When my blood was a bit younger, I used to think about how much cooler it would have been to have come of age five years earlier. While I grew up during that glossy decade known as the 1980s, I was just a little young to truly appreciate the bands I came to know and love, bands borne of the late 70s-early 80s post punk movement, until later. Now that I’m 37, I’m quite thankful to have that extra five years ahead of me. Still, my nostalgia and appreciation for many things 80s remains intact, so all it took was a phone call from my cousin Abby about an 80s prom party in New York City for me to dive headfirst into my closet in search of my long-lost parachute pants.
The formal title for the evening’s 80s festivities was actually the USBG/LUPEC Winter Ball. Allow me to translate for the uninitiated. LUPEC is of course the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, a tireless group of women fighting the good fight on behalf of Singapore Slings everywhere. USBG is the United States Bartender’s Guild. Right off the bat, it was clear this prom had a couple of legs up on my own, 20 years prior: The booze would be free and this time it was going to be legal! (Disclaimer: I did not drink in high school, mom).
Abby, who is a rockstar when it comes to this stuff, was basically in charge of putting this entire night together. She cares about the process and the final product. She secured the venue, an actual school gymnasium, complete with make-out room (which I helped supply a few record albums for), a band, Bunnie England & the New Originals, for live band karaoke during the festivities, and produced about as good an 80s prom that didn’t actually take place in the 80s had any right being.
Two talented ladies, Anne and Bronwyn, offered their services to 80s-ify anyone’s hair who felt the need to tap their inner Madonna or Robert Smith. In the same room, Lushlife Productions set up a brilliant ‘awkward prom photo’ area to capture perfectly and ironically that too important moment when we were seniors in high school. You can check out the whole photo gallery from the night here. To me, they were the unsung heroes of this event.
Riding in the cab on the way back to Abby’s apartment in Washington Heights after the party, I listened as she mentioned how the night turned out so much better than her actual prom. This time, she said, she got to be the star. I could sense how deeply important this whole event had been for her. It went beyond planning and putting on a successful party for her industry peers. In a way, maybe it remedied a missing part of her past. And I thought back to my own high school experiences, defined by the shy kid I used to be.
Would my 17 year-old self have gotten my hair crimped and thrown up like a beautiful mess on top of my head? Would I have been up on stage with a live band, belting out The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, even after the girl before me had just brought the house down? No. I was now doing what the high school me secretly wanted to be able to do, but was just too painfully shy to. Funny, that only took 20 years!
But funnier still, there is still that small part of me, that brief moment, where I almost hold back. The 17 year-old tugging on my sleeve, letting me know he’s still there. In a strange way, I hope that small part of me, that old shyness, never leaves. It’s helped make me who I am.
Bonus fact! In a slightly surreal moment, I got to dance to my actual high school prom song, Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’. What you may not know is that if you graduated high school between the mid 80s and early 90s on Long Island you stood a 73.4% chance of having ‘Forever Young’ as your prom song. The liner notes of their singles collection cassette basically said as much. It may actually have been an island-wide mandate, but I’ve thus far been unable to prove it.