In the early ’70s, when the city was flush with hormones and innocence, when bottle service was still delivered by the milkman, and before he locked himself in a DJ booth as a self-imposed hostage, I used to dance right next to Frankie Knuckles at The Loft. David Mancuso originated his seminal, one-night-a-week-only. best-club-ever in his nothing-to-shout-about loft apartment on Broadway near Houston. There’s no way the space was anywhere near 1,000 square feet. The apartment’s bamboo and leather furniture was simply pushed against the walls.
But if you were one of the lucky few in this town to carry a cardboard pass with a photo of the kids from the old Our Gang comedies in your wallet, there was no where else you wanted to be after midnight on a Saturday night. In fact, so devoted were Loft regulars, we each had claim to our own “unofficial” designated dance turfs. Mine was in the far left corner of the front room near the torch lamp. Right next to me was this big burly bouncing sweetly sexy man whose smile outwatted any of the rudimentary spotlights Mancuso had rigged for the night. I couldn’t wait to be enveloped by Frankie’s bear hug every week. He vibrated with joy and delight at being surrounded – make that infused – by glorious dance music. The moment he’d recognize the first five drumbeats that signaled the start of The Pointers “Yes, We Can, Can” or the organ solo that discreetly introduces War’s epiphany inducing epic “City, Country, City”, Frankie would let out a whoop that ricocheted around the room, signally everyone to our assigned places for a deliriously sensual joyous communal grindathon that non attendees might label a ‘religious experiences.’ Baloney, this was house music. And house music was all about sex.
That’s what made Frankie Knuckles the best DJ ever. When it became his turn to get behind the turntables, he never forgot music’s spirit lifting sorcery, but more importantly, its carnal power. It didn’t matter whether Frankie was playing at the Warehouse in Chicago, at The Saint in New York, or as he did so often late in his career, along the tongue-kissed shores of Ibiza and Mykonos. Unlike too many of his successors, Frankie mystically and magically gathered the crowd, extended his thick outstretched arms and led us on a journey to happiness, not frenzy. His music wasn’t dark or tribal. You never went into a trance because to him that was the exact opposite of the dance experience. When Frankie played, you were never lighter on your feet, more satisfied with your own body, more turned on by your own sweat and more willing to love the one you were with, often physically. With Frankie played, there was only ecstasy and passion —never pain. I miss his music so. His “Last Dance” has come too soon, for all of us.