Notes on the Encore and the Sweet Reprise

Three nights ago, while out with an old friend-Davey, I got caught up in a “glory days” conversation trying to work out the idiosyncrasies of my life thus far-things that could have only happened to me. We were talking about rock n’ roll, the plight we made with it, and the teenage angst that was caused by our middle-class upbringing-the kind that leaves you somewhere between north Jersey and an Elliot Smith tune.

Most of the things we were saying were pretty stupid-stuff about art, drugs, problems with our formative education, early love, and later love-things people talk about when the night’s been at a tail’s end for hours. Through it all I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What the hell I’m doing here?” prolonging the monotony of time I’ve already spent having this same conversation-why? Dive-bars have an infatuation with classic rock, and it’s guaranteed that “Dream On,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Baba O’Riley” will get played enough times to convince you that all those bands are still on the cusp-still relevantly on the cover of Rolling Stone. But even though their days have come and gone (even Areosmith) I still get this weird feeling, this uneasy discomfort every time I hear “Baba O’Riley.”

So this provisional answer I was looking for to my proverbial “why?” was brought to a simmer when a middle-aged man in a rustic beard and a jean jacket injected his money into the juke-box. Davey and I were still shooting the breeze when we both started unconsciously drumming to “Baba O’Riley.” At the time we were talking about a show I’d just seen where the band sent the crowd whirling into disarray and boos by not playing an encore.

We both intermittently sang lyrics between conversation breaks until the closing bridge of the song came (the part that disturbs me). I asked Davey if he remembered my second-rate high school cover band, and he nodded yes as I pathetically alluded to the fact that my band used to play that song (even though everyone else did too).

In high school, when we fist started playing the tune in my best friend’s basement it never sounded right, in fact it never sounded right to me when The Who played it either. The last ending bridge, with the mandolin and the drums goes on for just long enough to change the direction of the song. As the end of the final bridge approaches it speeds up, fast and faster, until it gets to that last note, that last beat where you feel this natural break that seems to desperately call for one last reprise-one more chorus, one more “Teenage Wasteland,”-and it denies you!

The old band thought this was as horrifically wrong as cutting out the last scene of an Ally Mcbeal episode, the part where all the lawyers go to the bar afterwards and unwind after a long day-the part that puts everything in its place and that assures you that at the end of it all, after all the hustle and bustle, you get to rock out. So, we corrected it, we went back into the chorus, and it felt good.

Then, looking over my shoulder as all these things were going on simultaneously-my questioning of why I’m carrying on with Davey at three in the morning, the ending bridge, and the encore story-I found my answer to all of those questions-I was brought to a boil. On the bar television they were showing clips of the 2005 Super Bowl, the aftermath, and a short interview with a depressed Eagles fan. The subtitle read, “It doesn’t feel good, now we have nothing left to root for.”

It was like a gift, “Nothing left to root for,” a human in his most vulnerable state. Those idiosyncrasies that we spend so much time trying to work out with repeated conversations and long nights at the bar amount to one thing-that we’re all just looking for something to root for. We hope that by talking about things over and over again, by writing about them, or singing about them, that they’ll all eventually make sense. Spending hours on Saturday nights, refusing to throw the towel in at three in the morning, or accepting the fact that you’re going home alone-accepting that there’s not going to be something after the hard day, not a get-together with the other lawyers, nothing.

My high school band and the angry encore crowd were all left feeling desperately human because that’s what uncertainty does to us. We all dream that during our Last Waltz Joni Mitchell and Muddy Waters will come out to help us celebrate. It’s scary to think that after the big show there might not be an encore, or after the big song (the metaphorical one) there might not be a reprise, things could simply end, and it might only be “Teenage Wasteland,” just like that.