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Stephanie Billen talks to one ofthe original survivalists, Gloria Gaynor, about God, feminism and being nice to drunks.
‘l‘m not better than anyone else; but certainly no one‘s better than I am.‘ Mellow-voiced Gloria Gaynor, who roused the world with the Seventies‘ disco-hit ‘I Will Survive‘. has a near perfect sense ofself.
Black eyes under glistening curls. she exudes confidence without arrogance. softness with power. She calls her life‘s creed. ‘a very
comfortable place to be‘. and one she '
owes to the insight of her ‘very greatest friend.‘ ‘My mother always told me. “Never let anyone think more ofyou than you think of yourself. It was she too who sowed the seeds ofGloria‘s healthy scepticism of celebrity status. and its importance next to ‘farmers‘. ‘garbage pickers‘. or any other calling.
'I‘oday. with her own voice distinctly strident from the recording studio behind her. she looks every inch the perfect melange of opposites. She is pretty in dust-pink cardigan and silk shirt. catching the
submissive‘. to his ‘total dominance.‘ but. yes. she twinkles. she does get her way . . . It seems even destiny is on her side. She sees her talent as God-given and her career as guided by Him. If He told her to give up singing. she would. but ‘as it is the best thing He has given me. it is unlikely that He would take it away.‘ She looks back at her life as at a series of revelations. She can pinpoint the realisation of her gift. She was eight. ‘There was a recording at the time by Frankie Wyman. called “Why Do Fools Fall In Love“. recently re-recorded by Diana Ross. And I was singing it behind a staircase in the apartment and a lady was coming down the stairs. and as she came down. she looked over and said. “Oh. I thought that was the radio.“ and I thought. “Obviously. Ican sing.“‘ It seemed Gloria only had to sing louder for fame to appear out of the wings. When she was about nineteen. she was singing in her apartment again ..
ordained.‘ Call it Providence. call it luck; it was out to get Gloria. Three days
into showbiz. singing with the group.
and she was off to Canada. ‘Wow it was a whirlwind!‘ ()ut there in icy cold conditions. she learnt the value ofa little human warmth: ‘That first night in the club there. I learnt a lesson that l have taken through my life. There was a drunk leaning on
the bar. and he said in garbled tones.
“You‘re very good“. and instead of snubbing him like some people would have done because he was
drunk. I simply said “thank you very
much. I‘m glad you enjoyed it.“ and he turned out to be the hotel owner. and not only that but the owner ofa
whole string of hotels across Canada.
and because I had been so pleasant to him. he booked us straight across the country in his hotels. So you never know who you‘re talking to. you should be pleasant to everybody.‘
Behind the deep. tneasured tones
light in her blue-black hair and
. ‘I was singing to a neighbour. l bejewelled neckline. But she is also
of the storyteller sounds the singer
statuesque. tall when she stands up in black trousers and high heels. and with a singer‘s chest that would befit the sternest of figureheads at the prow of a ship.
She is adept at keeping her course through stormy waters. but screeches at the idea ofembodying female power. 'I guess that comes from a strong voice and a strong song like “I Will Survive“.' she says. And feminist? ‘Absolutely not — I believe in couples.' For all that. she‘s ‘tough when she needs to be‘. and in the male-dominated world of music. she believes in ‘using what you've got. to get what you want.‘ Blatant toughness is not what it takes- ‘that‘s the thing that women‘s libbers have got wrong.‘ ‘When you‘re dealing with men. you need softness and vulerability. . . and each man wants to feel that you‘re only vulnerable to him.”
It is hard to imagine Gloria anythingotherthan glorious. With her husband and manager. Linwood Simon. she says she is ‘totally
2 The List 27 June — ll) July
didn‘t know who the person was. I could just hear footsteps above me. and I would follow them, and when
the neighbour stopped. I would sing. knowing that if I could hear him. he could probably hear me singing. I just wanted to be heard. Then my brother and I stopped into a nightclub to see a group we‘d been waiting to see. and as we were watching them. they announced that there was a singer in the audience who has a great voice and if the audience applauded loud enough. perhaps they could get her up to sing. And that person turned out to be me. because this person upstairs turned out to be the ownerofthe club. . . he only knew my first name as he heard someone calling me when I left the apartment one day. . . and this band happened to be having problems with their singer. I look back now and I realise that there were too many circumstances for it to be coincidental. I really feel that it was
and the words ‘Every step you take. . the Police hit now on (iloria‘s new album. It‘s a suitable counterpoint to the tales ofa benign destiny watching over her. But Gloria also feels a large moral responsibility towards her audiences. on earth and above. She has always had a strong relationship with God. and since about three years ago. has felt a similar relationship with Christ. ‘II has changed my life quite a bit. and especially because I am putting my religious convictions into action. it‘s not just talking about it.‘ ller friends have noticed the difference. she says. There are no more white lies. and above all there is a renewed awareness that ‘you are your brother‘s keeper‘. The sense of perspective she has gained seems to have contributed to her sense of belonging to the world. She claims to be more ‘social‘ than ‘political‘. her solidarity with other blacks. being comparable to her solidarity with ‘women. because I am a woman. Americans because lam American.
and all human beings because lama httman-being.‘
Indeed. Gloria Gaynor. seems to belong everywhere. In herown country. she was voted ‘Oueen of Disco‘ by the National Association of Discotheque Disc Jockeys. In Africa. she visited a tiny village and enjoyed a ceremony transforming her into an ‘honorary Zulu.‘ For two decades she has been well-known in over oflcountries. capturing the imagination of the world with hit singles like ‘Never (‘an Say Goodbye“ in 197*. ‘I Will Survive‘ in l979 and 1983. with glorious self—assertion. ‘I Am What I Am‘. She ptits her universality down to ‘the fact that I am concerned with singing the emotion intended by the lyrics. I think the meaning comes through. even if a person can‘t understand the words. 'l‘hat hasn‘t been my intention. it‘s just been my style . . . and it has been fortunate for me.‘
She tries to be a positive force for