TALKING MUSIC:

The Return of Night Fever

IT'S TIME.

For years the subject smoldered in the soul of America. To speak of it, especially favorably was taboo. But recent developments show our society is ready to face the horror and shame of an era that rendered us a nation divided. No, this has nothing to do with Platoonor the Vietnam War.

I speak of disco, funky momma.

Being one of the world's only surviving Discologians, I have decided to write a book about my passion, something of a historical novel--a North and South of music, a Saturday Night Fever of books. I had the vision for the book last week when I came home to the newest Rolling Stone. I flipped through it until I came to the sixth page. Then joyous news set my heart thumping: The Bee Gees are reuniting!

WHEN EARLY '70s Black funk music met Abba, disco was born. Did it grow out of the joy that met Nixon's abdication? Was it a defense against Ford-induced boredom? Or was it somehow related to skateboarding and pop rocks? The first "disco" song is equally hard to pinpoint, but Pablo Cruise probably had something to do with it.

By mid-1978, there were enough disco songs for Casey Kasem to spend four hours counting down "the top disco hits of all time." The highlight of the chart-smashing list was the 24th biggest disco hit of all time, "Disco Duck." Casey proclaimed disco here to stay precisely because it was mature enough to poke fun at itself.

Less than three years later, the music world proclaimed disco dead. The witch-hunts was led, if not incited, by Dr. Johnny Fever on the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. Soon after the comedy aired in 1979, Fever began slamming disco, and by 1981 he was openly saying, "Disco is hell."

As a lifestyle, it was truly gone. No more innocuous fun--in the '80s, fun means the hard stuff. Cocaine, crack, jogging and worse. The Village people, one of the founding groups of disco, deserted to punk (a self-respecting musical from that wouldn't have them). Olivia Newton-John deserted to the '80s fad, phys-ed. She and the country took their energetic dance from the dance floor to the gym.

Disco really fizzled when Evelyn Champagne-King, whose "Shame" may be regarded as one of the greatest songs of the movement, dropped her middle name. Champagne was disco: light, fun, slightly intoxicating. The name-dropping oozed symbolism.

NONETHELESS, DISCO as a musical concept lives on. Though the commercial success of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and others have pushed hard rock 'n' roll to the front of the music scene, the thumping beat and airy, orchestral sound of disco survive. Listen to DeBarge--you'll hear Chic. Listen to Madonna. No, I said LISTEN. Don't look. Her pop is disco direct descendant.

No one has named the dominant trend in '80s music because they're afraid to: it's disco, and all the critics know it. They know it and fear it. It is the strange uncle who lives in the attic and can't be acknowledged.

They tried to call the new music "technopop," but it doesn't quite stick. Technopop is disco with a drum machine. No giant musical gap separates Michael Jackson's two big albums, Off the wall and Thriller. No difference exists between disco's Beethoven's Fifth and Hooked on Classics.

Perhaps with the return of the Brothers Gibb, America will be able to face the horror that lives in its very midst. Disco cannot be denied. Let's lay our records on the table and call the music what it should be called. Let us recognize that disco, so vital a part of our historical and musical heritage, is not dead.

I go to begin research for my book, Disco: Now, Then--and Forever.