Donna Summer – Last Dance
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.