Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Donna's Summer: A Personal Response

by Julian Elphick-Smith

image source:
The sad news of Donna Summer Sudano's death from cancer greeted me last week on 17th May. 

Donna Summer's death is a turning point for many in my generation. My mother always found the most daunting part of ageing the demise of her friends. Now that Sylvester, Robin Gibb and Donna have departed, we start to feel our age and mortality. Surely it was only yesterday that the disco ball spun, roller skates ...rolled, and Studio 54 rejected all reasonable claims for entry! Donna broke new ground and, like Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and the Sex Pistols, received the BBC's characteristic endorsement in the shape of a ban. 'Love to Love You, Baby' was considered too risque for broadcast after its release in 1975, yet it appeared in Mike Leigh's excellent Abigail's Party, perhaps a suitable anthem for the newly liberated material world and material girls of the 70's. Donna's lyrics and performance were a symptom of the validation of female sexuality which the progressive 60s had made possible.

The music certainly has raw power. I am astounded at how primitive the early use of electronic beats and synthesisers now sounds. It has become part of its attraction. Resist the electronic pulse of 'I Feel Love' (see below) and Giorgio Moroder's production if you can: the rhythm, suitably echoed in Donna's robotic movements in the live version, cuts and chops like a primaeval chainsaw! Donna was assertive and sassy, but always feminine. She could look for 'Hot Stuff' yet find fulfilment and romance in 'Dim all the Lights'. She understood a woman's point of view, 'Enough is Enough', acknowledged the complexity of feeling ('Walk away'), recognised women who were less than glamorous - and I'm not being naive - 'She Works hard for the Money' - and celebrated passion 'With Your Love'. She sang of her times, 'On the Radio'.

Donna Summer reminds me of a simpler age. Music was the most fashionable high in the later 1970s. Street credibilty was measured by the extent of your collection of import singles. They had to be 12", as long as possible, and decidedly expensive! The Wedge described my haircut and not a music venue. Even here, Donna did not disappoint. Her version of Richard Harris's 1968 Macarthur Park is a genuine classic. It runs, in its full version, to more than 17 minutes and is the closest that disco came to classical development. The seemingly nonsensical lyrics acquire meaning over time and are particularly apposite and resonant now.'Someone left my cake out in the rain' is a metaphor which speaks of many disappointments and griefs rooted in the perceptions of youth, while there is hope grounded in reflection and experience in 'After all the loves of my life, you'll still be the one'. Take a look below to experience the true power, infectiousness and compulsive rhythm of the mature Donna Summer, live in Holland.

Thank you, Donna, for an age of sunshine and joy: a true summer, but ironically and aptly a harmony in the midst of the harshest season. A true Winter Melody.

'I Feel Love':

Read a tribute to Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees

1 comment:

  1. a warm and moving tribute to a great entertainer.


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