The Jukebox Has Been Drinking, Not Me

Where haven’t I been… Lou Reed, Sister Ray and a Jump into the Fire

First off, I would like to extend a gracious ‘thank you’ to those who have waited patiently for this blog entry to arrive. Of course what I mean by waiting, is, living the cramped modern life of responsibility, toil, amusement, habit, diversion and thin periods of rest until this here blog entry happens to cross the mutable attention of the purposeful and purposeless, alike. I thank you.

Procrastination is a dodgy thing. Particularly because the world continues to spin and strange shit just keeps building up. After awhile the thought of trying to pick through the colossal mess is too daunting to undertake, until the time in which the junk pile becomes such an obscene eyesore that the basic sense of decency compels some type of action. Thus, I emerged from my cocoon and began to sift through the trash heap.

Some initial notes I had made in the depths of a crushed grape extract and charcuterie binge that I had been on during the months of September and October were of little help. I felt like Hunter Thompson coming out of the ether and going through the cocktail napkins of Circus Circus, baffled by his own scrawl.

My scrawl, to wit:

“Tickled by the 5,000 fingers of Doctor Terwilliger…The San Diego Mayor is a hugger and fondler… the Brigade for the Repression of Banditry, actually a real brigade…sign up for ‘Dementia Village’, a Dutch facility for Alzheimer patients that sounds just ducky for a thirty-something-year-old wino….the more useful it is, the more dangerous the fomite…the man who mistook his wife for a hat must’ve at least been concerned about the feet in his pockets.”

Blah. Now I know why no literary agent would touch me with a ten foot disinfected pole. I decided to indulge in more charcuterie, and more crushed grape extract. But what pulled me from my own lethargy was a story about Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who had admitted to smoking crack. And then it struck me. Instead of trying to explain what I had been doing, just meandering about creatively for the last two months, I could just explain what I wasn’t doing, all the trouble I wasn’t causing.

For starters, over the last two months, I hadn’t been smoking crack with Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. I hadn’t been with Ted Cruz smoking big cigars as the government shutdown went into effect, kicking up our feet on a job poorly done, which is the point of anti-government government officials. I wasn’t with the Florida man who shot his wife then posted her bullet-riddled, lifeless body on Facebook. I wasn’t one of the two Maine hikers rescued from being lost in a state park only to drive off a boat ramp and into twenty-five feet of water. I wasn’t with the Detroit man who stole his father’s body from a cemetery in order to revive him from the dead, and I wasn’t part of the group of young fellows in France that happened upon a circus llama, untethered him and took him carousing around the city, although I wish I had been there for that last one. I really do. And just like that, I felt much, much better about what I hadn’t been doing.

When any cultural icon passes away, the mood is always sullen. We are reminded of the brilliance, the creativity, the bravery really, of doing something that has never been done before, and the fact that the energy contained in the pioneer is no longer part of earth is sad in and of itself. So it was that I was called to a local bar for a celebration of the life and music of Lou Reed, a few Sunday nights ago. Lord, I thought, expecting to walk into a scene of junkies and transvestites and Warhol Factory-types. So I was relieved when I showed up at the bar and it was just a handful of grungy folks with a few beers, gathered around the jukebox on a sleepy Sunday evening, the place mostly empty. We all ponied up a few bucks until there was about forty or so song-plays available for Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground selection and we began entering in the appropriate numbers for the appropriate songs. It is one of the older type jukeboxes run by the music in the box and not grabbed out of the air by satellite. Plus, all the Lou Reed songs were on one page, so no flipping or browsing was necessary. This becomes important a little later in the story.

While we sat there, drinking our beers, telling Lou Reed stories as if we knew the guy, and as the brooding electric drone that characterized most of The Velvet Underground’s songs sat like a haze all around us, a song came on that was immediately recognized as having no business in the setlist. It seemed that some joker had slipped ‘Jump Into The Fire’ by Harry Nilsson into the sacred mix of Lou Reed songs.

Actually, the trouble had started earlier than that, when one cheap bastard took it upon himself to play the song ‘Sister Ray’ four times in a row to save money while extracting the most amount of song-time from the jukebox. To anyone familiar with the length of that song, it’s almost an hour’s worth of Sister Ray sucking on Lou’s ding-dong, or however the lyrics go to that effect. But most everyone had the decorum to wave that off, even after the song started for the fourth time and most began to fear that the night would just be a teeth-grinding marathon of the song, ‘Sister Ray’, and that would be the song ringing in everyone’s head as they were booted out after last call. But eventually other Lou Reed songs came and went. But then, as the bass line kick-in-the-groin of ‘Jump into the Fire’ started up, the indiscretion couldn’t be ignored.

“Who did that?”

“That’s not cool.”

“We are here for Lou Reed. This is Lou’s night.”

“Wasn’t me.”

“Wasn’t me.” So on.

“It’s impossible.”

“Are the pages flipped?”

“No, it has been on the Lou Reed page the whole time.”

“We are the only ones here.”

“Well then, how the fuck?”

“Maybe the jukebox, I don’t know, is rebelling somehow.”

“That’s crazy talk. What jukebox would rebel against Lou Reed? Maybe if we were paying tribute to Milli Vanilli the jukebox would step in and cause a significant disruption, but no jukebox with the self-respect to call itself such would ever disrupt Lou Reed?”

Now who’s crazy, I thought, since the argument had taken a strange turn. It wasn’t that the jukebox couldn’t have been equipped with human perceptions of taste, it’s just that if it did, it would never try to subvert Lou Reed.

“I’m not saying I did it,” said a calm voice of reason, “but what have you got against Harry Nilsson?”

“It’s a good song, no doubt about that. I’m not saying that. It’s just that I thought there was some understanding that this is a night for Lou Reed, which necessarily would rule any non Lou Reed song ineligible.”

“Well who is the dingbat that played ‘Sister Ray’ four times in a row? The song is twenty minutes long. I thought I was going to go crazy before the hour was through.”

“I was just trying to get as much Lou Reed as possible for my buck. But I was still within the rules of the evening.”

“That’s like plugging the thirty-five minute ‘Mountain Jam’ by the Allman Brothers into a jukebox where the establishment is nice enough to include the second disc of the Fillmore Concerts, and you are the asshole that makes them yank the whole album from the lineup to show a bunch of drunks that if they can’t be more considerate in their jukebox choices they will ruin it for everybody.”

“Nobody is talking about the Allman Brothers here.”

“This is a special occasion.”

“Look, for all we know, Lou Reed and Harry Nilsson could be writing a song together right at this very moment, so let’s not discount this sudden and dare I say miraculous sequence of events. More than likely somebody must’ve just typed in one of the numbers wrong and we get a good song that happens to not be Lou Reed. Live with it.”

Everybody accepted this explanation for the moment, but the big insult was when ‘Jump Into The Fire’ came on again right after its first play. A sudden sense of alarm

descended, everyone eyeing each other suspiciously like in the movie ‘Clue’ where nobody is sure who the murderer is.

“You know,” I said, “if people aren’t going to take this seriously I’m just going to leave.”

I paid my bar bill, jumped into a cab and told the driver to floor it, and to let me know if anyone was following us.

And now for my O’Henry moment. I was the one who had slipped ‘Jump into the Fire’ into the Lou Reed playlist. I had played the song so many times in that jukebox that I just had the numbers memorized and thought Lou would’ve appreciated it, and even if not, meh. I felt I had to leave, though, because I didn’t want to be around for the five more times that ‘Jump into the Fire’ was set to play, and after an eruption of anger and recriminations I didn’t want to be in the middle of the whole group clawing each other to death in a rage over the serious breach of etiquette.

Long live Lou Reed and Harry Nilsson in the music boxes of the world, and if the two artists are listening in some negative space-time of light and abundance, might I suggest a nice little collaboration.

More alembics to come.