“I Want to See All My Friends At Once’’: Arthur Russell and the Queering of Gay Disco

Article


Lawrence, T. 2006. “I Want to See All My Friends At Once’’: Arthur Russell and the Queering of Gay Disco. Journal of Popular Music Studies. 18 (2), pp. 144-166.
AuthorsLawrence, T.
Abstract

Disco, it is commonly understood, drummed its drums and twirled its twirls across an explicit gay-straight divide. In the beginning, the story goes, disco was gay: Gay dancers went to gay clubs, celebrated their newly liberated status by dancing with other men, and discovered a vicarious voice in the form of disco's soul and gospel-oriented divas. Received wisdom has it that straights, having played no part in this embryonic moment, co-opted the culture after they cottoned onto its chic status and potential profitability. With Sylvester and John Travolta marking out the polar opposites of disco's terrain, it was supposed to be easy to spot the difference. The sequined black gay falsetto, who delivered soul and gospel-charged disco, embodied the movement's gay roots, while the white straight hustling star of Saturday Night Fever, who was happiest dancing to the shrill pop of the Bee Gees, represented its commercialisation and suburbanisation. In this article, however, I want to refract this popular analysis through a queer lens in order to explore not just the mixed composition of early dance crowds, which I take to be a historical given (Lawrence 2004a), but, more importantly, the way in which both the dance floor experience and disco's musical aesthetics could be said to be queer (rather than gay). I will also examine how disco producers, responding to the mainstreaming of disco culture from the mid-1970s onwards, took the genre in fresh and unsettling directions. These questions will be explored through the decidedly odd figure of Arthur Russell, whose disco releases stand as an allegory of the unexplored relationship between gay and queer disco.

KeywordsDisco; musical genres; commercialisation; Arthur Russell
JournalJournal of Popular Music Studies
Journal citation18 (2), pp. 144-166
ISSN1524-2226
Year2006
Accepted author manuscript
License
CC BY-ND
Web address (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-1598.2006.00086.x
http://hdl.handle.net/10552/746
Publication dates
Print2006
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Apr 2010
Additional information

Citation:
Lawrence, T. (2006) ‘“I Want to See All My Friends At Once’’: Arthur Russell and the Queering of Gay Disco’ Journal of Popular Music Studies, 18 (2) 144-166. Also translated and reprinted as: “I Want to See All My Friends At Once: Arthur Russell e la Queer Rizzazione della Gay Disco” in Homobeat Club Tendenze Droghe Corpi, Italy, 2007.

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