Sunday, March 15, 2015

(Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)

At the end of the day, I don't think I can love pop music more than I love Chic's oeuvre, circa late 70s, when disco was booming and then when disco was chased down and stomped on in a baseball stadium, rolled over by steamrollers, set on fire, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Remember those idiots in back in day at Comiskey Park in Chicago?  "Disco sucks" t-shirts and a racist/homophobic nastiness thinly veiled in pride of country, pride of Bob Seger.  In fact, one of Chic's most significant and ferocious hits, "Good Times," made it to Number One during that whole bull-shit "Disco Sucks" era.  The power of that song, and all the songs Chic produced and played from 1976 (when Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards first formed the band) to 1980, comes from an intentional hard-won joy that bursts forth and hardens into silvery passion.  Their songs ARE the dance-floor, the lights, the satiny clothes and smoky eyes, the extravagant furs and jewels and high heels.  The attitude and the sophistication comes from a spied-on elegance inside each song, a knowingness that glamor is a planet you'll never get to, but it sure is fun pretending you are already there.  Take, for example, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)," a song so infectious and crazy-happy you can't help but understand what it means to lose it all in the name of having a good time; that is the key to all their music actually, a strange glorious abandon constructed on top of reality, so buoyant and skillfully manufactured you can get rid of all else.  "Dance, Dance, Dance" was one of the first singles I ever bought, and I listened to that thing in my little white-trash nowhere bedroom over and over, trying to figure out all kinds of things, and yet also that song is a lullaby to people like me (like us), star-gazers, freaks, feelers of deep feelings and yet also in on a joke we just can't explain, can't find the punch-line to.  Chic uncovers that secret but the secret is simply three words, followed by three words in parentheses:  "Dance" to the third power, and "Yowsah" to the third power as well.  "Yowsah," by the way, means "wow."   
From 1978 (the year I turned 13), "Le Freak" spilled forth like an angry anthem, which it was.  Grace Jones invited Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards to Studio 54 one night, and the pissy little disco-gatekeepers would not let them in.  So they went back to their apartment and banged out a tune with the refrain "Fuck off."  To be more radio-friendly, they capsized the cursing and came up with the Frenchified "Le Freak."  Still you can feel a punkishness inside that disco swell, a pissed-off grandeur that outshines itself to the point you can feel yourself dancing and stomping until both become the same thing:   love and hate combine into a new and gorgeous enterprise. 
That's Chic's true legacy, that sense of transcending the world through disco and at the same time understanding the predicament of never being able to escape who you are and what the world can do to you.  What they accomplished in a few years echoed in all kinds of ways musically, including Nile-Rogers-produced epics by David Bowie, Madonna, B-52s, and so on, but also I think they were instrumental in developing an attitude inside cultures that thrive outside of the Main One.  Their music, joyful and polished and honed to glitter and a little guile, powered by a knowingness and worldliness, has survived because it needed to, a soundtrack to all kinds of struggles never mentioned but completely and truly felt.