Politics & Policy

Afternoon Delight

Pop coffee-table candy.

Late Seventies and Eighties pop culture just won’t go away.

If that sounds Just Like Heaven to you, read on.

(Consider yourself warned.)

#ad#It was just last month when Leo Sayer–previously heard about 29 years ago singing “When I Need You”–was at the top of the British music charts, along with He Who Writes the Songs . Run-ins with the law and drug arrests keep Wham! and Culture Club front-men George Michael and Boy George, respectively, in the headlines. And Evil-Empire-era-sounding groups–who were in diapers when The Gipper was in office–Franz Ferdinand and The Killers are all the craze.

But no list of 80s-retro culture is complete without the coffee-table book that now sits right next to this Catholic gal’s great-cathedrals tour guide and Reagan retrospectives: Bar Mitzvah Disco: The Music May Have Stopped, but the Party’s Never Over by Roger Bennett, Jules Shell, and Nick Kroll (released late last year). Even if you don’t know the words to “Hava Nagilah, if “99 red balloons floating in the summer sky” means something to you, Bar Mitzvah Disco is for you.

A light cultural history, complete with scrapbook photos and cheesy memories, Bar Mitzvah Disco highlights some of the joys of community life, grassroots real-life tolerance, and reminders of who thirty- and forty-something parents today can rightly blame for the current elaborate-kid-birthday-party-every-weekend/Sweet Sixteener-ball culture of today: their parents!

The Bar Mitzvah Disco authors took questions from stuck-in-the-Eighties NRO editor Kathryn Lopez earlier this week. If it weren’t St. Patrick’s Day weekend, red, red wine would be served while reading.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is Bar Mitzvah Disco the perfect Purim-week reading–for Jews and non-Jews alike?

The Bar Mitzvah Disco Gang: Bar Mitzvah Disco is the perfect Purim-week reading because Purim is all about dressing up and having a rocking good time–and that is exactly what bar/bat mitzvahs were all about. They were like a pee-wee Studio 54 every weekend, minus Bianca Jagger on a horse.

Lopez: Ah, so it coincides well with the pop theology of St. Patrick’s Day. We have much common, Catholics and Jews.

Do any rabbis consider Bar Mitzvah Disco a how-to guide?

BMDG: A number of rabbis upon reading the book have offered to give us their bar- and bat-mitzvah photographs.

Lopez: On a completely non-religious note: I get grief for standing firmly by the fact that Duran Duran is the greatest. Period. Are you in agreement or should we end this conversation now? I’ll Save a Prayer for you either way.

BMDG: One of the great debates we had in putting the book together was about which music selections to focus on. Each chapter is an homage to a classic bar-mitzvah tune: “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, “Man in the Mirror” by the ever-popular Bar Mitzvah attendee Michael Jackson, “Dancing on the Ceiling” by the immeasurable Lionel Ritchie. If we somehow forgot to include Duran Duran it’s only because we might have loved them too much.

Lopez: Reading Bar Mitzvah Disco I felt I was belatedly reading the book the movie The Wedding Singer was based on. Did you steal your idea from The Wedding Singer or did the Sandler team preemptively steal from you?

BMDG: Robbie Hart, the wedding singer, is a great character but is no match for our close and personal friend (and webmaster of barmitzvahdisco.com) Enrique Goldfarb–northern New Jersey’s #3 bar-mitzvah entertainer.

Lopez: What are the deep thoughts that come out of the book–about family, about religion, about pop culture?

BMDG: We believe that Bar Mitzvah Disco is about bar mitzvahs like Animal Farm is about animals. Bar/bat mitzvahs are a prism through which to view American culture, adolescence, the changing structure of the family, the rise of suburban culture and excess. It’s the story of our generation and an honest look at the us “then” [might define us as].

Lopez: Would Ronald Reagan have liked Bar Mitzvah Disco? Does he make an appearance in your scrapbook?

BMDG: Ronald Reagan would have loved Bar Mitzvah Disco. Voodoo Economics was a theme in three out of ten bar mitzvahs in the 1980s.

Lopez: To Voodoo, you do go check out The Real Reagan Record.

I didn’t litmus test you before we started. Are you or any of your co-authors conservative? Because we conservatives only read books that are dedicated to George W. Bush these days. (FOR THE RECORD: I’m just kidding.)

BMDG: While the book is not dedicated to GWB, it is dedicated to our mothers and all the mothers around the country who entrusted us with their families’ pictures and memories. If that isn’t family values, we don’t know what is.

Lopez: What’s the funniest response you’ve gotten to Bar Mitzvah Disco?

BMDG: The funniest reaction to the book is National Review Online wanting to do an interview with us.

Lopez: Explain the Catskills deal you’re working on right now. Seems kind of northeast elitist, no? I mean, Baby may have been put in a corner, but she wasn’t hurting for money.

BMDG: You are so right about Baby and thus we’ve put out a national call for camp photographs from the 70s and 80s and are knee-deep in our next effort to tell our generation’s coming-of-age story. We are looking to collect the most gorgeous images and the stories that accompany them from both camp yearbooks and personal photographs and would love to invite your readers to send their stuff in at 300 dpi to lionelrichie@barmitzvahdisco.com. Bunkmates, crushes (requited and not), color-war, socials, foreign counselors, waterfront activities, janitors, camp directors, laundry staff. …. No detail is too arcane.

Lopez: Do thirty-/forty-something Jewish parents have retro-80s bar and bat mitzvahs for their kids?

BMDG: We will have to wait 20 years for that answer until someone writes Return of Bar Mitzvah Disco.

Lopez: Can’t wait.

For now, I have to end this interview…planning a Livin’ on a Prayer First Communion party and I’m Working for the Weekend so I must get moving…

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