From Dallas Doctor’s “World Without Love ~ A Collection of Short Stories that Together Tell a Story” (page 86):
The Last Day I Danced
by Dallas Doctor
(Fifty years ago — September 1968)
In the ’60s, there used to be high school school dances on Friday nights after football games. And in Portland, Oregon, in those days, there was no such thing as a DJ (except on the radio) — every “After-Game-Dance” came with a real live band. Which was awesome. And let me assure you, I never missed a dance. It was the best way to get close to girls. Sometimes, really close. And during the slow songs, sometimes dangerously close.
Then, when my own band got to where we were good enough to get gigs, we started playing our school dances. It was a dream come true. Those dances were great opportunities for us to practice our chops, learn our craft and hone our performances. It was a great training ground that sadly doesn’t exist for aspiring musicians anymore. But we were lucky. We had lots of chances to play and we benefitted from tons of opportunities to perform while we were still very young. We got to where we had a gig every Friday night, at least. And when the Mormon church started putting on dances every Saturday night, we were busy.
The Mormon dances were usually held at Stake Centers, which are regional hubs with larger facilities than a regular church. Even modest Mormon church buildings are generally equipped with a full-size stage and an ample cultural hall, but these were even bigger and better. They all had great huge stages to play on – easily ten to twenty times larger than the accommodations in most bars and clubs. Plus, they often came complete with full lighting rigs and sound systems and backstage dressing rooms. We got real spoiled, real fast.
And the Mormon kids danced. The dances were popular. The halls were always packed. Sometimes it took a few songs to get them started, but once they did get movin’, it was all downhill. We were rock stars in training.
The only hurdle each night was how to get it all started. We experimented with different openings – changed up the song selections – and pretty quickly figured out which of our cover tunes were likely to make people jump up and start wiggling around.
Steppin’ Stone worked well as a starter. Good Lovin’ by the Rascals was also a motivator. But the sure-fire get-em-up winner was The Rolling Stones, Satisfaction.
So that’s what we usually started with. I’d launch into that infectiously cool riff on my guitar – Da-da, da-da-Da – and by the time the band kicked in, we usually had the crowd on our side within the first few seconds.
Except one night…
I remember it was at the Stake Center in Beaverton. I cranked up my amp and stomped on my fuzz-tone and went into the lick and nobody moved.
Da-da, da-da-Da …
All the girls were sitting way over on one side of the big empty hall in their hairdos and Saturday night dresses, while all the guys in their best clean outfits were all the way over on the other side. And the room was cavernous – three or four full size basketball courts at least. We were up there doin’ our best rockin’ and rollin’ on stage. But it was a bunch of dead empty nothin’ in the middle of the room. There were a hundred-or-so early arrivals still stuck to the walls nervously looking around and waiting for someone else to get it started.
I cranked it up a bit and played a little harder and started into the lyrics with as much animation as I could muster, trying to motivate some action:
I cant’ get no … Satisfaction
I can’t get no … Satisfaction
One lonely guy on the far side of the room started across the floor all by himself.
Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, (da, da, da ..) I can’t get no
Everybody watched him walk right across the middle of the dance floor.
When I’m drivin’ in my car
And that man comes on the radio
Every eye in the room followed his progress as he carefully made his way over to the girls’ side of the hall.
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
He selected one lucky candidate from the long line of waiting-and-watching-walled-up girls. The entire room monitored his progress as he leaned over and said something to the selected winner.
Supposed to fire my imagination
She shook her head emphatically from side to side. Her bouncy curls wagged to and fro, but her arms remained folded, and the rest of her stayed right where she was.
I can’t get no, … Oh no, no, no …
Shot Down! Denied! Humiliated!
Hey hey hey, … That’s what I say
He stood motionless for a second or two. Then he slowly turned and started the long walk back across the middle of the room.
I can’t get no … Satisfaction
All by himself.
I can’t get no … Satisfaction
While everyone watched.
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
We kept playing our hearts out.
I can’t get no, … I can’t get no
Until he made it all the way back over to his own side.
No, no, no ..
We played every verse and repeated the chorus three times and still nobody danced, so I called Born to be Wild, which we usually saved for the end of the night.
And that worked. Soon everybody was up. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the poor lonely guy and his tortuous walk of shame. I tried to look around to see if he’d recovered. I systematically searched through the throng of dancers to try to locate him. And I inadvertently noticed something:
Everybody looked silly.
Here they all were in their best Saturday-night-outfits. They had gone to great lengths to get their hair and outfits just right and had probably spent many hours getting ready to go out. Each and every one of them was clearly trying to look their very best. And then when they got everything just right — when it came time to put all their preparations and plans into action — what did they do? They went out in public and made fools of themselves.
I watched them wiggling and writhing. They’d squirm and twitch and jerk and shimmy and waggle. They’d stick their butts out and throw their elbows one way or another. And they’d bop their heads from side to side and make goofy faces. And twist around and flutter and flounder and jump and they’d work up a sticky sweat of deodorant and perfume and perspiration and the room got steamy and all their perfect hairdos wilted. In their writhing dampness, I decided they all looked ridiculous.
I loved playing those dances, because I was above them all. I was on stage. I stood up front in the center of the room. I thought I was the cool guy in the room. They, on the other hand, were a pathetic mess of wiggle-around.
I did not want to be one of them. I never wanted to be that unaware. The more I watched them wiggle, the more horrified I became. The aggregate mass of movement in the collection of churning bodies was something that, as a band, we thrived on, but the collective tumult masked a whole lot of individual silliness. That night in Beaverton, I focused in, up close, on each individual participant and I no longer wanted to be one of them.
I wanted to be cool.
I wanted to be better than them.
I wanted to be above it all.
So I stopped dancing.
It may not be the stupidest mistake I ever made, but it’s seriously right up there. And it’s one I sincerely regret.
Thank you for reading.
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