To its detractors, disco was nothing but a pageant of glitter and Ultrasuede, but Shapiro's history emphasizes its roots in nineteen-seventies New York, where hippie idealism had given way to stagflation and gang warfare. While the city decayed, marginal communities—gays, blacks, Latinos—congregated in abandoned warehouses to commune on makeshift dance floors. Shapiro argues that disco was "glamour as defiance," a movement that promoted racial integration and aided the mainstreaming of homosexuality. His book ranges widely, from Nazi Germany, where Swing Jugend (proto-discogoers, in Shapiro's view) met covertly to dance to "degenerate" jazz, to the rooftops of the Bronx, where Latino gangs did the hustle. This dance step, curiously, found favor with the conservative columnist William Safire, because it required a partner, and thus responsibility.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
Few pop-music genres have so dominated the charts and airwaves as disco at its height; fewer still have subsequently been so reviled. Shapiro considers disco as much more than glitzy dance music with fashion ramifications. Emerging at a time when gay sexuality and rights were exploding and African Americans were entering the "post Civil Rights" era, disco combined elements of the subcultures of both. Shapiro describes how disco grew from roots stretching from World War II, became a worldwide phenomenon, and ended in a homophobic, racist backlash. High points in passing include Shapiro's incisive disquisition on how Saturday Night Fever
had "more popular culture impact than any movie since Gone with the Wind
." Shapiro cites record producer Nile Rodgers: "Those songs are powerful . . . just as relevant and as valid . . . as when the Sex Pistols . . . Pink Floyd [or] the Beatles are delivering a message." Let the pop-culture wars begin anew, with Shapiro's deeper, more balanced take on disco vitally informing the discussion. Mike TribbyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved