HUNTSVILLE—My wife and I are at a local bar. It’s midnight. The music is loud. All I want is a burger because I haven’t eaten since lunchtime. I did a show in town tonight and I ran a little long because I am a big mouth who can’t shut up.
We are very tired. Low on sleep. And the whole world feels frightening because you can’t go anywhere without hearing something new about the coronavirus.
But this is exactly why the immortal James Brown, “Godfather of Soul,” once wrote a poignant song to uplift the tired and huddled masses by stating so eloquently: “HEEEEY!!!” Then he danced the camel walk like a man with his underpants on fire.
I wouldn’t mind hearing some James Brown right about now. He is sort of an old friend to me. When I was a young man I used to listen to “I Feel Good” when I’d get off work. This song always helped me feel… Well… Better. I used to listen to it over and over and play drum solos on my steering wheel.
This bar is the only place open at this hour. It’s crowded with young folks who travel in large packs. These are modern young people, dressed nicely, who are out on the town for a wild night that consists primarily of (a) going to bars, and (b) looking at their phones.
There are twenty-three televisions lining the walls, all playing continuous music videos. The music is loud enough to alter the migration patterns of Canada geese. I am trying to focus on the menu, but the TVs are distracting.
I’ll admit upfront, I don’t care for music videos. I suppose I’ve always wondered, “What’s the point?” I mean, when I watch “Love Boat,” it’s because there’s an actual plot, and I like Issac. When I watch “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s because Michael Landon had killer hair.
But music videos? They have no purpose. Also, most of the musical groups in these cutting-edge videos have odd band names like “Toilet Apple Funk,” or “Walrus Protractor.”
The videos themselves are filled with footage of pop-stars dancing in barren deserts, staring longingly at a camera as though they suffer from chronic gout. I wonder how the music-video guys creatively come up with these videos.
MUSIC VIDEO GUY 1: “Hey! I’ve got it! What if we have her dancing half naked on the edge of the Grand Canyon?!”
GUY 2: Let’s paint her purple, too.
GUY 3: How about a water gun?
GUY 1: The Kardashians are onboard if we throw in boa constrictors.
GUY 3: Is there really a band named Toilet Apple Funk?
The weird thing is, every young person in this bar is only half heartedly watching the music videos. Mostly, they are staring at their phones. There are NO conversations happening. No laughter. Everyone seems worried. It’s kind of creepy.
I grew up playing music in joints that served cheap beer. I never played in a single waterhole where patrons didn’t shout over the music. There were always loud conversations going on, and lots of yelling from the crowd. In fact, our bands played in a few rough places where the crowd was so rowdy we had to perform behind a chicken wire fence. These were mostly Methodist churches.
I suppose times have changed and I didn’t change along with them. And you can tell they have changed just by listening to the music of our modern world. There are no actual melodies involved. It is just computerized drum sequences and naked people. Which raises the question: Is this stuff even real music?
To answer this, I ask our waitress. Our waitress is a woman named Connie. Maybe early sixties. Gray hair, sweet smile. She is the oldest server working tonight. She brings my burger and shouts over the music. “Can I get you anything else, sweetie?”
You can always trust a woman who calls you sweetie.
I ask Connie for an honest opinion. I ask her if this modern music ever bothers her. She glances toward a TV. At this exact moment, a pop-star is gyrating her body, wearing only a loin cloth and two strategically placed postage stamps.
“This ain’t music,” Connie says. “I’m old enough to remember when the Beatles were playing, sweetie. My husband and I saw the Stones three times, the Beach Boys twice. Bob Dylan, Tom Jones, Three Dog Night… I almost saw Elvis, but I came down with the chicken pox.”
“What about James Brown?” I say. “Do you like him?”
Her face lights up. “Like him? God! My husband and I saw him in concert once. He was electric. My husband is dead now, but he was a James Brown freak, he could dance, too.”
Then she looks both ways and whispers into my ear. “Would you like me to change the music? I can play some James Brown if you want.”
“Really?” I say.
“Why not? My manager won’t mind, he’s too busy playing on his phone right now. Plus, my husband will get a kick out of it, I know he’s up there watching me. I think we could all use some cheering up right now.”
And just like that, the TVs go dark. The music changes. And it’s 1965 in here. Even the young people are smiling. A weary night turns into a great one when the soulful voice on the speakers sings: “HEEEEEY! I FEEL GOOD!”
Connie, I needed that.