Disco - the soundtrack of good times and good living - may have seen the last dance, but the diva who brought it to life is still hot stuff.
Nearly three decades after Donna Summer reigned over pop culture, she is back with a two-disk retrospective, The Journey: The Very Best Of Donna Summer, featuring two songs new songs. SHe's also published her memoir, "Ordinary Girl: The Journey," and soon, her life will become a Broadway play.
The book, written with Marc Elliot, details her not-so-ordinary path from Boston choir girl to iconic superwoman. Summer shares with readers intimate, insecure moments of the journey, including her bouts with depression, abusive relationships, attempted suicide, struggles with fame, and triumphant return to her spiritual roots.
Collectively, Summer's play, book and CD tell the story of a woman who moaned her way up the charts, mourned her way down the charts, and somehow emerged remarkably normal and more popular than ever - to her original fans and to a whole new generation that's intoxicated by the retro cool of the '70s and early-'80s disco.
Hers is a well-documented career that began - like that of all great divas - in a church. In 1975, Summer recorded the 17-minute "Love To Love You Baby." She scored several other hits before catapulting into pop-culture history with 1978's "Last Dance," which earned her a Grammy award - the first of five.
At her peak, Summer was a sex goddess with an endless mane, wearing blue, glam eye shadow and spandex. She embodies America's dance with sex; she gave us the soundtrack.
"Donna Summer is truly one of the icons of pop-culture," says Robert Thopmson, a pop-culture expert at Syracuse University. "If you are looking for someone that slams you back into the essence of the 1970s, you can't do much better than Donna Summer. She represents the purest moments of the era."
Now at 55, Summer looks in the rearview mirror from her Nashville home and sees a career that was both magical and tragic - but far from over.
"From here," she says softly. "I am going up, up, up."
ps: In the last year, you have released an autobiography, a CD and begun working on your Broadway story. But you have lived a relatively quiet, celebrity-light life in recent years. Why all this now?
Summer: It's all about timing. It occurred to us to release everything around the same time to introduce me to this generation [and to reacquaint her with original fans]. I look at all the projects as a partnership, three different ways to express myself.
You talked about wanting to be free from your past so you're free to create a future. Are you there yet?
I feel liberated, I have gotten to a place where I am not struggling for recognition or anyone else's approval. I am at peace, which allows me to be creative.
Do you have plans to create more music? If so, what direction do you see yourself going in?
I am definitely going to do more music. I am going to tap into the pop culture of today. I want to explore lots of different music, because I don't want to stay stagnant. My music has always been about diversity.
By today's sexually liberated standards, how do you measure up? Would you describe yourself - in Beyoncé speak - as 'bootylicious'? And what artists do you enjoy?
The artists of today have taken it to another place, I think. Of course, I should talk; some people think my sexual image was over the top. It probably was groundbreaking at the time. [She laughs, perhaps winces, at the thought of her 70s look.] I think Beyoncé uses the term 'bootylicious' because she knows that guys like big butts. In my day, I got a lot of attention for mine too. I like Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Jewel.
Any thoughts on whether disco will ever reign supreme again? Do you miss that era or its costumes?
I don't know if disco will ever come back, but in some ways, it never left. It just mutated into other formats, like hip hop. Disco was the term for dance music. There always be dance music because it's human nature for people of every culture to want to dance.
I am not really sure I miss the era, but there are things about it that I miss, like being on stage and the glamorous stage sets. When I was on stage, I didn't just stand and sing. It was theater and I miss that. I don't miss the excess of the times.
What brings you pleasure?
I am really into nature. I love the sky. I love the sun. I marvel at all the beautiful things that God has created. When I just stand and just look up at the sky, that gives me utter pleasure.