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'It doesn't matter what they say' — I'll take the '80s any day

Cultural critics often talk about formative experiences that usually happen early in writers' lives that may help explain why they choose to tell certain kinds of stories.

Herman Melville's formative event was the 1841 trip he took aboard a whaling ship headed for the South Seas. Willa Cather found her muse when her father suddenly uprooted his young family and moved them to Webster County, Neb. For James Ellroy, author of "L.A. Confidential" and several other brutal crime novels, it was the still-unsolved murder of his mother.

Mine? It came in the form of a cracked mix-tape of '80s music given to me by my Uncle Jay just before he took off on a cross-country hitchhiking expedition.

I was 9 years old, give or take a year, when I was introduced to Talking Heads, Devo, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Go-Go's and, for better or worse, "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats.

For the first month the cassette didn't leave my pathetic one-speaker Emerson stereo. The music, with its synth drums pounding out aggressively danceable beats over subversive lyrics, didn't sound anything like the bloated 1970s rock my parents — God bless 'em — raised me on.

After a while the tape wore so thin that the cymbal crashes sounded watery and David Byrne's voice began to warble and pop more than usual.

Eventually, as with all childish things, I put the '80s away and strapped on the spiked wrist gauntlet of heavy metal and prepared for war in high school. But I never forgot the music that made fourth grade tolerable.

And it is because of that tape that you'll find me at the Vinyl Club in Ashland most Fridays.

I think the bar advertises it as "Retro Night" but those in the know call it " '80s Night." As far as I know, no other club in the valley caters to the late-20s set.

To be fair, a few '90s and '70s cuts sneak in once in a while — though I've yet to hear ABBA's "Take A Chance On Me" which is to my mind disco's finest hour — but the bulk of the Vinyl Club's Friday night mix was released during the Reagan era.

For the most part I hate dancing. Hate doing it, hate being around people who are doing it. Because let's face it, folks, none of you are any good at it. Don't argue.

Most of all, though, it's what passes for modern dance music that makes me want to jam chopsticks into my ears and weep silently on the bathroom floor.

It's not that I haven't tried to join the herd. I once made it about 12 feet into Ashland's Kat Wok one regrettable Saturday night before fleeing back into the street. I won't apologize for picking "Billie Jean" over a song that features lyrics like "Gurl shake dat laffy taffy — Dat laffy taffy."

Be warned, the Vinyl Club is smallish and fills up quickly around midnight. It gets hot in there and smells like a Detroit boxing gym at times. Also, the cover charge seems to have bumped from $3 to $5 recently.

Then there's the large mirror in the back by the tables. It gives the impression that the room stretches on to infinity. Once, after three too many bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I, gazed into the mirror and my head went all airy and I had to sit down.

But then the DJ played Prince's "When Doves Cry," the fourth song on my old mix-tape. Suddenly, I was a drunken fourth-grader, singing and jumping around like an idiot.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.