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  • Disss-co (A Fragment): From Before Pictures, a Memoir of 1970s New York
  • Douglas Crimp and Alvin Baltrop

Among the papers from the mid-1970s that I kept when I purged my files during a mid-1990s apartment renovation are a few pages of something I had begun writing about disco. They were in a dog-eared folder marked “projects.” Everything else in the folder is art-related, including a proposal for a book on contemporary art. I’m amazed now at the hubris of believing I could write a full-scale book about “art from Minimal sculpture forward,” but pleasantly surprised to see evidence that I was thinking about contemporary art under the rubric of postmodernism as early as 1976. “The starting point,” I wrote, “is to discuss the important shift from Modernism to Post-Modernism.”1

The few pages on disco in this folder are the only ones I had looked at between the time I wrote them and now. The reason is that they carry a particular sentimental value. Around the time I wrote them, Guy Hocquenghem visited New York and stayed with me in my loft on Chambers Street, and one night while I was out, he read what I’d written. When I returned later, he said to me that such a straightforward description of gay culture was just the sort of thing that gay activists should be writing. I was embarrassed that Guy had found and read the pages. I’m self-conscious about my unfinished writing; this was not at all the sort of writing I did professionally and thus had any confidence in; and, though a couple of years younger than me, Guy was both a heartthrob and an idol. While still in his early twenties, he had been one of the founders of the FHAR (Front Homo-sexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire, the French gay liberation organization) and a year later, in 1972, published Homosexual Desire.2 Although he had subsequently published a second gay liberation tract, L’Après-mai des faunes, he was now turning his attention from theory to fiction. He had recently published Fin de section, a collection of short stories, and begun work on his first novel, Love in Relief. Perhaps the storylike way I begin the fragment on disco is what attracted Guy to it. Eventually, in 1980, he would write his [End Page 1] own descriptions of gay life in Le Gay voyage, his guide to the gay scene in a number of major cities.3 Here is what Guy read:

The sun seemed unnaturally bright when we opened the door and walked out onto lower Broadway. Steven adjusted the pitch-black wrap-around sunglasses that he’d put on in the lobby. As we walked down Houston Street toward the Village, our bodies still gyrated, slowing our walk to a rhythmic amble. Moving at all was slightly painful and yet felt inevitable, as if the music had been absorbed by our muscles, especially the obliques, and would go on propelling that uncontrollable back-and-forth hip-swaying forever. On the way up Bedford Street to Seventh Avenue, two guys overtook and passed us. When one was right next to him, Steven drew out under his breath in a reverent whisper, “Disss-co.” He gave it the same whooshing, electronic sound as the feedback drone that lingered in our ears, muting the sounds of the early Sunday morning. The two men smiled knowingly. There was no question where all of us were coming from.

“It was hot tonight,” Steven said. “It was really crazy, though. At first it was like that night at 12 West when we left so early. Creeps everywhere you looked, plaguing you. And you couldn’t get into it. The lights were so bright, and the music was weird. Then all of a sudden the music got real hot, they turned off those bright lights, everything went red and blue, and everybody was gorgeous—just big, hot, butch muscle numbers. Suddenly it was a different night. Then, after that real hot set, the music had no beat. Remember, I kept asking you if the music had a beat. I couldn...


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