The following short story appears in the Cat Oars Collection– “Love to Hate You, Baby”.
Donna Summer’s reign as the Queen of Disco ended with little fanfare. With the sound a needle makes when it’s ripped from a spinning record, her voice on the radio screeched to an end. Music lovers suddenly tired of her style. Summer was branded as the inventor of music that queers like– disco music. By 1990, most music fans had written her off.
Despite her fall from stardom and a lack of popularity, there was still an official fan club in existence twenty years after her dominance of the Billboard charts. My partner, Bruce Miller, fell in love with a man he met through the Donna Summer Fan Club. He left me for a true Donna Summer Fan.
Michael Winters, like my lover Bruce, joined the club and paid annual dues to receive backstage insight into the life of the ‘70’s disco superstar. For $30 they each received a subscription to the official fan club newsletter. Bruce learned of the fan club by reading the jacket of the Donna Summer album, “Mistaken Identity.”
The quarterly newsletter, printed on what was obviously stolen copy paper from a forgotten office somewhere at Casablanca Records, didn’t offer much news about Donna Summer’s musical career. According to the periodical, Donna was always busy in the studio working on a new album. There were several articles written about Donna’s new artistic venture – oil painting. Bruce made me read the newsletter. I laughed as I breezed through his first issue. It was poorly written, typed haphazardly, and the editing was done in pencil. The fan club’s president used a Xerox machine as a printing press. I felt sad when I realized how Donna’s career had crumbled.
“This is so sad. They ripped your ass off. Thirty dollars a year for a newsletter that a receptionist put together at his day job?” I jokingly remarked.
Bruce’s feelings were hurt. He took his mail outside into the back yard where he could read in peace, without having to listen to me poke fun of his has-been superstar.
Bruce and Michael already knew everything there was to know about the music icon. Perhaps they paid $30 in membership dues just to meet new friends through the club. Who knows what led them into the cult-like fan club that was run like a secret society? In my view, they were like bell-bottoms in the Eighties. By 1990, there were not many true fans of Donna Summer left in the world, especially gay ones, and heaven knows I was tired of pretending to like her just so that my lover would love me back. I encouraged him to join.
“Why not?” I asked. “You love Donna Summer and it’s only $30. Why do you even ask me if you can? You know you’re going to join anyway.”
“Because we are a couple and should have a joint checking account.”
Ther was a classified “Become a Donna Summer Pen Pal” section on the last page of the tacky, Xeroxed fan club paper. That’s how they met, as pen pals, through the official Donna Summer fan club. I thought their union was creepy and, to this day, I refuse to spend much time with my old boyfriend Bruce and his new lover Michael.
They are like co-Donna-dependents. My hate for them has nothing to do with the fact that my man was stolen from under my nose. I get e-mails all the time from both Bruce and Michael– links to new Donna Summer songs, invitations to commitment ceremonies they are having on the Brooklyn Bridge, YouTube videos from the past, and Myspace references to the woman who should have put down her microphone a long time ago.
We call each other on our birthdays, although I do not miss Bruce at all and I hope that I never have to listen to another Donna Summer song while making love again. It’s been a long time since we split up, almost twenty years now. I cannot believe they have been together all this time.
I should get over my jealousy. They seem happy together after all these years. Who am I to judge their endless summer romance?
“I’m going to write this guy,” my lover Bruce explained while reading the newsletter in a lawn chair in the back yard. I was picking ladybugs from my pumpkin vines and releasing them into the yard next door.
“You should write him. The two of you are the only two Donna Summer fans still alive.” I said while watching a tiny red bug with black dots on its wings slowly walk around the tip of my finger.
Michael owned a vinyl copy of a rare Donna Summer record, “Sometimes Like Butterfiles,” that Bruce just had to get his hands on. Bruce popped a letter in the mail addressed to Michael via the official Donna Summer Fan club. Michael had placed an ad in the quarterly indicating that he had in his collection an original copy of Bruce’s favorite song in the world. (The song was actually on the B side of another Donna release from the early ‘80’s, but because technology was changing, it was nearly impossible to find a copy of the record that “Sometimes Like Butterflies” was on.)
I spend man y countless nights shopping in record stores with Bruce, trying to find a copy of that record. We went through countless creates at the old Tower Records store in the East Village and begged the owners of Disco Rama and Record Runner to try placing it on special order. Bruce was obsessed with owning a copy of that record.
Five days after sending the letter to the fan club member who owned the vintage vinyl copy of “Sometimes Like Butterflies,” Bruce’s new pen pal friend, Michael, came to our house for dinner. I was ordered to prepare steak au poivre on a gas grill because we were having a very special guest for dinner – a guy who had a copy of “Sometimes Like Butterflies”.
“Thank you for convincing me to try the Donna Summer fan club. I can’t wait to meet this guy. He sounds cool. He’s from Hawaii. You make the best steak in the world. I love you so much,” Bruce sang as we got out our good china.
Our little dinner party was like a reunion of Star Trek junkies. I lit torches in the back yard, turned on a walkway of lights that surrounded my tomato patch and even let Bruce bring the stereo speakers to the windows that faced the back yard. They spoke of Donna’s music and ignored my pleas to change the song on the stereo to something more contemporary. “Please turn that down. Can’t we listen to George Michael or something? My head hurts.”
Bruce quickly ran inside, removed a cassette tape that was playing the song “She Works Hard for the Money,” and put on “Dim All the Lights” as if none of us had ever heard the song before.
“There. Is that better?” Bruce asked me. “He just loves this song, Michael. He loves it. He can’t get enough of it.”
“That’s not what I wanted to hear,” I said while slamming down my outdoor spatula right in front of where Michael the Hawaiian was sipping an ice cold glass of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
We had a guest. I had to bite my tongue. My partner of eight years gave me a scolding look.
But our guest Michael couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The music was blasting and Bruce had so much to say. I was worn out after almost a decade of listening to Bruce talk about Donna Summer. Michael was a fresh set of ears, and those ears were attached to a heart that loved Donna Summer. I knew my lover was excited that he had just met a new friend who appreciated the Queen of Disco.
“Do you think Michael is gay?” Bruce asked after out guest left the dinner party.
I rolled my eyes, sucked my teeth and didn’t say a word.
Bruce managed to squeeze Michael’s copy of “Sometimes Like Butterflies” from his pen pal’s collection. Bruce traded his autographed copy of the album “Bad Girls” that Donna Summer signed for him personally when he was 16.
Actually, it was not an original Donna Summer autograph. Bruce signed it on Donna’s behalf. To this day, after all these years, in their cute little West Village love nest, a copy of that fake autographed record hangs on their livingroom wall.
Yes, I’ve been to dinner at their house several times over the years. Gay divorces are nothing like straight ones. I’ve tried to remain friends with my old partner Bruce and Michael, “the Dole Queen”, as I have bitterly referred to him on occasion over the years. They invited me to their house warming. I th ought it was a sweet gesture. I had a new man at the time. What was I to be so jealous of? I laughed secretly when I saw the autographed copy of “Bad Girls” framed and mounted on the wall of their apartment next to an original Donna Summer painted called Jazz Man that they bought at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
“This painting was only $5,000 and I got to shake Donna’s hand,” Bruce boasted as I studied the artwork that Donna had created. I thought it was wonderful that she briefly left the recording industry to pursue other venues in the art world.
“You never told Michael that you forged her signature on that album on the night of our first dinner party?”
“Don’t say a word to him or I’ll kill you.”
“Look. The autographs are noticeably different.”
The trade-off of Donna memorabilia was what both subscribers to the Donna Summer fan club had originally been looking for when they first paid their annual dues to the members-only newsletter organization.
But then we had Michael over for dinner a lot. Bruce and Michael became inseparable as Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer on the cover of the twelve-inch single, “Enough is Enough”.
They started to leave me out of conversations over dinner in the back yard. They talked on and on about false news reports claiming that Donna Summer was really a man.
At that moment I knew my suspicions were correct. Michael was a flaming Donna Summer queen, too, and he was stealing Bruce from me in my own home while I was doing all the cooking.
“She never should have told the world she was a Born Again Christian,” Bruce responded. “That was the cake she left out in the rain. She had no idea that Jews bought her records. Do you remember when the claim surfaced that Donna Summer made the statement– God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve? Well it’s not true! It’s all a made-up lie, created by a Jewish homosexual writer who wrote that article in New York Magazine just to ruin Donna.”
“Yes,” Michael said. “They burned all her records in a bonfire in the West Village. Gays were so upset with her for saying that AIDS was God’s way of punishing gays.”
I was too busy seasoning club steaks with scallions, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, freshly- ground pepper, and butter to care about what she may have said against gays or Jews. Smoke rose from my Sunbeam outdoor grill. I carefully swished it in Michael’s face with the back of my hand. I could see he was already getting sick of listening to Bruce’s Donna Summer conspiracy theories.
Just as dinner was about to be served, after I sprinkled fresh parsley atop the medium steaks, Bruce jumped from the table, went inside and blasted Donna’s latest CD, “Mistaken Identity.” How rude of him. I was about to offer my theory on the cause of the demise of the disco-diva’s career.
It’s true that the gay community was angered by reports of Donna’s comments about Adam and Steve, and AIDS was God’s punishment. Yeah, we were pissed. How could she? We made her! But even so, I believed there is a simple reason she was almost forgotten. Quite simply, most of the people who loved Donna Summer music and bought her records had died. Bruce and Michael never stopped to think of that fact. The music was so loud. I couldn’t say a word. I lost the thought moments later.
Michael blamed the lack of record sales on the owners of Casablanca Records – Donna had a falling-out with her management, not to mention bad press. I felt sorry for them, trying to understand how someone once so adored could suddenly be forgotten on the radio. I didn’t say a word about what I figured out regarding the tens of thousands of gay men who died from AIDS and the impact that had on Donna Summer’s career.
“Mistaken Identity” is quite good,” I said, trying to stop thinking about my horrible theory. “It’s a shame that it will not sell,” I predicted while placing a fresh salad on the plastic outdoor table.
Michael and Bruce were shocked. I never had anything to say nice about Donna Summer.
“So, you are admitting it?” Bruce asked while trying to get me to acknowledge that Donna’s music is irresistibly fabulous.
“No. I’m just trying to get you to shut up and listen to me for a change. Do me a favor, guys; don’t sneak down into the basement while I’m out here cooking. I don’t care where you do it at. I’m leaving this relationship. I’m done with you both. God made Adam and Even, not Adam, Steve and me!”
I filed for divorce from Bruce. He moved in with Michael two weeks later. Walk by their window and you’ll sometimes hear Donna crooning. “Oooh, love to love you baby.” She recorded that while she was pregnant, about to give birth. She had to lie down to sing it, and they suspended the microphone above her mouth in order to capture those vocals.