Arriving somewhere but not here?

I wander aimlessly into a Pennsylvania bar to think about life’s concentric circles and unfamiliar roads.

When “JJ’s Rock Band” is set to play, you know you’re in for a…good time?

I contemplated my fate as I asked the bartender about tonight’s lineup. This bar is a dime a dozen — the only special feature is the basement setting and solidly beer-soaked floors. There are few things that make a venue legitimate than that aged smell. I find myself on an equally-aged bar table, imagining that I’ve magically transported to Germany-by-way-of-Pennsylvania, enjoying an Oktoberfest in the deep woods of Bavaria.

My brief mental retreat is broken by the piercing laugh of a particularly loud member of JJ’s Rock Band. I look over and see that he fits the lineup of a central European power metal band with a penchant for Norse themes. Unfortunately his taste for pedantic American pop songs betrays his mighty beard.

My mind drifts over to the music currently playing from the stage. A woman with her tambourine sings along with two guitarists, one acoustic and one electric, clearly opening the night for JJ and his crew. I wasn’t ready for this trip down nostalgia lane, but it was too late to get off the ride.

“Soy un perdedor…
I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?”

Concentric circles. I am in a bar listening to music from the ’90s, while firmly residing in the mid 2010s. These are our comfort tunes, ironically. Most of the people trickling into the room weren’t even born when Beck released this “masterpiece.” Barely even when Alanis Morissette released the following song of the set list. I just sat there reflecting on how my forebears at the bar probably listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Monkees with equal levels of saudade. Is this how it progresses with every generation? Will Rhianna be Stevie Nicks for the next decade?

I doubt it. Maybe it’s the older cynical musician in me, or maybe it’s the stout: statements like “Authenticity is gone,” and “No one tries anymore,” ring through my head. Is this the embodiment of JJ’s Rock Band? Four dudes that resigned themselves to closing out a night of covers with…more bombastic covers?

I slowed down with my next drink and thought about what it was like to be on that stage once before. Maybe these guys play in original rock bands and just do this to make money every Thursday. Maybe I’m expecting too much from State College, Pennsylvania. Maybe I’m just bitter at how life turned out and how I ended up here. How do people go to bars alone? I spiral further into my contemplations, getting nowhere.

Pennsylvania. I’ve gone from corner to corner of this state in less than six months and realized that it’s a country in itself. I’ve loved here, I’ve suffered here, I’ve existed here moving past a time where all I could say was “never there, ever!” I’m sometimes unsure of who I am in this bar compared to person I was in the bars I traveled and played in those years before.

But somehow, it’s all the same. We move forward and we travel back in lanes we recognize and unfamiliar roads we discover on the way. Hopefully we make it to our destination, but most of us don’t. We make the best of what we find. After several rounds of surprisingly good local beers, I walk “home” to my hotel listening to the refrain “Always arriving somewhere, but not here,” appreciating the song’s significance on a new level.

Like what you read? Give Theresa Gaffney a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.