I wanted to share some thoughts about the song that I consider the climax of my set at Portland's Pride kickoff party, Queerlandia: "Relight My Fire" by Dan Hartman.
Although he was considered something of a bubblegum-pop disco crossover during his time (a lot of queens who lived through the 70s are still sick of his songs!) Dan was an undeniable part of the soundtrack of disco-as-gay-liberation. He died of AIDS in 1994 and his music seems to have been overlooked during all the subsequent disco-revival trends. (Everyone has heard "Stayin' Alive" played to death, but you don't hear Dan at weddings or bar mitzvahs.) I suspect this might be because many of his original fans were probably casualties of the AIDS crisis themselves.
I first heard "Relight My Fire" about five years ago when Steve Fabus (veteran disco and house DJ since the 70s, current resident at Go Bang!) played it at a disco party called SPKR that sought to recreate the heyday of gay disco in San Francisco, and I could feel the magic in the room as the crowd (mostly people who had lived through the era) experienced a collective orgasm of recognition and remembrance. I was totally carried along on that wave - I mean, the song just builds and builds and builds into the most ecstatic climax. And the lyrics perfectly embody both the hope of gay liberation and the struggles of the AIDS crisis (cue Loleatta Holloway's "You got to be strong enough to walk on through the night / there's a new day on the other side").
At the peak of the AIDS crisis, I bet "Relight My Fire's" optimism rang hollow to some, which makes perfect sense. If it weren't for the anger and action of groups like Act Up a lot of people wouldn't be alive today; you can't just dance your problems away. But still...like Harvey Milk said, you've got to have hope. And that's literally what Loleatta sings. It very well could be a direct reference to Milk's speech.
Playing this song today makes me feel connected to our queer past in a very significant way. It is a privilege to be able to share it today.
- David Sylvester (FWB Records, Two Dudes in Love)