New Year’s Eve 2010
Baby Boomers Social Club Dinner & Dance
Red Lion Convention Center
Portland, Oregon

I remember in the late ’80s when the Gen Xers first figured out that the Baby Boomers were sucking up all the oxygen on the planet. Back then I had several discussions with these tiresome people. They complained to me, with their imperfect command of their native language, that, like, we Boomers were always whining and hogging the spotlight and like grabbing everything for themselves, dudes, and what’s up with that? I always listened politely and then reminded them that we are really good-looking, too.

Dudes. If you were looking for a hotel ballroom full of good-looking people with gray hair and dodgy knees, the Red Lion on December 31, 2010 was the place to be.

She’s Got the Look
Special D made two visits to a clothing consignment store in late December and came away with a stunning Mad Men outfit to wear to this event. I would’ve emerged looking like Mad Max.

I got dressed that evening, was informed that I’d made some less-than-optimal decisions, quickly upgraded, and was cleared by the style council. It was clobberin’ time.

The 200 people at the Red Lion were dressed to kill. Well, most of the women were. The female half of the human race, always sensitive to the needs of an occasion, had all bought new outfits and gotten their hair done. Most of the men were dressed like they were going to the office, or else appeared to have gotten themselves together in a closet with the light out.

I bow to the four men who showed up in tuxedoes, particularly the gentleman who also wore an English-style vest under his formal jacket. These lads cut a swath like James Bond and never lacked for women willing to dance with them. Plus two of them had obviously spent considerable time in the principal’s office for dirty dancing. Any idiot can grind on the dance floor, but how many can pull that off from inside a tux?

Special D also has a talent for making friends, and she returned from an early trip to the ladies to report on the three new BFFs she’d made there and what they were all wearing and why. I’ll let you women in on a secret: We don’t have these conversations in the men’s room.

Play That Funky Music, Bar Band
It’s ridiculous to think that Boomers all love the same music. We were born between 1946 and 1964, which probably sounds like 1066 and 1492 to most people today but believe me, these numbers mean very different things musically.

“Well she was just 17,” Lennon and McCartney once observed. “You know what I mean.” Let’s take 17 as the Golden Age of music. If you were born in 1946 you were 17 when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. I was 17 in 1972, when Chicago, Al Green, and Elton John ruled the airwaves. People born in 1964 were 17 in 1981 – they were listening to The Clash, Blondie, and Michael Jackson. And of course as we age we find even more music to listen to, even if it’s Coldplay.

Any band that’s going to play to a room full of Boomers and not have their throats cut will have to cover a lot of ground. So it was with the band that played for us. I’ll call them Bar Band.

Though they could be counted on to know at least 70% of the words to any song in their repertoire, and though two of them came out of a funky R&B background and I think the other two went to charm school, Bar Band kept us moving with an assortment of bizarre covers and arrangements and inexplicable song selections. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Magic Carpet Ride
Bar Band opened with “Pretty Woman,” which was subdued rather than joyous. I was wondering how four people could make so little noise when they swung into Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me.” The female keyboard player reminded us of Janis Joplin, and with the two R&B boys pouring on the funk they turned an overly sweet song by one of the worst bands in history into a four-minute kinesthetic delight.

(The dance floor, by the way, was packed almost until midnight, and the die-hards were still kickin’ it when we left around 12:30.)

Transitions were not Bar Band’s strong point, unfortunately, and they followed “Say You Love Me” with Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run.” Normally that’s a good choice, but not when you slow it down until you’re in John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” territory. At this point I realized our musicians were all from the ’70s and were a bit too adept at free-associating.

Two years ago when Special D and I last came to this dance, the band neutered just about everything, perhaps out of concern for our blood pressure. When they played “Mustang Sally,” that song was about a horse. Bar Band happily put the sex back in Wilson Pickett’s masterpiece. They also did well with Eddy Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise.”

But the two highlights of this set were The Doors’ “Love Her Madly” and John Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Get. Out. They turned “Love Her Madly” into a head-banging dance tune with an off-the-hook keyboard solo straight out of Barnum & Bailey. Then they served up “The Ballad of John and Yoko” as a boogie.

Alas, Bar Band is not made up of underground geniuses who fight the man, go to the wall, and never do anything by the book. Their slow songs sucked, chiefly because most of them were by Norah Jones. Their passion for Bonnie Raitt didn’t help. All of her songs sound alike to me. Isn’t she actually Militia Etheridge?

Bar Band played “Route 66” as a lounge parody. They were lucky Depeche Mode wasn’t there to fling hubcaps at them. And don’t get me started on their decision to play something by Loggins & Messina. “Hey little girl won’t you meet me at the schoolyard gate”? Sorry, I already have a date with Ringo Starr. He says I’m 16, I’m beautiful, and I’m his! I had no idea.

Pump Up the Jam
Set #2 found real rock ’n’ roll in short supply. “The best dance songs are about sex and/or death,” Special D opined, after Bar Band had tortured us with Jimmy Buffet, Brooks & Dunn (boot-scootin’ makes my heart go all achy-breaky), and more Norah Jones, or possibly Bonnie Raitt. Plus they wrecked another sure thing from Steve Miller (“Keep on Rocking Me Baby”).

But the two guitars were playing longer and funkier riffs. Bar Band excelled with “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis & The Snooze, “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” (can’t escape that one), and Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream,” which actually held a touch of menace.

Blondie’s “Call Me” was fun to dance to, but the singer’s Janis Joplin voice kept throwing me. If Janis had lived she wouldn’t have been singing in a New Wave band 10 years later. The spooky keyboard solo made me think of Halloween.

And then there was “Sharp Dressed Man.” Had Bar Band ever heard this song before? Special D thought someone had maybe described it to them. They ripped the bass line right out of “Smoke on the Water.” This marriage of Texas bar blues with faux British prog rock was fun and perplexing.

I should mention that inbetween sets the PA system played watery hip-hop for people to do the line dancing they learned at corporate retreats in the 1990s. Smokin’. Back at our table, Special D kept busy networking with all the new friends she was making while I contended with a platoon of good-natured inebriates. Two women asked me for a future dance, but fled before I could get back to them. They sensed my power.

Don’t Leave Me This Way
Things slowed down as we approached midnight, though I can’t say exactly how as my notes from the last hour are hard to read. I’d eaten seven or eight desserts by that point. We had some good dance numbers, including the always popular “Takin’ Care of Business,” but Bar Band also tried out “Jailhouse Rock,” and they played it nice and slow, just the way I like it. (Not.) They followed this downer with “Folsom Frakking Prison.” They were unable to turn it into “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and quickly cleared the floor except for those people who will dance to anything, including the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter.

With midnight looming, Bar Band launched into an extended version of “Love Shack.” While they were unable even to suggest The B-52s, it was very danceable. They easily eclipsed the Seattle bar band we heard on New Year’s Eve 20 years ago who tried playing “Free Bird” but couldn’t remember the words and ran out of notes at 11:58pm, when they were forced to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” which, of course, they hadn’t practiced.

After midnight we got the only Beatles of the evening, “I Saw Her Standing There.” I have to admire Bar Band’s decision to play one Beatles (and no Rolling Stones). That takes guts, or peyote. The last song we stayed for was “Play That Funky Music,” and they did.

The Kids Are Alright
It was a pleasure to dance to a band that could bring it (most of the time), in a crowd where I didn’t look like somebody’s Dad. We even had people in our midst who were older than us: The youngest members of the Silent Generation (1925-1945). If you’re 70 and you like to dance on New Year’s Eve, where ya gonna go? You go with the younger kids. And a lot of them kept going right through midnight. You’re only as old as you feel…the morning after. Happy new year!

Comments
  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    I would love to hear Bar Band playing “Running Down a Dream” with menace and “Jailhouse Rock” real slow. Please send bootleg MP3s ASAP.

    The whole evening sounds like it was “fun and perplexing.” I wish I could have been there, if only to make mock from the sidelines while wearing a fake cast on my leg and scarfing desserts.

  2. Clark says:

    Now I figured it out. You kids and your new-fangled technology … nice posting, me amigo.

  3. Laurel says:

    Another brilliant ethnographic venture. But watch what you say about Bonnie, dude.

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