[Editor's Note: This story ran on Nov. 29, 2011 on StarCityBlog.com]
by Andrew Norman
Each creaky step I take up the steep, narrow staircase leading to my grandmother's attic feels like a slow march to invade a long-forgotten crypt. Cold air leaking through seams around thin windows and the smell of moth balls and 30 years of dust welcome me at the top of the stairs.
My father and his brother lived up here when they were kids. But since then, it's been a place for my grandmother to store the boxes upon boxes upon stacks upon piles of clothes, newspaper clippings, photographs, report cards, postcards, books and toys that she swears she'll one day get around to doing something with.
The old clothes? They'll come back in style, you know. And the newspaper clippings will one day be gathered and preserved. Someday, she says, she'll have the end-all-be-all garage sale that rids her of all this, well, stuff.
But that will never happen.
Now, nearly all of the kids have grown up, and the attic's booty hasn't been plundered by little hands for at least a decade. But I still return here every time I visit — something that's increasingly rare. Usually, it's after having stiff drinks with old friends down the street at DJ's Bar & Grill. With my grandmother asleep in her room, I sneak upstairs and, from a small stack of beat-up records, I pull out The Supremes or Hank Williams or Johnny Cash and put the needle from a still-working record player on the black vinyl.
I sit down and sink into the egg crate foam pad on a lonely twin bed and read old love letters that my grandfather wrote to her when he was on a Navy ship in the Pacific, and she was at home with my 1-year-old uncle.
I try to wrap my head around how time can move so fast, and why it feels like such a waste that no one seems to adequately respect and appreciate that old, wrinkled skin once was young and smooth, and that every busted or abandoned object once was new and desired. I imagine my uncle's excitement when he received a Super 8 camera and projector set as a gift, and wonder if he'd be sad to know that it's been sitting here, unused in a half-smashed box for probably three decades.
These questions don't have answers — at least none that would satisfy a mind so stubborn for nostalgia. But it feels good to ask them, as if I'm paying proper respect to neglected memories.
Many of those came back to me during last weekend's trip to Grant and Imperial, Neb., for Thanksgiving, some triggered by certain soundtracks. It struck me how a song like Hank Williams' “Crazy Heart” could be both so timeless and temporary. And I wondered if I was alone in my pining, so I asked a handful of Lincoln musicians to tell me:
- Their favorite road trip songs;
- Their favorite hometown dive bar and what song they play on the jukebox;
- And which records they hope to inherit from family record collections.
Amy Gordon (Two Black Cats)
2. Although I wouldn't necessarily label it a dive bar, O'Rourke's Tavern (in Lincoln) would have to be my favorite. It's cozy and familiar, like “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Jukebox song: Toto's “Africa.”
3. A lot of greatest hits albums, many of them are the cream of the crop! The first ones that come to mind are: Carpenters; Rush; The Temptations; John Denver and the Muppets' A Christmas Together; Boston; Stevie Wonder; America.
Jonathon Augustine (Masses)
1. It depends on how excited I am about my destination. I have about 10 hours worth of Mountain Goats songs, and I know most of the lyrics, so if I'm going to a place where spirits will be high, I'll sing along to Mountain Goats songs the entire way there. If I'm going to a place where I'm going to take a nap on a couch and spend the rest of the time counting down minutes until I get back to Lincoln, I'll put on some Godspeed You! Black Emperor and get properly tranquil. Either way, it's all about killing travel time and miles with albums and songs. Music as an odometer, ya know?
2. The last time I was at Glur's Tavern in Columbus, the beer garden and sand volleyball court became an impromptu co-ed restroom. It's a great setting to break the ice with all the babes that you wish you had gotten to know better in high school. I'm pretty sure they don't have a jukebox, but if they did it would probably only have that The Alan Parson's Project song that Nebraska football fans go bonkers for.
3. Can't Buy a Thrill by Steely Dan. For me, the album is strongly associated with the two most important human inventions: Ford Rancheros and the scent of burning cherry Swisher Sweets Little Cigars.
1. “Me and Paul” by Willie Nelson; “Highwayman” by The Highwaymen; and "End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys. These songs are all great road songs and I listen to them on every solo tour I have ever been on. Classics.
2. I would say the Watering Hole. You can't beat the cheap beer there. I've never played a song on the jukebox, though, but if I did it might be some Hank Williams or something.
3. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash; Hank Williams' Greatest Hits by Hank Williams; and an old 45 of Johnny Cash's early recording with Sun Records. These are all in my grandpa's record collection.
The JV Allstars, Good With Guns, The Heat Machine
1. JVA always listens to Homegrown's King's of Pop as the last album of every tour. The last half hour of the drive into town seems to take forever, whether it's at 7 in the morning or in the afternoon to the load in. It's a great album for us pop-punk dudes — full of nostalgia for us. The trick is to keep from listening to it at all during the tour.
2. I like Duffy's, Knickerbockers and O'Rourke's the best — mostly, because all my friends seem to congregate at those bars, work there, are currently playing there or a combination of those … As for the jukebox, I steer clear. I have music at home.
3. If I inherited my parents' music collection it would be a stack of recordings memorabilia from my bands through the years. That and maybe one or two modern country albums my mom received as gifts from my sister. My parents just don't have any music, and I know they don't listen to mine. All that stuff is still sealed in plastic.
Andrew Norman is Hear Nebraska's editor. In high school, he was caught trying to steal Screeching Weasel's Boogadaboogadaboogada from a Tower Records in Denver. The security guard, no doubt impressed with his taste, allowed him to purchase the CD and leave with just a warning. He has never stolen since. Also, he's not a fan of Ben Weasel. Norman is the founder of Hear Nebraska, a nonprofit website that will launch early in 2011. For now, check out facebook.com/hearnebraska, twitter.com/hearnebraska and hearnebraska.tumblr.com. Email story ideas and hate messages to email@example.com.