We had tall standing speakers when I was a kid. When my parents were out, I’d put on Donna Summer, Live and More at FULL volume and wrap my small body around a speaker, completely circling it.
I’d literally feel the music in me. I could see the notes and rhythms in my head. They flowed like a river – the highs and lows were sparks of light. Donna Summer’s voice hits the swirls and curls of my sound-capturing outer ear in the most pleasing way possible – simultaneously soothing and stimulating. I could be out of my little head from the sadness of being teased viciously at school, but when I’d wrap myself around those speakers and feel her sing to her daughter, Mimi, “you’re beautiful, Mimi – you fill my life with so much joy…” I’d feel it myself and be comforted.
(note: start playing at 1:30 – the first minute+ is a different song)
She was my vocal band-aid, soul-soother.
Sometimes I wondered if she had made me deaf (by my wrapping my body around the speakers) or if I liked her so much because I already was deaf? That something in the unique way that I hear – or my ears themselves – clicked perfectly with how she presented music?
I suppose I’ll never know.
I had her on repeat in Taiwan, driving through those narrow, winding roads in between rice paddies, aching from loneliness and wondering if anything – anything! – in my life was ever going to work out. Identified with the longing of “On the Radio”
Sick of eating fried rice or a few spoons of peanut butter a day because it was all I could afford, then tuning in to Donna Summer and letting my spirit fly and go to a better place.
(MacArthur Park was/is my all-time favorite Donna Summer song)
I listened to her through my years in Japan, in China, pondering on those pieces of deep thought, “Faster and Faster…to Nowhere” – and if anyplace seemed to be racing faster to nowhere, it was both Tokyo and Guangzhou.
Returning at last back to my native United States, I delved into “I’m a Rainbow” because it made so much sense to me – this appreciation of the varied hues within us all, how we all have these aspects that manifest in various points in our lives. We all have our rainbow colours, the reds, the blues. The blues. It happens. It changes, too, “changes all the time” as she says.
Donna Summer has had her Last Dance
I am so sad that she has passed on. So grateful I had her at all. Grateful too, that my Mom liked her so I was exposed to a sound that pleased me and brought me joy, early on.
I wish Donna Summer’s hits like ‘Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” hadn’t been so popular because I feel like they eclipsed her range. Made her known as some kind of fluff-bunny, when she wasn’t – she was a powerful vocalist with tremendous depth.
I saw her once in concert. It was amazing to me how I turned into one of those crying, raving Beatles-esque fans. I suppose it was because her songs have come to mean so much me, representing so much of my life. Her voice expressed the world to me, often when little else made sense.
I’m sorry it has gone on.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.