For a gunslinger

Updated: April 13, 2009 - 9:22 am

“Bleeping A, Slim!,” shouted the man at Palmer’s Bar a recent Thursday night around midnight, and then he shouted it again.

“Bleeping A, Slim!”

Never mind the light of day, the man’s coarse bravo was the perfect exclamation point to the song that Bob “Slim” Dunlap had just played at Palmer’s, that decades-old West Bank survivor whose charms are nicely summed up by “Mary” in an online bar review: “This is the only bar in Minnesota where immigrants, punks, college kids, old hippies, homeless people, crack heads and gangstas share the same space without it being a presidential ad campaign.”

That much was true this night, as Slim’s son and Palmer’s employee Louie Dunlap manned the door and premises, and the sons and daughters of the hippie-punks gathered around the open fire in the outdoor back patio to warm themselves with smokes and spirits on a chilly spring night. Inside the bar, there were shots of hard liquor and soft sweater girls, tipsy bikers and bombed bombshells, three-dollar cover, a guitar case festooned with a Dylan sticker that read “It’s Not Dark Yet… But It’s Getting There,” and local music photographer Jenn Barnett, crawling around the front of the stage to capture the moment that Slim captured with his classic tune “Times Like This.”

Alas, the times, they don’t require a-much more reiteration, but let it be said that many members of the rowdy bar audience wore scarlet letters of the recently and longtime unemployed; the down-and-out part- and no-timers; the nicked-up-but-getting-along family men and women in need of a respite from the Great Worry. On instinct, they crawled out of their own various great depressions to gather at the pub and find calm in the center of the storm that is “Times Like This,” the title track to Slim’s 1995 CD which, as so much music does these days, sounds prescient, wise, warm, important.

To be sure, while much American culture is about escape, “Times Like This” is about the now, as in times like this. It’s an us-against-the-world love song, sung to a sweetheart in the midst of a hard stretch, and 15 years after he recorded it, Slim inspired bowed heads and counted blessings and a couple of “bleeping a’s” when he sang, “It’s times like this that we learn what we’ve really lost.”

“Creativity is about constraint,” said Twitter founder Biz Stone in a recent interview, and the kid is dead on. Slim Dunlap is the epitome of constraint. He plays what he wants when he wants, and because of that and so many other reasons, he is nothing short of a gunslinger — showing up at bars only occasionally, and when he does, shooting out the lights with a bluesman’s salt-of-the-earth style. As the entry on him in the Trouser Press Record Guide concludes:

“More, please.”