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Etc.: Stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiive

Etc.: Stayin’ aliiiiiiiiiive

Friday’s Southwest Wisconsin Conference basketball doubleheader between Prairie du Chien and Platteville will include a “Dancing with the Stars”-like competition. At halftime of the boys game, whic...

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POSTED December 15, 2017 10:22 a.m.

Ever thought when you saw the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever” that it would be relevant 40 years later?

Well, as the Bee Gees sang, we can try to understand the New York Times effect on man. (Whatever that is or means.) I fully expect Friday night’s PHS Scholarship Fund fundraiser (see page 1) to be the funniest thing seen in Platteville since the Doggie Dip. Kudos to those willing to risk public embarrassment to raise money for the fund and for the PHS cross country team.

The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” the song of Friday’s dance (and I apologize in advance for the earworm) is, of course, from the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever.” (The headline is an approximation because there isn’t enough room on a page for 36-point-size eight syllables and 15 beats of “Stayin’ aliiiiiiiii-hiiiiii-hi-hi-hi-hiiiiiiiiii-ive.”) The first line, “Well you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk,” may be incongruous because lead singer Barry Gibb didn’t really sound like a woman’s man when he was singing falsetto, but to quote car commercials from the 1970s, your mileage may vary.

I was invited to wear ’70s clothing Friday night. (No, I am not dancing, though I could — hint hint — announce the dancing.) Appropriate apparel would be difficult because (1) I’m considerably larger than I was in the ’70s, and (2) I don’t have that clothing anymore anyway, in part because (3) all of my bell bottom pants are probably degrading in a Madison-area landfill. (Probably not far from where I grew up; a huge landfill can be found northeast of the Interstate/Beltline exit.) Bell bottoms are, I suppose, fine unless you (1) are growing, and bell bottoms that are too short look really obvious, or (2) are riding a bicycle, because the chain and pant cuffs are incompatible.

Somewhere there is a photo of me wearing not a white polyester suit, but a tan vest and polyester bell bottom pants and black satin shirt, plus glasses, for the 1979 Schenk Middle School Dessert Dance. One of the songs I danced to was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which our eighth-grade English teacher used as a comparison to S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, which contains Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” The Outsiders is taught in Platteville Middle School eighth-grade English classes, but you knew that from the big photo of greasers and Socs and classic cars each fall.

Most people have rightly discarded the ’70s. (I wasn’t a huge Bee Gees fan, though I did have their “Bee Gees Greatest” double album, but I was a fan of Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park,” a discofied version of a 1967 song sung by actor Richard Harris that is so strange that it deserves its own column.) But except for hair (wrong color and not enough anymore), I could probably do a passable imitation of what I looked like one decade later, merely by wearing Levi’s jeans, a white dress shirt and white shoes. That was pretty much my look through four years of high school and five years of college, and other than sometimes wearing khakis and various boots or UW Band wear, what you saw then is what you get now. (Somewhere the brick red leather jacket I wore for most of the ’80s went away, though.)

“Stayin’ Alive” was the theme song for “Saturday Night Fever,” which in turn was based on a New York magazine article, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.” That article, written by British rock journalist Nik Cohn, was proven to be, in the words of its author, “a fraud.” (Musician Frank Zappa once called rock journalism “people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.”) According to the always-accurate Wikipedia, Cohn said, “It reads to me as obvious fiction, albeit based on observation and some knowledge of disco culture. No way could it sneak past customs now. In the ’60s and ’70s, the line between fact and fiction was blurry. … Few editors asked tough questions. For the most part it was a case of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”

This reminds one of the weird pervasiveness of pop culture. When I started writing the story and this column, I thought about basing it not on “Saturday Night Fever,” but a movie from my g-g-g-generation, “Footloose,” somewhat based on Elmore City, Okla., which banned dancing in the late 1800s, until the school board allowed a junior prom in 1980. (I didn’t use that because Friday night will be closer to “High School Musical” than “Footloose.”) One of the most popular features of Platteville Dairy Days is Sunday’s car show, with cars from the 1930s to the 1980s, accompanied by music that is up to 60 years old — probably high school reminders who those who show and those who attend. (Elmore City is 2½ hours from Tulsa, where Hinton grew up, by the way.)

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So in this space of your favorite weekly newspaper, I have managed to unify Robert Frost, “Stairway to Heaven” writers Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and the brothers Gibb. And if you don’t like this week’s column, why don’t you all fffffffffffade away.

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