The Hold Steady: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. First up: the Hold Steady.
Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn writes a lot about adolescence, and to him, that means two things: drugs and music. Growing up in Minneapolis, Finn fell hard for hardcore punk, and on ‘Massive Nights,’ one of the band’s more wistful, less pill-and-powder-damaged ruminations on youth, he sings, “We had some massive highs/ We had some crushing lows / We had some lusty little crushes / We had those all-ages hardcore matinee shows.” On ‘Stay Positive,’ he gets specific, thanking seminal Reno band 7 Seconds for teaching him "some of life’s most valuable lessons.” As much as Finn loves hardcore, he's realistic about its drawbacks. It's blunt music that attracts its share of boneheads, and on ‘Hostile, Mass.,’ he uses one of his hapless teen characters to illustrate the stigma attached to the genre: “Hey my name is Corey, and I’m really into hardcore/ People call me Hard Corey / Don't you hate these clever people and all these clever-people parties?”
Finn was raised Catholic -- an experience that figures heavily in his writing -- and with 2005's ‘Cattle and the Creeping Things,’ he offers a three-minute synopsis of the Bible, touching on Genesis and Exodus and setting up an album, ‘Separation Sunday,’ that centers on the concept of salvation as promised by Jesus in the New Testament and later hijacked by evangelical zealots in scary camps along the Mississippi River. ‘Sunday’ comes loaded with biblical allusions, and to truly understand ‘Crucifixion Cruise’ and ‘How a Resurrection Really Feels,’ fans would do well to pick up the good book.
By now, the Hold Steady are probably sick of talking about Bruce Springsteen, but alongside the National and the Killers, they helped spearhead the late-'00s indie rock revaluation of the Boss' music. Prior to leaving the Hold Steady, marvelously mustacheod pianist Franz Nicolay brought unmistakable E Street flavor, evoking ‘70s-era Springsteen with both his playing and dandy-gangster fashion sense. Years earlier, in their pre-Hold Steady group Lifter Puller, Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler had a tune called ‘Candy’s Room' -- a kind of sexed-up, drugged-out, alternate-universe version of the Springsteen song of the same name -- and on the 'Separation Sunday' cut ‘Charlemagne in Sweatpants,’ Finn reworks a famous Boss lyric to arrive at perhaps his best one-liner: “Tramps like us and we like tramps.”