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‘I Will Survive’: musical mappings of queer social space in a disco anthem

NADINE HUBBSa1

a1 U-M Women’s Studies Program, 2229 Lane Hall, 204 S. State St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109–1290, USA E-mail: nhubbs@umich.edu

Abstract

This essay reconsiders the constituencies of fans and detractors present at prime and bursting 1970s dicsos. It argues for a more gender-inclusive conception of discos multiracial ‘gay’ revellers and for a particular convoluted conception of ‘homophobia’ as this applies to the Middle-American youths who raged against disco in midsummer 1979. Their historic eruption at Chicago’s Comiskey Park came just weeks after the chart reign of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, today a classic emblem of gay culture in the post-Stonewall and AIDS eras and arguably disco’s greatest anthem. Disco inspired lovers and haters, too, among music critics. Critical adulation and vitriol are conjoined in the present reading of musical rhetoric, which explores disco’s celebrated power to induce rapture in devotees at the social margins while granting anti-disco critics’ charge of inexpressivity in its vocals. In ‘Survive’ musical expressivity is relocated in the high-production instrumentals, where troping of learned and vernacular, European and Pan-American, sacred and profane timbres and idioms defines a euphoric space of difference and transcendence. The use of minor mode for triumphant purposes is also a striking marker of difference in ‘Survive’ and is among the factors at work in the song’s prodigious afterlife.