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Morning Song – Don’t Leave Me This Way

October 12, 2015

One of the running jokes in The Martian is that astronaut Mark Watney is left alone on Mars with no music other than Commander Melissa Lewis’ collection of 1970s & 80s disco songs…and Watney hates disco.  (It’s never explained how, with thousands of pounds of gear and in an age of digital music, Watney doesn’t have access to his own mixtape, or those of the other crew members, but…never mind.)

As it turns out—though Watney would never admit it—disco is music for survivors…even science-geeky, over-educated, middle-aged white guys.  That’s not surprising because disco was music created by and for survivors: African-Americans in the wake of the assassination of scores of Black leaders and the collapse of the civil rights movement, gays and lesbians pushing their way out of the closet, women fighting for equal rights, working-class young people in cities all across the country at a time when they—and their cities—were being abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

Don’t…give…up.  That’s the message of The Martian and that’s the message of disco.  You can hear it in the insistent ride of the hi-hat cymbal, the iconic bass line* in the chorus, and finally, most powerfully and triumphantly, in Thelma Houston’s sustained hold on that high, ringing “meeee…” at the end of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.

Mark Watney—alone, abandoned, facing almost certain death—may not have the music he wants…but whether he knows it or not, he has the music he needs.

*which belongs on any short list of great 20th century bass lines.

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