I was sorry to hear of Donna Summer’s death. Having never met her, in fact, I live on the different side of the world to her, this seemed absurd. It may even appear wrong: ghoulish. John Peel’s death, years earlier provided an even greater shock. I tried to skate over these feelings, fearful that in some way they would devalue relationships with my own flesh and blood: that I wasn’t showing enough reverence to my own kin in the here and now.
However, if the concept of what an idea actually is, is taken into account, the pang of sadness at hearing of the death of someone who is a stranger does not become so absurd after all.
Art is all about ideas and getting inside a person’s head – isn’t it? Surely, if an idea manages to set up shop inside that person’s head, it becomes part of that person and their make-up: much of a parent’s job is ensuring that the right ideas start making profit in their offspring’s mind. So, in some convoluted, diluted, roundabout sort of way, people who create and propagate ideas can be held responsible for incrementally changing the way people unconsciously look at the world. So, in some distant, hidden, subtle way Donna Summer and John Peel could be held responsible for changing the way I unconsciously look at the world.
“I Feel Love” certainly provoked a reaction when I heard it one a Friday night, driving on the motorway, speakers at full volume. Its bass line was incredible, exciting, industrial, and a futuristic synth sounds rooted it in the future. In short, it rocked. Yeah, but did it change the way I look at things? Yeah, I suppose it did. I’d always been slightly nervous of being seen to like anything that was ‘gay’, in both senses of the word, but the sheer power of that song blasted these misconceptions out of the water. To paraphrase those musical magpies Primal Scream: “Music is just music. . . “ Perhaps also, it was because at that time I was getting that bit older, a bit more mature, but hearing that song defined it in my consciousness.
Likewise, watching a documentary on BBC Four, I remember feeling the excitement as the original songwriters showed how they stumbled across the looping method that changed a leaden bass into the soaring rhythm that was instantly recognisable. It was like watching one of the genes in the DNA of modern music being switched on. And it was exhilarating. It also changed how I look at what ‘creatives’ do and made me realise that anyone can be creative. More than this, it re-ignited a creative drive within me, extinguished since childhood.
John Peel, in his radio show, was the gatekeeper to many such ideas. So, on reflection, it is right to feel a loss at the deaths of he and Summer. A loss in proportion to the small, almost undetectable, step change in my worldview, but a loss nevertheless. Yet, if there is anything that can cheer those close to Peel and Summer it is the fact that they have had a subtle effect on so many lives. If there is anything that can cheer us, it is the fact that, in this information-sharing age, we can have access to countless many more ideas like those shared by John Peel and Donna Summer.