Disco. Why did it die? Was it the constant and repetitive thud and slick orchestrated strings? Did the falsetto of The Bee Gees become just too much? Was it the anti-disco/disco sucks backlash/movements of the late 70’s which resulted in angry t-shirts and mass destruction of Casablanca/TDK vinyl in the football stadiums of middle-America? No, I don’t think so. I mean, there are always “anti” factions for anything that is popular. How many people complain about Micheal Bolton?!?! Yet, guess who still has a major record label deal? Kenny G, anyone? And, besides, even The Stones had made the migration to disco. What did it in?

Could it possibly be that a certain sidebar of the miracle that was disco pushed the general public just a bit too far?

I wonder — was the mayhem we now remember as “Roller Boogie” the straw that broke that funky camel’s back? Did the disco magic begin to crumble when Cher, Diana Ross and Linda Blair all put on glitter headbands, transparent shirts with no bras with blue suspenders to hit the parquet’d roller disco floors? Linda Blair’s bouncing boobs of 1979 certainly caused a great deal of trauma and confusion within the disco community. However, the other disco masters on skates continued to boogie onwards trying to turn that beat around despite it all. Was it the added stress of balancing on wheels while looking fabulous, glamourous and funked-up? Was it Ms. Ethel Merman’s ill-fated disco LP of B’way standards? And, no one even bothered to notice CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC — so we can’t really blame the Viliage People. And, the so bad it’s good flick, ROLLERBOOGIE barely hit anyone’s radar.

No. I assert that only one thing could have caused the demise of disco. Folks, I think that the sweet disco cake was left out in the rain on the day that Universal Studios “green-lighted” a production involving Olivia Newton-John, ELO, The Tubes and Gene Kelly. The plan was to bring the roller disco “craze” to the Big Screen in that apocolyptic Disco Moment of 1980 that we now refer to as XANADU!

In fact, had Ms. Newton-John not “suffered” from “exhaustion” causing Rob Greenwald’s shooting schedule to be delayed we might have lost disco as early as the summer of 1979, but Olivia did spare the death by one year.

And, now, somewhere on the outskirts of Hollywood a disgruntled actor by the name of Michael Beck sits — still angry at his agent of the spring of 1979 who once reassured him, “Oh, baby — THE WARRIORS is a cult classic! You are going to be a big star! Now, who needs THE DEER HUNTER!?!? I mean this whole DeNiro-Christopher Walken thing isn’t going to last! I mean, they don’t have your looks! Honey, you need to take the role in Xanadu! Travolta is an idiot to turn it down! I mean, who is going to want to watch a movie about a wanna-be cowboy doing the two step! This is going to be your big break into the mainstream! Besides, I already turned down the other roles. This is going to be the new GREASE”

“But, I can’t sing.”

“Oh, no worries. We’re getting Cliff Richards to do your singing.”

“Cliff who?”

That should have been one of many red flags for Mr. Beck.

Take, if you will, the story of a muse sent down from the Heavens to inspire an incredibly gifted album cover duplicator who is just no longer getting excited by the new direcction of album covers. Interestingly, this muse comes down to earth via an oddly tame bit of graffiti in an alley in downtown LA. Our muse, played with a stiffness that only Oliva Newton-John can create, tracks her artist down wearing her handy glitter roller skates, leg warmers and freshly blow dried wings to get both his creative and romantic juices flowing — and, somehow for reasons never clearly revealed — Gene Kelly gets involved. In the end, the characters strive to create what Hollywood needs most — The Ultimate Roller Disco Palace filled with happy mimes, disco clowns, poly-fashions, platform skates and lots and lots of pretty lights and falling glitter! …and of course, Gene Kelly, being as “hep” as any senior citizen can be!

It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to note that this film is more symbolic than an Ayn Rand novel — and certainly more important to pop culture! Micheal Beck is not merely “everyman” personified — he IS our country — struggling thru the turmoil of high gas prices, hostagese in Iraq, a peanut farmer president and the looming possibility that a bad movie actor just might become our next one! The US, like our hero, was in trouble and only incredible beauty and music can save him.

Ironically, the music in Xanadu is actually quite good and it still holds up. And, the movie is so bad that it comes around to being good again. However, it found no audience. But, there are some great moments. Like the cheap animation that pops up for no reason other than they didn’t have enough footage of Newton-John to go ’round — or the way they “cleverly” have 3 women lip sync to Newton-John’s voice during the number with The Tubes because she was too tired to return for re-shoots. Please not the revenge taken by the director with the casting of some older/not so hot looking women to do that lip syncing. Or that classic dance sequence between she and Gene Kelly — personally, I enjoy watching the film crew reflected in the mirrors more than their dancing! Oh, and the 15 plus costume changes in the film’s finale! Clearly, the producers favored the Bo Derek inspried Bob Mackie-lite outfit she sports as she croons the final strains of the theme song, but it is the Disco Cow Girrrl outfit that is my personal fave!

And, then there is that awkward splitting of the screen effect as Gene Kelly leads “the kids” ’round the disco derby dance floor as they clap to the opening strains of ELO, but why do they chant, “HO! HO!” …what does this mean?!?!?

Well, Disco was forever jinxed. And, along with Micheal Beck — Oliva Newton John’s movie career would never be the same. Sure, she would manage to get all “physical” on our asses, but the Grease days were long gone. Nor would the careers of countless Disco divas such as Thelma Houston, Gloria Gaynor — and, please, let’s not even discuss poor Alicia Bridges ever get past the gloom that XANADU spread across the fun that was disco.

Still, you have to believe we are magic. …and, maybe one day, the beat will turn around —- again.

October 3, 2005. Uncategorized.


  1. Miss Marisol replied:

    I was just talking about The Warriors yesterday. How eerie…

    Disco will always have a place in my heart. But, I believe there can never be New Disco music. By definition, it can only be truly it’s coolest in retro. And that’s fine with me.

    You just can’t top Xanadu.

    A place…where nobody dared to go…

  2. snarl71 replied:

    Perhaps if the script writers for Xandu were as skilled at writing as your were in this blog posting, the movie might have been a success?

  3. Robert replied:

    Did you know that the movie Warriors is going to be a RockStar video game? The people who brought us the Grand Theft Auto series? heh! Thanks Matt for the Xanadu photos. I remember seeing it twice on the friggin’ big screen when it opened! GOSH! I still absolutely love disco! Can’t you tell?

  4. Karyn replied:

    Ha, I was just listening to Thelma Houston yesterday. C. came home to find me dancing with a naked baby and a sandy boy in the kitchen to Don’t Leave Me This Way. Hahaha. W. loves that song for dancing purposes!

    You are probably on to something with your Xanadu killed the Disco Star theory here. I can honestly say I wasn’t sorry to see it go, but now with the appropriate distance, I am able to appreciate some tracks from that era. I will never wear the bellbottoms or the synthetic getups or sequined headbands or wedge heels; not my style. And I certainly will not be rollerskating. In public, or in private. EVER.

    But you make many valid points, and camels really are pretty funky. They spit and they have a foul temper. I guess anyone would be p.o.’d if disco broke their back. 😉

  5. Aaron replied:

    Funky camel…… rofl that just made my night

  6. g8s replied:

    Yes, interesting that you should bring up ‘The Warriors’… There’s a screening at the Coney Island Film Festival just now…

    But about the death of disco? Personally, I think it would’ve lasted much longer had it been easier for everyone to ‘Shoot the Duck’ at the roller rink. And can you imagine what it would have been like if ecstasy-use had been widespread back then? Yeesh!

    And speaking of Olivia, have you read the short story ‘ONJ.com’ by Vestal McIntyre? Check the link on Miss Marisol’s website…

  7. joe replied:

    disco is dead? it was trying to stay alive. but it just didn’t quite have that fever anymore. so, now that we know what happened to disco, what happened to new wave?

  8. matt replied:

    Miss Marisol — The Warriors rocks! And, I do love Xanadu! I agree — half the fun is in the retro of it all. Tho, it was a time of mass confusion and as of yet unknown infections — something about that era seems so happy and exciting — and full of the possible.

    Karl — How sweet! Hope you’re having tea with Ms. Isabelle Huppert as I write this, but if you are I want not to now for I would be quite jealous.

    Robert — No! I didn’t know that! Yes, we all love disco. Anyone who claims otherwise is not being honest! I saw it on the big screen as well. 3 times! LOL! I loved it — but I must admit — I loved to dislike it. To me, it was camp the minute the image hit the screen!

    Karyn — Thelma Huston is here in SF for an unspecified time appearing in this long-running cabaret show on the Warf. Her picture is all over town right now. I guess they are trying to appeal to the gay demographic. I do love that song, but it was forever stained for me when they used in LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR. …whenever I hear it I think of strobe lights and Diane Keaton being raped and murdered. Not a nice image!

    g8s — Oh, I wanna go to that Coney Island Film Fest! No, I need to read that article!!!!

    Aaron — Glad your night was made!!!

    Joe — I’m not sure, but wasn’t “new wave” a lazy word for “pop” — or maybe it was code for “pop with cool sun glasses and shoulder pads” ???

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