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"The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" Review

 What do you think of when you hear the name or music of the Bee Gees? Falsettos, white polyester, disco, and Saturday Night Fever, right? For right or wrong, their association with the top-selling movie soundtrack album in history is going to be what goes on their tombstones, but even if you're middle-aged you may be unaware of the long, repeated Lazarus act career of the Brothers Gibb (get it, BGs?) prior to the apex of disco fever.

Filling in and expanding the legacy of the Bee Gees is the mission of The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, the new documentary exclusive on HBO Max. Using archive interview footage of fraternal twins Robin and Maurice Gibb (who died in 2012 and 2003, respectively) and sole surviving eldest brother Barry along with family and musicians including Justin Timberlake (whose participating in the SNL "Barry Gibb Talk Show" sketches with Jimmy Fallon are NOT referenced), Oasis' Noel Gallagher, and several members of their live band over the eras, the doc recounts the brothers earliest days as Brits who'd moved to Australia then returned to England after feeling constrained by Oz's small market.

 Their father/manager sent tapes to The Beatles' impresario Brian Epstein who then passed them to his protege Robert Stigwood who recognized their talent and signed them in early 1967. Within a few months they had their first two smash hits with "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and "To Love Somebody." But with the sudden success - Robin had SIX Rolls Royces before he was 21! - the brothers began to drift apart, finally breaking up in 1969. 

But in what would become a phoenix-like pattern, they reunited a couple years later and shortly were atop the charts again with tunes including "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" but were eventually back in a slump and on the verge of being dropped. Taking the suggestion of Eric Clapton, who had just kicked years of addiction, they moved to Miami and moved into the house Clapton had stayed while recording his comeback album entitled with the address, 461 Ocean Boulevard. 

Working with Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, whose suggestion for Barry to try some high-pitched overdubs on "Nights On Broadway" revealed what would become their trademark falsettos and powered that and "Jive Talkin'" as hits. Their two Miami-recorded albums, Main Course and Children of the World, which included "You Should Be Dancing" made them Kings of Disco. Naturally, this led to their being included in the soundtrack of the movie Stigwood was producing starring a fresh young TV star named John Travolta and the rest was infamy. 

When the backlash to the ubiquity of disco hit in 1979, the Bee Gees bore the brunt of it since they were the biggest names in the game. Disco was dead and anyone associated with it had to be expunged from polite society. The irony is that while Saturday Night Fever is considered to have blown disco into the mainstream, it was actual the thing that prolonged a dying genre's lifespan a couple more years; it had already become played out when the movie hit. 

But as they'd done before, the brothers shifted from being performers to songwriters for hire and proceeded to rack up hits for Barbara Streisand ("Guilty"), Dionne Warwick ("Heartbreaker") and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton ("Islands In The Stream"). They gradually were able to record hits, mostly outside the USA, later in the 1980s and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, which only seems odd if you only knew them from their disco days.

At its best, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a very informative overview of a group which had a career that spanned decades, but almost all of it was obliterated from the public consciousness for their association with Saturday Night Fever which is but two years of their lives. (No one just things of The Wall when thinking of Pink Floyd, do they?)

But where the doc falls short is in the total omission of their involvement in the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie - which co-starred fellow rocker-turned-simpy-pop-idol Peter Frampton - and the egregious journey into revisionist history which has been attempted against the notorious Disco Demolition Night riot in Chicago on July 12, 1979 which is considered the death knell of disco. 

The facts of that event are that Chicago shock jock and not-disco-fan Steve Dahl staged the event where anyone who brought a disco record to Comiskey Park could get a ticket to the double-header between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox for 98 cents. The bin of records was blown up during the intermission between the games and when the fans stormed the field and tore the place up, that was it for baseball game and the Sox forfeited the second game.

However, in recent years as social justice warrior wokeness has spread to suck every bit of joy from life, Disco Demolition Night has been falsely portrayed as a racist backlash by white straight male bigots to the music made and enjoyed by gays and people of color. The documentary features a black man who worked as an usher at the game who reports seeing Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye albums being turned in and since those aren't disco records, there could be no explanation other than white supremacy and racism in his or the film's eyes. (The idea that a bunch of rowdy rockers looking for a cheap night at the ballgame grabbed whatever disco-looking LP they could find to get the deal while lacking any racist intent isn't possible; no, it's RAAAAAAAAAAAAACISM!!!!)

Disco Demolition Night got extra play in my memory because being a Detroiter meant it happened on my local sportball team's time. There was also as similar anti-disco movement happening the Motor City with AOR station WRIF operating a group called D.R.E.A.D. (Detroit Rockers Engaged In The Abolition of Disco) where membership cards could be flashed at merchants for discounts. It was a marketing stunt, not a hate movement and it's especially hard to claim Detroit was a hotbed of seething white racism considering it's biggest non-automotive export was the music of Motown. 

Contemporaneous with the backlash against disco was the backlash against boring rock music in the form of punk/New Wave, but you don't see anyone claiming pasty white kids were being racist against tanned California rockers like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, do you? In 1991, grunge blew up as the backlash to hair metal and slick Eighties pop. Then the turn of the Millennium brought a round of boy bands and Mousekabimbos to backlash against the miserable whining of grunge. That sparked the garage band days of the White Stripes et al and so on and on and on. When any generation gets bored of what corporate music pimps are cramming down their throats, they want something else, but for some reason the wokesters have decided that disco needs an oppression myth and Disco Demolition Night is their vehicle.


With the above caveats, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is still a worthy primer on a talented and ultimately tragic family act - the youngest brother, Andy, who had his own massive pop star career, died only five days after his 30th birthday from years of substance abuse in 1988 - that had several mini-careers in their lives. Even if you don't want to forgive them for their disco crimes against music or aren't fond of their schmaltzy pop stylings, it's still an enlightening musical journey worth taking.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on HBO Max. 


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