Summer is still hot stuff
By Naughty Mickie
When I caught up with dulcet toned pop vocalist Donna Summer she was oh, so busy. She had released a double "very best of" CD, was on a book tour with a few singing stops scheduled and was preparing for an art show featuring her own work. But despite her hectic life, Summer was cordial and sweet, just as I had expected. She chatted openly and at length as well, so much so that I decided to let her tell her story her way...
NM: You must be exhausted.
DS: You know I actually am pretty tired. I'm OK, I'm used to it, but it's still very tiring.
NM: Why does your music still touch so many people?
DS: Why do I think the music all through my life touches so many people? I believe that, first of all I think a lot of songs that I produced with Giorgio (Moroder) were very kind of happy songs. So I think in that context that the songs are associated perhaps with something that's at least joyful. Most of them aren't sad songs. Some of them are endemic, they talk about the plight of people, like "Bad Girls" and "Hard For The Money" and "Enough is Enough."
And I think that a lot of the songs that Giorgio and I did together also relate to the human condition and I think that's eternal. I think it kind of goes on and on and on, I don't think it changes that much. And but for the grace of God, God has allowed me to be remembered by people and, I think in that sense, I almost can't give you an answer except that the songs perhaps live in the collective psyche of everyone. When they hear them, they're familiar.
NM: How do you balance the spiritual and secular aspects of your life?
DS: I can't change the past. Thank God there's forgiveness, but I'm not even trying to change the past because the past has got me to where I am today. I don't look backwards, my future is forward and in eternity, which is a realm outside of time, everything is now, so there is no history. It's all now and it's about now. So whatever I do now is what counts. That means at any given time, whatever now is, is when it counts.
I don't look backwards, I look forward to see the good I can do and be doing. I lived according to what I knew at the time when I lived that way and according to my own ability or inability to overcome or deal with certain things in my life. I was who I was as a result of the circumstances in my life. That's not a cop-out by any means, I know the difference between right or wrong, but even knowing the difference between right or wrong and being weak, it's not always easy to overcome being yourself. I think that as we grow older we have, for the most part, learned to overcome our own inhibitions for the higher good. We should be learning that.
NM: What values would you like to impart to your daughters and do you think you could be a role model?
DS: I think I certainly could be a role model and I hope that it would be good, even the bad things, because I think you can learn something from everything. I tell my daughters my life is a book, read it. And if you choose to walk down the same road that I've already walked down, then it's up to you; it wouldn't be the best case scenario.
If I was afraid, let me say it this way, and I had done some research and then you've gone to the task of carrying on the work in that specific field, you wouldn't go and do that research all over again, you would start with my findings and move forward. And that's what we do in life.
We should take what other people have already sat down and go from there forward so we don't have to relive the past and relive someone else's hardships. This is what I hope that, if I have anything to impart to people, I would impart those things so that they can get on with their lives in a manner that hopefully will spare them a lot of grief and pain.
NM: What gave you the inspiration to write your book?
DS: People had been asking me to write the book and I had wanted to write a book, but not about my own life. They wanted me to write about my life, but I kept going, "Aw, I don't want to do it." I was too young. I didn't want to write my own autobiography, you write it when you're 80, but I guess a lot of people write biographies nowadays.
Back when I was a kid, it was more like something you wrote at the end of your life and I always thought of it as, "Nah, I don't want to write this thing. ' As I began to write this other book, I was going to use my own life in some ways as inspiration for the book and change all the names and give it a different storyline and blah, blah blah. It just emerged into, evolved into an autobiography and I wound up saying, "It's an autobiography, just accept it." So I did.
NM: Does your inspiration come from your connection with God, is He always there for you?
DS: Especially when it's dark out there, in your own reality it's dark, and you feel oppressed or you feel depressed and you think that the world around you is ending any minute. In one minute, in one breath, in one hour, in one day, your entire life can turn around.
If you look at the fact that I was deathly ill, I had been in the hospital for over a month. (Just prior to Summer's overnight success in the United States). Nowadays they'll keep you in the hospital for two days and then they'll kick you out; they'll just put you out when you're half-dead. I was in there for an entire month on my back, no visitors, no television, no radio, no nothing. I had to just lay there, so believe me, I did some serious soul searching.
When I was released I had to stay in bed for another month. It was a very difficult period for me because I'm a really hyper person and I'm an A personality type. But what I realized was that that was God's hand in my life allowing me the rest I was going to need because very shortly thereafter I was headed for America. And it was all that God made me rest, that I had that severe rest because of the amount of energy it was going to take to be ready for my career. It's very profound and I know there's a connection with that, but at the time that it was happening I didn't realize that it was God's hand saying, "Hey, you've got to take a break." But it was.
We overlook a lot of things that we don't realize. One time I was nearly in a car accident, there was a bus heading directly at my side of the car. I was in a taxi and I had told him to take a left hand turn, but I
meant a right, I'm dyslexic, and when he started the left hand turn, I said, "No, no, no, go the other way." And without looking, he turned his car in the opposite direction and we were almost flat horizontal and the bus was coming directly at us. We couldn't move out of the way because there were cars flying by in the lane that was next to him.
For two lanes there were cars just shooting by, this is on Madison Avenue in New York, and in one instant I just said, I don't know what
I said, Jesus or God or something, in that instant, I just closed my eyes, I knew the bus was going to hit me. When I opened my eyes, I was two lanes over and he was getting ready to make a turn. I thought to myself, "There's no way this bus couldn't hit me; there's no way this bus couldn't hit me."
So what I realized is that every day we have these little tiny miracles and they're big miracles really. But we almost can't validate them because they're so obscure and they're so "in passing" that we sometimes overlook them, but they happen all day long. Can you imagine having to manipulate everybody on earth? Just New York City? All that goes on all day, that coordination and the choreography of life in New York, that there's not more fatalities?
NM: Do you think you can hold your own in today's music scene?
DS: I don't actually know. I don't have an answer for that because I don't really know where I fit in this picture. I feel life is a wheel and if you take two wheels and you spin them at the same time, there's only one spot at which they both meet and then they go all the way up together and then click and go back around the dark side and go underneath and back up. The spot keeps meeting and there's a cycle to it.
I think that it's that way with your music, you're on this wheel and it's spinning around and life is spinning around and when you get back to the place where you meet your destiny, it clicks and then you go to the top and then you go back down. I don't feel offended or weird if people aren't into that specific kind of music or the latest thing. It doesn't bother me, I just do what I do because I can't be anyone else. It's like Bruce Springsteen. He's does Bruce Springsteen one hundred percent, he can't be anyone else. I kind of feel the same way.
NM: Tell me about your painting.
DS: "I haven't painted a lot in the last few months because obviously I'm working on my other stuff, oh, that's not true, I just completed two paintings, what am I talking about? Sometimes my life is moving so fast I don't even catch up to it. I just finished two, actually three lithos of the new edition of "Driven By The Music," which we have retitled "The Four Seasons" to go with an album.
NM: You have so much creativity, you're really multi-talented.
DS: You have it too, use it. If you have talent, you have every talent. It's everywhere, not one place in your life, whatever talent you have. Talent is the entity. The creativity and all that, you have it in every area if you just apply it. That's from experience and it's really true.
I think that a lot of times when people are in show business they discover those other talents. Because when they're in show business and they're performing, whether it's in theater on stage or in film, they haven't got a finished product, in film you do a little bit, but in fact, when you're finished with your work, you go home; there's nothing to show for it. So painting or sculpting becomes a very tangible form of showing or expressing what's inside of you where no one else can have anything to say about it but you. I think it's a incredible form of creativity for anyone who wants to have a form of expression. Whether you can paint well or you can just put two dots on the page and squiggle a line around it, it's your piece of work.
Summer's future will include more book signings and performances, plus plans for her and her husband to move to a new home.
NM: Are you going to return to New York?
DS: No, no, no, no, no, nooo, not back to New York. We had an apartment in New York until this year, we just gave it up. We may take another one eventually, but right now we don't really need it. We won't be there that much. I'd rather not be there right now. I'd rather be in Nashville right now.
Discover more about Donna Summer on the Web at http://www.donnasummer.it/
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