tremble clef

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Voyage, "Souvenirs" (1978)

I first heard this rueful disco song only in 1998, but somehow I felt I had known it all my life. I was by no means a hoochie circuit party boy in the late 90s, but you don't live in a big metropolitan East Coast American city for close to ten years without bumping into a block party every now and then. At the very least I was interested enough in gay club music to, if not collect, then at least pay attention to all the Centaur compilations that were beginning to flood the market. These compilations became shit fairly quickly, but one of their first was also one of their best: Fire Island Classics Volume 1, mixed by Michael Fierman. Placing then-current tracks (Frankie Knuckles) alongside classics (Viola Wills) and reinterpretations of classics (Peter Cox), the surprisingly-seamless mix ended with a track from the French disco group Voyage. It was a perfect choice, and instantly evocative, even of something I never knew: a beach party at the notorious Pines, or anywhere else, really, that, as the sun comes up, must finally end, but at least ends with a glorious track that makes you feel part of something larger.

A few years later, in 2001, I found myself leaving that big metropolitan East Coast American city, as I always knew I would. That June saw a last round of summery activities, including, naturally enough, gay pride. Even if that event had long ceased to be vital or even exciting, it still felt like an old friend, especially since I did it with old friends. Some of them seem sadder than I was about my impending departure; but if I appeared less so, it was mostly because I was numb. James had started playing with some editing program on his Mac, and just bought a nifty video camera. It followed him most places. Later, he would send me a video montage that he had shot, chockful of moments from that final summer. And the song he chose to soundtrack the montage, entirely by coincidence, was "Souvenirs."

"Souvenirs, are signs that take you away/Souvenirs, will make you leave here today/For a world of joy and living/A world of love and giving/Away, far away." In the song, souvenirs seem literally capable of transporting you. But in sending you to a world of "joy and living," the implication unfortunately is that this world we now find ourselves in is less than perfect. Yet, in the end, these souvenirs are only signs: they point and refer to something, but, like all signs, are never the thing -- that world of love -- itself. And often, they are signs of signs, a memory of a memory, though somehow their power fails to be diminished by that fact. It's easy, as most of us know by now, to be nostalgic for something we never knew. Some objects make it even easier, arriving as they do with already a sheen of nostalgia about them, a sheen that, with touching generosity, allows us to attach to it further associations, memories, and desires.

Edited to add: The first mp3 link takes you to the 8-minute version of the song that actually ends the Fire Island Classics mix. The second link is to a 3-minute 7" edit that to my ears of course sounds less intact.


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