Ages and ages and ages ago, during that decade of your life after college where your friends of friends would have house parties and you would move from one to the other on a Friday night en masse in your khakis and turtleneck sweaters, I went to my friend Jason's house for a party. There wasn't any hummus or crudités, because this was when we were 24 and the only thing you had at parties was Miller Light.
Someone was responsible for the stereo because you had to have THAT friend in the late 90s. There was no Apple Remote. There was only a stack of CDs and that friend who would spend all night swapping out the CDs from Pearl Jam to Stevie Wonder and then back again. Sometimes I was THAT friend. Sometimes I wasn't.
For this particular party, I wasn't that friend. But I had some thoughts. Because off in the living room, clustered on the sofa, were five or six French people. We didn't get many French people in Chicago in those days, so they were a bit of an anomaly. And so many of them! All at once. Even odder. In a room where everyone was dancing to Big Country by the band Big Country on the album Big Country, they looked miserable, poor French people. And I knew why.
French people do not like Pearl Jam. Or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or Hole.
French people like the Gipsy Kings. (And MC Solar, but we didn't have any of that.)
The Stereo Master, was busy swapping out Third Eye Blind for the Notorious B.I.G. as I approached. "Do you have any Gipsy Kings? I whispered.
"Yeah, somewhere I think. I was going to play that Bamboleo song later."
"Can you play it now, do you think? And after Bamboleo, can you play "Djobi, Djoba" and then after that can you play "Volare?"
"Whoa..." he said. "I can't play three songs by the same band all in a row."
I looked over at the cluster of French people, in their skinny jeans and scarves. His eyes followed mine. "Play the Gipsy Kings and the French people will dance."
"Really. If you play the Gipsy Kings, the French people will dance. I promise you. And then this party will take on a wholenother dimension. I'll do it, if you want me to. You can get a beer."
Being the Stereo Master at parties those days kinda sucked because you could only socialize in three minute intervals before it was time to swap CDs again. The prospect of an uninterrupted beer break was enough for him. He left me in control.
And I played Bamboleo. And the French people stopped playing with their scarves for a moment and looked around cautiously. And then stood, quickly, and then grabbed hands and spun each other around the room and Miller Light went everywhere but no one cared because suddenly we had a living room full of dancing French people, dancing in that serious European way. And soon, everyone was dancing.
"Again!" they shouted. "Again again!" And I did play it again, and then again, in one uninterrupted stream of Gipsy Kings until the French people collapsed, laughing, into each other in a huge heap on the sofa.
And now sometimes, when I hear the Gipsy Kings, I can see that room full of dancing French people, and I can smell that odd combination of Glade and a 24-year-old boy's apartment, cigarette smoke, Miller Light, and that very distinct smell of French people, dancing.