How I killed disco

It is 1978 and I have entered Grade 7 at a regional high school that was famously  built facing backwards, a metaphor for many of the young minds that would pass through its halls. But this story is not about them. It’s about disco. And of course me.

In the senior high, they had dances. Junior high had socials. Dances were held in the gym, socials in the cafeteria. Why junior students were not considered gym-worthy is as great a mystery as how the school administrators could commit acts of low-level violence in the hallways with zero repercussions. But that’s a grudge for another time.

It’s the night of a social, the chairs and tables are moved aside, the lights are dimmed and a sound system is installed. The boys settle on one side, the girls on another, the dance/cafeteria floor between them obscured by a fog of unchecked hormones. At the time I weigh 27 pounds.

At some point, some song, there is a shift in mood, a tipping point, and bodies move tentatively onto the floor, dancing uncomfortably at first, but soon, in a rudimentary mating display (again: hormones), there is a flinging about of arms, legs and still-blossoming parts.

The song is “Ra Ra Rasputin.”

Russia’s greatest love machine.

Am I savvy enough to know with certainty what a love machine is? Am I aware of the non-so-subtle gay subtext of “Macho Man”? Do I think Rod Stewart querying about his relative sexiness is, even at that age, icky? No, no and yes, most certainly yes.

But the groove! I’m sure I liked a girl at the time (who didn’t I like!) but I can’t remember who. All I remember is dancing cat-like to forgotten Canadian disco hit “Boogie Woogie Dancing Shoes” by Claudja Barry – thus clearly not forgotten; I retract the allegation.

I am 13 years old. My brain is not fully formed. It’s 80 percent lizard brain. I want to dance and have fun and maybe start growing hair, you know, there. Despite my scrawniness (or maybe because of it) I think I can dance, and my brain is not about to tell me otherwise. Unaware of all the cultural-sexual baggage it carries, disco is the ideal conveyance for my tiny tweeny body on the dance floor.

But that summer after Grade 7, Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” (not actually about bell ringing) comes across the radio, and my brain, which was by then evolving into something discerning and much more of a killjoy, rebels. I do not like this disco song, I tell myself. Therefore disco is bad. Disco sucks.

Now I am in Grade 8. My weight and brain power have both increased 8 percent. I compensate for shortcomings in both areas by being a wise guy. I am less smart than smart aleck. There are still socials and there is still disco. But now our brains are beginning to make judgements. No longer am I a Grade 7 dweeb repeating Bee Gees parodies (“Tragedy… when you go to the john and the toilet paper’s gone…”). I am a sophisticated 14-year-old; I listen to Supertramp.

And so, one fateful day, in my Grade 8 English class, I give an oral presentation: “Why Disco Sucks.” I cannot now give you my reasons for why disco sucked. Were they lifted more or less intact from issues of Mad magazine? Did I make up for the flimsiness of my arguments with cheap laughs? Did I at one point mockingly strike the iconic John Travolta pose from Saturday Night Fever? Possibly, a pretty safe bet and yes, most certainly yes.

The rest, of course, is music history. Shortly after my speech, disco went into decline and soon died. Sure, it would continue to turn up but it never moved our lizard brains in quite the same way. Video killed the radio star, and I killed disco.

There are many things I’ve regretted over the years, but none more so than killing disco, because it was a music of pure joy, because it embraced sub-cultures, but mainly because killing it led to Kenny Rogers.

If only I had used my presentation powers for good, like why you should never let dudes at a social convince the DJ to turn off the dance music and play “Cocaine.” The live version.

Disco died because of me. But there is a happy ending: I do finally have hair, you know, there.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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22 Responses to How I killed disco

  1. 😂😂😂😂
    “Not actually about bell ringing”
    Omg this was hilarious!

  2. cat9984 says:

    There was a DJ in Chicago who set a pile of disco records on fire at a Chicago baseball game. It was supposed to be a protest about disco. Unfortunately, the fire got out of control. As far as I know, no one gave the DJ a job after that.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Disco Demolition Night! Yes. Obviously I’m being facetious in my piece, but I really didn’t hear about that event (in my small, one-radio town) until much later. And yet the anti-disco zeitgeist still manage to filter through enough to prompt me to jump on board.

  3. So funny! Although I’m older than you, this brings back a memory for me, too. One Christmas, when my parents knew that “us kids” and the grandchildren would be spending a holiday week with them, they gifted us with the music and illustrated book for learning how to disco dance! The main song I remember is “I Love the Nightlife,” and I also remember that we all did quite well until a certain part in the song/routine, and then it all fell apart:)

  4. beth says:

    i’m quite sure that the infamous chicago rebellion was inspired by your presentation.

  5. Trent Lewin says:

    Did you kill grunge too? I was in earliest uni when Nirvana hit like a ton of bricks. I had no idea what was going on, but my body just kept moving, mostly up and down, hands in the air. It was spiritual. But then it went away, and now I’m blaming you. Not like I’m equating the end of disco to the end of grunge, far from it. But I grow suspicious. Presently, I request that you stay away from my precious indie music.

  6. Good Lord! I have to comment. It feels like Peggy Sue got married or something. It’s scary how much it resonates. It’s cuz we were all there. I think I was at 30 pounds. Great article. I have one on regret if you are struggling. 🙂

  7. It didn’t occur to me until you pointed it out that ring my bell was a metaphor. I never thought about it. Imagine how I feel.

  8. Maybe you’d like to hire out, as a social contract killer. Advertise “The Hits Just Keep on Comin’!” or do a mashup like “Saturday Night Pulp Fiction Fever.”
    What effect do you have on crabgrass, for example. And I’d take it as a personal favor, if you’d put your Stamp of Doom on “Cotton Eye Joe.”

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I know people say “crabgrass,” and I’ve said “crabgrass,” and I think I know what crabgrass is, but I don’t.
      I’ll see what I can do about “Cotton Eye Joe,” but do you know I have not once heard “Old Town Road”? I feel I live a blessedly sheltered life.

      • I believe it’s called “Less-Than-Pleasant-Grass” in your country. Yes, you are doubly blessed, I hope your sheltered life is never achy breaky broken by that musical crabgrass.

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