2009 Favorites: Dancing In the Dark of 80s Nostalgia

(Another episode in our 2009 rewind, this one about an evening spent rewinding to the 1980’s…)

The guy we’re going to call LeBon calls just after 9 p.m. and says he’s running late. A family engagement ran long, now he’s in his car looking for a place to park. Hassles upon hassles. You know the drill.

He appears a few minutes later, moving full-tilt down the sidewalk, headed for the door to the Crystal Ballroom, eyes gleaming.
“Let’s go, chief,” he calls out, and doesn’t break stride as he skips through the door and up the stairs toward Lola’s, the dance hall on the second floor. He flashes his VIP card at the bouncer, is rewarded with a stamp on his wrist, and makes for the bar and a cold pint of beer. It’s still early, the crowd is thin, but he takes a gulp and looks extremely pleased.

“This,” LeBon declares, “is the place.”

If you know LeBon, and maybe you do, you’ve heard about Fridays at Lola’s. That’s the night the club devotes to the ” ’80s Video Dance Attack!,” a party for anyone who wants to groove to the sound and video wallpaper from MTV’s most golden era.

Madonna, Prince, Talking Heads, Whitney Houston, the Go-Go’s, the Human League, Michael Jackson and more. Big, echoing beats. Gel-sculpted hair and absurdly padded shoulders.

It sounds ridiculous. But it was an interesting decade, to say the least, and if you happened to be young then, it all made a kind of sense. Some of it really wasn’t bad, and some of it was actually quite good. For instance, the VJ/DJ behind the music and video selection turns up “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads, and the cinema-sized screen fills with the image of David Byrne; all wide-open eyes and oversized suit, yammering about being behind the wheel of a large automobile and having no idea how he got there, let alone where he’s going.

LeBon drains his beer and makes for the dance floor. He’s a big guy, an ex-football player a few years beyond his last two-a-day practice. But he’s light on his feet and dives right into the rolling beat with athletic grace.

You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife . . .

(Hit Read More in order to, well, what do you think?)

Funny how the passage of time changes the meaning of a song. LeBon is married now with kids in school, Little League baseball and spring soccer, too. Factor in his career in the federal government, his lawyer wife starting her own business and the ongoing basement-to-attic remodel of their house. Suddenly “Once in a Lifetime” sounds less abstract than it once did. Less nightmarish, too.

Letting the days go by/ letting the water hold me down . . .

Then the music gets lighter and sillier. Wang Chung popping around the screen, the singer looking oddly furrowed and concerned even as he urges the world to have fun and also to Wang Chung; then Modern English, then Michael Jackson (back when he looked happy and recognizably human) and Whitney Houston (same deal) and then Madonna, still looking naughty and prankish as she proclaims herself a Material Girl.

Now the dance floor is packed, and the temperature rises to sweat-factory level. Faces in the crowd trend toward the 30s and 40s, but a surprising number of young folks are here, too. One or two dress in vintage gear –spaghetti straps, leg warmers, “Miami Vice” pastels –but that seems like overkill. This isn’t a costume party. It’s not the least bit ironic. LeBon has been on the floor for more than hour, and his cheeks are aglow, his shirt open and darkening with his efforts.

Everyone has their way of reconnecting with the person that lives inside them. There’s yoga and meditation, running, golf and rock climbing. Some have their book clubs, others manage fantasy baseball teams or cultivate gardens.

But for LeBon and everyone else here, it’s this journey into the past. Call it nostalgia, call it a goof, call it straight-up goofy. But nothing’s about this is silly for LeBon. It’s not in the clothes, or the glossy videos or the frantic need to Wang Chung. It’s somewhere deeper than that, in the echoes of long-ago freedom and discovery; of the time in your life when the world seemed loud, shiny and weightless.

Same as it ever was? Not even. But for an evening, at least, it can almost feel like it.

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