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Skyline State of Mind


True confessions from the inner sanctum of the hottest disco on the planet, circa 1977

By Janet Gibson

A pulsating disco beat and raging hormones created a powerful combination at the Skyline nightclub on top of Fayetteville’s tallest building – the sleek, black glass highrise with sweeping views of downtown – during the sweltering summer of ’77.

You could feel the excitement, even before entering the elevator to push the 11. As some marketing genius put it, the Skyline is the only place “where you gotta go up to get DOWN!” Sometimes I felt my heart pounding thump-thump-thump … like it was synchronizing with the tunes being spun from Bobby Monaco’s DJ booth, causing the walls to shake, as was evident when the elevator door opened, bringing us one step closer … anticipation. I couldn’t wait to get inside.

Months earlier, when I first started frequenting the club, I’d psych myself on the ride up. “Play it cool, Janet.” After all, when you’re only 17 and your ID is fake, you smile like an angel and act quietly confident. Use your acting skills. Go with good-looking girlfriends – or an older date who has a pricey club membership and slips a bill to the bouncer, ensuring successful entry.

Ah, the summer of 1977. There will never be another one like it. I had turned 18 that spring, graduated from Seventy-First High, and was finally legal to buy my own Skyline membership, along with beer and wine – before “liquor by the drink” passed and age 21 to consume became the law.

For us, the Skyline wasn’t just a place. It was the place. Our Studio 54. Our “Saturday Night Fever.” Our Boogie Wonderland.

Mostly, the Skyline was a state of mind. Before life got so complicated and technology robbed us from living in the moment. No computers, cellphones or social media. Which was a good thing. After all, had our Skyline antics been posted in a modern-day world, it probably would have derailed some of our careers before they ever got started.

Oh, and it was so much fun.

Diverse crowds came from everywhere. Some were already in college or the military. Several worked at the mall, for family-owned businesses, or making tires at Kelly Springfield,
now Goodyear. Many of us were fresh out of area high schools, discovering each other for the first time as we joyfully came together in line dances like the Electric Slide and the Bus Stop. We were young and skinny – and we could MOVE! Sweating off five pounds in an evening was child’s play to us.

My immediate gang was Ellie, Vanessa and Eva. Ellie had a way of dancing to Earth Wind & Fire songs – it was just a satisfied expression, eyes closed, head slightly bobbing and a mischievous smile. Vanessa tore up the floor doing the line dances, shaking her booty in a way that would make KC and the Sunshine Band blush. Eva was the queen of the hustle.

So elegant, she possessed perfect form and posture. A wonder to behold, she is still a class act to this day.

Me … I just kind of moved. Mostly, I depended on my outfit and footwear to do the talking. I loved the drama of a tiered skirt that billowed out with certain moves, worn with sky-high red wedgies. Or the crowd favorite, my “ironing board cover dress,” as my girlfriends dubbed it, because of the shiny, silvery fabric. The form-fitting, Diane von Furstenberg inspired “wrap” dress was sewn with love by my mom. I paired it with black hosiery and black patent, strappy stilettos. Ankle straps. I don’t know where I got the idea to place a
red silk rose in my curly semi ’fro, but it made me happy, even if it prompted Eva’s mom to
laugh hysterically and point every time she saw my scarlet bloom.

The thing I remember most about fashion that summer is the girls had gotten away from the platforms that the guys still embraced. To look taller, I suspect. Many polyesters were slayed in the interest of style, a la “Saturday Night Fever.” And, yes, there were guys who actually wore their versions of John Travolta’s three-piece white suit. (Contrary to what today’s costume purveyors would like for you to believe, we weren’t wearing psychedelic-print bellbottoms and midriff tops; that was “Laugh- In,” circa 1970, or, OK, maybe early-on in the disco movement.)

It is true that many of us in ’77 were hippie children during the day and disco divas by nightfall, so there was a bit of cross-section vibe. It was the same year that Fleetwood Mac released their ground-breaking “Rumours” album. And we were also just as willing to embrace the Eagles, Peter Frampton and Led Zeppelin. Every generation claims to have the best music – but we really did. Disco, included. Hence, even non-disco celebrities couldn’t resist the allure of the Skyline and popped in from time to time. Boz Scaggs, B.J. Thomas,
the band America, just to name a few. They would play concerts at Cumberland County Memorial Arena, inquire about the hottest place to go party afterward, and, well, the rest is history. I even know a couple of wild-and-crazy chicks who ended up with famous rock ’n’ roll dates – hatched at the Skyline.

There are probably hundreds of us baby boomers who can say the Skyline in all its mirror ball glory was the backdrop for our
coming-of-age stories – playing out to a soundtrack of the times. Burning hotter than a disco inferno.

I met my first love at the Skyline during the summer of 1977. I met my second love there in the summer of ’78. (Don’t judge and enough with the guffaws! I know that I am not alone.) I remember both meetings like it was yesterday. The first: Unexpectedly, I ran into him as I exited the ladies’ room, which started a conversation that stays with me forever, and a first dance to “Easy” by The Commodores.

The second: In front of the wall between the entrance and just before you hit the dance floor. Laughter from the get-go.

Both romances had a couple of starts and stops. Exhilarating highs and disappointing lows, too. In other words, try slow dancing to “How Deep Is Your Love?” or “Always and Forever” with a giant lump in your throat and pieces of your heart strewn all over the dance floor. Amid the polyester and platforms – the scents of Jovan musk oil and Halston emitting a trail of pheromones to the dance floor – we found unbridled joy and freedom under the rotating mirror balls and flashing lights. We found love. If only for a summer.

We also learned about this thing in life called timing. And the power of ambition – including an unquenchable desire to go to college and become a journalist. Yet, it’s also an amazing gift when, years later, we reconnect and friendships form. (Thanks, Facebook.)

During that magical summer of ’77, the Skyline was situated on the top floor of what was then the Wachovia bank building. Now it is the Systel building, owned by Keith Allison, who I hear from a reliable source visited the Skyline a time or two when he was just starting to build his empire. (Many aren’t surprised, he’d end up owning a mega business equipment company, the tallest building in town and a whole lot more.)

In June, news broke in this magazine that Allison Capital Partners might be transforming the former Skyline space into a restaurant and/or an events/meetings venue as part of an overall $3 million building makeover. I couldn’t help but think there’s gold in that space to cater to baby boomers who have the disposable income for fine dining, music and dancing (even if our hips and knees are creakier these days). And, of course, there’s the appeal of panoramic city views, now with more buildings and twinkling lights than in yesteryear.

Call it the Skyline II. Create a wall that pays homage to the ’70s, so millennials and Gen Z can see Grandma and Grandpa doing the hustle or knocking out a line dance. Before the disco lights faded into the ’80s, ushering an era of “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” big shoulder pads and conspicuous consumption.

I hope someone has a photo of a girl in a silvery dress on the dance floor, moving like she doesn’t have a care in the world, with her entire future in front of her. She was going to be a writer. To see the world. And she did. Only to return to her hometown.

And, now, that girl is seriously thinking about “returning to the Skyline” on Aug. 21 as CityView Magazine holds its first-ever “Summer in the City” throwback blast in the nostalgia-filled space. Who would have thought? Forty-four years later. But first, there’s just one pressing matter.
Anyone know where to find a red silk rose?