I Played “The Boys Are Back in Town” on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out
The boys were back in town, but I was out of the bar, because they asked me to leave.
Illustration by the author
"Nothing is forbidden anymore." —Enrique Iglesias, "Bailamos"
Whenever this winter's bitter breath whips by me and I grow cold and lonely in the nighttime, I scrounge a few dollars out of my jacket pockets and tromp up to the bar I don't like. The bar is about three-quarters of a mile from my apartment and wholly forgettable—ostensibly a metal bar, but the kind of numb-groin Diet Coke metal bar decorated for the comfort and proclivities of handsome people who have never had to take a shit in a parking lot.
The first time I visited, I did what I do whenever I find myself in a new bar: Go to the jukebox and see what record is number 69. Here, it was Thin Lizzy's thoroughly nonseminal Jailbreak. I've never listened to that album the whole way through, and by the grace of God I know I'll never need to, for I know that Jailbreak features at least two songs: "The Boys Are Back in Town," and whatever song comes after "The Boys Are Back in Town," which reminds you that you need to hit rewind.
Let me make one thing excruciatingly clear: "The Boys Are Back in Town" is an incredible song and I love it. I love it so much. My heart beats bwaa-da, bwaa-dadada DAAH dah to match Scott Gorham's guitar riff, and this leaves my physician furious and unable to speak. When my roommate leaves for work in the morning, I genuflect toward his wonderful dog, who respects me. I press my forehead to his flank and I whisper "the boys are back" over and over again. The dog turns his furry brow to look into me and I know he respects me even more, for I have done as Messrs. Lizzy commanded. I have spread the word around.
I am pulled back again and again into this bar I do not like by an uncontrollable and carnal drive: a loyalty to The Boys and a congenital love of hollering. I am usually content to summon this song just once from the jukebox of the bar I do not particularly like, as even one play is a parade for the spirit. That's the life I lived for several months. I would enter the bar, queue up "The Boys Are Back in Town," slam beers until the jukebox arrived at my selection, then clap my hands, clutch them to my chest, and maybe recite a psalm from the mother tongue of my proud rural people (perhaps "oh, HELL yeah!!! HELL YEAH!!!," or "now THAT'S what I'm talking about!!!!") to the silence around me. Then I would leave.
Over the course of these past few months, I have come upon two bits of forbidden knowledge: One, this bar does not have a working "kill switch" (which allows the bartender to change a song in case someone plays, I dunno, the entire A-side of 2112). Two, this jukebox permits the same song to be played back-to-back if each instance was paid for with a separate bill.
It was 3 AM on a recent Tuesday when, standing in the dark outside my train station, these truths reconciled themselves within me. My compulsion became explicit and inescapable: I needed to stay up and play "The Boys Are Back in Town" as many times as I could. The thorns from the road ahead cleared themselves, and I walked toward the future amid roses to share the gospel with the other patrons of this unlikeable bar. The boys were back.
This is a familiar and lonely road. I play the same song over and over again in my apartment, and I've done it in bars, and I'll do again. One foggy summer evening amid the delightful garbage bars of San Francisco's Outer Richmond district, I watched a shot glass sail past my head when Annie Lennox's (rapturous! transcendent! holy, holy!) "Walking on Broken Glass" surfaced for the fourth near-consecutive time. I've been cut off by America's greatest bartender (the sunbeam who illuminates Wally's in Orlando) when she realized my plan to continually play different recordings of "The Monster Mash." I have compelled friends and strangers in a doomed bar of downtown Houston to listen to Soft Cell's "Sex Dwarf" on loop with me until I was certain that everyone's evening had been thoroughly ruined.
This is the era of late capitalism, where bigger is always necessarily better, without exception. To the true doom disciple, to listen to a song more times is to enjoy the song more deeply. General funnyman John Mulaney wrote a bit about looping Tom Jones's " What's New, Pussycat," which has been sent to me in a dozen gchats, but there are thousands more like me; maybe you've even slept with one, and we're all very sorry. We are terrible, ecstatic, self-ruinous creatures greedy for and undeserving of love. The soul of our sweet delight can be purchased for three songs a dollar. We grab our little joys and squeeze until we've throttled them between white-knuckled fingers.
That night at the bar I do not respect I played Ronnie James Dio's "Holy Diver" between the second and third repetitions of "The Boys Are Back in Town," because that song is excellent.
When Thin Lizzy reappeared, four minutes and 15 seconds or so later, the people of the bar united in groansong. Cocktail napkins flew like weekend litter in a gust of two dozen exasperated sighs. I betrayed myself with a giggle, and the table sitting nearest to me caught on. Some dude asked me why I'd done this. "The boys are back in town," I stammered. "The boys are back!"
The opening notes to the fourth occurrence of "The Boys Are Back in Town" was met with an immediate shattering of glass, a roar of fuck-words, and the small but rapid egress of people whose ears were closed to the good news (the good news about the town, and the boys who were back in it). Two wild-eyed men, drunken and furious, descended upon the jukebox and lifted it away from the wall to get at the plug. When things had resettled, there was a line to queue up songs at the jukebox, which I joined.
"Are you fucking going to play 'The Boys Are Back in Town' again?" asked a voice when I reached the jukebox.
"I absolutely, 100 percent, am not going to play 'The Boys Are Back In Town' again," I promised, punching the buttons to select "The Boys Are Back in Town," which I had memorized.
The voice requested that I refrain from ever playing any songs on that jukebox ever again for the rest of my life.
The next time "The Boys Are Back in Town" emerged, nothing happened and I was finally— finally!—able to celebrate in peace. A few minutes later, when Gorham's guitar kicked in again, this bar I will never celebrate transformed into the island from Lord of the Flies. Two men began pushing each other while the man nearest me grew new throat muscles specifically to scream "I HATE THIS SONG!" at his own lap.
Someone else's music selection granted us a brief intermission, which the bartender—to whom I am sorry—used to issue a funereal notice of last call. As she finished speaking, Thin Lizzy started again. My credit card appeared in front of me, with a request that I leave immediately. I left with a full heart, flush with new knowledge about the town, and the boys within it, who now would never leave, and word of whom I had spread around. I would also be severely late to work the next morning.
The "jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song," as described in "The Boys Are Back in Town"?
It's also playing "The Boys Are Back in Town."
Recently incinerated, and with the ashen pallor and anxious charisma of a new and fresh heartbreak, I returned a few evenings ago to my familiar perch at the bar I do not like. This time I bore a new existential befuddlement—I had just seen Chappie, and its simultaneous and incomprehensible awfulness and obvious aspirationalism had both ruined me and made me more beautiful. My motions were poised, automatic—insert dollar, punch the magic numbers 6-9-0-6, gaze thoughtfully into the abyss of the record collection. In that moment I was my best self. I found a seat and waited.
But I never heard that familiar riff I love most. Some nondescript hair metal wafted out the stereo and the evening collapsed upon me with the furious weight of realization. I buckled within myself; I melted into my chair.
This bar I will never enter again had removed Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak from its jukebox.
Where are the boys? I am in the town, looking outward. Time is space; the distance between me and the boys unravels the years before me. I am becoming my own universe. The multitudes within me are expanding and I am breaking at my seams. Come back to us, boys; come back to me. I cannot face death until I have been flung toward the moon.
Thirst will never leave you completely. The body demands water until it drowns. I had spread the word around until there was no word left to spread. Gorged on the beauty of exuberance, I dove, and I pressed myself against the floor of the sea. Today were lost the boys from town, and my whole life has been taken.
Timothy Faust lives in Brooklyn and runs a backyard wrestling league in Austin, Texas. Follow Timothy on Twitter.