I've Been Up All Night (Again)by Bill Tuomala
Another show you fully intended to see until you got within seventy-two hours of showtime. A great live band from Austin, Texas playing the early songs of a great live band from your adopted hometown of Minneapolis. But then - insomnia, suspected/suppressed anxiety, a listen of an album by the Austin band that likely would have sounded great in your car but you declared sounded forced in your little writing room. And so on. And so on. Another cancelled excursion to ClubLand. Again.
You miss the guy that lived for trips to ClubLand. The guy who was slapped himself on the back for seeing bands on back-to-back nights. He's now been replaced with an aging skeptic who contemplates his next beer more so than any show on the horizon. In the warmth and safety of your apartment's late night darkness and buzz, you rarely think about your retreat from ClubLand.
While traveling through ClubLand you could feel community, feel being part of a scene, hear and see some great live rock 'n' roll. Not to mention the rituals. The ritual of checking ClubLand calendars, then running with your friends to see bands or running into friends while seeing a band. The ritual of talking with pals before the show starts, speculating on what song the band will start off with. The tap-tap-tap of your foot, the drinking-your-beer-too-fast, the quiz of: When the fuck is this band going to come out already? The neck movements to determine: Will I be able to see the stage okay? The calculations involved with: Should I get a beer now or during a slow part during the set? And the absolute quietness that you could achieve. No one would talk to you, no one knew you existed. If you managed the crowd correctly, you could avoid acquaintances and even friends that you spotted across the bar.
These are the feelings and rituals and rushes that carried you for years and years.
But the walls of ClubLand began to close in on you. Because once anxiety and doubt and the complete desire to be alone and anonymous set in, darkness fell. Rituals gave way to madness. Suddenly while in ClubLand, it seemed forced to stand around doing nothing much except wait, and soon the waiting drove you nuts. The waiting and all those people in groups and in couples also bothered you; cutting in front of you, standing in front of you. Bumping into you with all those polite "excuse me"s. If the bumper were a cute hipster, you crushed on being with her together in ClubLand for some cool band that you both loved. And that brought sadness, which brought more darkness. And more madness.
Rituals, crushes, mental illness - maybe they are all just one and the same. ClubLand could be transcendent, but its sister city BarLand is just there. And the certainty of BarLand just being there is the key to dealing with all those stupid little mental rules carrying on in your head. To deal with the rules, you prioritize. For instance, in regards to listening to a night's music: 1) let someone else play the jukebox at the bar, or better yet 2) play the jukebox at the bar, or best 3) walk home after your fill and blast tunes on headphones. You're forty now, better to live a life beneath headphones at home than in ClubLand, your anxieties driving you nuts. Besides - these days, unless you're in your car, rock 'n' roll sounds better under headphones while truly fucked up. ClubLand's anticipating, the ritual, the waiting ... it was all swept aside in the face of convenience. You want enjoyment now. Hence Netflix over real flicks; walking down the street to the watering hole instead of heading to a club; blasting music on headphones instead of seeing a band; emailing friends to say hi instead of calling and asking "when we meeting for a beer?"
And in BarLand there's almost always a seat. And in BarLand you can get lost in your own thoughts. And in BarLand there is always a show: drama, slapstick, violence, tragedy, comedy, theatric pyrotechnics - you name it. It's a place where you are part of nothing, where allegiances and loyalty are dropped, because no one will remember the conversations tomorrow, not to mention in an hour. Unless you are a tourist / historian / scribe who for whatever sick reasons remembers these things.
A well-groomed professional man is hammered on a Saturday afternoon, decides to have a few more and works up the courage and ability to deceive as he prepares to call his ex-wife and tell her he can't take their daughter today. He then proceeds to try to entangle you into his web by wanting to set you up with his ex. "She's beautiful," he mumbles. "So beautiful."
A bartender complains about the cops continually pulling her over on her way home from work and finding pot in her car.
A wasted man wearing sunglasses in the bar assures you that he works for U2 and speaks to you in an obviously faked Irish accent.
A waitress plays with your hair, confesses that earlier she popped a couple of Xanax given by a co-worker after she got into a fistfight with a female customer.
Barflies declare themselves alcoholics, buy you shots of Patron.
Beautiful twenty-somethings sporting tight jeans and sweaters talk your ear off while they ignore their blind dates. You drink, smile, drink.
An off-duty bartender continually buys you shots as she sends her boyfriend off to another bar. You and he had been talking about Hunter S. Thompson and he had asked you if you wanted to go sniff some ether. The next time you see her on duty, she charges you a total of three dollars for three beers and a shot.
You begin to hear the word "workhouse" more than you ever have before in all of your years.
A shapely young blonde with a Valley Girl voice leaves her date at their table to talk to you about the Chuck Eddy book you are reading, then proceeds to talk about the novel Fight Club. You wait for the conversation to end, she presses on. She finally leaves with her beau. The barflies glance your way, warily.
A bartender takes a seat on your side of the bar next to you. She smiles, flirts, places her hand on your right thigh. This is done in full view of her bouncer boyfriend, a mere fifteen feet away. At close, he flips you off from across the room.
A drunk-but-wow-attractive young man talks about playing high school ball in Wisconsin, then ends up telling you how his older brother murdered their father because he was abusing their mother. He says: I want to do twelve-and-a-half years of his twenty-five year sentence for him ... I would volunteer in a second. He tears up while saying this.
A guy declares himself a filmmaker and says he can produce Johnny Depp and Gibby Haynes on the phone "within the month." The homeless dude next to him takes change and tip money off of the bar when backs are turned and finishes people's drinks when they're outside smoking. He also continually tells the barmaid how pretty she is and how sexy she looks. I'll be dreaming about you tonight, he says. I'm looking forward to it, she replies, then sneaks a smirk in your direction. Later, he is arrested by the cops after attempting to take money from an unattended till at the deli next door.
The bouncer almost always shakes your hand when you leave, and when he does you somehow just know it will be a safe walk home.
And as if to condense the whole shebang into an hour ... early one rainy evening armed with twenty bucks and a copy of Lester Bangs's Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, you stop at the bar to order a Premium. The barflies are suddenly all over you, proclaiming themselves experts on psychotic reactions. One declares that it his biography. You retreat to a corner table, where eventually the hot-chick bartender proceeds to bring you and her shots that you didn't order. You drink with her. As she walks back behind the bar, you crack open the book and read "Jethro Tull in Vietnam." The Vietnam War had ended thirty years ago on this day. No one cares. Then again you didn't mention it.
BarLand is a show. And the show always must end. At that point the post-show maneuvers take over in the darkness of your living room. And as the night drives on and your semi regular rotation of late-late-night songs play on - "She's the One," "For the Love of Money," "Supernaut," "Mother of Pearl" - you think about the guy who loved ClubLand then retreated in the face of its imagined intimidation; who eventually retreated to the neutral zone of BarLand, where he could plead anonymity and feign ignorance. The retreat is also welcomed. Less to worry about, less to have to focus on. When you can focus, it's on that little room where you write and the things you can create while sitting there. Come tomorrow, this might change. Come tomorrow, you might take an excursion back into ClubLand and feel all in your life is complete once again. But you're not holding your breath. No, not at all.