The following column was written last week. I'm feeling much better now, thanks for asking.
Column 255: The Letting Go
Jay Reatard and the 49'r
I write this at 4 a.m. coming off Percocet and poor sleep after crossing a hill of agony that was abdominal surgery last week.
Three stories burned with controversy in the haze of my midweek absence. First there was Haiti. But that was simply too big to put my feeble mind around. Then there was The Tonight Show Controversy -- Conan O'Brien being laid to rest in the path of a greedy Jay Leno. In the end, who cared? Both would wind up at 10:30 somewhere.
Then there was The 49'r Situation.
There actually were four stories that happened during my sleep. Jay Reatard died somewhere in Memphis. His death was one of the first things I tweeted about after surgery; I felt I needed to since no one was talking about it on the intergoogle. Reatard, who recorded on Matador but has roots in Memphis labels like Goner and In the Red was a fresh new hope for rock 'n' roll, a guy who embraced the simpler style of garage rock; his noisy, shambolic sound somehow made everything new again.
In his wake he pulled along a lot of people, including local folks like Box Elders and Digital Leather and Brimstone Howl and The Shanks. I thought his death was maybe a hoax -- from stories I heard about the guy, it sounded like something Reatard would do. But there is no hoaxing The New York Times, who, in his obituary, called Reatard, real name Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr., "a Force in Punk Rock," dead at age 29.
For some reason I thought Reatard's death would spur some sort of Kurt Cobain outcry in the art/music world until I remembered that no one really knew who he was. Let that be a lesson to all of you local rockers who have made a mark (of sorts) nationally. Who will talk about you after you're gone?
Certainly the people who went to -- and go to -- The 49'r don't know who Jay was. Reatard was more of a Brothers Lounge or O'Leaver's sort of guy, though I think he would have liked The 49'r, too.
The bar's demise became public early last week on Facebook via The 49'r Facebook Page (of course), where someone (no one really knows who runs those "fan pages") posted the message: "The rumors you're hearing are true. The 49'r, and surrounding property, has been bought to make way for a CVS Pharmacy. Our doors will close, permanently, next January. Please make this next year the best year the 49'r has ever had."
It was met with an immediate outcry heard low and long over the Internet. Close the Niner? It simply cannot be! It's an Omaha music landmark. Hell, it's a national landmark that has acted as a cornerstone of the Dundee neighborhood!
One fan of the Niner, musician Greg Loftis currently of Montana, Facebooked me asking if its demolition could be stopped. Like a doctor telling a parent that his child has passed, I told him that I thought there was nothing anyone could do. I added that, ironically, it was The 49'r where I had first met Loftis so, so many years ago.
"Yes it was...and yes we did. lllooonnng time ago," Loftis replied. "That is where I learned everything I know about music, learned the rules of seedy underground behavior, made almost every friend I have in Omaha (and some that were just passing through)... I loved that place. I remember the old days (before they took out the juke box and when Dana was in charge) when you could walk down the steps in the afternoon on a summer Monday (when the music kids hung out there), a beer would already be waiting, Landon would ask for a shot (he was 19) Marq would be on the desk computer researching right wing politics and Prince, Kasher would tell you about this new record, The Ugly Organ, he was working on, Bob Thornton would be drinking vodka and explaining to someone why he was smarter than them, Kyle Harvey was losing money working there because he was buying too many drinks... everybody knew everybody and if someone showed up we didn't know they got drunk for free... I once went 47 straight matches undefeated in shuffle board... it was the reason it took Greg Edds like 7 yrs to get out of college, Minturn fell off the roof into the dumpster, I fell off the roof and missed the dumpster, the tattoo shop guys would scare away any frat boys that wanted to come in... Mindy welcomed me to Omaha the first night...Christ that was amazing (get your mind out of the gutter)... I could go on for weeks... this is very sad...the place had changed but I always held out hope it would return to it's glory days... I never dreamed it would close its doors."
Now a new Facebook page has launched, titled "Save The 49'r." Something tells me that the person behind it hasn't talked to owner Mark Samuelson, who will likely see a nice payday for his property, a property that he's owned and operated and poured money into for a long time.
In the end, it's just a bar, like a thousand other bars in Omaha. It just happens to have sat at an epicenter where so much was going on around it. The Niner's glory days from a music standpoint were a long time ago. And while it still hosts bands on weekends, it's nothing like it used to be.
No, we don't need another pharmacy. There is one literally a block away from the Niner right now. But what realistically can be done to stop it? Have the building declared a "national landmark" so it can sit empty and be another blight on Dodge St.? Convince Samuelson to not sell it? Why shouldn't he?
I say, take this final year and enjoy it, remember it, then let it go. In the end, it was just a bar. It wasn't a person.
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It's True has received an official invitation to the South By Southwest Festival in March. This is looking to be a strong year for Nebraska band participation in Austin. In addition, It's True announced that a split 7-inch with Lawrence band Cowboy Indian Bear is being released on Kansas City label The Record Machine. The Nebraska release shows for this vinyl-only outing are Feb. 5 at Duffy's and Feb. 6 at The Waiting Room with Cowboy Indian Bear and Eagle Seagull. That's not all -- the band also said that it secured The Waiting Room on April 30 for a release show for their debut full length. They don't mention who is putting it out, however...
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Beep Beep is having its last show ever tonight at Duffy's. It seems like only yesterday (instead of more than six years ago) that I was interviewing the band for this feature story. And now... gone. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of Eric Bemberger. Playing with Beep Beep tonight is The Machete Archive and Pharmacy Spirits.
Also tonight, The Lepers are playing a set at The Barley St. Tavern. $5, 9 p.m.
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And hey, did anyone else notice that Monotonix has been scheduled to play at O'Leaver's on April 19?
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Tomorrow: A look inside the remodeled Waiting Room.
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