A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1993)

Task 6 on the “30” Day Music Challenge — A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere.

Y’all, I really wanted to have a better answer. I really tried. I even used the Jack Donaghy method and tried to capitalize on my most reliable period of uninterrupted thought (in the shower). I wanted to think of a song that reminded me of the hammock in my grandmother’s backyard. Or the park that hosted water balloon fights between me and my eighth-grade besties. Even, I don’t know, a song that sparks distinct memories of the halls of my high school, the Chicago Board of Trade, or the interior of my first car.

Dancing at Lebo's, California, Ohio

Pretty Much Sums it Up.

But, alas, I just kept coming back to Lebo’s. Lebo’s — located less than 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in the town of California, Ohio — is a large, barn-shaped bar soaked to its very core with hops, sweat, and the cast-off fat from chicken fingers and mini egg rolls. It’s the best kind of dive, that attracts all matter of clientele. Softball players stopping in for a pitcher or six of Miller Lite. Accountants from downtown hoping to slum it in ironic fashion. The elderly. You know.

There were a host of ‘regulars’ there that would treat the crowd to their ‘regular’ song (some of which I heard for the first time in this setting).  Fifty-something buddies Chris and Dave T., who would harmonize on Tommy James’ ‘Draggin’ the Line‘  before moving on to their standard solo selections, as well. (Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah‘ and Zager & Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525,’ respectively. The former is far more entertaining, and slightly less apocalyptic, than the latter.)  There was Brian-Austin-Green doppelgänger Todd, who would sing ‘The Chanukah Song‘ no matter the season.  Two preppy white chicks who shall remain nameless that would always insist on making the country-music-loving folks listen to ‘Baby Got Back.’

When I was a willing and frequent participant on Cincinnati’s karaoke circuit, Lebo’s was my Friday-night stop. And each week, the karaoke jockey, who looked like a cross between a standard schnauzer and Floyd from the Muppets, would open the stage with ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance.’ He wasn’t technically good, per se, but you don’t have to be to sing this one (or any Tom Petty classic, really).  There is a lot of spoken-word posing as singing, a few fun ‘Oh, hell yes’ opportunities, and the automatic visual association of a not-quite-dead-yet Kim Basinger. Did we wish he would ever mix things up a bit, try something new?  Perhaps, but then it wouldn’t have been Lebo’s.

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FFWDing to the Best Part: “Handle With Care,” Traveling Wilburys (1988)

Tuesday’s Damn Yankees post got me thinking about so-called “supergroups.”  Of course, my all-time favorite is Tinted Windows — Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick, HANSON, represent! — but the most impressive, from an A-List-possessing standpoint, is obviously the Traveling Wilburys.  These superstars (and, ahem, Jeff Lynne) got together through happenstance, good fortune, and perhaps a little boredom, and seemed to have a damn good time making music together (even beyond Roy Orbison’s untimely passing).

“Handle With Care” essentially gives you three songs in just over three minutes.  You have the perfectly pleasant, old-time-rock-and-roll verses (led by George Harrison).  Then in comes Roy Orbison, all plaintive and soaring and talking — as he does — about loneliness.  Finally, Bob Dylan/Tom Petty join forces for a semi-snarling, almost accidentally melodic bridge.

The song is catchy, folksy, and sweet, and stands the test of time.  But the …

Best part? 2:30 – 2:45. In the last regular stanza of the verse, the harmony takes greater focus, and the story comes to a conclusion with the acknowledgment of “the sweet smell of success.”  Oh, George.  You are missed.

RUNNER UP: 3:03. After a semi-hard stop, the opening musical theme returns to play us out, this time with harmonicas!

P.S. Who’s that poor bastard playing drums?