Tony the Tour Guy's Blog

A not very regular series of posts on New York City history, historic preservation, genealogy and related themes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why did people say "Disco Sucks?"

I’ve read several serious books about the 1970s, and all of them seem to have gotten the wrong idea regarding the popular late-decade “Disco Sucks” phenomenon. Remember that? There were t-shirts and even songs ridiculing the disco movement, typically worn by working-class kids.

The...errr… scholars… blamed racism and homophobia for the rejection of what they saw as Disco’s progressive side. After all, people of all races and orientations went to discos, right? So those who didn’t like the music must have been a bunch of reactionaries. Wrong on both counts, I say. Having grown up during the Seventies I saw things very differently.

For one thing, while people from all backgrounds may have enjoyed going to discos, they didn’t necessarily go to the same clubs. The discos my friends went to were just about as informally segregated as most other institutions of the day. What was more, the type of men, and to a lesser extent women, whom I knew that were drawn to Disco culture were anything but “progressive.” They tended to be much more conservative than others, and reveled in a movement that for them meant clear distinctions between the sexes, big cars and expensive clothes. We used to call them “Greasers” when I was in college.

By contrast, those who grew up in the earlier part of the decade, and who rejected Disco, embraced a much more laid-back culture, with casual “unisex” clothes and haircuts, more tolerant attitudes and music by bands such as the Grateful Dead. Whether your dad was a doctor or a bus driver you looked the same and pretty much acted the same.

It was these cultural differences that, in my opinion, caused many people to hate Disco and the lifestyle that seemed to go with it. Besides, some folks simply disliked the music and the kind of dancing that you did to Disco. I recall one journalist comparing disco dancing, which he liked, to “the psychedelic writhing you did to the Grateful Dead.” Well, if by “psychedelic” he meant free-form, and if “writhing” implies that you got your whole body into it, then he was right. The styles were vastly different. And some of us preferred the Dead’s variety.


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