Flashback: My 'Last Dance' with Donna Summer—The Venue in Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, 8/23/09

I was such a sweet, innocent kid growing up in Lincoln Park (still am!) that it never dawned on me or my parents to worry about the music I was listening to. Looking back on the times, there were very few songs that I think would set Tipper Gore off enough to slap them with a parental advisory.

As a toddler, I remember visiting my grandparents, who often babysat me when my parents went on a date. One night as I prepared for bed I was singing the song “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” by Natalie Cole.

Of course, at that age, I had nothing on my mind other than playing with Barbie dolls, watching cartoons, and eating candy. I just thought the song melody and Natalie’s voice were so pretty. I belted it with no pretense.

As I continued my serenade on the way to slumber, a racier lyric resoundingly caught my grandmother’s ear. Don't ask me which one. Just when you think your elders aren't listening, Grandma's hearing was sharp.

She scolded me lightly, “That’s not something a little girl should be singing.”

“But Grandma," I pleaded, “I heard the song on the radio."

Since the lady was singing it on the radio—FCC regulations not withstanding—I thought I was okay to sing it. That's good, solid rationale, right?

I'm sure I also flashed the puppy-dog eyes for good measure, but The Grandmother wasn't hearing it.

“She’s a grown woman. She can sing a song like that. You can't!” she retorted, thinking she’d reprimanded me enough that I wouldn’t soon repeat it or any other questionable lyric. She was right.

Years later, I played Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” (the album version) on my turntable with slightly less innocent abandon. Whenever my parents appeared within earshot, my hand hovered cautiously over the volume button, ready to turn it down until that certain part of the song passed. Then, I'd turn the song back up.

That I played the album at all (aside from being a huge Prince fan) attested to the fact everyone else I knew my age was playing it, and I didn’t want to feel left out. Back then, I didn't readily embrace the fact that I'm a square (as I do now) or that I sought the approval of my peers (unlike now).

While visiting us to show off her new baby, Mom's childhood friend Kathleen also stopped by my bedroom to check out my extensive album collection and probably to marvel at the 300-plus teen-idol posters I'd plastered on my walls and ceiling, which forced me to remove the canopy from my bed to enjoy fawning over them completely.

Vanity 6, which had been previously spinning in the background, suddenly shattered the sound barrier (as my "Natalie" lyrics had earlier done)—POWWW! like Batman—underscoring the part where lead singer Vanity coos about her favorite male-privates size.

That lyric had broadcast just as clearly as though Charlie Brown's parents had suddenly become intelligible:

"Seven in-ches, or more..."

Right then, Kathleen shot a quizzical glance at me. Maybe it was even a glare. I have no idea what she was wondering, exactly. But I imagine it wasn't good.

“Uh-oh!” I thought, even though I continued to wear camisoles, tuxedo jackets with tails and lace gloves (à la Madonna, Prince, and Vanity) with my jeans to school. I also rocked a gold lamé trench coat like the lavender one Prince wore in Purple Rain....

If I could help it, that awkward moment wasn't going to spoil my idolatry.

As time passed, I figured Kathleen must not have snitched anything to the parents because they never removed the album from my collection. (Whew!) I would have been crushed since that was one of two records I asked Mom to buy for my birthday that year. She also went up to Peaches' record store (at Sheffield and Diversey) and asked for The Cops (geez, Mother, really, The Cops?).

To which the clerk gently corrected her, “You mean The Police?”

When I look back, "Nasty Girl" and a few other songs, many of them by Prince, were some of those tunes that if you wanted to—and sometimes I wanted to!—you could sneak passed your parents (even if Tipper Gore were your mother) because most of the lyrics didn't alarm anyone.

“Love to Love You, Baby,” on the other hand, was a bit different. Despite my longstanding innocence, it sounded ominous, certainly sexy enough I’d better not hit one lick of a note, let alone dare to play it, even though the full version played on the radio, screams and all.

Although I couldn't justify allowing my elders to hear me singing the entire song, I never thought of it as dirty per sé. I don't know that I even knew or paid attention to any lyrics other than the chorus. Like any other kid, my innocence made me oblivious to the untoward.

And I certainly never listened closely enough to count the 22 orgasms on it that the editors at Time Magazine claimed they had heard.

(How does one count that figure vicariously, anyway?!)

Rather, when I think of that song (and how I want to remember Donna Summer), minimally, it was a soundtrack of my childhood. The song exuded so much passion from Donna singing it, devoid (in my mind) of any sexual overtones. Call it selective hearing, perhaps, but what I heard is a heartfelt song high on melody, bursting with electricity, and rounded out by a thumping beat: "Uhh, love to love ya, beh-bay...."

Donna was my '70s.

Wimpy singers—can't stand 'em.

I love singers with strong voices (i.e., Geoff Tate, Whitney Houston, Ray Gillen, Daryl Coley, and Ann Wilson). And Donna really could sing as well as she could purr ... her version of "MacArthur Park" being my favorite.

I also thought she was a pretty, hip girl who if I didn't have my own mother to sing me to sleep, she'd pose a soothing stand-in (gosh, the things little kids think about!). Although her mellifluous voice was certainly not worth wishing away my own mother for, I never once fell for that rumor Donna used to be a man.

“Love to Love You, Baby” was such a personal song performed with such gusto that when Gwen Stefani later remade it with No Doubt I thought it was a waste of Stefani's time and her record company’s money to do so. Hated it!

That was Donna’s song—nobody else’s.

Hum it. Appreciate it. Dance to it, even. But don’t bother remaking it because you ain’t gonna touch the original no matter how hard you moan, groan or try.


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