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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.



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