I sat down to my regular Sunday ritual of diving into the New York Times arts-section-first and discovered yet another Minneapolis-centric article written by Kelefa Sanneh. Like any good current Minneapolis resident who lived in Brooklyn during 2005, I love the Hold Steady(I credit Ms. Lauren with first showing me their awesomeness). Aside from a little confusion about why the author so desperately loves Minneapolis(confidential to Mr. Sanneh-I'll trade places with you if you like it here so much. No, no, it's no trouble. I understand how completely inferior New York is to MPLS in every way), I enjoyed reading it.
After I'd finished, I thought for a while about the bars I've loved in Madison and Minneapolis over the years. The list includes some dank holes in the wall, although none of them could accurately be called dive bars. They weren't faux-dive either; at one time many years ago they had been genuinely rough places frequented by bikers and tattooed characters who weren't afraid to meet you out back with a metal pipe and a chain. The days when the C. C. Club, the Paradise, the Caribou, and the Wisco hosted pissed of punks and derelicts are long gone; now former cheerleaders with artfully applied streaks of Manic Panic pull their Marlboro Lights out of Coach bags on their way outside to get their nicotine fix. Even with the smoking bans and the addition of digital jukeboxes that list the latest Xzibit track next to "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline," these places still feel invitingly gruff.
These places are immune to sanitization as long as they can afford to keep their doors open. You can't get the smoke smell and grime out after 30 years, and there is always at least one man(or woman) who looks like they haven't left their bar stool since 1970. My friends and I don't go to today's "dive bars" because they don't have any other place they feel comfortable; we drink beer and drink in the history of violence and working class frustration to forget for a while that the United States is more prosperous than perhaps any other society in the history of civilization and that we, with out college and graduate degrees and our white collar jobs, live absurdly close to the top of the heap. We pay homage to the old masters, the Emeritus Punk that is home to IFC tv shows, WCW screenwriting credits, and tips on how to make your brand new band t-shirt look like you bought it in 1981(even if you don't look old enough to have been a fetus that year). Hell, even in the old days these places weren't their legends. My father played pinball at the Paradise during his lunch all through the mid-70s, clad in a suit and chatting with his State Government bureaucrat friends.
Don't think for a moment that I would trade my dive bar nostalgia for something "more authentic." I'm way too white and bourgeois for hip hop, which, as the New York Times tells me, is the new punk rock(an assertion I'm loathe to entertain). I'll order my PBR because I want it, not because I'm skeptical of the microbrews on tap next to it, and I'll play my favorite Cheap Trick song because I like the band, and I'll prove to anyone, Frat Boy or Harley head, that I am a force to be reckoned with at pool. I like feeling like a part of a continuum more than feeling on the cutting edge, and it's nice to someplace where the pretense is brought in by the customers and not built into the booths. At least then you can drown your disdain in your rail whiskey in your own corner, and maybe you can befriend another paton who isn't cool enough for the current scene.