David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 75: Sister Sledge (We Are Family)

July 10, 2020

This post comes pre-loaded.  On this day, I am hanging out with my sister, brother-in-law, and other extended family for their 40th wedding anniversary.  As I headed back to Pennsylvania for this occasion, I knew a little "We Are Family" would be most appropriate. The problem: not all of my family can be there. The damn COVID has hit Texas so bad that my other sister is not making the trip out of respect for safety. Stupid Sister Sledge, I ain't "got all my sisters and me." We are not all together as family.

I still write about the song because it comes from that time when my sister got married, which was in the summer of 1980, the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates could still be called defending World Series Champions. As any baseball fan knows, that Pirates' team unofficial theme song the previous year had been Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." As a typical classic rock/punk rock/new wave fan, I believed I had to hate to disco. I may have secretly liked "Disco Inferno," but the rest was boring dance music. It would take a heckuva lot to make me like that song.

Then, my heroes, the Pirates, began picking up the song as their anthem through the summer of 1979. In my perfect world, they would have used "Sultans of Swing," but that wasn't going to happen with this group of guys. Interestingly, though, I could probably find 99 songs big that year that would have been less awkward than singing "I got all my sisters and me" with a team that had some big hombres like Bill Madlock, Dave Parker, Don Robinson, Bill Robinson, Jim Bibby, and Willie Stargell.

No doubt, Stargell was the key to turning "We Are Family" from a song of sisterly support to brotherly binding. What Pops said, or didn't say, through the 70's, especially after the sudden death of Roberto Clemente in 1973, ruled in that clubhouse and in that town. Certainly no one would have been stupid enough to challenge Stargell about the song's line "this is our family jewel."

The song is a natural for a sports' team, as it is made for stadium sound systems: the disco guitar riffs, the moans and groans of the background singers, the kinetic throb of the bass, and the swirling synthesizer. Blaring over the speakers between innings, "We Are Family" dared you not to stand and sing. My friends and I went to a double-header late that summer against the Montreal Expos, the Pirates winning both, in essence sealing the pennant. I have no doubt I was dancing in my seat among the other 50,000 insane Pirates' fans. Sports and music unify when most everything else divides. It even makes you forget that you don't like the song (or probably in some cases, the team).

However this weekend I will unfortunately not have all my sisters and me . . . and in the end not even my wife who didn’t make the trip. Travel is hard to do during this pandemic. Any number of extended family on either my sister's side or brother-in-law's side cannot be here. Similarly, baseball has been shut down, and while they have a plan to restart the season, as a Pirates' fan, I long to have them not and save me the heartache.

Really, what the Pirates, the summer of '79, and "We Are Family" remind me of is that "family" can be a pretty fluid term.  My sisters and brothers don't have to share blood, and ultimately family is what you make at any moment.  In that way, I will be without a lot of family this weekend in Pennsylvania.  Probably for the best, there is only so much beer and wine to go around.

"We Are Family." We Are Family. Sister Sledge. Cotillion. 1979. Link here.

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Day 76: The Vogues "Five O'Clock World." ->

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