Definitive anthems of indefatigable womanhood (Philip Norman’s phrase): I’ve been thinking about them. This was prompted by the ‘I Will Survive’ weekend, a wild trip to Sitges below Barcelona for my debut live experience of Disco Queen Gloria Gaynor. How can that be, I wonder? I’ve seen everybody else. I just never got around to seeing Glo. Her globally-cherished self-empowerment classic was a bit of fun during days of wode and karaoke bars. It acquired significance for me while I was trying to get over my divorce. At first I was afraid, I was petrified … but I grew strong, and I learned how to get along. Discerning male music-lovers of my close acquaintance tend to scoff at both Gloria and at her chart chestnuts. Because they’re men, I guess. I can’t think of many artists of any gender who would turn up their noses at ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘Survive’ as a hit legacy. Nor at her bank balance.
At sixty-nine, the artist is flagging, physically. But the voice remains rich and powerful. She has a three-sixty stage presence and a spiritual energy that reach to the bleachers, inspiring even the guys to punch the air. But despite the sizeable gay contingent present, this was incontestably ladies’ night. Glo’s entire show was a tense, perfectly-orchestrated build-up to the Freddie Perren/ Dino Fekaris chart-topper, the pièce de résistance, the one we’d all come to hear. She slid into it sensuously, like an aural striptease, dragging out the suspense, bringing us to the brink, then going for the full-on disembogue. We howled, we shuddered.
I’m not ashamed to admit that this was the song that reminded me to be a bitch. To kick ass. To get up off it and to go again. To rescue my children and celebrate the end of all things bad. Still think about him? Only fleetingly. It’s the negative that surfaces. The smashing up the kitchen, extra-virgin and Merlot running down the walls at breakfast time. The endless lockings in the cellar, the Courvoisier bottle to the head. Who needs? Baby, I’m done. Go on, now, go. Still bitter about the many wasted years? Get outta here. Life begins again. It begins again every morning. All it takes is somebody to love. Miss Ross, I’m still waiting.
But I know so many women in bad relationships. We’re not supposed to be angry, are we. Where-we-are-we-are is not compulsory in the 21st century. Contempt and boredom are life-threatening. There are choices. Come on now, quit. Get out, get happy. Convert your broken heart into a crystal ball for a brand-new life. If I can, anyone can. Digging my clichés?
Empowering women with music is no new thing. Wind back through Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were a Boy’ and ‘Irreplaceable’, Lily Allen’s ‘Smile’, Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ via Mary J. Blige’s ‘Enough Cryin’’, Dusty’s ‘All Cried Out’, circumnavigating Queen Latifah and Christina, Alicia and Cyndi and Shania, pausing at Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’, Nancy’s ‘Boots’, Aretha’s ‘Respect’. Take it all the way back to Arthur Hamilton’s ‘Cry Me a River’, a hit for Julie London in 1955 but really for Ella, whose version I favour only a little ahead of Crystal Gayle’s (’though Shirley Bassey’s, Dinah Washington’s and Streisand’s takes are hard to beat too); to Loretta, Tammy and Dolly and, ultimately, to blessed Kitty Wells. Who reminds us, in her rendition of Jimmy D. Miller’s killer, that ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’:
'… as you said in the words of your song,
too many times married men think they’re still single,
that has caused many a good girl to go wrong.'
Same as it ever was?
‘Ever it was’, actually.