Like a McDonalds or a Walgreens, cafés are ubiquitous in basically every concrete jungle. Aside from serving up that needed jolt of java, cafés also serve as social settings for bohemian youth looking for a momentary escape from the bustle of the city. It often catered to creative types and musicians, just looking for inspiration.
For Night Shop’s Justin Sullivan, the coffee shop at the center of his new song “The Café of Eternal Youth” is a place of reflection to muse about his dead end job as a barista while imagining himself “half dead on a mountaintop and all I saw were stars.”
“This is a song about youth and growing up in a music scene that was really exciting, but realizing that it was never about the bands or even the sound,” he says. “It was about ideas and creating and connecting with other people and how that feeling still fuels me.” This idea of a café as a centerpoint or a “spiritual way station” in between destinations is something he contemplates.
Hoping to be a storyteller like Jonathan Richman or a less cynical Tom Waits, Sullivan planned for this song to thematically connect this song to his earlier material… or at least, that was his original intention. “To be honest, it was borne out of something I loved about the early Ramones records, where each successive record feels like part of an overall unit with only slight changes in the songwriting,” he explains. “I always liked that idea, and so when this song felt really similar to a particular song on my first record, I thought, ‘Alright, it’s like I’ve begun writing my ‘Leave Home’.”
While it seemed like a really awesome concept to piece together, building that framework didn’t quite pan out the way he had hoped. “Of course, as with many grand concepts for records, this perspective was quickly abandoned in subsequent songs as I decided to just let the natural flow of writing have its way,” he laughs. “Still this one remained as a bridge from the last record to what came next.”
Abandoning that plan to construct that overarching storyline, he opted to create a much smaller microcosm… a two-song yarn with the recently released “Hello Take Me Anywhere” being Part 1 to his Part 2 of “The Cafe of Eternal Youth.”
“I wanted to pair these two songs as part of a single because I think they both work upon a similar theme of being in love with movement and traversing the landscape,” he replies, revealing the silver thread that connects the two. “And, of course, they both reference cafes as a sort of spiritual way station that I look for in every new city. They are both very much about the romance I have with finding the places in cities that serve as a hub of new ideas and where you can feel the bubbling possibility of what might come next. And, of course, these songs are also infused with romantic feelings for the same person, so it felt only natural to put these two paeans of longing and possibility together.”
Like the metaphorical café as spiritual hub, “The Café of Eternal Youth” also served as a collaborative intersection that connected his musician friends. “My favorite thing about this song is the contributions that my friends made to it,” he confesses. “Meg Duffy of Hand Habits is one of the great guitar players of our time, but as I learned serving as a rhythm section with them during some early Kevin Morby tours, they are also one of my favorite bass players in the world. Similarly, Will Ivy (my bandmate in Flat Worms) offers his signature, melodic guitar leads which really make the song come alive and of course, the great Anna St. Louis’ vocals at the end bring the song home better than I ever could have.”
Returning to the image of the café as an escape from city congestion, he weighs it against the great outdoors. “Being among people is where I find the same peace that I’ve heard people talk about being alone in nature,” he answers, ultimately choosing a café over a campground. “Give me the boulevard any day.”