Live Music and Simple Beer
The particulars of your beer matter less when there's a world happening.
Lately I’ve been thinking of an old clip of Bill Parcells encouraging his team by yelling “This is the reason you lift all them weights!” from the sidelines during a close or important football game several decades ago. I’m not often inspired by sports quotes or archival beratings but for some reason I’ve always remembered that one, and it’s been bubbling up to the top of my neurogoo recently as pertains to the insane rent and associated indignities Em and I endure to live where we do.
I try not to be one of those people who make their neighborhood their entire personality, but it’s been tough to avoid for the last 14 months unless you’re of the deranged opinion that I should talk even MORE about V.I. Warshawksi novels, how mad I am at the government, or best practices for eating spaghetti in bed at 10:30 a.m. (allow two beers per serving and invest in marinara-colored pillowcases). My only other trick has been walking in concentric circles of expanding despair around the shuttered or gasping institutions of Central Square, Cambridge. Not a lot going on over here!
Among the things not going on over here in my specific home: acute respiratory failure; the death of a loved one; the care, feeding, and educating of a child; financial precarity; or mental illness beyond easily treatable malaise. We’ve got enough money in at least the literal sense, a nice cat, a firm mattress, several ways to watch TV, six different whiskeys, library cards, and a better-than-expected baseball team. We are, by all objective measures, good. And also losing our fuckin’ minds, for all the universal reasons and also the specific one that we deliberately chose to sacrifice certain comforts for proximity to fun shit to do and a lot of fun shit’s been more or less illegal, epidemiologically if not always cop-wise, since shortly before Fiona Apple’s new album fed that guy to a tiger.
I’m referring first and foremost and of course most to the grim fact that bars in Massachusetts have still not reopened; rumor has it you should be able to buy a drink without ordering food, and perhaps even while seated at a physical bar, by the end of the month. I can wait, which is easy to say since I don’t own a bar—I complain about my rent, but at least the state lets me operate my shoddy indoor business as long as I keep paying.
But bars aren’t my whole sad song, because Em and I (and then Em some more) don’t pay $2,700 a month to rent 700 feet solely for proximity to bars—there are bars everywhere, though ours are or at least were better than most. We also live real close to the library and the Central Square Theater and the MIT Museum and the Harvard Art Museums, one of which is still named for a murderous Sackler, which is okay because they let you piss in the vases there now, and a bunch of what used to be live music venues and are now surely future private dorms for rich tech dolts, which to be honest was their pre-pandemic fate too. Central Square gets worse every day because all cool neighborhoods do, but it’s still the best fit we’ve found for our tastes.
Then of course everything got shut down and we started to envy our friends and relations with yards and party basements and such. Nothing we could really have done about that at the time—we didn’t want to be the sort of creeps who adopt a house for a year and then return it to the real estate shelter when things start snapping back to normal—but our failure, Em’s failure really since she’s the one with the job, to buy a kegerator and a bitchin’ hi-fi week one will forever haunt us.
However! Just this past Sunday I took my first subway ride since last March, three stops west into the belly of the beloved beast that is Somerville to watch live music! Jimmy Ryan played outside at the Burren with Dana Colley. Jimmy is a local legend type who plays mandolin and has at least two songs about a rent-controlled apartment he had in Brookline in the ‘80s; Dana was the saxophonist in Morphine and more important in my buddy Larry’s band AKACOD. They were great. The Burren is an Irish joint and thank god it’s still around. The wave of bar closings this past year seemed to hit our Irish places especially hard, maybe because they weren’t set up for the takeout food and cocktails that helped some other sorts of places limp through. By “weren’t set up for” I mean can you imagine getting those big lewd khaki-ass french fries delivered to your home, where you and your family live? It’s probably illegal and I’m glad no one tried to test it.
This is of course a beer recommendation newsletter, let us never lose sight of that crucial fact, and I hereby recommend you drink the simplest, cleanest lager you can find the next time you have the pleasure of live music. After so many months spent obsessing about flavor and variety and uh let’s be honest getting where you’re going ASAP, it was a real treat to spend an afternoon enjoying but not thinking about beer, for the simple and beautiful reason that there was something else going on. I didn’t need beer to validate my entire day, I just needed it to keep my humors calibrated while the band and the sunshine did their thing. All three cans of Jack’s Abby House Lager were lovely (if you also struggle with pacing yourself out of doors these days, so far so good with the handy equation of one-point-five tallboys per song about rent-controlled Brookline apartments in the 1980s).
Just watched that Parcells clip 3x thanks to your reminder, dropping it here for anyone who wants to do the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjs1Tu5RMaA
The cocktail bar that my cousin works at with the liquor selection that goes up to the ceiling was able to get through the past 14 months by bottling their drinks and letting people have complicated cocktails at home. Unfortunately for the dive bar down the street, I can make a bloody mary that's half vodka (their signature cocktail) pretty easily at home. Really makes you appreciate how important setting is for a drinking hole.