John Henry's is a Eugene institution, though not in the way that anyone intended. Located right on Broadway, it's by my estimate one of the more successful businesses in a downtown noted for being pathetically inactive. It has the looks of a seedy dive bar, yet like so many things having to do with the place this is merely appearance. Its biggest customer base is currently twenty-something college students who wear trucker hats and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon ironically (have you noticed that no one drinks PBR because they like it? You either drink because you are too poor to afford anything better or because it's currently trendy to drink shitty beer).
I used to stop by every now and then for shows back during my college newspaper days, but as I didn't drink at the time I had no reason to frequent the place. Since I have now discovered the joys and wonders of beer, and as I was looking to fill a Thursday night with some diverting entertainment, I decided to head down for 80's Night, the highly popular dance party that has been going at least as far back as when I was in school.
80's Night is not an original activity. Plenty of college towns have similar events in which people dress up in goofy exaggerations of an ill-remembered past and dance spasticly to music they despised only a few years before. I grabbed a table and watched, drink in hand, while sweaty men with closed eyes and goofy haircuts thrust their crotches around in what had to be the most high-intense workout of their otherwise pasty, Arby's-fueled lives. Somehow or other, this made me very depressed.
It seems that these days I have a low tolerance for kitsch. 80's Night is swathed in irony, layers upon layers of it, coating every feathered haircut and every red leather jacket in a thick sheen of twice-removed satire. Much of the music is terrible, but people dance to it anyway, reveling in its terribleness (how this makes them any different than people who sincerely enjoy listening to cuts from Eddie Murphy's dance album is beyond me). People dress up in clothing styles they hate to go to a bar that caters to their need for fake-squalor so that they can listen to music they don't really like from an era they can't remember. All of this to strike one pose in one place on the one particular evening when it will make any sense. Campy nostalgia-fueled theme nights are not supposed to be this existential.
I could just throw this whole experience into the same shit-pile as all the other cultural experiences that thrive on the goofiness of 1980s pop culture (elevating said culture up to some heightened level of appreciation it never really deserved even while pointing out its awfulness, never realizing that this doesn't make up for the celebration of mediocrity). I could dismiss it as such, except for this one guy. He was dancing all night, to every song. He wore tight, sparkly pants and a pair of white leather cowboy boots. His t-shirt was a screen print of a Stratocaster with the neck pointing up, ending at the neck of his shirt. He danced when their was no one to dance with, he danced when the floor was packed. He twirled and did the robot and every time something new would come on his energy would spike. He didn't notice the other people there, didn't seem to care how ridiculous he looked. He was probably old enough to have been in high school during the 80s. He was sincerely having the time of his life.
You can't argue with that.