a post on the 77 NYC blackout by the author of LOVE GOES TO BUILDINGS ON FIRE. A quick scroll down led to a live cover version of Donna Summer's I Feel Love by Blondie in 1979. It was so infectious and new sounding to me that I thought Blondie must've really rejiggered the mechanics to a song I've always considered pop disco with an R&B undercarriage. A further scroll down led to Donna Summer's own version (this one with video). It turns out (and this will be old news to Donna Summer aficionados) Summer's version is even more mechanical and Steve-Reichian than Blondie's. It's worth reading Will Hermes' post for a full take on how revolutionary the song sounded to musicians like Eno and Bowie at the time. To me, as a 10 year old kid in Princeton, NJ, the song was hardly noticeable. By the time I could recognize it, it was simply part of the air—and therefore in no way news.
But now, suddenly, I hear how new this song is still. The robotic repetition thrills me and plays a brain-chord that inspires a kind of pre-seizure ecstasy. I don't have epilepsy (as far as I know) but know that those who do have the kind of brains that are prone to mechanically repeat a phrase over and over. If I don't do that myself, it's only from having a kind of filter that tells me NOT to do it (the kind of filter, presumably, a brain prone to epileptic seizures does not have). When this repetition occurs artfully it scratches a deep-brain itch of mine and feels spectacular.
Growing up confined in the seemingly impermeable confines of a well-groomed town, I could only hear Donna Summer as saccharine (otherwise, how would her music have gotten through on the radio?). Now, I hear the artist in her, listening to all the music happening—the radical, the roots, the rhythm and the pop—absorbing and transforming it and passing it on.
It's a moment of listening that was akin to how I felt watching Andrew Garfield play Spiderman. The gig was a pop blockbuster, but as an actor you could feel him working with it. Giving the role everything he'd learned as an actor. It wasn't realism, it was acting, the art of the role. While I love the authentic voice, I learn more from the kind of artificiality that allows me to notice the performance, the thinking and the lived life and the playing. The gig is the gig. What are you going to do with it?