I’m a watcher. An observer when I’m in a dance club. One who stands on the perimeter to watch how others “dive” right in. In Memories, on a Saturday night in Margate, New Jersey, I watch Jerry Blavat dive right in. The gray hair belies his primal energy: The years have done nothing to diminish his drive and passion for music. I watch him in his elevated Disc Jockey pulpit, playing his rock n’ roll sermonettes – the songs from the past. He keeps the crowd moving, admonishing them, sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian, sometimes just mimicking or creating “new” lyrics for the old songs.
He never lets up, sending forth a barrage of music, a medley of the best parts of each song. He knows there’s no time to play each one from start to finish, there’s too much to hear. So he hones in on the “heart” of each song, the refrain, because that’s how he reaches us in the cherished place in our memories. And when he reaches us there, when we hear the refrain of a song like Heat Wave – which takes me back to a house that my parents rented on Cresse Avenue in Wildwood in the summer of ’63 – he takes us on a magic carpet ride, flying us back through time to bring to life events that shaped us. And these times are more than just exhibits in the “museums” of our lives: For a few hours on a Saturday night in Memories on the Jersey shore, we feel what we felt then, so long ago.
There is a throng of people at Memories. There are young people who weren’t born when the songs at Memories were popular; there are people who grew up with the music that Jerry Blavat plays; and then there are some who grew up with popular music that was prior to the music at Memories. There are straight and gay people. There are people who hope to meet people…there are men ogling the women who wear tight dresses and high heels. There’s a woman in white shorts and calf-high boots who has all the moves that leaves you looking for the pole; there’s a guy with a white sport coat who looks like a cross between a character on the Soprano’s and the driver of a Good Humor truck; and there’s a guy standing in front of me with an unlit cigarette, who seems to be itching to light up like in the good old days of smoke-filled clubs.
It really doesn’t matter though, because we are all characters in our own ways, aren’t we? Most of us come to a place like Memories to listen to music and dance…and to forget about the anxieties that fill our lives. But the “Geator with the Heator” gives us more than that…he gives us our childhood again.
The dancers dance on, their gyrations adapting and changing with the tempo of each song. Jerry Blavat recreates the span of rock ‘n roll, from Jackie Wilson to Michael Jackson; from Gloria Gaynor to Gloria Estafan. Some dancers are diehards, never leaving the dance floor, like the woman in white shorts. Others take breaks and head to the bar or search for the group they came with, all of whom have staked out areas in the crowd. The colored lights shine down on the long, flowing hair of the female dancers.
As the night goes on, the numbers of dancers swell. By midnight, they move beyond the dance floor, taking in more territory and pushing the non-dancers back, like a rising tide forces sun worshippers to retreat back on the sand.
But the time is short-lived and before we know it, we leave and eventually return to our everyday realities. I will remember it as a special night, and the culmination of a weekend in which old friends, new friends and family converged for a weekend at the shore. Sharing the sun at the beach and the music at Memories, we are a group of people whose differences seem to melt away like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day.
And for all of us who were at Memories on that Saturday night, I wonder if we will remember how much we are really all the same. And I hope that if we meet someone in our daily routine that seems to be different, someone we may not understand, that we think of the music and how it teaches us that what we share as people will always transcend our differences.