The Hold Steady (Almost) Saved Me

Life can kind of be bitch sometimes. And, other times, it’s a big party. There always seems to be a new song that can get us through either situation. For those of us lucky enough to live in the Midwest, there’s another “state of being” that maybe is more consistently present than the previous two – the state of being bored.

Truly clever is the rock band who can sing about that. And still do the other two.

There is not a gluttony of great Midwestern rock bands. Sure, there are some. Chicago bands do not count, though, because Chi-town is far too cosmopolitan and big a city to be/feel truly Midwest.

A lot of the Midwest’s other bands don’t quite rock. John Mellencamp is great, but not reckless. Over The Rhine? Amazing songwriters, amazing music, but not quite rock. Not quite rock at all.

I’m looking California… but feeling Minnesota. Specifically, Minneapolis.

(Yes, Dayton has Guided By Voices, Kentucky has My Morning Jacket, Indianapolis has Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s, Belleville, Illinois has Uncle Tupelo. There are several examples. Just humor me, damnit)

Here there be Midwestern rock heroes and gods. Husker Du, Sugar, Bob Mould. The Replacements. Soul Asylum, maybe? But, for my purposes here… The Hold Steady.

Has there been a better Midwestern rock and roll band than The Hold Steady? (And piss on you if you think they are disqualified because they moved to Brooklyn. Their music is FIRMLY ROOTED in the Midwest.) Maybe it’s Craig Finn’s spoken vocal delivery, or the low register of his voice. Maybe it’s the energy in the band – one that suggests there’s nothing better to do than just rock the fuck out.

When I listen to The Hold Steady, one of two things happen: I want to be a character in their songs, or I have been a character in one of their songs. And while my official youth/young adulthood/party years lasted roughly from April 2003 until Summer of 2005 (not a good run, by any stretch – 22 and a half to 24 and a half? Really?), I still kind of crave, feel, and relate to the stories in The Hold Steady’s songs.

Their songs are sing-along psalms, and they mean that.

In a way, The Hold Steady remind me of my own wasted youth, and more so, my continued occasional affairs with that youth.

You see, I have spent from age 19 on thinking I would be married by 21, making babies by 25 or so, doing the whole house-wife-kids-white picket fence thing. Um, yeah. Update: I missed that boat, some 10-8-5 years ago. Despite my utter failure to secure my Midwestern dreams, though, I still kind of live and function like that. Not sure why. My friends seem driven more to discuss music, movies, and art. We drink and carry on, but more with ourselves than with others.

Meeting women is a strange concept to me; I suck at it. Dating? I suck at that too. I would probably suck at sex – and probably do – if it weren’t for dating a bat-shit crazy girl who spelled her name with Y’s and K’s. Lord knows I am out of practice.

So maybe I live vicariously through the characters in The Hold Steady’s songs, in the universe so created by their incredible, intelligent music. “Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together…” Finn sings in “Stuck Between Stations.” “Crushing one another with colossal expectations.” If that’s not my life, or at least the most accurate take on my relationships with the opposite sex, I don’t know what is.

I feel some kind of kinship with this band; it’s like we were meant for each other. One thing is for damn sure: they make me want to put down my acoustic guitar and pick up the electric, and stop writing songs about heartbreak and start writing songs about not caring/causing heartbreak/drinking beer/wasting a Saturday night with people drinking beer-causing heartbreak-not caring.

I’ve got to stay positive, they remind me. And I try. Maybe… maybe The Hold Steady almost saved me. Maybe it’s not too late – is 28 too late to be a delinquent? To be young? To get drunk, high, wasted, lazy, irresponsible?

“Most people in the world don’t believe that rock and roll can save your soul,” says a random fan smoking a cigarette in the new Hold Steady DVD, A Positive Rage. “I don’t think any one of those people have seen The Hold Steady.”

Fuck yeah.

So, as I count down the days until I see them in Bloomington, after missing the last opportunities, I will be ready for a few positive jams. I’m ready for a unified scene.

Mostly I am ready to grow up already, and act like the adolescent idiot my hormones and Midwest boredom tell me to be.

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