by Claire Moshenberg on March 25, 2013



The ice was enormous. The owner unwrapped bricks of the stuff and carved it in the faint white light beneath the bar, then slipped chiseled blocks into each glass tumbler. Two Japanese businessmen rested their elbows on the bar, unscrewed their bottle of scotch, and splashed warm brown smoke into my empty glass.

“What’s California music?” one asked, when he found out I was in Tokyo by way of San Francisco. “Beach Boys? Beatles?”

“We LOVE the Beatles,” the other said, and you could hear the capital letters. Bang-A-Gong was a capital-letters bar for music lovers — no chic posturing, name-dropping subgenres with wary eyes and careful smirks. At Bang-A-Gong, you exclaimed, you gesticulated, you sloshed the scotch in your glass and smashed it against the glasses of friendly strangers simply because you both knew the song playing, and the song was damn good. The walls were plastered in records, concert posters, murals of album covers; the bartender tended to the music, swapping the album after a few songs while slipping a new concert DVD into the TV, so a muted Dave Grohl waved frantically while Morrissey sang through the speakers, “I could go out tonight/but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.”

Remember when you first fell in love with music? You scribbled song lyrics in notebook margins and on the white edges of your knock-off Chucks; magazines had to be slashed and rearranged so your favorite band’s pictures ended up plastered above your bed like worn-out glow-in-the-dark stars, their sneering mugs as mesmerizing as any constellation. Imagine if that all-encompassing love were the theme for a bar. Big manic music love — here it was, and the two businessmen to my left got it; they sang and air-guitared, banged out drum solos on their knees.

I don’t speak Japanese; they spoke little English. It never mattered. We said what music lovers really want to say to each other: Do you love this band? I LOVE this band. Do you love this singer? ME TOO.  We rattled off bands and grinned in recognition. We threw back glasses of scotch, our mouths peaty and our eyes wide.

And always when the conversation faltered, when the pause between records lasted a second too long, someone looked up and shouted, “ABBEY ROAD!” I have no idea why, but why not? “ABBEY ROAD,” I replied, and lifted my glass of scotch to cheers.

* * * *

Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco-based author, activist, and new-media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox, and a Spleen contributing editor.

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