Dancing Men

John Roach

John Roach

Summer is nearly upon us.  

We can see eighty degrees waving to us from the distant shore. Each mark on the thermometer above sixty is even more welcome this year, given the damned Polar Vortex’s frigid arrival and failure to depart, as if it were some tone deaf party guest.

But now plotting has begun for what has become an annual event that harkens the arrival of summer.

It is referred to as The Trip. A gaggle of aging golfers heads off to an affordable resort to urge creaky bones and atrophied muscles to slap a ball around the hills of river country just west of here.

We say we are going on a golf trip, but in truth, we are going for something far more ancient and fun. We journey sans women, to tell tall tales and then, to sing and dance.

Yes, old, pot-bellied men singing and dancing in a room full of only other old, pot-bellied men. 

It happens because it is in our genes. To tell tales and howl at the moon around the fire is one of mankind’s most beautiful, mysterious urges.

Carl Hoffman’s new book Savage Harvest is about the disappearance of Nelson Rockefeller’s son Michael in 1961 in the jungles of New Guinea. Michael set out to explore the most unsettled part of the world, where headhunters and cannibals still roamed, in search of primitive art and perhaps himself. Before his disappearance, young Rockefeller wrote of the men of the Asmat village he had visited. With boar tusks worn through the septa of their noses, they gathered at dusk in large rattan huts where only men were allowed to enter, to tell their ancient stories of hunts and battles and women amid the smoke of the fire. And then, moved by some ageless cue, they would burst into song and dance.

Tusk piercings aside, guys in the company of other guys spontaneously breaking into story, song and dance is as healthy and therapeutic as it gets. The cold beers flow, the tales are told and the music begins. Then, like a prairie fire sparked by lightning, someone hears a song and yells, “Turn it up!”

And then that guy starts to sing and dance. Because the song reminds him of a woman or a night or a moment and he cannot help himself.

This particular group I accompany is partial to R&B and funk, the ancient music of our youth. The tunes slowly rise in volume as the night progresses. Someone will wander to the cooler for another beer and bust a minor move in the process, because he simply cannot resist.

But although rock and R&B are our staples, there is sub-genre of tunes that is sure to create reaction. We call it Wuss Rock. It is not particularly good music. In fact, some of it is truly awful. But the tunes stir ghosts and memories like no other, for they are the love songs of early youth and middle school dances and girls who are now only memories five and six decades gone.

Given the age of our group, these songs are most likely from the sixties and seventies, and include pop artists like Atlanta Rhythm Section, Eric Carmen and Pablo Cruise. As a lover of fine music, it pains me even to think of some of these songs but that is their beauty. The music is so bad it is good. We know and like the melodies and lyrics despite ourselves because of the kitschy imprint they left on our youth. Good or bad, these were the songs of our summer nights. In fact, it is not unusual for a guy to yell out a girl’s name as a song plays, so vivid are the memories.

In fact, these songs are so bad-good, it is now protocol for several of us to text throughout the year, with the titles of new, bad songs we stumble upon so that they might be added to the Awful Wuss Playlist. One of the attendees has argued that Christopher Cross hasn’t received the respect he deserves, so his work was added to this year’s growing Spotify collection. As DJ, I can share that there is also a plan to surprise the guys with a stunning new collection of maudlin hair-band ballads.

So, in just a few weeks we will leave our brides and families to join the company of other men. We will engage in the modern metaphor for the hunt called golf. Then we will eat and sip, and as the moon rises we will raise our voices in song and move in tribal dance as our ancestors have done since time immemorial.

For summer is nigh.

And Roy Orbison is singing “Oh, Pretty Woman.”

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com

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