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The New York Times' effect on man
We're not exactly sure what the Bee Gees' mean here (it sounds like a pretty philosophical question) but they may have been thinking of the New York Magazine article that did have a big effect on man—and what he knew about disco.
New York Magazine instructed writer Nik Cohn to do an article about New York's disco scene. Cohn came back with "The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," which followed the story of a young man named Vincent, supposedly the best-known disco dancer in Brooklyn. "Moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, from disco to disco, an explorer out of my depth," Cohn wrote, "I have tried to learn the patterns, the old/new tribal rites." He added that everything in the article was "factual and either witnessed by me or told to me directly by the people involved."
That's all fine and good, except that Cohn was so out of his depth that the article was largely fabricated. That's right – he made it up.
20 years after the article as published, Cohn admitted what he'd done. He published a follow-up, quoted in The New York Times, "My story was a fraud… I'd only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story's hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd's Bush mod whom I'd known in the Sixties, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road." (Source)
The mods were a fashionable and hyped-up group who were notable as the contrast to rockers, or rock and roll fans; Shepherd's Bush is a neighborhood in London.
Of course, by the time Cohn made his admission, the film Saturday Night Fever had immortalized Cohn's made-up story in its (even more) fictionalized story of Tony Manero, who was based on Cohn's Vincent character.
Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk
I'm a woman's man, no time to talk.
Don't be fooled by Barry Gibb's falsetto – this is most definitely a man singing.
Barry Gibb didn't always sing this way. When he and his brothers started their band, they focused more on folk-inspired harmonies. But when Barry stumbled up on his falsetto, he stumbled on disco treasure. "Stayin' Alive" is certainly the most famous of his falsetto tracks, but the first time he tried it out was in 1975's "Nights on Broadway."
Falsetto hasn't been as popular as of late, but it still crops up once in a while—just listen to Justin Timberlake.
You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive
The unforgettable beat of this song actually has helped some people stay alive.
A 2008 study conducted by doctors at the University of Illinois Medical School revealed that "Stayin' Alive" could help people who perform CPR on victims of heart attacks do their job better. Clocking in at 103 beats per minute, it provides a near-perfect beat for timing chest compressions. Since the song is familiar to most people (in other words, since it's so easy to get stuck in your head), the song has proven an ideal teaching tool for CPR instructors.
"I don't know how the Bee Gees knew this," said Dr. Vinay Nadkarni, speaking for the American Heart Association. "They probably didn't. But they just hit upon this natural rhythm that was very catchy, very popular, that helps us do the right thing." A medical resident adds, "I heard a rumor that [Queen's] 'Another One Bites the Dust' works also, but it didn't seem quite as appropriate."
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I'm a dancing man and I just can't lose
Here we get to the heart of the matter: dancing.
Just in case you're not already tired of hearing us say it: disco is dance music. This line expresses a feeling of freedom and empowerment that a lot of disco embraced. Dancing makes the speaker of this song feel great—he feels like he's got wings on his shoes, and he's set up for success.
Note that expressing this feeling of pride and invincibility is a little different from singing about being very intoxicated at a club and dancing because it's the only thing you can manage to do, which is the sort of thing that seems to come up these days, instead.
Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking
When they say everybody, they mean it.
Unlike rock and roll, which was dominated at the time by white men, disco was embraced as a musical genre that crossed color and gender lines. Members of racial minorities, gays, and women found themselves represented in disco in a way they hadn't before in popular music.
Of course, not everyone who fell into those groups was a disco fan, but it was notable that some members of all those groups took to it. See the Meaning tab for more about disco's fans and detractors.