Sunday, May 20, 2012

Love To Love You: Donna Summer

It's the way things are done, isn't it? An artist dies and we re-consider what their work has meant to us, belatedly offer a bouquet when it's too late for the recipient to be the beneficiary. This, reported in the New York Times coverage of Donna Summer's death last week from cancer, at age 63:

     John Landau, the chairman of the nominating committee at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, also issued a statement - an unusual one in which he said it was unfortunate that the hall had never inducted her.
   "There is absolutely no doubt that the extraordinary Donna Summer belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," Mr. Landau wrote. "Regrettably, despite being nominated on a number of occasions, our voting group has failed to recognize her – an error I can only hope is finally and permanently rectified next year."

 Then again, who considers the Rock and Roll Hall of fame particularly meaningful? And yet, it's typical of our culture.

In 2004, I expressed my own appreciation for Donna Summer in a long-ish article that can be found below. The piece was written pre-Gaga, and before hip-hop production blurred the lines of distinction between itself and house/techno...which is to say, before the latest resurgence in interest in dance music. But I think that as an appreciation of a true and unique talent, it holds up:

Meanwhile, on KCRW, late-night DJ Raul Campos - whose nightly show is always worth listening to - got it right with his tribute. He opened his show with 'Love To Love You Baby,' and later went on to express how much Donna Summer had meant to him, and to the people in the DJ community he'd looked up to when he was learning his craft. He also explained that some time ago he instructed friends that when he dies, three records should be buried with him - one of which ought to be 'I Feel Love.'

Certainly it's one of the half-dozen most important songs in the history of dance/electronic music.

You can find Raul Campos's Donna Summer tribute show here:

And finally, a lovely interview with Donna Summer on NPR"s Fresh Air. Terry Gross is a peerless radio interviewer, and though this might not represent her best work, what comes through (and what Gross obviously deserves some of the credit for), is a real sense of Summer's personality, of her like-ability and decency. If you're unfamiliar with her story, you'll also likely find it instructive as to how much she contributed to her own success, writing much of her own material.

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