Saturday, June 6, 2009

This Is Where I Came In

I had an insomniac idea for an article the other night, scribbled it down next to my bedstand, and I think it could be good stuff, but it's going to take some work, so maybe next time. Plus, I've got something rattling around in my head that's freaking me out enough that I oughtta get it out.

I'm starting to love the Bee Gees.

Not that mid-to-late '60s baroque pop. I don't like it when hipsters from Brooklyn do it now, I don't care for it when the Bee Gees did it years ago. And if I hear one more hipster compare Odessa to the Beatles and the Zombies, I'm going to punch somebody. I'm talking about full-on chest-hair, gold-medallion, warbly-falsetto DISCO-ERA Bee Gees. How the hell did this happen, none of you ask? I'm a-gonna lay it down for you.

I was sitting on the computer yesterday, and I came across the "Barry Gibb Talk Show" clips from Saturday Night Live. Used to irritate the hell out of me, but for no reason whatsoever I found it hysterically funny this time. Barry Gibb as a barely contained ball of furry rage that slips into falsetto the angrier he gets? Funny stuff. The thing is, the music they were using in the background wasn't far off the silky, string-laden '70s R&B I love. But this background music didn't go on and on as just an excuse to dance, this seemed like songs. So I go out into the internet and snag some greatest hits, if you catch my meaning. I also do a little research. Here's a band, way past their prime, and clearly a POP band, not a disco or R&B band, although they had their blue-eyed soul moments. You've got a songwriter hired to write some genre songs for what's certainly destined to be a cheap-o exploitation film. He decides to crank out a couple of songs, set 'em to the fading disco sound, and collect a check. End of story, right?

Now, I only saw Saturday Night Fever all the way through recently. And that was after I found out that the article it was based on ("Tribal Rites Of Saturday Night," Nik Cohn, 1975) was fabricated, and it was actually about British Mod culture. It was basically Quadrophenia with sillier clothes and different music. Dead-end kid finds an escape from his dead-end destiny in a youth culture where he has a moment as a big shot, only to be drug back down to reality by his dead-end friends and family, and end up back where he started? Yeah, totally feel-good popcorn fodder.

So the movie wasn't really about disco, and the soundtrack wasn't really authentic disco music (at least the Bee Gees parts weren't), but a finely-crafted fake approximation of said music by a pop expert. Essentially, the Bee Gees did the same thing for disco that Nine Inch Nails did for industrial: take the raw form of the music, then, like a blacksmith, hammer and shape it into something resembling the tried-and-true pop song formula, bringing it from the underground to the mainstream. Nirvana did it for grunge, even bands like the Beatles made psychedelia easier to digest for mass consumption. After all, Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" might have been a bit much for the general public to take on right away, but "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is do-able, right? The Bee Gees, like the pop experts they had proven themselves to be, were able to take the elements of disco and translate them into some of the best-known singles of the past 40 years, and end up codifying the essence of disco in many people's minds.

Who cares? These songs are immaculately arranged and performed. There's some silliness, and I still hate the trappings of disco as much as I hate the fashion trappings of any subculture, if not more. Growing up, disco was my enemy, cause that was the enemy of the punks when they kicked up, 20 years prior, back when disco was a real threat, musically and culturally. I'm supposed to hate disco, and generally I do. I'm not blind, either... I grew up on punk rock but I'll be the first to tell you that punk has some of the lamest fashion statements EVER. But, taken without all the context, the Bee Gees disco era is as good as dance music gets. It works as both smooth music and propulsive music, on par with something like Aphex Twin's "dreamy melodies over skittering beats." Genre aside, the ability to craft music that operates in the fast lane and slow lane at the same time is something every few musicians can master, and it's certainly an impressive feat.

So as guilty-pleasure as it might seem, and remember, this is coming from a punk rocker, the Bee Gees disco-era hits, removed from the silly and absurd culture they sprang from and (for many) embody, are some of the finest danceable soul songs I've ever heard.

Screw your Odessa, hipster bitches... you should be dancin'... Yeah...!

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