Roadhouse Bars, Cock Rock Guitars, & the Healing Powers of Johnny Cash

Our guides that night were a boyfriend/girlfriend tag team from Detroit. I can’t remember their names only that they had androgynous ones like Jaime, or Lesley, or Alex and I kept calling him by hers and her by his. They were taking us to an authentic Japanese karaoke bar on the east side of Louisville, Kentucky

An authentic Japanese karaoke bar in Kentucky is basically a road house bar where the only thing remotely Japanese is a poster of a slender Japanese woman in a black cocktail dress holding a bottle of Sapporo. A beer they didn’t even sell

The bar was split into two factions. On one side were the kids we were meeting. All out-of-towners with too many tattoo’s and piercings. who wore mostly black and almost exclusively sang 80’s cock rock classics. A lot of Poison, Skid Row, and Motley Crue.

On the other side were the painfully obvious locals who, both male and female, wore tight white jean shorts that stopped just above the knees. They sang almost exclusively sang Top 40 Modern Country hits by Garth Brooks and other country singers I guess.

Both groups were loud.

Both groups were rowdy.

Both groups were shaking up their bottles of American beer and spraying it all over themselves but both were wise enough to keep it within their own groups. Unfortunately as the blood alcohol levels increased the good will towards thy fellow man decreased.

Someone was bumping into someone else or hitting on another’s girlfriend or knocking over someone’s beer or just flat-out looking at someone the wrong way. They lobbed homophobic insults at us while we retaliated with incestuous ones.

It went back and forth through the entire last verse of Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart”. By this time fingers were being pointed, empty beer bottles were being strategically placed in case they were needed as last ditch weapons. Voices cracked from the screaming. The question wasn’t if there was going to be a fight. It was a question of who would throw the first punch.

When “Kickstart My Heart” ended the DJ was oblivious to what was going on and just called the next name. The name belonged to a kid from our group, from Philly, and he took the stage without anybody noticing.

“You wanna go outside? We’ll go outside!”
“I’ma whoop yo ass, boy!”
“Fuck you!”
“No fuck you!”
“Fuck you! I said it first!”

Then a sound ascended above the chaos. A sound that made everybody, both sides, stop and look at the skinny kid in thrift store clothes who was at the mic. It was the opening of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, a song that was equally recognizable amongst both groups. We ignored the empty beer bottles and made our way to the dance floor.

By the time Mr. Cash explained that he, “Shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”, we had our arms draped over each other’s shoulders singing. The ones who didn’t know the words pretended too. The ones who did know the words belted them out as if it was the last time they’d hear this song in their entire life.

When it was over, shots were being purchased. Introductions and apologies were being made. Everything that happened 3 minutes prior was forgotten and they invited us all back the next night but we were leaving in the morning so we had to decline.
They made sure let us know that they were there every Friday and Saturday Night
so if we ever came back we should stop by. We said thanks and if you ever come to Philly, Detroit, D.C. or Chicago look us up even though they didn’t know our names or us theirs. We just shook hands, walked out, and told them we’d see them again next year.

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About Tim Stafford

Tim Stafford is a poet and storyteller from Chicago. He is the editor of the Learn Then Burn anthology series on Write Bloody Publishing. His work has appeared on HBO Def Poetry Jam and featured in the PBS documentary "The Day Carl Sandburg Died". He performs regularly at colleges and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe including the ABC Brecht Festival in Augsburg, Germany, the 2010 Zurich Poetry Slam Invitational, the 2011 German National Poetry Slam, the 2013 Kiel Festival in Kiel, Germany, and the 2014 Woerdz Festival in Lucern, Switzerland. View all posts by Tim Stafford

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