Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hot Stuff - Alice Echols on Stonewall

I haven't got hold of a copy of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols yet, but there's a very interesting interview with her at Salon. Here's what she has to say about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York:

'In some ways, it's not surprising that the Stonewall Inn became the birthplace of what many people consider the modern gay liberation movement: It was a dancing bar. The Stonewall had two dance floors, and it was unusual because most bars in New York City did not allow gay men to dance. The one in the back was often filled with black men and Latinos, and the jukebox was soul. There was a lot of getting down on that dance floor, and that led to a kind of sexual expressiveness.

There's this great quote I have in the book, that at other bars you could only get into the longing for a particular person -- and think, "Oh, he's cute" -- but you couldn't do anything about it. At the Stonewall, the dancing forced a kind of physical intimacy and, I think, gave the men there a sense of wanting more and yearning for more, which then got expressed in the Stonewall Riots.

It's very telling that when the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance started up in New York, one of their key activities was to organize dances where many of the movers and shakers of the disco world were first exposed to disco. I think it's very hard to disaggregate dancing from protest. Dancing is a protest especially from men who were surveilled and harassed. That's one of the reason why disco featured music that didn't stop. You didn't want it to stop, because that in itself was a kind of rebellion...

Once gay bars became decriminalized, the mafia pulled back somewhat and you saw these different venues cropping up, like private clubs. Dancing became a part of what Richard Goldstein calls the "psychic intifada." The music was so damn loud that the reticence and inhibition that characterized the gay piano bar could no longer be had. You had to dispense with the chitchat, which led to greater sexual explicitness'.

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