Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vintage Articles:
Sean Lawrence's Discaire Column -
Supply Without Demand // Christopher Street - May 1979

Recently, while doing a bit of research, I had come across some old issues of Christopher Street - a long defunct gay magazine published from 1976-1995, often referred to as "The Gay New Yorker" in its time. Finding out about Christopher Street for the first time felt, quite honestly, like uncovering a treasure. While perhaps quite a bit more highbrow and New York-centric next to other gay offerings on the newsstands of its day (and certainly compared to what exists now), I'd have to rank Christopher Street, at least what I've seen from this period, as easily one of the best gay magazines that I've read. While the quantity and accessibility of information available online can compensate somewhat for the beleaguered state of print media these days, reading something like Christopher Street, one can't help but feel a touch of nostalgia for a time when something as culturally literate and intelligent as Christopher Street had a solid place in newsstands and in gay culture at large.

Being the sophisticated cultural arbiter that it was, aside from covering society, politics, literature and the arts; given the times and their audience, that usually meant that the topic of disco was weaved into their general coverage fairly regularly (record labels pushing their disco product were some of their biggest advertisers at the time, which probably helped too). One column that stood out in that regard was Sean Lawrence's Discaire, which debuted in May of 1979 as their "on the disco scene" column. It was never really 100% exclusively disco and not so much a look at the 'scene' as much as a record review column, and quite honestly, I wasn't even really familiar with the term 'Discaire' before this, (a slightly disused term for a DJ, or anyone who plays, selects and comments on music) but unfortunately given its timing, the column would be relatively short-lived. Debuting right around the time of the great disco backlash in America (which the column would at times make reference to), Discaire would run, barring a couple of issues, from May 1979, until February 1980.


While Christopher Street had carried record reviews before this, Discaire came across as a much more personalized take on things than your standard record review column. Although Sean Lawrence was not nearly as prolific as, say, Vince Aletti; armed with sharp prose that was generally clever and witty without being merciless; given that he came with a well-cultivated gay sensibility (obviously) and knew his way around disco - even if I didn't always share his opinions, they're always a pleasure to read. While Lawrence is hardly breathless and uncritical about disco (as the title of this very installment proves), I have to admit how refreshing it is to find record reviews from this time, and specifically coverage of disco that isn't loaded with the usual (dare I say - straight white male) rock critic biases, where even a positive disco review usually has the writer twisting themselves into some sort of awkward, apologetic stance just for doing so.

Anyway, for now, here's the first Discaire column, Supply Without Demand - pans for Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, praises for Johnny Mathis, Montreal's Alma Faye Brooks and Ferrara, among others..


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Supply Without Demand 

Sean Lawrence
Discaire
B Songs reveal more than we want to know about the record industry: they sound as if the company needed more product, or the artist needed more money, or the disco/radio station needed more anything to play. When B songs appear on the albums of performers we like and whose work we have followed, they spoil the neighborhood. What, we wonder, can the performer have been thinking when the decision was made to record that junk? And who really made the decision?

         Let's talk about Patti Labelle.

         To those of us who have trekked with the hordes of urban renaissance gays and Bloomingdale's blacks to just about every concert Patti Labelle has given in the New York metropolitan area, her new album, It's Alright With Me (Epic JE 35772), is at once a delight and a disappointment. “Music Is My Way Of Life” is a disco upper if ever there was one, with a full, unstoppered sound of happiness. It's the kind of song that moves swarms of people to rush Labelle on stage when she sings it at the end of a concert – and it almost carries this album. But someone has surrounded this gem with B dross and should be charged with artist abuse.

         Another performer who deserves better packaging is Gladys Knight, and she'd better get it soon. Waiting for an A song on Gladys Knight (Columbia JC 35704) is like waiting for Godot. Knight's efforts on Buddah (Miss Gladys Knight [BDS 5714] and The One and Only ... Gladys Knight & the Pips [BDS 5701]) at least had bonbons such as “I'm Still Caught Up With You” and “It's A Better Than Good Time” (which had a nifty retro-disco quality). Yes, there is life after the Pips, but not much. Like Linda Ronstadt, Gladys Knight is best when she sings about lost or remembered love. Gladys Knight is a collection of mediocre songs that neither departs from nor enhances this terrain, and a waste of time for such a gifted performer. Knight herself is listed, with Jack Gold, as co-producer; insofar as she may be responsible for the selection of material on this album, she deserves a better producer.

         Jack Gold, on the other hand, can't be faulted for his work on Johnny Mathis's new release, The Best Days of My Life (Columbia JC 35649). This is a surprisingly fine album, including the now requisite disco hit (“Begin the Beguine”) and the predictable heterosexual duet (“The Last Time I Felt Like This” from the film Same Time Next Year, sung with Jane Olivor and not awful at all). The rest of the songs on the album are smarter and more authentically moving than the stuff Mathis sings on the Tonight Show just before Johnny Carson starts asking him about his love life.


On the heavy disco scene, “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” (Arista SP-38) is an elegantly mellow hit containing disco roller-skating rhythms (they skated to it at Manhattan's Twelve West at the opening of the Disco Convention) that some people have been adapting to non-roller-skating dancing. Although disco roller-skating is not the hottest thing to hit the gay community since typhoid, it seems apparent that Arista Records is serious about trying to get its share of the disco market.

         Whereas “Disco Nights” embodies Andrew Holleran's definition of “light disco,” Madleen Kane's “Forbidden Love” (Warner Bros. 8772) marks the entrance onto the scene of Erotic Funeral Disco. It's about time that intercourse had a new song. (“Hold Your Horses” by First Choice is already worn from play.) “Forbidden Love” is full of dark sexual exhortations that will surely make it the national anthem in the darker corners of the baths. It even smells like poppers.

         From the “Why Not?” Department comes a new disco album based on a Victorian novel, and produced by John Ferrara, Wuthering Heights (Midsong International 0798) is one of the more inspired of the recent disco releases. Three acts on its title side build to a danceable frenzy with the same kind of fervor and calculation we remember of Donna Summer's classic Love Trilogy album. How, you ask, can an album be based on Wuthering Heights? Just keep singing “Heathcliff” over and over, with lots of strings, congas, and orchestra bells in the background. Can War and Peace be far behind?


Two of the latest releases from Casablanca, the mogul disco label, introduce new performers. Alma Faye's Doin' It! (NBLP 7143) indicates that she has promise as a disco diva (we've heard her touted as the Aretha Franklin of disco). On “Don't Fall In Love” her voice overwhelms the normally pushy instrumental, thus breaking new ground for disco. One of the songs even proves that disco is ecology-minded - “It's Over” sounds like a recycled “I'm A Victim of the Very Songs I Sing.”

         Dennis Parker's Like An Eagle (NBLP 7140), produced by Jacques Morali, sounds like a California album about New York. One of its longer cuts (“New York By Night”) contains references to tricking, hustling on 53rd and Third, dancing at Studio 54, and eating gossip at Elaine's, but sounds as if it's being remembered from inside a soundproof limo cruising an L.A. Freeway. Parker is clone-attractive and has been packaged for disco j.o.

         And...

         Now that everyone is coming to the realization that “Disco Saves” (careers, homes, marriages), Paul McCartney has turned to it for salvation. Too bad. His “Goodbye Tonight” [sic] (Columbia 23-01940) is the disco turkey of the year. It makes us look forward to Ethel Merman's “conversion” ■
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LINKS:
wikipedia: christopher street (magazine)
facebook: newmanology - christopher street magazine
arbery books: christopher street back issues
ephemera forever: christopher street

discogs: patti labelle - it's alright with me lp
discogs: gladys knight - s/t lp
discogs: johnny mathis - the best days of my life lp
discogs: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discomusic.com: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discogs: madleen kane - forbidden love 12"
discomusic.com: madleen kane - forbidden love 12''
discogs: ferrara - wuthering heights lp
discogs: alma faye - doin' it! (us lp)
discogs: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discomusic.com: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discogs: wings - goodnight tonight 12"
discomusic.com: wings - goodnight tonight 12"


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

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