While living in Paris in the mid 1970s, I went one day to Crédit Lyonnais to cash a traveller’s check (I only had a few left at that point). A few hours later, I realized I’d left my portefeuille—my billfold, like a wallet but big enough to store a passport, identity cards, cash, etc.— in the bank. I went back hoping it was there, and of course it wasn’t.
I was working odd jobs and had arrived with $400 total hoping to stay indefinitely. (I eventually got a job teaching American English at a French school).
That night I was pretty upset, so I went out to eat and drink with some friends. We then went to a club. I was drinking with abandon trying to forget my worries. While out on the dance floor, this very different, unusual music was playing. It was slightly hypnotic and just kept on going and going (for more than 15′!). I didn’t recognize the singer or the style. It wasn’t soul music, wasn’t Stax or Volt or Motown stuff, wasn’t funk either. It was a new style called disco. It was Donna Summer singing “Love to Love You Baby”. It was great and really lifted my spirits, if only temporarily. I danced my butt off. And had a terrible hangover the next morning.
Donna Summer had been in the cast of Hair and stayed in Germany after the European tour ended. There she met producer Giorgio Moroder, got signed, and recorded “Love to Love You Baby”; it was released first in Europe as a 12” single. This was months before it got to the U.S., where it was licensed by Casablanca Records.
Donna Summer scored big in America and all over. She combined a sultry sexuality, pouted lips and a come-hither stare, while at the same time saying she was a born-again Christian. A mixed message for sure. But these are not mutually-exclusive attributes are they? Maybe just a tease.
I called American Express and the U.S. Embassy repeatedly and eventually was told that my billfold had been found and turned in. I picked it up, found no cash or traveller’s checks but did find an oversize carte de visite(calling card) with a woman’s long Polish name on it, and an address in the 16th arrondissement, the Beverly Hills of Paris. I showed up with flowers, a bottle of VSOP cognac, hoping somebody like Paulina Porizkova (who met Rick Ocasek of the band Cars when she was just 19 and married him) would answer the door. I was sorely disappointed.
But I did get my passport and i.d. cards back. And I discovered disco and its first big star very early on. That was enough for me.
Donna Summer succumbed today to breast cancer at 63. RIP