Holiday viewing recommendation: the Bee Gees

Welcome to Plugging the Gap (my email newsletter about Covid-19 and its economics). In case you don’t know me, I’m an economist and professor at the University of Toronto. I have written lots of books including, most recently, on Covid-19. You can follow me on Twitter (@joshgans) or subscribe to this email newsletter here.


This will be my last newsletter for 2020 barring some anticipated event that compels me to pontificate. For me, this year has been one of obsession and worry with one substituting for the other. We all know that 2020 as a concept is far from over. But I recently watched a documentary about the formerly Australian group, the Bee Gees. And I wanted to recommend it to you as solid holiday viewing precisely because its message is quite inspirational for the times we find ourselves in.

I grew up with the Bee Gees. Even as a kid I knew of them before Jive Talking and disco. I never stopped liking them. One of the first things I did when I got to America for graduate school in 1990 was to purchase a boxed set of four CDs of the Bee Gee’s music. Prior to that, I had continued to listen and like them, especially in the early 1980s when it was decidedly uncool to do so. I always suffered in high school for that and never quite understood why. As I now learn, it was all about bigotry which came to those kids from their parents. I was happy to reflect that somehow, I ended up on the right side of history for that one.

The music is one thing but the story is another. The Bee Gees are a band that had success followed by deep failure. They were buffeted by forces completely out of their control and very far from their own fault. Being caught in the disco backlash, which was extreme, was one of these. But this had happened to them following their initial success in the late 1960s, early 1970s when they were overplayed on radio. In each case, it was a big fall from grace.

Their story shows, however, how to deal with adversity. In each of these times, they wallowed for a little while but then picked themselves up, looked at the circumstances and made the best of it. When they were out of favour, they moved to Miami and developed an entirely new sound and, because they were so out of favour, actually chose to send their records to radio stations unmarked so as to receive a fair hearing. When they were crushed by the disco backlash, they pulled back and did it again, this time becoming songwriters for others so they could continue to do what they loved doing.

It is hard not to think of being devastated by circumstances beyond our control in 2020. And when I reflected on the Bee Gees, I thought about some many others, in their industry and beyond, who were unable to pick themselves up again. Maybe they didn’t know what was possible. Maybe they didn’t have the temperament to step back and reassess. Maybe they weren’t inspired.

As you think about what the next year will be like, do yourself a favour and watch the story of the Bee Gees. It is there to help. Regardless, the music is wonderful.


What did I miss?