September 2nd, 2008

Listening Back

Sitting in a café whose sound system is playing a steady stream of soul and disco, with a heavy dose of songs from the late 1970s, while researching stories from the early years of AIDS -- or "GRID," as it was initially called -- is a decidedly unsettling experience. I've long had the feeling that Chic's "Good Times" is not only a song about celebrating the present, but one that mourns a far worse future to come. Back in 1980, that meant Ronald Reagan in my world. But the benefit of hindsight added other dimensions to that impression. Today's experience reminded me that the recoding of disco represents one of the most remarkable transformations in popular music history. The profundity of the superficial has rarely been so forcefully demonstrated. I can't help but compare it to the effect that frothy entertainments of the Weimar Republic have when considered -- see Cabaret -- in relation to Hitler. It seems strangely fitting that the class Michel Foucault was planning to teach before he became too ill to work was going to cover that period.