Rejected from McSweeney’s: Vol 1, Part 1

Lionel Richie’s “Dancin’ on the Ceiling”
A Short Essay on a Favorite Song

When I was twelve I drew a picture of a cat in white pants and a pink shirt open to the waist, dancing by himself in an empty room with a disco ball and a table with two bowls, presumably containing potato chips and cheese twists. The cat is dancing on the ceiling, next to the disco ball. So that future art historians would not needlessly tax themselves deciphering the intent of my vision, I thoughtfully labeled the piece “Dancin’ on the Cielin'” [sic]. I dashed off a few music notes, in case future art historians are for some reason unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Lionel Richie. The sheer exhilaration I experienced whenever I heard that song could not be contained within my mortal flesh; only an anthropomorphized cat with a Miami Vice fetish could accurately embody my joy.

“Dancing on the Ceiling” had all but evaporated from my life until this past summer, when a chance encounter on VH1 Classic reminded me it existed. It was a video I had never seen–with a very tired-looking troupe of dancers gamely walking up and down the walls, gamely throwing their hands in the air to coincide with the “Wooo!”s already laid on the track–and it made me sad. These people could not have been listening to Lionel Richie’s song. These people were standing on a cold soundstage and counting off their steps like metronomes to prevent anyone getting ahead of the rotating room, and falling on their asses on a ceiling that was really a floor. Watching it made me profoundly aware of the gap between my romanticized childhood and my supposed grown-upedness. But then, everything does.

It wasn’t until a Lionel Richie LP found its way into my heart via J’s father and a rural firemen’s benefit auction that I remembered how to believe. The sleeve extends into a poster-sized image of Lionel in a white suit, straddling a yellow fireman’s pole, his face a rigor mortis of euphoria. He has been propelled off the ground by the power of music; nay, he is held aloft by a force greater than gravity, stronger than snobbishness, nestled so deeply within the human heart that it has taken a wrong turn at the aorta, spent some time in the spleen, thought it could make a go of it in the liver, and is now living on the outskirts of the appendix in a pop-up camper: shamelessness. Lionel Richie, legs splayed on either side of that yellow pole, mouth gaping like a bass, is a man without shame. He is a cat in white pants so entranced by the smooth rhythms of early-nineties r and b that, not only has his gravitational polarity reversed, he has thrown a party, no one has shown up, and he does not care. He is a child of twelve throwing her hands in the air, shouting Woooooo! and spinning around in her socks and underwear on her bed until she is so dizzy she actually understands what it feels like to get down upside-down.


The magic’s still there.



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