I often get laughed at by my students for my musical choices in the classroom/studio. I won’t lie; it was a tough time growing up musically. I grew up at the end of Led Zeppelin and at the beginning of Abba. My choices were limited for sure. But music was a huge part of me growing up. I loved Elton John and some of the musicals my parents had on vinyl. I remember coming home from camp in 6th grade and my parents had bought “A Night at the Opera” by Queen and it blew my little 12 year old head. Apparently they needed a soundtrack for the bacchanal they had while I was away.
My early years as a young gay male and the world of music that opened up to me in the clubs/bars/discos in Toledo had a lasting effect on my musical tastes as an adult. If I wasn’t sneaking in to the Gay clubs and dancing to late disco/early house, I was at the straight clubs shaking it to the grinding funk and R&B that populated the playlists at such bars like Renee’s, one of the true discos left standing after the 70’s. They tried to update the place with new lights and décor, but it was what it was, an old disco tucked in a shopping mall and it didn’t last very long into the 80’s. I had some older gay friends who tried to turn me on to the various musical genres taking hold and it was an array of music that still has a place on my Ipod today. Cutting edge groups like Kraftwerk, and divas such as Sylvester and Grace Jones still rock my world. But as the 80’s closed up and we moved on into the 90’s, club culture was still booming. Bars were a place of refuge for me and my friends, gay and straight. They were places where we could go and get away from it all. Sure we had the disco anthem “I am what I am” to help us feel good about ourselves, but it was no “Born this way.” Many of my current students go to the Necto in Ann Arbor, another grey lady from the disco era who has managed to survive into this new century. Of course we knew it as the Nectarine Ballroom, and it was indeed that, it was a spacious and opulent place where the music was amazing and every night, gay or straight, was a show. Money was saved up each week for the nights out in Michigan. If we drove fast, we could close the Nectarine at 2 and drive back to Ohio to close out Buttons or Bretz and continue partying until 4 or 5 am.I recently caught “Maestro” on IFC and the documentary has been floating around in my head since I watched it. I have watched the opening credits many times, as the narration over the thumping house beats brought back many memories for me. As the credits roll, a voice begins to speak:
“I want to tell you about walking into an oasis.”“Feeling like I just walked into my family’s living room...it was about being safe from the social restrictions of the outside.”
“Everything the Moral Majority told you you couldn’t do, it didn’t exist anymore.”
“It was a family that had only one rule, to love thy brother, and that was okay.”
“It was you and them against the world, and we survived together.”
I get goosebumps as I read these words, because that is how I felt about going out to the bars/clubs in my early 20’s. It was freedom, freedom from a world of AIDS and HIV, freedom from the crap that was going on in my head as a young man who knew he was gay, but didn’t know how he fit into the world. The last line says that we survived together, but in reality, we didn’t. I lost so many friends from this time that it breaks my heart to think about them and their lives, cut down so quickly.
My nights of going out and clubbing are pretty much over now. The kids know when we are out late, and the later we are out, the earlier they get up. It’s not a winning situation. But I can still jam out with the Wii and dance with Eli as we do the Michael Jackson Experience together. It’s a totally different experience to dance with a 3 year old in your family room to his music and not be in a club. The smell of pot and poppers are replaced with the smell of juice boxes and a not so fresh diaper (on him, bitch.) I can still crank out Lady Gaga with the kids and on cue they both raise their hands in the back of my car as Mother Monster commands them to “put their paws up!” And I can still put on my headphones, grab my dog, and go out for a walk in the park jamming to the tunes that made me who I am today. The strobes are gone, but the memories remain.
More on the film “Maestro” here:
For the first time Ramos’ documentary puts into perspective the period of time spanning the late 60s into the early 80s when New York City saw the birth of the Underground Dance Music Culture, a musical and a cultural movement that deeply impacted social rules and ultimately set the groundwork for the Chicago House Music scene, the Disco era and present day global DJ Culture. The quintessential elements captured in the DVD on the legendary New York and Chicago clubs like The Loft, the Paradise Garage, the Music Box, the Warehouse, and their renowned DJs Larry Levan, David Mancuso, Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles, have influenced parties and dance music productions across the world. According to renowned film critic Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times, “Maestro traces the roots of today’s global dance-music culture with a passion, knowledge and insight that is as infectious as the music itself. For the uninitiated it is a revelation and for the aficionados it will surely be a special treat.”
The opening sequences (as well as the whole documentary) are on YouTube: