What makes a great bar? The beer list? The clientele? The jukebox?
I think it’s a little of each, and my favorite bar in the world, the C.C. Club, excels in all of those categories. It’s an ages-old watering hole in Minneapolis, small and unassuming on the outside, cavernous and womb-like on the inside. The booths are plush, but not too soft; the lighting is dim, but not too dark. The walls, grayed by decades of cigarette and pot smoke, are covered in a rug-like material, the kind you might see in a suburban basement. The whole place, in fact, is like a basement–not in the sense that you feel cut off from the world (though you do), but because you feel like, at any moment, a grown-up will come in and tell you to stop yelling so much.
When we moved to Minneapolis nine years ago, we had the pleasure of getting to know all the amazing things about the city. Some of them–Prince, lakes, The Mary Tyler Moore Show–we knew already, but there was a lot yet to know. Among the unknowns was the Replacements, a band that I had heard of but never heard. I instantly fell in love with them, for the same reasons so many people do: primarily, they consistently sounded like they were on the verge of falling apart, but they seldom did.
When the Replacements drank (and they, um, often did), it was typically at the C.C. Club. And maybe this is just how it seems in retrospect, but it’s a very Replacements-esque bar. It’s definitely a place for casual and professional drinkers, but the professionals seem especially at home there. In a recent oral history of the C.C. Club, Replacement Tommy Stinson said of the bar, “It’s just a dingy old working-man’s bar, they’re littered all over the country, like where the blue-collar guy goes to unwind and talk about his woes. But all of us, we kind of came from that. We all come from that sort of life, a bunch of crap working stiffs trying to get by.”
That’s where “Here Comes a Regular” comes in. It’s a paean to bars full of, well, alcoholics (says one person in the article, “to some degree it was like, ‘Jesus, we’re all at a certain point when we needed to cut back on our drinking'”), but also about places full of people just like you, whatever you’re like. It also perfectly captures Minnesota, whose weather, hot or cold, seems to encourage people to take shelter. “Summer’s passed, it’s too late to cut the grass,” sings Paul Westerberg, “there ain’t much to rake anyway in the fall.” It’s a song, and a place, full of people stuck in limbo.
Westerberg is famously cagey about his songs, but the consensus is that “Here Comes a Regular” is about the C.C. Club. “I mean, it sounds like it was written in that place,” says journalist G.R. Anderson in the oral history. “Who knows what a song is about, but it sure sounds like the C.C. Club to me, the C.C. Club that I know. And the place always got awfully quiet when you played it on the jukebox.”
For the longest time, if I had a song stuck in my head, it was “As Fas As I Know” by Paul Westerberg. This was especially likely to happen if I was walking briskly, because this song perfectly fits that speed. It seems to exist at some neutral rhythm, some natural state of being. It just is.
I have a feeling that Westerberg doesn’t think much of this song. I’m not sure why I think that; possibly because I know that he hastily recorded it in his basement. But I think it’s an amazing little pop song, with “little” being a strength—this song accomplishes a lot in its three minutes and (mostly) three chords.
I keep saying this on this blog, but the melody here is so simple. I don’t understand how a melody like this—mostly consisting of the eight notes in a major scale—hasn’t been used before. So many combinations left, after all these years! Incredible.
Despite those constraints, the song builds, in its way. When Westerberg’s voice cracks slightly on “kid” in the last verse, it’s like he’s lost his composure just a little bit, for a split second. For this wistful, breezy song, it’s the equivalent of all hell breaking loose on a rock epic by the Who or Led Zeppelin. It’s all relative.