Play That Funky Music

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In the halcyon days of the 1970s New York Disco scene, there was once a nightclub called The Solvay where everyone was on the same wavelength. It was the era of shiny clothes, big jewellery, and above all – dancing.  The resident DJ was Paulie, an innovator famous for his use of four turntables, who was the undisputed master of spin. When Paulie played, everyone danced. A group-dance craze called The Wavefunction that had begun at the Solvay was never far away when Paulie was around, and it was said you had to be there to believe it.

But there was one thing Paulie lacked and craved: a hit single. One by one, all his friends and contemporaries became rich and famous by recording songs. But Paulie eschewed the studio in favour of playing live, maintaining that Disco was just something that could never be recorded. You couldn’t observe it or isolate it. You just had to be there, he said. However, as the feverish craze of Disco faded like the summer, he found himself out in the cold. He resented all new forms of music and his rich friends who had abandoned him. He called himself a purist, but by the nineties he was bitter, and broke. Time had moved on, and Paulie had been left behind.

One day, Paulie received a phone call from an MTV producer who wanted to make a documentary about the origins of Disco. He wondered if Paulie would do an interview, and then a DJ set to be filmed.


'Sure,’ said a weary Paulie. It had been a long time since anyone had shown interest in him. ‘Who's doing the interview?’

‘You know that rap group QED?'

‘Of course,’ said Paulie with a groan. ‘They’re famous. Like everyone else.’

‘The lead rapper is called Fine-Man. He’s going to host the documentary. He’ll meet you at our studio in Princeton.’

To his surprise, despite everything he'd read, and a hatred of QED, Paulie liked Fine-Man and his youthful swagger.

‘Call me Rich,’ he grinned as they both sat down in front of the cameras. ‘You know you’re a hero of mine.’

 Paulie’s eyes widened. ‘Really?’

‘Of course! I know you don’t always get the recognition you deserve, but you were right there at the beginning. I came to your shows all the time. There was no room to move! We had to queue, man. I mean it was one in, one out. It was exclusive!’

‘Wow,’ said Paulie.  

‘So tell me,’ said Rich. ‘In your eyes. When did it all start?’

Paulie thought for a second. ‘Different people have different thoughts on the exact moment. But I always go back to Max Born.’


‘Oh, yeah. Totally unappreciated. Great with numbers. He just knew that if you played at 120 bpm, those people were gonna dance. I always maintained 137, but he was constant. I think he was the first one to really grasp that fundamentally. Probably, I mean.’

‘Tell me about the Wave Function. Why was it such a sensation?’

Paulie smiled in reminiscence. ‘I can’t explain it. You know it just changed everything. No one could understand it.’

‘I've heard that,' said Rich.

‘You had guys like Erwin and Werner doing their thing. Those guys could dance, right? But then Paul kind of put everything together to make it… more complicated and more simple at the same time. Relatively speaking. It was beautiful!’

‘Did you always know if it was going to break out? The Wave Function?’

‘You could just feel it,’ said Paulie. ‘Although it needed a square dance floor. I always said that the Wave Function without the square is kinda meaningless and unobservable.’

Young actors began pouring into the studio onto a dance floor, and  Paulie, once more like a god amongst men, gave them something to think about with his four custom made 'Matrix' turntables. To give those kids credit, they could dance. They broke out all the old moves, and it wasn’t long before the ‘Wave Function’ was in full effect.

But something wasn't right. When Paulie glanced over, the director and the cameraman were frowning. Even Fine-Man was scratching his head. Watching the footage played back, it wasn't hard to see why. Rather than dancing together on screen, the individual actors were just standing still and not interacting at all.

‘What the hell?’ said the director. ‘But just a second ago we could see them!’

'Nobody said this was going to be easy,’ grinned Rich.

‘They were doing it right in front of us!’ cried the director, ‘but as soon as we tried to record it…They’re not even moving!’

The only person smiling was Paulie.

‘I knew it.’ he said quietly. 'You can't record Disco. '

‘I guess you really did have to be there huh?' said Rich.

‘It's like trying to capture a rainbow!’ cried Paulie.

‘I'll be damned,’ Rich smiled. ‘I guess if you think you understand Disco… then you really don’t understand Disco.’

‘Some things are just different when you try to observe and record them,’ said Paulie. ‘It’s just the way it is.’

‘We’ll keep on trying,’ said the director.

‘You’ll never get it,’ Paulie smiled. ‘No one will.’


On his way out the door, Rich caught up with Paulie and grabbed his arm.

            ‘Hey, Paulie! Listen man. We’re recording an album soon. I’d love it if you could come along to the studio. Contribute a little.’

            ‘Me?’ said Paulie.

            ‘Sure! You might just get that hit single you always wanted.’


Paulie smiled all the way home. Vindicated, validated, and rejuvenated, he was going back to work. And this time, the crowds were going to be bigger than ever. Everything comes to those who know how to wait, he thought to himself. He stepped onto the subway, and joined the millions of others who were travelling across town - just another statistical dot creating a pattern he would never see.

About the Author: 
Max Gallagher is the pseudonym I use for creative writing. My real name is Paul Mc Daid, and I am a disabled author from Northern Ireland. In a previous life I worked as an Optometrist, and then an Astronomer, but ten years ago I fell seriously ill with ME.
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