Taana Gardner: Heartbeat
tylus Magazine’s Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
It’s not the side effects of love—I’m thinking it must be the cocaine. You lick your lips raw. Wiggling your ass, tossing an arm hither and thither, you sidle up to your lover because you know you’re so fucking hot. That rumbling—it must be your heartbeat, from your head to your feet. “Heartbeat” is a fresh line of coke; it’s a sweltering dance floor; it’s heaven-is-other-people, because they all look like you.
Taana Gardner’s “Heartbeat” sounds as cavernous as the infamous Paradise Garage in which deejay Larry Levan debuted the song in 1981. Propelled by a slow, deep bass oblivious to the rhythm guitar trying to muscle out of its clutches, punctuated by a giddy whistle every time Gardner squeals the title, “Heartbeat” is a memorial for a musical subgenre for which there are clear antecedents and dubious successors. As sultry and damp as a tanktop at 2 am, it stands at the nexus of disco and freestyle, yet unmoved by the intimations of transcendental fulfillment common to the former or the guilt-tinged filigrees darkening the latter. It’s Donna Summer’s “Love is in Control,” but too dazed by the possibilities of the now to explain who’s got what finger on the trigger and why. De La Soul sutured “Heartbeat”’s bass onto their 1990 remix of “Buddy”; was there ever a more touching, hopeless collision of sensibilities?
Who Taana Gardner is only Larry Levan knows—presumably. Let us say she embodies the ice-on-fire hedonism of every girl you were afraid to hit on at the club, in part because you guys weren’t on the same drugs. I can tell you why you’d notice Gardner: the thin, wobbly alto projecting lustrous urges, growling one minute and ascending to vibrato the next. She savors “heartbeat” like it was her lover’s tongue in her mouth. In the song’s crucial middle stretch Gardner becomes a harbinger for a slatternly version of Stephanie Mills, someone who’s learned to respect the power of pleasure. This isn’t Madonna, jiggling not too far away at the Danceteria, eyeing a Puerto Rican yum-yum; this isn’t the Tracy Thorn of “Lullaby of Clubland,” vitiated by the din, cigarette smoke, and isolation of the modern disco. “Heartbeat” traces the unfurling of a present unconscious of a past. This song knows nothing of loss. However, a presentiment of rue is suggested by Gardner’s increasingly frenzied, increasingly dulled yelp, her habit of wiping her nostrils, the persistent scratch deep in her throat. What a shame her dealer isn’t her boyfriend. It’s getting cold.