Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night
|"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"|
|Publisher||New York Magazine|
"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" was the title of a 1976 New York Magazine article by British rock journalist Nik Cohn. It was the basis for the plot and characters in the movie Saturday Night Fever.
Originally, the article was published as a piece of factual reporting. However, around the time of the twentieth anniversary of the film in 1996, Cohn revealed that the article was actually a work of fiction.
After persuading New York editor Clay Felker to let him write an article about the 1970s disco scene, Cohn, a newcomer to the United States, set about researching the American working-class subculture he was trying to cover. One night he travelled to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to visit the disco 2001 Odyssey. However when he arrived a drunken fight was taking place outside the club, and one of the participants rolled over in the gutter and threw up on Cohn's trouser leg, leading him to return to Manhattan. Despite this brief visit, Cohn did notice that the scene was surveyed by one clubgoer standing in the doorway and calmly watching events. Cohn returned to the club subsequently but the young man wasn’t there.
To overcome his lack of familiarity with the New York disco scene, Cohn combined the image of the figure outside the club with people he knew from his youth, including a gang member from the Northern Irish city of Derry, where Cohn had grown up, and a young man he knew in England. “My story was a fraud,” he wrote. “I’d only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story’s hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd’s Bush mod whom I’d known in the Sixties, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road." For additional detail Cohn returned to Bay Ridge during the day to get a better feel for the area.
On the fortieth anniversary of the article’s publication in 2016, Cohn said that he thought that such a fictionalised piece would not be published in the contemporary press:
“It reads to me as obvious fiction, albeit based on observation and some knowledge of disco culture. No way could it sneak past customs now. In the 60s and 70s, the line between fact and fiction was blurry… Few editors asked tough questions. For the most part it was a case of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.”— Nik Cohn
* Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night on New York Magazine website