Dancing Like Napoleon

June 21, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

My friend referenced the song “Forever Young” in a Facebook update in memory of his deceased father yesterday. It is a tender song that is, for me, very magical. I don’t know if it is magical for everybody, or only those whose formative years were in the 80’s.  If your formative years weren’t in the 80’s, it seems pretty useless to try to explain it.  They are one of those things that you’ll never understand, unless you’ve lived through them. Even then, understanding something and being able to communicate it are two different matters.

The song bounced around a few places and eventually made its way into the prom scene in the movie Napoleon Dynamite. To me, that scene captured the magic. There was something quiet about the scene. Quiet and calming. The music is soft and the characters find rest in their romance. Dances need a chance to slow down a bit. Like a fragile fire, they need a chance to breathe. Stirring the adrenaline with songs like “Pump Up the Jam” are fine for awhile, but can only last so long. Like a box of Whoppers, they lack nourishment. They will give you a headache and make you sick.

Now, I must admit something. I have hardly any idea as to what the song “Forever Young” means. After casually reading the lyrics, I was really surprised to find mention of a horse. After carefully reading the lyrics, I still wasn’t sure what was going on. Like many from its era, the video is even more confusing. But, to me, the song is full of peaceful longing and restful hope. Rather than wanting more, the characters have found what they are looking for. The only “more” they want is for the moment to last indefinitely.

In the movie the characters stand there, stiff-armed and so far apart there could be a third dancer in the middle. But, like the 80’s, there is a purity in their awkwardness. The characters are neither cool nor smooth. But they are full of raw passion and eventually find the confidence to be who they are – no matter how unacceptable others might find them. There is something very attractive about awkward people who care very much about something and courageously move toward the object of their affection. They are hardened to the pain of rejection and get to the point where they simply don’t care what others think anymore. When people get to that point, they can’t be stopped. It’s as if they’re saying, “What is the worst you can do to me?” and stick a middle finger in the face of social oneupmanship. When two such offbeat characters find each other, you have an unforgettable picture of uncultured, genuine, and unashamed love.

I was a pretty clumsy kid like that. But, one time, I was at a dance and they started playing “Lady in Red”. Now, I don’t recall dancing with anyone who was wearing red, but there were beautiful women all around me – and many times they treated me so kindly, I was filled with that same feeling of wonderful disbelief as the guy singing the song whose breath was being taken away. That was the “Forever Young” I was talking about. Those were the moments I wanted to last forever. Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch made me good. The difference is that he didn’t make me feel loved.

In the end, I suppose there is a little Napoleon Dynamite in all of us. Awkward people, living in awkward times, struggling to find the courage to get up in front of the class and take our best shot at what has a good chance at ending up in disaster. But that is the kind of courage that others can get behind. After an initial giggle, the crowd sees something true and right and their opinion slowly turns. First, there is only silence. Then, the one so used to being despised starts to see a few faces brighten. A cautious few begin to clap. It catches on. Soon, the whole auditorium is wildly cheering and standing up.

Yes. I see Napoleon Dynamite’s everywhere. People trying their best, desperately in need of applause, and seldom sure how to ask for love.

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