Saturday Night Fever was the prism through which the world viewed disco. But its actual inspiration was a British mod called Chris…
Picture it: a novelist pens a publication article and its an instant sensation. Producers come calling, he sells the rights for tens of thousands, the tabloids give him a moniker, acquaintances greet him as a friend, cheques inundate in, he attends the premiere of his movie in Los Angeles with a famous disco singer on his arm. Its glitzy, its glam, its Hollywood, newborn. But as he makes his style through the hysterium outside the theater, through security, paparazzi and hollering teenage daughters, he is filled with moral panic. Why?
Saturday Night Fever was released in 1977, and had now been grossed $285 m worldwide. The soundtrack became one of the bestselling movie album of all time after staying at No 1 for 24 consecutive weeks, reinvigorating the Bee Gees career, and its star, John Travolta, became one of the youngest performers to be nominated for the best actor Oscar. Decades on , not many remember that the phenomenon was down to one man: British rock critic Nik Cohn and his report of seven June, 1976 for New York publication, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Nights, which was published 40 years ago this month.
Cohn was the author of a number of books including the 1969 rock history Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom . A protege of swinging London, he partied with boulder stars, joined the Who on tour, and is said by some to have been instrumental in the genesis of Bowies Ziggy Stardust. He had his portrait shot by Iain Macmillan the photographer behind the Beatles Abbey Road covering and from the age of 18 was contributing briefings about mods and rockers to the Observer . After intersecting the Atlantic and signing on with New York publication in 1975, the writer, who came to feel disenchanted with the creation music business, persuaded the mags founder and editor Clay Felker to let him document disco a new, largely ethnic, largely lesbian underground tendency that had taken over parts of New York City.
The result was the profile of an ultimate Face. Vincent, a young Italian-American worked in a hardware store during the week and partied at a disco club called 2001 Odyssey on the weekend. Vincent was the very best dancer in Bay Ridge he owned 14 floral shirts, five suits, eight pairs of shoes, three overcoats, and had appeared on American Bandstand . He and his friends knew nothing of flower power, Bob Dylan or Ken Kesey. They were opulent but poor, proud but shy. The new generation takes few risks, Cohn wrote. It goes through high school, obedient; graduates, looks for a chore, saves and plans. Endures. And once a week, on Saturday night, its one great moment of release, it explosion. The intro proclaimed: Everything described in this article is factual and was either witnessed by me or told to me immediately by the people involved. Only the names of the main characters have been changed.