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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dim all the lights

I've never been a fan of disco. I was a rock 'n' roll kid from the start.

And you certainly wouldn't have found me at a Donna Summer concert in her hey day. My see-'em-live preferences were the "arena rock" acts of that era — Styx, Boston, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and the like. Those also were my early days as a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the Grateful Dead.

But there's no getting around the fact that my teen years were 1976 to 1983, and there's no denying that the most popular musical style of that period was, for better or worse, disco.

So disco, whether I like it or not, is the music of my youth.

1979 was a huge year for Donna Summer, who died Thursday at age 63, and it was perhaps the most memorable of my teen years. It was then that I truly discovered the fairer sex, and that year's boy-girl gatherings (parties, dances, any event at which music was playing) invariably had disco, including the sexually charged songs of Summer, as their soundtrack.

I was active at the time in a Jewish teen group called United Synagogue Youth (USY), and weekends often were spent at multi-chapter conventions in various cities across upstate New York. The Saturday night social event at those gatherings, always, was a dance, and at those dances, four things were sure to be present: dimmed lights, a mirror ball shimmering near the middle of the ceiling, nervous teenagers not quite sure how physically forward to be with the opposite sex ... and the music of Donna Summer.

Music is one of the most powerful memory triggers, and to this day, I can't listen to Summer's "On the Radio" without being transported back to a Saturday night USY dance in February 1979 in the social hall at Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie. My closest USY friends of the day — Leslie, Amy, Julie, Lori, Heidi, Wendi, Michelle, Debbie, Rob, David, Jay — were all there. (No last names necessary; if they're reading this, they know who they are.) Also in the room was a 14-year-old girl I had met for the first time the day before. Her name was Rhona. We became fast friends, and we started dating about 2-1/2 years later. Come Sept. 6 of this year, we'll have been married for 25 years.

Donna Summer was there at the beginning, and it's hard to believe she's gone. Her passing has made me feel my age and realize just how long ago those carefree nights were. Youthful dramas like worrying about how to kiss a girl have given way to the daily work grind, paying bills, raising a teenager and worrying about college tuition. Such are the realities of time marching on. But queuing up a few Donna Summer videos on YouTube after learning of her death allowed me to forget the pressures of the present, even if only briefly, and travel back to a time when I was young, disco was king and the woman who still warms my heart with "On the Radio" was its queen.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday on my mind

Random thoughts today:

* Does anyone else find it ironic that Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in Kansas City, MO?

* The story about New Jersey mom Patricia Krentcil being charged with child endangerment for bringing her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth got me thinking: Should criminal charges be filed against vacationing parents who let their children lie in the sun on the beach all day? I think not.

* I was amused to hear New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan call John A. Coleman Catholic High School in the town of Ulster "one of our wonderful Catholic schools" when he visited there on Wednesday — "our" referring to the New York Archdiocese. Perhaps someone needs to remind Dolan that the archdiocese defunded Coleman a decade ago and announced plans to close it. If not for the efforts of parents and community volunteers to keep the school open, Coleman today would be a vacant building surrounded by weeds.

* Note to town of Saugerties Republican Chairman Joe Roberti: Publicly admonishing Ulster County Legislator Bob Aiello, R-Saugerties, for taking a stand against Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo, R-Accord — and threatening to pull the party's endorsement of Aiello in the next election — probably was not a good idea. The GOP holds only a razor-thin 13-12 majority in the Legislature, and Aiello always has been an on-the-fence kinda guy when it comes to politics. Anger him enough, and it seems to me that he just might jump ship — and put the Democrats in control.

*  Did Newt Gingrich really think the media would pay him much attention during his seven-day "farewell to my campaign" tour? What an egomaniac. His impending exit  from the GOP presidential race was announced in the middle of the last week of April, but he didn't formally bow out until May 2, figuring his every move in the interim would be reported. Sorry, Newt. No way. We news folks have better things to do with our time than report the exact same story day after day after day. And when his actual departure finally happened, our newspaper ran it as a news brief on a page inside the B section, which probably was more attention than it deserved.

* Edvard Much's famous painting "The Scream" sold at auction this week for nearly $120 million. I guess beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, because to me, "The Scream" looks it was drawn with crayons by an 8-year-old.