High Scores: So Many Men

In the summer of 2002, my high-school theater friends and I were regulars at the Colorado Springs Tinseltown cineplex’s Midnight Matinees. Every Saturday night, Tinseltown would rig up an old reel: Top Gun, Fight Club, or another more or less homoerotic classic of the twentieth century. Before one of these screenings, my best friend Ashley and I approached the huge, garish Dance Dance Revolution 3rdMix machine in the theater’s lobby. I don’t remember who forked over the two dollars in quarters—maybe we went dutch—but I got on the right dance pad, Ashley on the left. As we flipped through the jukebox of 72 tracks, pausing to listen to a few demos, we stopped on the provocatively titled “So Many Men.” Its chorus was as I hoped:

Ashley and I giggled and exchanged knowing glances. How could we not choose?

I’d come out to Ashley a few months back, during my junior and her senior year of high school. Ashley worked at our neighborhood Blockbuster and hosted movie nights in her family room every few weeks, sometimes just the two of us. During a lull in the conversation after Playing by Heart, I steeled my heart in order to say:

“That Ryan Phillippe sure is hot.”

Ashley smiled her biggest smile. “You know what?” she said. “You’re right. He is hot.”

Our friendship grew even deeper. We discussed my fear of rebuke by my Christian family. We cut eyes at each other when our friends suggested I had a crush on her. We ranked celebrities, the boys at Liberty High School, the teachers. So many men, so little time.

When we first played the song, we couldn’t find the beat, didn’t understand the language of the game. The up, down, left, and right arrows sailed past their stationary mates at the top of the screen as our legs jerked like wounded antelope. But we could get the chorus, the jump on MEN, even if, shortly after, big steel gates shut over the screen and bold red letters told us we’d FAILED. After a few weeks, we’d played the song enough that we could each pass it with a B or A. Ashley got bored of DDR. I fell in love and never looked back.

DDR soundtracks often contain music not originally composed for the game. This is the case for “So Many Men,” a 1999 release by the Danish sister act Me & My. Their 1995 breakthrough hit, “Dub-I-Dub,” is also included in 3rdMix.

But Me & My’s “So Many Men” is a cover. If you know the song at all, it’s probably through Miquel Brown’s 1983 pivotal disco/hi-NRG original, “So Many Men, So Little Time.” The song and video are spiritual successors to Olivia Newton John’s “Physical,” which is itself a spiritual successor to “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Ian Levine, who cowrote “So Many Men, So Little Time” with Fiachra Trench, recalls its conception in Peter Shapiro’s Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco:

I had been at the Circus Maximus [a West Hollywood massage parlor] in L.A. and I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said, “So many men, so little time,” and I was like, “One day I want to make a record with that title.” … The idea is a woman is going to sing, instead of “I love you, I want you, you’re the man of my dreams,” I want the opposite. I want “I wake up next to this man and say, ‘Who are you?’” It’s so naughty but nice and everyone’ll love it.

Ostensibly, the song is heterosexual: a female singer lusts for the opposite sex, conjuring a world of endlessly disposable dudes. But “So Many Men” in any version is so very gay, the single gayest song I’ve heard on a videogame soundtrack, which might mean I’m not playing the right games. Nevertheless, even in DDR’s 90-second sample of Me & My’s cover of Brown’s original record—whose gayness was veiled, however thinly—the song’s call to my community comes through loud and queer.

Shortly after I first heard the Me & My cover on DDR, I heard Brown’s original in the 1998 film Edge of Seventeen, one of the few straightforwardly gay movies available to rent at Blockbuster in 2002. While Angie (a pre-Orange Is the New Black Lea DeLaria) introduces budding teen Eric (Chris Stafford) to the regulars at her gay bar, Brown’s song comes on, and said regulars drag Eric bodily to the dance floor, where he shakes his fledgling tailfeathers.

When I danced to “So Many Men” and the other hi-NRG tracks on 3rdMix, it was the closest thing I had ever experienced to dancing at a gay bar. The stomp on each arrow in time with the 4/4 quarter-notes felt satisfyingly physical:

After about ten minutes of DDR, the back of my T-shirt would be saturated with sweat. My heart beat faster than the music. The workout made me aware of my body, its capability and even grace. By the time my senior year rolled around, I was playing DDR hours at a time, on home pads and PlayStation mixes or in arcades throughout Colorado’s Front Range.

Around this time, I finally worked up the courage to hold a boy’s hand. His name was Chris, a senior at another Colorado Springs high school. The two of us were in a community-theater production of Dracula: The Musical? (The question mark was part of the title. Don’t look it up.). He was Dracula; I was Van Helsing. He left a plum-sized hickey on my neck and said it was part of the show. His touch was absolutely necessary—I had spent all seventeen years of my life waiting for it. We broke up after about a month.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my love affair with DDR coincided with my first bodily experiences of love with other men. DDR got me comfortable with having a body, a comfort whose need I couldn’t articulate until then. That was the exciting thing about DDR: it was a physical, embodied performance in a space (the arcade) typically not associated with the body. When I played DDR, galloping through 9-footers like “Insertion” and “So Deep,” crowds of mall-going passersby would form around the machine, marveling at what my flesh could do.

Later in my senior year, I met Ben, a college junior at the University of Denver, through DDR. I stayed overnight in his dorm room, shared his twin mattress, stayed up all night talking and … not talking. He took photos of me in his bed as the morning light came through his dorm room’s venetian blinds. I drove back to Colorado Springs still too aglow to worry about falling asleep at the wheel.

I trace this glow back to the unnamed guy’s T-shirt at Circus Maximus. The nice naughtiness of his fashion statement passed through Levine to Miquel Brown to Me & My to Konami and then to me, along with who knows how many intent listeners along the way. Though it was within the confines DDR’s four light-up arrows, dancing to “So Many Men” felt revolutionary.