The last bar that I went to, the last time I visited Nashville, was a spot in the industrial district, just removed from downtown. It was a vestige of the way bars used to be everywhere - filled with cigarette smokers and belly-uppers. Game 7 of the NBA Finals was on the televisions in this sports bar that everyone now tolerated as the best place to be because it still suited them and in fact catered to them. They decided that they were rooting for San Antonio, if they were going to have to root for anyone.
It was one of those haunts that Brian Johannesen would write an ode to. He would have written about the crush he had on the girl behind the bar, with the bottle opener peeking out of her hind pocket. Wait, it's kind of something that he's already done. He uses bars like this one as one of his greater inspirations - a place where a man thinks, "Something's gotta change, just not tonight/I've made a couple friends and I feel alright," on a cold night. He'll be there - never against his better judgment - but even when he knows that there won't be anything to change him in a place like that. He doesn't need a place of God for that either, but he needs some different scenery. There, in a place like that, others with similar problems, with grizzled and roughshod lives of striving but never hitting the mark dead-on are like fish in a barrel. They'll keep to themselves, mostly, enduring their pained situations elsewhere, when the pitchers and the shots have worn off.
Johannesen writes stories that are never too devastating. They're mostly sad ones, but the men involved with somehow findings endings - and often middles - to them are still equipped with time to do so, even if it is ticking away. He sings about the people who know where they've been - a harder thing to grasp than some would think. He offers the lines:
"I said, 'Where you been?'
He said, "From town to town and sin to sin.'"
It's not where most people have been, but the elements can be appreciated. They can be seen in the long tabs and a room filled with smoke and people.
*Essay originally published August, 2013