Donna Summer's Dance Goes On

Donna Summer’s funeral was yesterday. Her success was stupendous in her brief life, and yet she deserved better than she got.

Why was Donna Summer never the recipient of the same degree of celebrity celebration as Madonna? The difference in their respective levels of talent are nothing compared to the gulf that separates them in terms of accolades, and talk of “legend” status. Donna Summer was a very popular disco act, sometimes called the Queen of Disco. Meanwhile, Madonna was the superstar of the age, the creative wunderkind of a generation, the transcendent trend-setter of the last quarter of the twentieth century, etc., etc., etc.

While Donna Summer never flopped around on a floor in lingerie, she attained greater heights of real eroticism than any of her musical rivals, and greater style in general. Madonna had a more prolific career, and produced a greater quantity of catchy disco-style tunes. Does that answer the question? If so, how does one explain the astounding hype-dynamo attending Britney Spears? This individual never departed the pop star magazine covers, even as the months between her hit records, or records of any kind, stretched into years, and then multiple years. And Donna Summer and Madonna had originality going for them. Spears was as derivative as it gets, mimicking the established Janet Jackson formula down to the last pixel of your video screen. When Britney had her mental breakdown and was hospitalized and basically ground to a halt for a prolonged period of time, no career damage ensued. She was still right there on the magazine covers during the very worst of it, still draining off the oxygen and attention that up-and-coming musical acts of the time needed to survive.

It is heartbreaking, to the point of crushing, to think about all the brilliant, original new voices that we leave to twist in the wind and die on the vine, in order that we may heap ever more millions of dollars and years of attention onto manufactured pop stars that were always questionable in terms of their talent. It’s hard to miss the picture that somebody’s investment is being propped up in the case of some of these overrated superstars. What else is keeping them afloat? The tragedy remains – Groundbreaking, life-changing new artistry is perishing from neglect every day while we carry on consuming the same-old-same-old-same-old. It’s a curse on all art-forms. Some people have been mechanically reading the same two commercial-grade authors as their only literary diet for decades.

In terms of creativity and musical talent, Madonna towers over Britney Spears like a veritable Colossus of Rhodes. But was she that much better than Gloria Gaynor, Debbie Harry, Alicia Bridges, Yvonne Elliman, or a half dozen other disco divas?

Here’s a virtual flower for the grave of Donna Summer. She worked hard for the money.


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