It’s Sunday in the Highlands. The sad sound of Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel is floating around the speakers of the back room at the Outlook Inn as I sit pondering many things. Mostly I’m thinking about beer and why having a real jukebox matters.
Though the Outlook is not equipped with a truly old-school record machine (the kind that feature hefty stacks of obscure 45s), at least the good folks here have not installed one of those new-fangled and soulless computer devices that are popping up all over town.
You’ve seen them. You’ve probably even been tantalized by the empty promises of their digital technology. But once you actually engage them, you realize soon enough that their basic offerings lack substance, and that for any depth of musical choice, the tune-dispensers of the 21st century are gonna make you pay dearly.
Moreover, these computerized extortionists fail to reflect the character of a bar’s proprietors or clientele. This means that every tasteless (and seemingly ear-less) idiot who inadvertently wanders into even the coolest of taverns can access the type of records (sound files, actually) that will make your skin crawl. The same misguided souls can even pay extra to have their songs load immediately, which means that your playlist, and everyone else’s, will be bumped. Trust me, this scenario is inevitable, and when it happens it will ruin your night out.
As such, I am perfectly pleased tonight with this 1980s model Rockola that has an eclectic assortment of compact discs for hire and a fair method of distribution. With these babies, all for the same price, you can usually still find hit singles, if you’ve a mind to, as well as an occasional B-side, like the Beatles’ “Rain” or U2’s “Sweetest Thing.” And obviously, you automatically have a wide range of album cuts at your disposal, which explains the Grateful Dead number currently in our midst. Most importantly, real jukeboxes generate the sort of parameters that help set the tone of the establishment itself, and they certainly cement its credibility among both the cool kids and the hardened alcoholic audiophile set.
Besides thinking way too much this evening about the critical role that music plays in a pub, I have also been reflecting on the significance of beer selection and, specifically, how we can all do our part to keep America beautiful by drinking more Falls City. This crazy correlation is indeed implied on the top portion of their cans (which are now manufactured in Pittsburgh, the main reason I am consciously thinking about beer rather than mindlessly consuming it).
Glancing over the packaging of my beverage, I suddenly remember just why it is that a beer essentially named after Louisville is now brewed in Pennsylvania. The Falls City Brewing Company was first established in our town during the early 1900s. Not counting the Prohibition era, the brewery enjoyed a long and prosperous run until, in the end, it was famously ruined by Jimmy Carter’s no-count brother.
While Jimmy was busy running the country, or at least trying to, Billy Carter ran a small filling-station in Plains, Ga., where he sold gasoline, snacks and presidential paraphernalia (I was actually there once as a small child).
As it happens, Billy was also a notorious Pabst Blue Ribbon drinker. By all accounts, he was basically just a good ole boy and a beloved redneck folk hero (or anti-hero as the case may be). That is probably why it seemed like a good idea for Falls City to approach him about launching his own brand, Billy Beer.
This endeavor was initially quite popular and sold real well before it became common knowledge that their namesake was entangled in a bizarre alliance with a North African dictator. Needless to say, that particular revelation was a PR nightmare for the Carter administration and Falls City alike.
After suffering heavy losses that were largely attributable to the Billy Carter fiasco, Falls City was shut down and sold off to the faraway Pittsburgh Brewing Company (which also brews the exquisite Iron City Beer). It is sad, and a bit refreshing, to realize that we actually go through the trouble to ship the stuff in now.
In any event, Jimmy Carter failed to win a second term as president (though there were clearly other factors besides the “Billygate” scandal that contributed to his loss). Still, he has had a surprisingly productive post-presidency and has even picked up a Grammy and a Nobel Peace Prize along the way.
Billy Carter, I suppose to his credit, shrugged the whole Falls City affair off and went back to drinking Pabst (he eventually succumbed to pancreatic cancer).
Col. Moammar Qadhafi, Billy’s “ally” of sorts and a terrorist at heart, never was particularly sympathetic to the fate of classic American breweries. He certainly doesn’t give a damn about the economy of Louisville or whether or not a bar will blast Workingman’s Dead for its patrons on the Lord’s Day, yet he continues to reign supreme in Libya. (You can read more about the history of Falls City at www.falstaffbrewing.com/falls.htm.)
As for me, I am left to hash all this out in a dimly lit dive with the lukewarm liquid and strange, sad music that I paid good money to ingest. Though I am admittedly consumed with thoughts of alcohol, I am resigned to take it easy tonight, relatively speaking. And when my songs are played out, I am content to stumble on home.
But all things considered, it’s good to know that you can still find a first-rate jukebox and a somewhat cold can of Falls City in the wee, wee hours of Sunday, even near the trendy parts of Bardstown Road.
America is a beautiful place to be.
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