High school dance, USA, mid-1970s

Growing up in the 1970s, my friend Dan was a Steely Dan fanatic, which is fairly ironic if you think about it. Every time they came on the stereo in his truck, he turned it up.

“Ooh, it’s Steely!” he’d say, cranking the radio knob.

I always appreciated the band but never to the point of Dan’s obsession. Their jazz/rock fusion was sometimes too much for the rocker in me. At the same time, songs like Rikki Don’t Lose That Number and Do it Again continue to take me back to summer days at my boyhood home in St Paul, Minnesota. There is no denying the band’s influence and impact on the whole Seventies sound, a great time in history from a music standpoint.

When the song FM came out, I was immediately captivated by it. These were the days when FM radio was at its zenith. The radio band was a crystal clear divergence from the “mono” limitations that AM stations offered, and Steely Dan’s song paid homage to all the depth and richness and clarity that it brought to our lives. No static at all, the pivotal lyric from the song, gives credence to what everyone looked for in their radio experience, and to what FM offered. It powered our house parties and helped us while away hours behind the wheel on a drive.

My high school, Cretin High, was a Catholic, all-male, military academy. Needless to say, this made dating difficult. In an effort to help the co-mingling of boys and girls, Regina, an all-girls academy in Minneapolis collaborated with Cretin to insure those who wanted to attend their Snow Ball dance would be able to be paired up with a boy. It was a lottery system based strictly on height designed to match co-eds for the dance. For a shy kid like me it seemed like a no-brainer.

Marcia and I showed up at the dance in the school gym a little after 8pm. I was dressed in my rust-colored corduroy 3-piece suit, and she in a conservative, Catholic school girl skirt and blouse. She was tall and attractive, in a girl-next-door sort of way. Overall she appeared to be a suitable match for this first foray into my dating life.

When we walked in, the surface of the auditorium floor was sprinkled with sawdust to serve as the makeshift dance area. Tables rimmed the fringe and streamers were twisted from wall to wall giving the dimly lit room a festive, romantic feel. We were a couple of adolescent kids on the edge of adulthood, and the whole thing just felt so grown up to me.

The cover band on the auditorium stage was tight and did justice to most of the hits they covered.

When the first notes of Steely Dan’s FM came on I jumped to my feet.

“Oh, I love this song. Do you want to dance?” I asked Marcia.

“Sure,” she replied.

The two of us danced, trying our best to be hip despite being a couple of conservative, white, city kids. We grooved in rhythm to the music, and for some reason I was positively swept away by all of it. I knew while it was happening that I would always remember the moment. It was my first real dance with a girl and it felt so adult, an intentional shift towards romance and dating and independence. The mood was right and the band played with no static at all. It was a little bit of perfection amid the angst and awkwardness of adolescence.

I don’t know why that moment at that dance stuck with me all these years. It may have been the song. Or, it could have been my brain’s way of tucking away a glimpse of some of the beauty life throws at us. Could have been. But I think more to the point, it was the sudden realisation that I was leaving the life of a boy and entering that of a man. That this was what it was like to treat a woman with dignity, care and respect. This night was a starter kit to the intricacies of the male/female relationships. Marcia may not have known it but she, along with somebody else’s favourite song, made the night one I will never forget.

Stereo Story #587

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Jim has three non-fiction books, Cretin Boy, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: A '70s Memoir. Jim also has five poetry collections, Thoughts from a Line at the DMV, Genetically Speaking, Reciting from Memory, Written Life, and On a Road. His non-fiction stories have been published in Main Street Rag, The Sun, Story News, and others. His poetry has been featured in Rosebud Magazine, Portage Magazine, Blue Heron Review, and many others. Jim was the 2018-2019 poet laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin.