i’m readily, earnestly ready to admit that i’m the farthest thing from cool.
there’s this wave in culture and society, in the history of mankind, where a swoop of somethin’ happening gathers all of the ripe wannabes into a heroic crest of cool-est of all. these winners of best of each categorical moment seemingly shine with little or no effort, and certainly no inner angst or insecurities: it’s a seemingly glorious floating above the rest of us minions who supply the avid audience.
so with disco, and that era losing it’s bonafide queen yesterday, i fall back instaneously to the throng of shaking, nervous watcher. envying of course the ‘with it’ kids in high school and college who really knew those smooooooth moves and synchronized bump and wiggle maneuvers encouraged by earth, wind & fire, kc and his sunshine band and my personal favorites, those hairy brothers known as the bee gees.
in the little whitebread town where i grew up, formerly a farming land nestled along the train line leading to the big metropolis of chicago, there was only one hip place, one blotch in the seemingly utopian americana mom and pop shop established village.
each and every store, ‘tommy & terri’ with attire for tots, ‘bob & betty’, a must-go for underthings, first communion dresses and panty hose, ‘lipofskys’ for brownie uniforms and levi’s jeans, ‘the townshop’ for your morning paper and a milkshake at the counter…the list goes on, stamping each store front with it’s family-friendly placard, a 20th century version of every store to come before once the founders had “wrastled” the land away from the native american indians who used to roam here.
this otherworldly post, however, shook my senses into seeing that something was going on…the sign hanging above the door of that corner clothes shop, named simply, “the pants store”, showed an illustration of the back side of a hippy girl, and shocking my catholic school girl sensibilities, hip huggers were way low, showing just the topmost bit of her ass.
groomed and educated at the catholic grade school, i spent countless hours counting the buttons on the long black cloak-dress thingy that the old priest wore as he hobbled into our classroom to warn us of the dangers of sin. my only naughty failing, in second grade, found two packs of ‘smarties’ in my pocket, lifted from the bins in ben franklin’s….and when i showed them victoriously to my friend, her eyes burst out and told me that stealing was a sin.
i threw the smarties away. hell and eternal flames hardly seemed worth it.
my soundtrack in those dreamy days was a combination of the carpenters, barbra streisand, donny & marie, and that brandy, you’re a fine girl song. my house in the country kept us sort of hidden from the bigger world out there, and i wrapped up my grade school years seemingly in a fog of being very much out of the cool crowd. granted, i was happy to watch, offering a ready joke and a glad smile, but in no way was i ‘in’ with the groove of setting trends, much less feeling comfortable around those who did. my records spinning, i daydreamed about silly, simple, straightforward things.
so with the seventies came high school and disco. something wicked this way comes!
away with anything cotton (except for the requisite friday where we all wore jeans to school), and enter quiana and shiny clothes. clinging slacks on boys, shirts unbuttoned to show what was going on underneath, chunky shoes on boys! hair getting longer and puffier, facial hair, jewelry (again; on boys!): it was a funky kaleidoscope of happenin’ stuff that literally had my head swimming to keep up.
what a joke. i never did ‘keep up’, it was tooooo smooth for me. but, as an anthropologist plunked down in the middle of a isolated civilization, i was happy to observe.
a phenomenon came to town.
word on the street one friday at school informed us that there was a….disco.
sure enough, our fourteen closest friends set up the plan (involving 37 individual phone calls, carpools and outfit decisions) and all headed to the requisite first friday night stop: mcdonalds. a shared bag of french fries and quick mirror check in the ladies room found us climbing back into our huge big cars to drive to the center of town, our own little ridiculous ‘studio 54’ had hit the scene and we were clamboring to be a part of it.
now, i did like disco music, i still do, in fact. it’s on one of my pandora music mixes and when i’m in a mood to stay revved up and work really fast, i click ‘play’ and am transported to this very night each and every time.
what we discovered, in my fuzzy memory i’ll do the best that i can, is a side door to the ‘country cupboard’ cafe. who even knew? feeling like something sketchy had swarmed into the town while we innocents lay in our beds dreaming of the carpenters and ice cream cones, i followed my friends down the darkened steps. with each close lower, i felt more and more out of my safe element and deeper into those flames of satan’s much-hyped world of boogie wonderland and it’s temptations.
it’s not easy to shake the parochial stuff so soon after leaving it’s chastity-belted doors, and i prided myself with enough of an adventurers spirit to keep moving along with the crowd into this pit swimming with teens, wild synchronized lights (i would later learn that this was a result of that iconic symbol, the disco ball), and a pulsing, rhythmic very very loud wall of music.
what a dork i was!
so, cramped into this firetrap with hundreds of quiana-clinging school mates, i watched a wave of those ‘in the know’ take to the floor (though i don’t remember it being delineated at all from the rest of the room) and begin to do these mysterious partner-dancing moves. i was mesmerized, and also totally out of my element.
where did these people learn to do this?
as dork me stood back sipping on a tab (where were the profits for the proprietors, i thought), i watched this hip, cool, shiny, glossy crowd groove and dip and shake and twirl and spin and whatever else they were doing, in total sync with one another, and crowned myself, once more, as an observer to the throngs of everyone else who were in the know.
the good news is that it was a brilliant show. i loved the music, the dancers all intriguing performers giving me a show of this new leap towards adulthood. it was scary and alluring and intoxicating and sexy. how far from that priest and his talks of damnation i was heading! and right along with the best love stories of my existence as a professional in the world of unrequited love, i got a little weepy as i watched the cool ones end the evening wrapped around each other to the soulful cry of the soon-to-be crowned-queen’s anthem, ‘last dance’.
so after the cramped, loud, other-worldly night spent in the basement of the sleepy sunday-brunch corner cupboard cafe, i drove my allotted passengers off at their houses and aimed home in the saab. i knew that something was changing, and i knew i was way way way behind the crowd.
what to do?
tuck karen, richard, barry and barbra away for a bit, and start spinning donna summer on my record player.
easy. 1, 2, 3….dip, turn…shake your booty.