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The Deep Beautiful Harmonies of The Bee Gees

It shouldn't have been a surprise but it still was. Maybe because it was right after Donna Summer's death, maybe because May has been The Month The Icons Died. We lost Maurice Sendak, Vidal Sassoon, Jean Craighead George, and we lost Robin Gibb.

The Bee Gees hit fame in the sixties, trying to be like the Beatles.They consisted of three brothers: Maurice, Barry, and Robin.  They sang soulful/Beatles like songs like "To Love Somebody" "I Started a Joke" and "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?"

 

But they hit a drought with good songs, plus (According to wikipedia) bickering within the family led to no hits for years. Until their producer Robert Stigwood and Eric Clapton told them to explore this new thing called disco. With its thumping beats and their perfect harmonies they scored a hit: "Jive Talking."

But no one could even imagine Saturday Night Fever. For the longest time I saw the album in the number one selection at Payless; John Travolta hand on the hip on the disco floor, and the brothers Gibb dressed in white, smiling crooked grins. They had every reason to be happy: They had a monster of a hit with Saturday Night Fever. How many couples in the suburbs danced in gyms to "How Deep Is Your Love?" To watch John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney dance to "More Than a Woman" is beautiful, incredibly natural, capturing a moment of time.

But of course it's "Staying Alive" that everyone remembers. It's the type of song that everyone can make fun of, but no one can doubt it's such a perfect opening scene with John Travolta walking the Brooklyn streets. It's Saturday and he's running an errand for work, paint can swinging. But he's in no hurry. You can tell by the way he walks he's a ladies man and he meant business.

 

"Staying Alive" is one of those songs that when I need cheering up, I put it on. I started doing that around senior year of high school. I was just ready to be done with school, plus the Gulf War upset me. I was glad it was short, but what was upsetting was the jingoism afterwards. Great, we won! But Saddam Hussein was still in power, and what if something happened again? I realized there are times when you just need to dance.

In my creative writing room, they had a cassette player. Meranda and our friend Kim were waiting there for me and I walked in, saying "We need cheering up." The song started playing, the blaring beat. They started laughing, and then of course, we started to dance by pointing to the sky, then towards our hip. Sky, hip. Sky, hip.

People started walking in, startled, then they started laughing and dancing as well. I couldn't stop laughing. It just lightened my spirits so much.

 

But then they made Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. Oh man. This is a movie that can make a person run out of a theater screaming and tearing their hair out. Case in point: George Burns singing "Fixing a Hole" It must've sounded good on paper: Hey, let's make a story out of Beatles' songs! Good times! And let's cast the Bee Gees! And Peter Frampton!  There was a small problem: there was no dialogue (except for Burns doing narration) The Gibb brothers and Frampton were not the best actors (according to wikipedia, in New York when Frampton's character was standing on a roof about to kill himself the audience started yelling "Jump! Jump!") Yet this is one of my favorite failures. Yeah it's bad, but it's the kind of bad you have to laugh at. Plus the music is fantastic. Be it Billy Preston singing "Get Back" or unknown Sandy Farina singing "Here Comes The Sun" Yet Robin has an amazing solo with the Beatles song "Oh Darling!"  Now you can debate disco until the cows come home, yet you cannot argue the fact that they could sing. And they could sing well, you kind of forget this was a terrible movie.  Almost. Not altogether.

 

Even after Sgt. Pepper, the Bee Gees stayed on a high for a long time, but when disco crashed, they crashed. Although they did write songs "Emotion" and "Islands In The Stream" they couldn't get number ones on their own. A lawsuit came down with "How Deep Is Your Love" that they lost (thanks wikipedia) And then Andy, the baby of the family died.  Somehow they survived.

Of course the 70's had to come back, everything old is new again eventually. The Bee Gees were considered "legends" In 2003 they were given a lifetime Grammy, and N Sync did a medley of their songs. What made it bittersweet was that Maurice Gibb died just days before.

Now Robin is gone. But sometimes we have to remember the old times. The times when he and his brothers were on the hottest record in the country. All three of them are grinning like crazy. It's easy to spot Robin; he's the only one without a beard.  They're all dressed in white, grinning wide. Everything is so bright for them, so glittery, like a disco ball going round and round for infinity. They don't know that someday, it will stop.