Cities in Rock 5: Katmandu

Posted on August 19, 2013 by

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When I lived in Chicago I used to play pool at a dive everyone called Rose’s. The sign above the door depicted a third-graders rendering of a rose. A pictogram. That was it. The place wasn’t listed on Yelp or Urbanspoon, though now there is a scant Google Plus listing.  The owner, Rose, a short seventy-something, hard of hearing, Macedonian woman with a thick accent didn’t entertain questions. Only drink orders. She was the bartender and became the bouncer as soon as she had the green metal broom in her hands.

It was a guy’s bar. Women hardly turned out and if they did, it wasn’t for long. The only other woman besides Rose that spent extended time in there was her niece. Never caught her name. But she always charged two bucks more than her aunt for whiskey on the rocks.

The older, saltier guys were serious about their pool and didn’t mingle with us  soft younger types. A guy with a leather vest and a yellow bandana called one of my breaks  “Jerry-assed” from his bar stool. But even these older guys didn’t seem to have much in common beyond cheap pitchers and pool, that was, until Seger came on.

It didn’t matter who it was; clean-cut father of two sneaking out for a beer, ‘60’s burn-out, or hardass Harley Davidson type. When Seger spoke they listened.

This guy, Kevin was in his late forties – baggy denim, black engineer boots, shaggy grey hair, you could catch him using the pool cue for a mic stand or a guitar whenever “Turn the Page” came on. Though, he preferred playing air sax to the intro.

Come to think of it, “Turn the Page” was the only Seger song on that jukebox.

I went to Rose’s on a weeknight with a couple of friends and Kevin was the only other guy there. He was over at the bar itching to whoop all our asses in 8 Ball. It was apparent in the way he would periodically jackhammer his heel against the floor. I was struggling to sink the last stripe when he came over and said he’d pay for the next game if I just dropped the remaining balls in the pockets. I agreed mostly out of embarrassment and some complicated urge to appease this very forward stranger. He put six bucks on the table, the extra five was for some decent tunes. He said, I could play whatever I wanted as long as I picked E7 at least five times, which was most of the five bucks right there.

E7 was of course,  “Turn the Page.”

Up till then, I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics: “Most times you can’t hear ’em talk/ Other times you can/ All the same old clichés/ ‘Is that a woman or a man?’/ And you always seem outnumbered/ You don’t dare make a stand.”

Goddamn. For a guy who “play[s] [the] star,” he sure endures all the same lonely alienation of non-multi-platinum stage performer.  But that line about how people wondered about Seger’s own gender, “Is that a woman or a man?” struck me as odd. At the time, who was confusing Seger with his leather jacket and mutton-chops for a woman when you had bands like Rush whose members actually did look like hippy chicks. Well, all right. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and maybe someone did hurt his feelings, as he was paying the bill at a 24 hour Denny’s.  The obvious solution is a haircut, although, Seger would be short on material. Still,  something about Seger’s words gets through to guys like Kev.

I remember Kev saying that there aren’t any other songs like that one and how it reminded him of “before.” He never said what before was for him. Could be nothing, just plain aimless nostalgia. Or it might have really been something. Never found out.

There was another Seger diehard, Larry, who, no shit, lived at roses. He used nap on the couch next to the front door, under this painting of a windmill with snow coming down all around it – except the painting was in such poor shape that snow was now beige and just yellow in some places. Some nights, if Larry was up for it he’d man the front door from a short stool and pretend to check IDs. I say pretend because at one point a buddy of mine who was underage and underage by a lot, handed Larry his ID with had a 1990 year of birth, to which Larry responded with: “Good year. That’s around when I met Hendrix for the second time, but he didn’t remember the first, so it was a lot like the first time again.”

If he wasn’t meandering through a fifteen-minute story about a particular celebrity he done coke with, he was trying to figure out who in the bar had weed on them. And when he was in that mood, he’d follow up most anything he said with a desperate: “Are you holding?” But when Seger came on, Larry stopped being Larry. The sax had a hypnotic effect and that wild look in his eyes faded. Larry wasn’t like Kevin in the sense that he was moved by some uncontrollable urge to play air guitar and sing along, or even sentimental about the song. Larry just sat there. The most you saw were his lips faintly tracing Seger’s complaints about being in a van for sixteen hours.

I hope those guys are still beating the hell out of E7 every night: Larry, sleeping on the couch with the small brown sheet thrown over the multitude its of stains, and Kev, keeping watch over the tabernacle until last call. But if they aren’t there, I’m sure they’ve gone to Katmandu.