Donna Summer was announced as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and although I’m not a fan, her music is forever the driving force behind a cherished memory.
I was born 30 years too late to appreciate disco in a non-ironic way and the genre hasn’t aged particularly well. Even the increasingly short cycles of our retro-mad culture haven’t seen fit to revisit disco-era music and clothing outside of a few fringe acts. The entirety of disco music has gone largely unexplored because it doesn’t fit my listening patterns (there are disappointingly few opportunities for solo dance parties on the Blue Line) . “Last Dance” isn’t a particularly good song and in a lot of ways it’s actually ridiculously cheesy, but it was unexpectedly there for me at exactly the right time.
I spent 3rd – 6th grade in class with the same 23 Gifted and Talented students each year. We became a tightly knit crew, and like any group of boys and girls going through the early pubescent years, relationships were formed. The girls took turns “dating” the same four boys and there were fights, drama, break-ups and intrigue. I was a bit jealous of those bastardly young gentleman, but was pleased with my role as a confidante to them and our mutual lady friends. Sadly, fate struck all of these grade school relationships and not a single one resulted in marriage. Not a real marriage; we staged at least one fake wedding of our own. 6th grade ended, a new middle school opened, and we were mixed back into gen pop.
Freed of the old dating patterns, a connection was salvaged and one of those G&T girls turned her eyes my direction. She of the Ridiculously Irish Name was in all of my classes for the next two years and, my god, she was unbelievable. Tiny, freckled, worldly, intelligent, and beautiful, she was the coolest girl I knew and she made me feel funnier than anyone I had ever met. Our science class partnership doubled as our own private comedy hour. She was chemistry to me and she knew it. And I did not.
I was way too messed up about the racial implications of my own existence to interpret our relationship as anything other than friendship. I felt so weird about being one of the few black students at the school that interracial dating did not even seem conceivable. I mean, I knew it existed, but that was something done by other people in other places. For me, it seemed like an unnecessary provocation, a challenge to… someone. At the very least it would have drawn unwanted attention. So when Ridiculously Irish asked me out via yearbook message (WYGOWM?) at end of 7th and 8th grade, I declined to respond. I did not see her again for two years.
Sweet 16 parties were the one occasion during which I would see my old grade school classmates. Ridiculously Irish and I came face to face again at a banquet hall on a cool October night. Nothing had changed; We were like we always were. We spent the evening talking and laughing and definitely not dancing. At least, not until the end of the evening. Not until it had become abundantly clear that we had reached the last dance.
We were 16 and unfamiliar with the deeper cuts of Donna Summers and were fooled into a slow dance (hands on hips and shoulders, room for the Holy Ghost in between). We coasted through our performance until we were caught off-guard by a sudden burst in BPM. Shocked by Donna Summers’ betrayal, we stumbled our way through the song in the awkward way that only 16 year-olds can. At the songs conclusion, we chatted with some of the other couples. AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENED.
Seeing other couples in the room fired synapses in my brain that had never been used before. I was possessed of the overwhelming realization that nothing else could be done in the moment than kiss Ridiculously Irish. I swear that I tried not to, but the irrational, volatile parts of my brain took. I looked into Irish’s eyes, then at her lips, and back into her eyes again. We both knew what needed to happen. Lips touched, noses collided, there was some fumbling, and then tongues were in mouths! After a kosher-for-the-adults period of time we broke it off and looked at each other like we had no idea what had just happened. We freaked out, grabbed our jackets, and bolted for the door.
As far as first kisses go, it couldn’t have been more perfect. I’d never done anything so spontaneous and I may never again. If “Last Dance” hadn’t been the night’s final song I don’t know that I would have kissed Irish. It’s the deceit of “Last Dance” that led me to my first romantic success. The song’s transition from slow dance to disco-cadence robbed me of closure and kissing was the only thing my body knew to fix that. I don’t know where that came from. I didn’t even know who she was at the time, but Donna Summer was my first and best wingwoman.
Das Racist broke up this week and I don’t really care to discuss the details beyond to express disappointment at the outcome, although I’m not entirely sure what the duo had left to accomplish. Two mixtapes and a proper album firmly established Kool AD and Heems as hip-hop’s resident pranksters, always veering close to saying something actually meaningful before backing off and reaffirming that this was the weed-infused joke you always thought it was. They could never have gone mainstream, but I do wonder what their brand of overly educated and racially conscious rap could have evolved to become. Amos Barshad does a better job of writing a career retrospective than I ever could, but I won’t allow my memory of their music to go unremarked upon.
As an Indian-American and a man of “Afro-Cuban and Italian descent” (thanks for the specificity, Wikipedia!), Heems and Kool AD obviously don’t fit the typical rap profile and it’s this outsider status that allows them to comment on the landscape of American identity politics with a unique poignancy that is almost never touched upon in pop music. It’s easy and cliched to depict American racial struggles as a black and white dichotomy and the less nuanced branches of our media lack the interest or resources needed to explore more complex racial themes. This leads to the unfortunate (and potentially harmful) erasure of experiences lived by all people across the racial spectrum (pay attention 2016 Republicans). Das Racist excelled at exploring the absurdity of these experiences, the absurdity of ignoring these experiences, and the absurdity of their own position in the rap game like only the best stand-up comedians can. And that’s where “Who’s That? Brooown!” comes into play.
I’m not a sociologist, historian or activist and there are plenty of others that write about race better than I can, so I won’t pretend to have any insight as to when a brown identity became “a thing” or what it means to other people, but I know that I first encountered the terminology while in college. Members of the Indian Student Association introduced and it seemed like a term that could equally apply to anyone whose skin fell somewhere in between the Black Action Society and the French Club. The Black Action Society didn’t reflect my own personal experiences, and so internally I struggled to find an identity that worked for me. I wasn’t ready to claim brown as my own, but I filed the term away and quietly noted when it crossed my path. I still don’t know that claim brown for myself, but at least Das Racist made me think about it.
The video that accompanied “Who’s That? Brooown!” struck a cord with me like it would for any kid that grew up playing video games in the early 80s. After watching the video for the first time on an otherwise boring Friday night, I wanted to share its perfect balance of hilarity and nostalgia with my people. And yet, as I went to paste the link as a Facebook status update, I hesitated. What would posting this (lightheartedly) racially flag-planting video mean for my own identity?
What would my white friends think?
- Eric has shared a funny video (ideal)
- Eric is going all racial on me (less ideal)
- Eric is a weird dude and even I don’t think he’s black enough (least ideal)
And what would my black friends and family think?
- Eric has shared a funny video (ideal)
- Why is Eric claiming brown instead of black? (less ideal, but a worthy question)
- Eric is a weird dude and he’s definitely not black enough (least ideal)
That is some serious double consciousness going on right there. I never posted the link.
I’ve never been good with being honest about who I am or communicating which things are most important to me. Talking race successfully is not a skill of mine and I definitely don’t do it on Facebook. But this stuff should be talked about and I’m glad that there was enough Das Racist in the world to give me the chance to explore it a little bit. I hope that there is a Malaysian kid out there that will one day listen to Das Racist and decide that he should take a shot at being an MC. I hope that there is a Korean-American doctor that can watch the “Who’s That? Brooown!” video and feel even the slightest, strained sense of a shared identity with a recently arrived Venezuelan laborer. It’s not important, but it kinda is. Das Racist was never serious, but they kinda were.
So… is it super weird that I think Pink (P!nk) is kind of great as an artist? I’ve been listening to Blow Me (One Last Kiss) for the last month and realized that this was not the first time that I found myself liking her singles. I’d never say that I like Pink, but I am saying that I’d secretly buy a greatest hits album without ever telling anyone (not that I’ve done this, seriously). She’s had a stealthily successful 13 year career and generated some huge hits despite no one claiming her as their favorite artist (or admit to buying an album of hers – seriously, nobody would ever do this…). Get The Party Started was the first song that hit my radar, but it wasn’t until the triumphal Just Like A Pill that I realized that Pink might be something special (hearing it five times a day while checking groceries at a Jersey Shore Shop Rite may have warped my mind in her favor). How has she managed to be popular and yet remain and underdog artist at the same time? The traits clash and yet here we are.
Unlike contemporaries Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Pink never bothered with the virginal façade and instead blazed the whiskey drinking, professional partying persona that would later be adopted by her confederate in punctuation, Ke$ha. Pink has seemed subversive because she rejected conservative takes on femininity and yet she’s never been politically challenging in a Lady Gaga sense (or even in an Alanis Morissette sense). She was a little pop because she was a female and a little rock because you could hear a guitar sometimes. She preceded the paparazzi age and avoided TMZ-friendly relationships that would have made her definable by leaked cellphone pics and the men in her life. The lack of an easily pigeonholed identity may have held Pink back (or protected her) from full pop star status.
Blow Me (One Last Kiss) communicates the psychotic, cathartic snap that ends a passionate, but shitty relationship. Musically, it is lively, dance-able and couldn’t be further from Adele, Patron Saint of the Torch Song. But Pink’s words are frustrated, exhausted, and enraged and yet they hold onto a glimmer of affection for a now abandoned lover. All justifications have been used and every shoulder cried on, crossing the finish line is the only logical conclusion and yet… still. Temporarily abandoned lover? This might be it for them. That last kiss, the last illogical recognition of better days is a temptation in failed partnerships and one that so often sucks both parties back into each other’s orbit. Acrimony set aside for but a brief moment, she’s left the door open to one more go-round. She always does. We always do.
Anyhow, welcome to The Radio Logical Society. We hope you have fun watching us have fun.