It’s becoming a mantra. “Disco isn’t dead,” he says to everyone he encounters. “Never let ’em tell you it is!”
In a way, he believes this. His last hit was only two years ago. “YMCA” is still a staple at every party coast to coast, people are still dancing the hustle. He could keep disco relevant, if he really tried.
But a new craze is sweeping the nation, and it’s not so far from the disco sound he already knows. Strip out the funk, add in the new electronica, and suddenly you have Hi-NRG, the thing that’s getting feet on the floor.
And this is what Leon knows: he’s ready. It’s a secret, the thing he’s going to reveal tonight. He may be older, but he’s not gone, and this new single… well, it’s perfect. They’ll see. Soon he’ll be back on top.
He holds a fingertip of coke up to his nose and snorts. No harm in a bump to keep himself going.
For the space of a skipped heartbeat, the world is more vibrant. Colors flare, smells intensify, sounds reverberate in his head. One in particular cuts through, a younger man’s slightly arrogant tone. “It’s not just music,” the voice is saying. “It’s, it’s, it’s – it’s poetry, it’s, it’s – new wave. It’s about the soul, and heaviness, and, and, and – and atmosphere. I’m, I’m, uh – I’m, I’m writing lyrics that will make people feel.”
Leon turns toward it. There’s a boy, all in black, his face streaked with glitter and his lips painted dark. He’s wearing a Beethoven wig, tied back with a silk ribbon, and his shirt is open at his slim neck. He gesticulates enthusiastically with his hands while he talks, and rocks on the balls of his feet like he’s poised to take flight. He radiates energy and dark sex appeal.
A moment later, recognition dawns. This is Rain, of Urban Renaissance. Of course. They’ve played Studio 54 once, though the audience seemed more confused than appreciative. Next to him is the keyboard player, Simon. He’s handsome in his own way, but where Rain fair vibrates with exuberance, Simon seems to suck the light from the air around himself. His arms are crossed over his leather-clad chest, and he scowls in silence while Rain babbles, seeming to trip over his own words in his rush to stay ahead of his thoughts.
“Oh hey, hey,” Rain says, looking up at him. “Leon, right? Yeah, yeah, I know you. Disco king. Yeah.”
“You bet,” Leon says, and flashes his star grin. “Disco isn’t dead; never let ’em tell you it is!”
Rain’s eyebrows quirk. “Sure, sure. Disco, it’s, it’s, it’s the, uh, the – the music of dance. And, and, I – I appreciate that.” He keeps glancing away then returning his eyes to Leon’s with focused intensity. “What we’re doing, y’know, we, we – uh, we, we wouldn’t be there without disco. We’re building on it, we’re, we’re – we’re post-disco, we’re the future.” He looks away again and runs his hand over the back of his head, suddenly seeming self-conscious.
“Huh.” Leon pauses to consider what to say to this. “Well, disco is dance music, right? It makes you feel good. What you’re talking about… I mean, people don’t want to feel dragged down with all that heavy shit. How are you gonna sell that? People want to dance, not think.”
“It’s not about, about – about commercialism,” Rain says with renewed fervor. “It’s, it’s – it’s art. It’s authentic.” He half-turns away again, then rebounds to jab a finger at Leon. “And, and, this – this is going to get people dancing. My lyrics, they’re, they’re – they’re only half the equation. It’s about the music.”
“Okay,” Leon says. “Sure.”
Rain’s demeanor shifts in a heartbeat. “Let me guess,” he says, face darkening. “You believe the rumors?”
“The – sorry, what? What rumors?”
“That I’m fucking my brother?” Rain puts both hands behind his head and spins around, his expression one of helpless frustration.
“What? No! That’s… Jesus. That’s as disgusting as thinking I might be fucking my son.” Very briefly, the thought occurs to him that this just might be the sort of thing the aspiring artist would make up as a publicity stunt, but he dismisses it just as quickly. Rain doesn’t strike him as the type to be that sleazy. “I don’t know where you heard it, but I sure as hell haven’t.”
“Well, well – well, it’s not true.” The finger jabs again, emphasizing the words, and Rain looks sideways at Simon. “It’s not,” he repeats, and Simon shrugs. It’s the most communication Leon has seen from him yet.
“Yeah,” Leon says. “Okay.” He slides his fingers into his pants and withdraws the packet of quaaludes. “You look like you could use something to relax.”
“Oh, no, no,” Rain says immediately, his hands going up defensively before him. “No, uh – I, I, y’know, I need my energy. For the stage.”
“Right. Okay.” Now he takes the joint from behind his ear, holds it up instead. “Something milder?”
Rain considers for a moment, then takes the joint. “Thanks,” he says, lighting up. “So, so, uh – are you performing tonight?”
Leon feels his lips curl in a small, secretive smile. “Oh, yes.”
“Some of your hits?”
The smile widens. “Oh,” Leon says airily. “You’ll see.”
“Well,” Rain says. He turns his face upward to blow smoke into the air. “Well, I’m, I’m – I’m looking forward to it.”
“Then I’ll see you there.” Leon waves off the joint when Rain tries to give it back. “Keep it,” he says. “You could definitely use the buzz.” And he walks away.