At a recent music event in San Francisco, where a guy was busily handing out flyers promoting the upcoming Bay Area concert appearance by Donna Summer, I overheard a short but slightly-heated conversation between the guy handing out the flyers for the disco diva and someone walking by.
"Has Donna Summer been fully forgiven for allegedly been homophobic and......?" the passerby began asking, innocently enough it seemed. But before he could even fully finish his question, the street promoter, sounding jaded at still fielding this seemingly recurring question on a long dead topic, had cut him short: "It's not true. It never happened. It was a rumor based on a myth."
Known as the "gay myth" this nasty slice of misinformation has haunted Donna Summer for the last 25 years and, apparently, seems like it will never fully die. The rumor started in 1983, back when the disco bubble had popped and Summer's career along with it. She had also recently gotten divorced, gotten into a mental funk, and consequently become dependent on anti-depressant medication. Because of all of this, the singer, who had topped the charts with songs like "Bad Girls," had found God and become a born again Christian. More importantly it was when the AIDS crisis was tightening its frightening choke-hold on the gay community -- long Summer's core dedicated fan base.
As the story goes, in 1983 Donna Summer, talking casually to fans after a show about her becoming a reborn Christian, was interpreted as saying something along the lines that AIDS was a divine punishment by God against gays for their immoral lifestyle. Note that ever since, Summer has continually and vehemently denied these rumors in interview after interview. Still, for whatever reason, the rumors or the myth continued to plague her and her reputation. Perhaps the fact that back in the 1980's she was making regular appearances on Christian TV shows (seen by the gay community as the far right enemy) didn't help her plea of innocence. Whatever the reason, the rumor continued to fester and in 1991, following a gossip column piece in New York magazine that further perpetuated the rumor, Summer filed a $50 million libel and invasion of privacy lawsuit that was settled out of court. But still, even in 2008, the quarter century old "gay myth" continues to shadow Donna Summer.
What I find most noteworthy about this whole thing is that it has lasted so long. Bear in mind that it occurred back in the pre-Internet age when rumors didn't fly about nearly as fast as they do nowadays, when celebrity gossip is a thriving industry with rumors a hundred times more rampant and rapidly spread than back in '83. The real tragedy of gossip and mean spirited rumors is that whether they are true or untrue doesn't seem to matter since it is the negative, the salacious, that tend to always stick in peoples' minds, even if the rumor has been proven untrue. I often wonder about how horribly torturous it must be for a person (a celebrity or other public figure) to be confronted by glaring headlines about them that are based on rumors, untruths, or exaggerations. But such seems to be society in which we dwell: one that seemingly thrives off the misfortunes (whether real or imagined) of others.
Donna Summer headlines the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Saturday August 16th at 8PM when she will perform "all of her hits" plus music from her new CD Crayons (her first new album in several years) which, like all of her music, is available at Amoeba Music.