Friday, May 18, 2007

The Hold Steady, Part VI

Hearkening back to that golden musical age when bands still used Roman numerals in their album titles ...

Yes, I still I love The Hold Steady, and at least at this point I'm not wavering in my fanaticism. To be sure, there's an element of calculated hyperbole in Craig Finn's songwriting that is probably intended to appeal not only to rock critics, but also to anyone who actually had a misspent youth, or would like to imagine that they did. It rings a little false and hollow. Quite simply, he plays the "I partied 'til I almost died" trump card a few too many times, and I don't believe him anyway. You did not, Craig. You were flippin' burgers at McDonald's.

But he's such an amazing songwriter, and his bandmates are such unassuming yobs (they'd be content playing for Pabst Blue Ribbon money at the local tavern) that I can't help but love the lot of them. I thought Amanda Petrusich's cover story in the latest issue of Paste really nailed the appeal of the band. Amanda posited a 33-year old with a desk job as the prototypical fan. All I know is that it works at 51 as well. This is the band -- and Boys and Girls in America is the album -- that I foist off on all my Boomer friends who stopped listening to the radio when all that weird punk shit started happening, and who despair that there hasn't been any good music since the debut Boston album. And it's interesting to me that the Boomers hear what they want to hear. Everybody hears Springsteen. And some people hear The Who, and Thin Lizzy and AC/DC. The ones who were still paying attention in the '80s hear The Replacements. And the almost universal reaction is, "I'd still be buying music if I knew there was more stuff like this."

The other factor -- and it's huge for me -- is the appeal of the gutter poet. It's a persona with Craig Finn, I have no doubt -- a role much like The Crazed Madman is for Ozzy Osbourne -- but it's such a mythic part of America and the history of rock 'n roll that I'm almost always glad when somebody dons the mask. There's a noble lineage there that stretches from Rimbaud and Baudelaire to Kerouac to Dylan to Springsteen to Cobain. It's the doomed romantic in a leather jacket, the outsider with a drink in one hand and a pen in the other, scribbling on the bar napkin.

I also think that Finn's songs capture a sense of place very well. It's all in the details, and nobody piles detail upon detail the way Craig Finn does. Sometimes the places are named -- Minneapolis, Brooklyn, Ybor City. Sometimes they're not. But Springsteen's "Backstreets" didn't name its town either, but I've been there all the same. I recognize the scenery. And I do in Craig Finn's songs as well.

Oh, and one more thing ... Craig Finn is my favorite lapsed Catholic. That's a factor that can't be emphasized enough in appreciating his songs. There's self-destruction everywhere in every Hold Steady song, but there's also an underlying sadness, an acknowledgement of the hound of heaven even as these desperate characters do whatever they can to obliterate their consciences. There's also a fair amount of hope; hints of glory shining through the wreckage. Listen to "How a Resurrection Really Feels" from Separation Sunday. It's probably my favorite song from the oughties, or whatever the proper label is for the decade in which we currently find ourselves. I don't know if Craig Finn is a Christian. I have no idea what he believes. But if I could offer a model for how Christians should write songs, that would be it.

"Damn right, I'll rise again."
-- The Hold Steady, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

4 comments:

scott said...

We managed to turn my daughter who is about to graduate from high school on to Bruce Springsteen, and she just brought home a recent Rolling Stone magazine from her work, that had a blurb about a charity concert in April at Carnegie Hall where various artists performed Springsteen songs. The photo showed Craig Finn and others during an encore singing Rosalita with Bruce. Craig looked almost giddy. If a CD of this concert ever gets put on sale, please let us know immediately!!!

scott (3) said...

They also did a version of "Atlantic City." I seriously hope a CD comes out. The setlist is available:

http://backstreets.com/setlists.html

Andy Whitman said...

Scott (#1? #2?), our parallel lives just go on and on. I have a daughter about to graduate from high school as well. Will your daughter attend O.U.? If so, she'll have to meet my daughter, who will be a Freshman Bobcat in the fall. For that matter, we really do need to meet someday as well. Let me know if any upcoming concerts look appealing to you, and I'll do the same. It would be great to grab a beer and engage in Old Fart rock 'n roll.

Scott #3, back in the day (1982, specifically) it was fashionable to write one's own marriage ceremony. So that's what I did. I wrote the music, too, which my friend Mark performed. The lyrics were all mine, but the tune was very definitely based on Springsteen's "Atlantic City." I would love to hear The Hold Steady's take on that song. It remains one of my favorites.

scott said...

Andy:
My oldest daughter is a junior at OU now. Her brother is a sophomore at Toledo, and my youngest, about to graduate from HS will join him next year up there. Since my son is working up north this summer, I don't have any sense of what bands he likes are coming to Columbus this summer. The only band that I know is coming is Flogging Molly, who returns to the Dublin Irish Festival. I'll defeinitely go see them!
But we haven't even discussed yet the latest parellel in our lives - Cleveland sports. Spent most of my "Wonder Bread years - ages two through twelve" in Cleveland (before moving back to the family hometown, Athens), and am still one of the Indians biggest fans. Loved your recent note about Cleveland sports.
And I've got to get around to adding an initial to my first name. You know an awfuol lot of Scotts.