Strung Out On Some Face
(The All-Booze Limerence Mix)by Bill Tuomala
There is this girl. Or there was this girl. I don't know if she's in my past yet or not. You encounter these girls and you know that they are destined to be part of your past at some point. This certain girl works or worked at the dive bar down the street.
Her name is Sheri but I call her Cherry. It's something I said cute-drunk once after beers and a shot; later I halfway convinced myself I did it an attempt that my life be like The Outsiders. Cute-drunk things like that would happen to us, if you could say that there was an "us." It was a time when the flirtations were still in their early phases, those heady nights where it's all fun and games and we were still circling each other. Nobody was making a move to get close, to move it anywhere beyond the client/bartender relationship. When strangers sitting next to me and say: "Is there something going on between you two? There's something about the way she looks at you."
I had fallen for her months earlier, but a night of mixed-up confusion set the tone for the future. Friday night loud and she stared me down with those big brown eyes. With her elbows on the bar and head low, me lowering my head to match hers, us both talking soft so that others couldn't hear, she asked conspiratorially: "Do you want to ask me out?" Sure, I said, realizing that every dream I have ever had about being with a Service Girl Crush was soon to come true. She told me to meet her at the back table by the pay phone. We met there and she arrived with two shot glasses full of this stuff called Liquid Viagra (Jagermeister and Red Bull.) We shot 'em up and later that night we even did another one that I bought. See, she hadn't talked secretly about love at all back at the bar - she had asked: "Do you want to do a shot?" So shots became our ritual. I was hooked.
And somewhere in the midst of the flirting and the shared smiles and the silly stories like the above, there had been a Valentine's Day. And for that I had made her a mix CD of songs all about drinking and being in bars. Because, you know, deep down I am a fucking romantic.
Hence, the following mix:
The Jeff Beck Group, "I've Been Drinking" - Frank Sinatra recorded this under its proper title, "Drinking Again," and according to questionable online sources, his is the most-known version. I downloaded the Sinatra - it's pretty cool, makes me want to wander the streets of New York City some slow night and hit bars. But I've never been there and have no plans to go anytime soon, so this rock 'n' roll version will have to do. (And yep, when it's yours truly we're talking about ... rock 'n' roll versions do just fine.) Rod Stewart on vocals and Beck (rock's real one) on guitars, showing off as only he can do.
Hank Thompson, "A Six Pack To Go" - The only place I have heard this is on 800 AM, that little classic country station out of St. Cloud. The narrator has spent Saturday blowing his paycheck "honky tonkin' around" the town. Now it's closing time and he's hitting up the bartender for one last beer and a sixer to take home because on Sunday he'll be feeling low. You have to admire a man who thinks ahead - no Hudson-like Sunday run for this guy! The song swings hard too, meaning that Hank T. knew his way around both kinds of music.
Roger Miller, "Chug-A-Lug" - If the Violent Femmes had been as good with their novelty songs as their cult believes, they still wouldn't have been able to touch Miller in his prime. And anybody who writes a song about the joys of getting drunk, trashed, wasted, with references to the 4-H and the FFA is one decadent mofo.
Van Halen, "Bottoms Up!" - Eddie plucks away at blooze riffs and runs here so you gotta believe his otherwise incredulous claim to a Clapton fixation. (Eddie played with such joy, while ol' EC has always seemed so old and lifeless.) This song is likely a leading case for VH detractors, as it's just a noisy anthem (though with great harmony vocals courtesy of that bass player everybody seems to write off) about the need to tip 'em back. After 'fessing up to "sitting here half the night," Diamond Dave offers the most honest reason ever stated in song why we make those regular treks to the bar: "I came here to waste some time."
Merle Haggard, "Swingin' Doors" - A statement of purpose. The dude's marriage is over, so he decides to become a regular (nay, a fixture!) at the local bar. Merle was thirty or thirty-one years old when this was recorded, but he's one of those singers who always seems to be a set age no what the year is. In his case, I have him at 57, always. This song has a classic I'm-such-a-victim: "Thanks to you IÕm always here to closing time." But instead of feeling sorry for him or mocking him, by the time the tune's two-and-three-quarters-minutes are up you may instead go find a dive bar of your own to wallow in.
John Lee Hooker, "One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer" - I'm not entirely anti-Thorogood. Every whiteboy American teen generation has its boogie heroes before they (hopefully) discover the real stuff; and for those of us coming of age in the first half of the eighties, George Thorogood was one of them. Imagine then my surprise in the late eighties to find Hooker on some show on cable TV performing this. I knew it was his song, but figured it could only be heard by him on scratchy old vinyl from decades past. On TV, Hooker projected this eerie aura of C-O-O-L. Thorogood has sounded mild to me since. And apologies to Hooker - while a kid in my twenties I figured that I would have had ordered one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer all at once at some point in my life. But I have hit middle age and don't see it happening as I have never acquired a taste for scotch.
Jerry Lee Lewis, "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out Of Me)" - Best captured in Rock Dreams. The Killer is fat, his hair is long and no longer rockabilly. Neither is he, he made a deal to go country to win fans back after the scandal of marrying his second-cousin-twice-removed. (Pull that off in Europe and they'll call you "King.") He drinks too much, takes piles of pills (recommended reading: Hellfire by Nick Tosches) and plays the rocker in live performances. In Rock Dreams, he wanders the empty streets of some American city drunk and greasy, a bottle in his hands. He has nowhere to go but to tomorrow night's show. This will go on for weeks until Jerry Kennedy calls him back.
Kiss, "Cold Gin" - The coolest thing about this song is that cymbals sound that Peter Criss does during the intro. The riff is good but not great. Gene Simmons on vocals is rarely a harbinger of anything spectacular. The numbing repetition of the song feels relaxing after awhile, and relaxes me more than gin ever could - that stuff tastes like Christmas trees smell. Vodka first, bourbon second. If you're asking.
Jim Ed Brown, "Pop A Top" - One of those slickly-produced country songs that tends to sound like what some record exec or producer thought that honky tonk was supposed to sound like. Great harmonies though, and the beat and steel guitar are insistent. Plus there's the actual sound of a beer can opening and the song is about hanging out in a bar. And any bar that serves cans of beer is likely worth checking out at least once.
ZZ Top, "Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers" - Boogie children, indeed. Redeemed only by: 1) Its title. 2) The duet that two of the ZZ dudes pull off - each guy takes a turn singing a line - is actually kind of sweet. 3) The sound of the lead guitar. Ultimately though, this song was created so that Motorhead could cover it.
The Replacements, "Here Comes A Regular" - Allegedly written about the Norm Peterson character from Cheers. In fact, a friend of mine once pointed out that the Cheers theme song and this tune would make a great two-sides-solid 45. Basically a Paul Westerberg solo song (not uncommon on 'Mats recordings), he slurs through his singing and offers a great line about spending so many hours in the same bar: "Sometimes I just stay in the mood." The song's ability to collect a regular's quiet desperation and sadness via both lyrics and sound justifies every positive word ever written about Westerberg.
Damn, I can pick 'em. But because any story that involves me and a girl I'm chasing must end anticlimactically, this attempt at a romantic gesture went over as well as that time I wrote a paean to a girl in which I compared her to Def Leppard's Hysteria album. (Though it didn't connect with its intended audience, it was fucking genius.) (By the way.) A couple of months later, Cherry said she had left the CD in her glove compartment. I had the distinct impression that she hadn't listened to it at all. That same night, her boyfriend flipped me off from across the bar.