Scotty’s Jukebox: You Never Know What You’re Going to Get

Written by Music, Popular Culture

Scott Malchus begins a new series with Scotty’s Jukebox.

Campus Pollyeyes was a pizza pub restaurant that I frequented during my four years of college. Located within walking distance from the campus of Bowling Green State University (right down the train tracks that ran beside my duplex apartment the last two years of school), my friends and I made it one of our hang out’s on those weekday nights when we had a sudden urge to get some pizza, breadsticks, beer and camaraderie. When you entered Pollyeyes (as we all called it), you immediately faced the kitchen window, a clear view of the food being prepped. Turn right and you entered the dining area- tables and chairs, booths along the walls, and a very small stage for the occasional bands or singer songwriting duos that tried their luck at earning a few extra dollars performing for college students.

One of my favorite qualities of this fine place was the jukebox you passed on your way into the dining room. It was one of those old school, coin slotted jukeboxes that played one song for a quarter, five for a dollar. I don’t recall if they upgraded to a dollar bill insert mechanism; I’m sure one of my fraternity brothers could let you know. Almost immediately upon sitting down with my pals and ordering our food, I began mooching quarters off the guys to go program the jukebox. This was the beginning of my need to set the mood for the night. I felt it my duty to put on great music that would keep the night lively. You all know what it’s like when you’re having a blast with the gang and then some heartbroken kid plays Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” because it reminds him of the one who got away. Total mood killer.

The Pollyeyes jukebox was also one of those old school singles machines, meaning it had 45’s embedded inside it, your only choices an ‘A’ side and ‘B’ side from an artist. More often than not the 45’s were reissued double ‘A’ sides, meaning you’d have something like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” backed with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”  But there were oddballs in there, like Journey’s “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” paired with the band’s “City of the Angels.”  That’s what I loved about the jukebox; you never knew what you would get. Well, after some time, you did know what you would get because the records rarely changed in the machine. Still, there were enough classic rock, oldies and current day hair metal songs to fill and hour or two of music, if I was able to collect that much money (we did have to pay for the pizza and beer, after all).

After graduating in 1992, I moved back to Cleveland for a year and a half. I fell in love with Julie and we used that time planning our wedding and saving money for our move o Los Angeles. Plenty of nights were spent hanging out at the bars and pubs of Lakewood, Ohio- which has a great many of them- socializing with our friends, as we began the big figuring-it-all out of what it meant to be adults. By this time, coin-slotted jukeboxes were a thing of the past and CD jukeboxes were the way to pump music through the PA’s of those bar and pubs (our favorite was a place called the Tam- great owner).

CD jukeboxes are so vast and the choices, especially for someone who’s into “deep cuts,” can be overwhelming. It’s always about playing the room, with nothing finer than draping your arm around your best friend, singing “Sweet Caroline” or “Brown Eyed Girl” at the top of your lungs.

Thus, playing Springsteen’s “Factory” when you should be playing anything else from Darkness on the Edge of Town just because you can is a sure fire way to draw the stink eye. Likewise Dylan’s “It’s All Right Mom (I’m Only Bleeding)” I learned that one the hard way. The rolled eyes and barbed comments thrown at me by my best friend Matt (a Dylan aficionado) still sting, and it was over twenty years ago! Nevertheless there are the moments when your grand failures turn into something special.

Let’s say you just have to hear “This Wheel’s On Fire,” even though most people don’t know who The Band is, or “Hot Child in the City” because you’re feeling nostalgic. You play one of these fine songs and the room pauses. People look around. “Who is this?” “What idiot sucked the life out of the party?” Eyes bear down on you. Then, across the room, you discover a man or woman singing the song or nodding their head. The two of you lift your pints in acknowledgement. For a brief moment, three to five minutes (twenty-three if you can’t live without the live version of “Whipping Post”) another human connection is made that never would have existed without the jukebox.

I’ve owned a few iPods in my day and named each of them Scotty’s Jukebox. Scotty is a name I never liked growing up. My mother instilled in me this distaste for nicknames, and, wanting to please mom all those years I never let anyone call me Scotty. It wasn’t until college that I actually grew comfortable with the nickname; it’s a friendly name. When I began naming my work-shared iTunes and my iPod’s, I wanted anyone who listened to it to feel the friendliness of sharing music and discovering new tunes. Just like those jukeboxes from my college days and the early years of adulthood, I’ve turned my iTunes and iPod into a listening station for friends to drop a fictional quarter into the machine and spend three to five minutes listening to something new or refreshing themselves with one of their favorite tunes.

A few weeks ago, exiting the movie theater after seeing The Avengers, my son and I were stopped by a 12-year-old boy out of his gourd. He wore the dazed look similar to Jay Baruchel’s character in Almost Famous, the kid who followed Zeppelin on tour and occasionally met them. This boy spotted us in the crowd because of my son’s Avengers T-shirt. Unaware that we’d just seen the movie, he approached us to say, “You have to see that movie. It’s the greatest.” Jacob, my son, quickly responded, “ We just saw it!” “Wasn’t it AWESOME!” “Yeah!” And then the 12-year-old moved on to continue preaching the word on Marvel’s super heroes.

“Do you know him?” I asked Jake. “No,” he replied. “He was just excited about the movie.”  I chuckled, recalling that exuberant feeling turning someone on to one of your favorites, even if it’s a complete stranger.

Over the years I’ve dedicated my writing to particular songs, albums, movies or TV shows I thought everyone should check out, works that gave me the same exuberance that kid had. Hopefully you’ll stop by Scotty’s Jukebox on a regular basis and find me preaching to you about what’s inspiring me on a regular basis. I could be talking about music, movies, a TV show, maybe a concert, stand-up’s, politicians… who knows. Like those jukeboxes I love so fondly, you never know what you’re going to get with Scotty’s Jukebox, but I hope you’ll find my enthusiasm contagious.  And maybe we’ll all be able to have some human connection in this digital world.