Easy Rider album cover

I found a magic little coffee shop and I'm going to keep it as much a secret as I can. I do not want to share it with you cultural appropriators.

No two coffee shops are the same, say the platitudinous. Not so, not so, crazy bald-head. They, anymore, unanimously seem the same, more or less. Back in my country, the character flavor of the shop itself lives or dies as much as the bean roast. What does it take to become a coffee shop of distinction, to join the Royal Order of His Highness's Favorite Caffeine Hook-Ups?

Though I'm early in my new relationship, the unceasing pleasure I will build up a little more. My new infatuation-turned-I-think-this-is-the-real-thing java joint is as special as the time I was cruising the back roads of England, north of London, and I found a little lane canopied with lovely spring-budding trees, sculpted farmland on either bucolic side, rustic as the quaintest shire in Middle Earth. Something about it more quaint than the hundreds of quaint lanes of the green, green isles of our original home. That's how special my magic little coffee shop is.

This delightful little place delights me like no coffee shop has ever delighted me. Casbah dancing girls? Mmm, close. Free hookah? Nah. WiFi? I'd rather talk. NYT on a stick. Yes! Star Wars bar scene clientele? Hardly, ya mug. What then, pray tell, is so red, red groovy about this place?

The music, of course, silly!

Yes, coffee shops invariably, inevitably and unspectacularly have music, dude. What's so great about this one--Mick Jagger slurped and stirred there?

Well, uh, I do...but who am I but just a guy without portfolio...a roamer, a dust ball looking for an overlooked cosmic rest stop with no human vacuum cleaners about.

So let me tell you, dear faithful and faithless readers, my tale of a wandering spirit, seeking for a dependably cheap transcendent experience, yet something deeper than just Elizabethan infatuation preternaturally attracting me like sirens sweetly singing tales of bored Ulysses. Insatiable post-colonial music nymphomaniac that I am.

It started one day when the morning-to-afternoon guy, Willy, an affable type, was playing some sort of relatively new band, I can't quite remember who. But instrumentally they played like they didn't know the rules and I dug their insouciance--a quality more uncommon than you'd think with our conformist young people.

Then he did a Mac Demarco album. OK, nice. Then something French, so I introduced him to Air. Then he played a band with I think some kind of drug reference in its name. An uncategorizable band in my book. Several levels of passion, one level of technique, a great imbalance. Cool.

What was unique was how much Willy cared about the stuff. I got a kick out of that. Reminded me of my best employees at ye olde record store, gone but never to be forgotten, who weren't in it for the money.

Too many coffee shops don't put a real priority on the music. They're perhaps only in it for the money. I'd cry if it helped.

Willy was a sport about it, every time I bothered him about who or what was playing. He didn't even mind when I rhymed Tonka with Wonka and added it to Willy. Like I said, the kid's a riffer, he goes with the flow and adds his own. His tastes, swervy and nervy.

Then I got familiar with the weekend shift. Whoa. The ecstasy really began.

One rainy Sunday morning, when I was actually thinking of popping into to the beautiful stone church a few blocks away to see if I could use some social gospel (can't we each?), I went to my little coffee joint place, feeling like a Sunday morning nighthawk. I needed somewhere to roost...which almost cannot adequately happen without the proper soundtrack. Otherwise you're just squatting.

Mind you, this snugly little spot (with the usual digitally connected young incubating under headphones and in front of tablets and keyboards) hadn't quite attained Middle Earth magic of time, place and spirit. It was about to.

Grabbin' my cuppa, holding my copy of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire like Gene Barry did as the about-to-be-vaporized due to his naivete in the first 'War of the Worlds', I took my seat in the anti-social-person's corner, but under a speaker. And it hit me, softly, deeply, very deeply, like a a Valentine card from Keira Knightley. Namely, Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On?," certainly one of, if not, the most baptismal-ly beautiful black gospel-jazz-soul grooves and message ever made on our planet of light and darkness.

I'm an emotional white man. I felt joy and love and a banishing sadness opening up to a lamb's new view of life from mom's melting placenta: I was a nomad who'd found a home. I felt worthy. And the goddamned coffee was good.

Todd seems to be the weekend guy who blows my mind the most. Because a couple weekends later, I walked back to my favorite loner's corner and just about started speaking in tongues. The music was gangster/crime TV-film noir, which I collect, like The Untouchables, or The Naked City. Turns out he was playing Charles Mingus's Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Oh, sweet noisy Mingus, it was the last thing I expected to hear.

It's the kind of place the last thing you expect to hear is the first thing you hear. How cool is that?

 Todd's the real thing: he's got a 25-count leather LP carrying case--how cool is that? We thumbed through it. First album: Aldo Ciccoceli's tribute to Eric Satie; second album, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, then Radiohead, then stoner rock, then the Easy Riders Soundtrack and on and on. I felt honored. I think it was he who turned me on to Jacques Dutronc, a French guy who makes some pretty edgy pop-rock-a-la-garde semi-out-there stuff when he's not acting in major French films.

Tim next. He has a penchant for Sabbath, Sword and Rush, which I'll forgive because he also has a Tom Waits tattoo on his chest over his heart. How cool is that? This morning he was playing Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, a post-Sabbath band of savages who pull off sounding unproduced yet have just the right amount of real production. With a tinge of Rush. Forgiven.

And Heidi? Heidi played The Books the other day, accompanied by her gentle pronouncement, "I like to keep people calm." I thought that was funny.

I can't tell you how many times I've walked in there and heard a Black Keys record I've not heard in years...or the most recent Gary Clark, Jr...or Black Sabbath's first album...or just a quiet melange of miscellaneous freak-folk from the early thousands. It just never ends with these kids (they're twenty-somethings and generally not moody). Somebody did play Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young a couple days in a row but, you know, not so bad. 'We have all been here before...'

And yet...and yet I must tell you among the '60s folk-rock heard same CSNY session John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High' got played--and I liked it! Go figure.

I mean, someday, someday I know I'm going to hear The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, one of the greatest folky/singer-songwriter songs to ever tell a true story. Ah, the doom Fitz, going down with a full crew of deplorables. Probably hauling coal...or Russian uranium.

Well, one day I realized this place was filling the void of my old record store: un-programmed young people playing whatever they felt like. With love and enthusiasm. And frequently on vinyl. How cool, cool, cool is that? Very cool. Way cool. Old-school cool. Sigh.

OK--it's Luck Brothers coffee on W. 1st right by Northwest Boulevard. The clientele is swell, the workers friendly, the vibe is mellow, the music...magnifico.

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