On the party's 47th anniversary, its message of universal love and tolerance still feels radical.
When we talk about love in the context of Valentine's Day, we're typically referring to romantic love between two people. But what about the love that forms between the members of a community? This was the sort of love that was on David Mancuso's mind 47 years ago when he threw the first of many epoch-defining parties in his Manhattan loft on Valentine's Day in 1970. He promoted the party with homemade fliers that bore the phrase "Love Saves the Day." Besides serving as a hint that LSD experimentation would be on the menu that night, the invites reflected Mancuso's philosophy of love as a guiding and universal principle.
Over the next few years, the dancers who made their pilgrimage to his apartment every week would dub it "The Loft," and it would become the underground focal point of the city's nascent disco revolution and provide the template for underground events in the city in general. Mancuso would continue throwing parties in the city for the next half-century, until his death last November, at the age of 72. Over the decades, he fostered a sense of of intimacy and community that became the stuff of legend.
In an interview with his biographer Tim Lawrence (who published Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture in 2003), Mancuso tells a story that sheds some light on where his preternatural ability to channel communal love came from. He explains that his interest in alternative concepts of the home and family structure go back to his early childhood, which he spent in an orphanage, under the care of a nun named Sister Alicia.
"Maybe it goes back to Sister Alicia and her party room," he told Lawrence. "Sister Alicia is my earth mother. She took care of me until I was six years old." He notes that his memories of his time there were foggy, until age 45 when an old friend named Eddy he knew from the orphanage tracked him down and showed him pictures from their youth.
"Anyhow, it just so happened that Eddy used to come to New York City a couple of times a year, so on one of his visits we spoke on the phone and he came to visit me," Mancuso explained. "This was 1984, just as I was moving into Third Street. I explained to him what I did in the Loft, that I put on parties and he looked at the room and said, "You've got to see these photos!" He brought out all of these pictures that Sister Alicia had saved, and as we looked through the pictures we came across one of a party room that had a record player, records and balloons. It was a mirror reflection of my room in the Loft. We both freaked out in a very nice way."
As Mancuso sees it, Sister Alicia created "a happy place" for the kids to have parties that served as the basis for a non-linear family that welcomed people of all classes, ethnicities, and social orientations; Mancuso carried that knowledge with him in his bones, and used it to create a party that offered more than just a great night out. "It's a home away from home," Mancuso told Lawrence.
Today, celebrate his life and message with a rare 7-hour mix recorded at the Loft in 2005 and uploaded to the internet in 2011 by a blog called Paradox2Paradox. It's a sprawling voyage that starts with show-tunes and encompasses cosmic disco, vocal house, funk, and more. While you're listening, consider that Valentines Day can offer more than greeting card schmaltz—almost 50 years ago it served as the jumping off point for one of the most radical musical and social movements the world has ever known.
A special "Celebration of Life" will be hosted in honor of David Mancuso tonight, February 14, at 6:30PM at the New York Society for Ethical Culture located at 2 West 64th Street in Manhattan. All are welcome to attend.