disco conspiracy afoot to keep these songs alive to future generations? I have issues with all this.

Well, I guess I just have one issue: I'm getting OLD, and that sucks. The other day I was channel hopping on my car radio and it landed on KUUL-FM. "Yuck," my brain thought. No offense to the station, but I can't stomach Bill Haley and Elvis and all that ilk. Yet suddenly I was gobsmacked. Instead of hearing some Bobby Darin or whatever, I was instead greeted with Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny.)"

I went comatose with shock, even more so than the other week when my friend Jason said, "Wow, Shane, in the daylight, you can really see your grey hairs." It's official -- MY music has become "oldies." I remember going to Musicland and buying the 45 of "867-5309" when it came out. KUUL-FM has moved from 50's and 60's to 70's and even some 80's.

I guess I just naively expected oldies to stay the same forever, but that's just silly. As radio listeners change generations, stations change their playlists. In other words, 50's music fans, it was nice knowin' ya.

When I was in high school, I remember listening to The Beatles and, though I loved them and still do, I couldn't help thinking how old and dated music from 15 years ago sounded. Well, here's an ugly newsflash: the music I was listening to in college is now 15 years old, and I shudder to think what today's kids would make of it.

I have visions of a small child coming up to me and going, "Jeez, Dad, you listened to Nirvana? You're SO lame." And this is why I'll never reproduce. And why I'll never listen to KUUL-FM in 20 years when they introduce a "golden oldie from Marilyn Manson!" Of course, by then, pop music will be nothing but sounds of power drills over computerized voices screaming obscenities.

Ain't evolution grand? Now if you'll excuse me, I've some disco dancing to attend to.


Wendy said...

Reading thru this, I think I was able to sing every song named. (I promise, I didn't sing out loud. Although, I did read this on my phone... I'm sure that got me a few strange looks when I kept laughing!) Anywho - I had the pleasure (?) of growing up with the music of the 50s & early 60s, thanks to my dad (according to him, there's nothing good musically since). Oh, and mom, who hated disco and was tired of the oldies, started listening to country.

Sadly, we're not so young anymore and neither is the music we listened to. And having spawned children, I "do" get the occasional weird look when I start singing along to the muzak. Which is how you really know the music from your youth is "officially old". ;P (You KNOW I had to say that!)

Face it, we're getting older and the music we listened to all those years ago is as well.

So, fight the age thing - keep listening to the newest music and perhaps, invest in some haircolor. (But do me a favor and stay away from the bleach. ;P)

Anonymous said...

(Becky again Cant be arsed to sign in..again.) I'm just here to say I kinda *liked* the bleach! ;)

wendy said...

Oh, I kinda *liked* it too. ;) I just think it's one of those things best left unrepeated - sorta like the "Macarena." ;P

penny lane said...

Hey, read through your post, and I must say I was...intrigued, if nothing else. I'm a local 17 year old student and not only did I recognize every song you named, but I probably know all the words. I've been to see the Travoltas a few times and had a blast. I don't understand what's weird or wrong about today's generation enjoying good music. My opinion of the music that most kids my age listen to: silence is more compelling. Give me anything from the Grateful Dead to the Village People, just leave Justin Timberlake out of the picture. Anytime I get the chance to go hear live music that doesn't register as "noise" to me, I take it. You don't have to have been around fot the album's initial release date to enjoy a song.

-shane- said...

Leave Justin out of the picture? BUT HE'S BRINGING SEXYBACK!

Call me crazy, but I don't think the Village People and the Grateful Dead would have gotten along too well... (granted, from what I've heard, both bands DID do their share of drugs, so who knows...)

Anyways, point taken I s'pose. But, as you yourself pointed out, you're a minority in that you like music from outside your era.

So think of it as a morale boost and a tip of the hat to your highly evolved musical taste. ;)

Anonymous said...

Funny post seems Disco will never least not in the Quad Cities!!! See you next Spring....