Bee Gee Robin Gibb dies at 62

One of the men who brought disco to the mainstream.

Robin Gibb – one third of the seminal disco outfit the Bee Gees – has died of cancer at age 62.

Formed with his late twin brother Maurice and elder brother Barry, the Bee Gees garnered a place in musical history with their distinctive falsetto harmonies and disco classics like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Emotion”. The group has sold upwards of 200 million records, penned hit tracks for artist like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Yvonne Elliman, and Olivia Newton-John, and seen thousands of others recording version of their music throughout the past four decades. Their soundtrack for the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever defined a moment in musical history and is often credited with turning disco into a global phenomenon.

Today the music industry pays tribute to the man broadcaster Paul Gambaccini called "talented beyond even his own understanding". He went on: "Everyone should be aware that the Bee Gees are second only to Lennon and McCartney as the most successful songwriting unit in British popular music."

A life in music:

22 December 1949 – Born on the Isle of Man to a band leader father and former-singer mother who encourage their sons to perform.

1958 – Robin and his family move to Australia, where he and his brothers adopt the stage-name the Bee Gees (an abbreviation of Brothers Gibb).

1963 – The Bee Gees are signed to Festival Records Australian subsidiary Leedon Records.

1967  – The Bee Gees introduced to the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and are soon signed with Polydor Records. Robert Stigwood calls them “The Most Significant Band of 1967”.

1969 – Robin quits the group amidst difficulties with his brother Barry.

1970 – Robin rejoins the group and The Bee Gees enjoy US success with "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (later covered by Al Green).

1977 – A turning point in the band’s career: the Bee Gees compose and perform the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, bringing “disco craze” to the mainstream and skyrocketing the band to international success. Tracks such as “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Night Fever” reach Number 1 in countries worldwide.

1983 – Robin releases a solo album, several more to follow throughout the decades.

1997 – The Bee Gees receive the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

2000 – The Bee Gees receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.

2009 – Robin tops the charts again with the Comic Relief version of "Islands in the Stream", a collaboration with Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon and Tom Jones.

 

(How Deep is Your Love, 1977)

 

(Staying Alive, 1977)

 

(John Travolta dances to "More Than a Woman" in Saturday Night Fever)

 

Robin Gibb (centre) with his brothers and bandmates Barry and Maurice in 1970. (Photo: Getty Images)

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

Photo: Getty
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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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