April 1997
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Jack Smith


I've spent my entire life trying to be cool. I've usually failed miserably but there have been times where everything just clicks, all the planets align and all of a sudden I reach a white moment. I become Jack Fantastic. I've dissected these times in my head over and over again in a pathetic attempt at recreating them at will. Upon reviewing these instants, I've come to the realization that the only detail that remains constant during my mack daddy moments is that I was completely comfortable. I just sat back and let the world come to me.

I was sitting in Vitucci's, a local bar, with my friend, Robert, a couple weeks ago when we noticed that the folks sitting next to us were getting all the play and we were just another couple of losers. These girls were hoppin' and boppin' to the crocodile rock playing on the jukebox, surveying the place like they owned it. Other people were dropping by to say, "Hi." Beautiful women and men were pointing and saying, "Who are *those* people?" Bartenders were giving them free drinks. All of a sudden the sequence of songs playing went from Motown to punk. The girls sitting next to us suddenly became jittery and agitated. Their smiles faded. None of the other patrons looked at them twice and they were having a hard time hailing the bartender. Things became curiouser and curiouser until Robert leaned over to one of the girls and said, "You characters pick that Motown stuff that played on the jukebox earlier?" She said, "Yes, don't you like it better than this noise that's playing now?" He chuckled and turned back to me. We immediately got up and looked for another seat knowing full well that the salad days for these chycks were over. They'd lost control of the jukebox.

Controlling the music is the easiest way to alter the atmosphere in any bar or party. It's also the first step in getting cozy and down to the business of being the mack. I'd never really intellectualized it before that night in Vitucci's, but I've always instinctually headed straight for the jukebox whenever I entered a bar that had one. If someone like me is going to try and be chilled to the bone, I need all the help I can get and for me to run the show, I need the right tunes.

After obsessing over this for a couple of weeks, I was able to break down the seqence of events that happens everytime I go headlong into a bar that has a jukebox. I'm painfully predictable and it was eye opening for me to note that I rarely vary from this ritual. First, I head to the bar and get some sort of English or Irish beer. Something light to start such as Bass or Harp works for me although your mileage may vary on the beer choice.

Next I survey the place to find the music machine. On my way to the music box, I see what sort of people frequent the place and note the music that's currently playing. Once I get the jukebox, I do a quick run through of everything there keeping a mental checklist of tunes that are must plays. All Hootie or Dave Matthews Band jukeboxes are a red flag and I leave immediately.

I like to pick tunes that fit both my personality and the vibe of the place. Slint doesn't go too well in afterwork bars so I usually avoid them although I might sneak in "Rhoda" if I feel it won't get me bum rushed outta there. Nirvana always works. Nobody in a bar situation doesn't like Kurdt and the boys, but I'm always careful to pick the tunes that I know the frat boys haven't already chosen.

I always avoid reggae except for Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldiers." I like reggae once in a while, but don't like the atmosphere it creates around me. "Buffalo Soldiers" works for one reason and this is a freebie that you'll thank me for once the booty starts rolling in after you drop this bit of knowledge on a group of people. The Yo Yo Yo chorus part of the Marley song is stolen directly from the Bananna Split's theme. Try it if you don't believe me. "Yo yo yo. Yo ya yo yo. Yo yo yo ya yo ya yo yo." is exactly the same as "Na na na. Na ne na na. Na na na ne na na na na." Having some arcane tidbit about the music in the place gives me something to talk about in case I get to an uncomfortable silence.

Sexy songs are always a must. Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" is obvious but effective in the bar situation. Makes me feel all confident as does Chris Whitley's "Narcotic Prayer."

After I've made a few must must have choices at the box, it's time to pony up some cash. Five dollars is the minimum to get me started. I insert my dough and start pressing the buttons. After all the musts have been entered. I look for the ancilliary choices. Songs that didn't make the cut the first time around, but still work for me. "What's The Story Morning Glory" by Oasis never makes the cut the first time, but I find myself picking it on the second wave because every bar seems to have that fucking Oasis record on the box. The secondary choices should never be slow. If a slow song is strong enough to be a must, then I usually recognize it in round one. I stick to uptempos tunes. I love Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" but when I played it once some thugs beat the jukebox until it skipped to the end.

Invariably, I always have a couple free choices after the primary and secondary choices. I always pick the songs that I love and don't give two shits whether anyone elso does. The Y Not II in Milwaukee has The Damned's "Neat Neat Neat" and you just know when Jack shows up the patrons are gonna sit through it. I usually use punk songs because they're short so if it's painful for everyone the pain doesn't last long. These favorites also serve another purpose ... if while The Minutemen's "Jesus and Tequila" or Misson of Burma's "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" is playing I look around and find anyone singing along, I immediately walk up and start talking to that person. I always say something lame like, "That Mike Watt is a genius when it comes to pickin' the bass" or "Does Moby really think he can get away with covering Burma?"

The difficult part is that after I've made my picks I have to sit through everyone else's choices. Each person who has put money in the jukebox is trying to do the exact same thing as me: rule the place. However some aren't as enlightened as me, and choose things like Celene Dion's "Because You Loved Me" or "Straight Up." I've found though that over time these people get weeded out of the bar's that I frequent because the owner's recognize their mistake and replace "Listen Without Predjudice" with Patsy Cline.

There's nothing like the feeling I get when I'm standing in a bar and my song sequence starts to play. I'm out and about. I've got my friends. I've got my beer snob beer. I've got my music. And once again I'm cool even if it's only a cool that I have to buy 25 cents at a time.


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