Pop Life

Boogie Nights: How Surviving Disco Helped Me Understand EDM

Some kid I know asked me if I ever plan to write an article about electronic dance music. I told him yeah, probably I would.

I guess that seemed too cavalier an answer. He wanted to know if I had something against EDM.

Naw, it's all right, I told him.

What was I, he wanted to know, some kind of music snob?

I assured him I was not. Plenty of room for the Skrillexes (Skrillices? Skrilli Politti?) of the world, as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe. But you don't care for it, do you, he asked.

Let me ask you something, I said, and asked whether he enjoyed EDM. Because that's what really matters, I told him.

If anyone else believes the Paul van Dyks of the world aren't creating classic and enduring music, who gives a shit? If you like it, enjoy it while you can. And if EDM acts soon fade like dying embers because they are solely of this era, all the better. They belong to you. Embrace them as your own.

Wow, the kid said, that's pretty wise. How'd you get so smart, he asked.

Easy, I said. I survived disco.

The older one gets, I've found, the better one's revisionist history holds up. For starters, fewer people who lived the times you're attempting to correct are still around. Dead, moved on or just disinterested, they're just not there to dispute how awesome you claim you were back when.

So, it's tempting to tell you in the 1970s I was a Bowie fanatic, dolled up, wildly androgynous and way ahead of my time. Or that I was the first kid on my block to wear a safety pin and Johnny Rotten-like snarl. Or that I was even at least a Pink Floyd fan, sluggishly worshiping Dark Side of the Moon in my Army jacket with a comb sticking up from my back pocket.

Revisionist history is for wimps.

The truth is, I was an Afro-headed, silk-shirt-sporting, smooth move-having disco fan. I didn't follow Bowie until he was wearing that yellow suit in the "Modern Love" video. I wasn't even a Ramones fan until my own kids started listening to them.

So, who am I to shit all over anyone else's taste in music? I was an aficionado of some of the worst American music ever made, according to many.

But I survived because disco wasn't the first music I appreciated in my life and it wouldn't be the last. That helped me greatly once disco died. And it really did die, in a catastrophic way. Like the dinosaurs, it's never returned and its existence is confirmed only by fossils like me, left behind to prove it once was a real thing.

Before disco died and before it was ever born, my parents compiled a large collection of record albums in their stereo console. For those who don't know, a stereo console was a piece of furniture, rectangular and wooden. Somewhere inside it was a turntable and also a deep well where one's record collection was held. Our collection was vast and spilled out into stacks next to the console.

My mother was the adventurous music fan in our family, but the person who grew my musical interests more than anyone was her brother, Roy. He lived with us and had joined the Columbia House Record Club, so thanks to him, I was introduced to Steely Dan, Maze, George Benson and Mountain.

I was interested in everything Uncle Roy did because he was so damn cool (still is) and I wanted to be exactly like him. He lived in a small room in our house, but it was a world away from the rest of the place. Its walls were adorned with black velvet posters of half-nude ebony queens. The room smelled like cherry incense. He slept on a twin-sized water mattress that laid directly on the floor -- no frame, no heater.

When Roy cut his long hair, coiffed it Deney Terrio-style and began learning The Hustle, it seemed like the thing to do. So, I did and, it turned out, it was one of the few things I was good at. I had rhythm. I could put some dance steps together and make it look fucking cool.

When you're 12 years old, if you can do anything well, you stick with it. So, from 1978 until 1980, I was a dancing, dancing, dancing machine.

I learned well at the quick-moving heels of my uncle. I looked the part. I wore a pair of shoes, called Crayons, that had orange polyurethane soles. My neck was draped with gossamer-thin gold chains. Literally topping it all off, my hairstylist, Sam Zurovec, gave me a perm so my hair could grow into an Afro.

Recently, my nephew Isaiah saw a picture of this hairstyle and dubbed it "microphone hair."

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.