Friday, October 06, 2006

No Regrets, Coyote

You don't need me to tell you about the Hold Steady. They seem to polarize music listeners: you love them or you hate them, which suggests that they are either brilliant innovators or overhyped and insubstantial. I tend toward the former opinion, but I must say how depressing Craig Finn's new stories are. As a parent, I find this to be an anti-parent record. ;-)

It's not just Holly and Gideon this time around (though they do make an appearance, as does Charlemagne). This time it's every nameless boy and girl in America, overindulging in substance abuse and finding themselves in the wrong crowd (or the hospital). As Craig Finn says in "Hot Soft Light", "It started recreational, it ended kinda medical."

When Finn says, "I feel Judas in the pistols and the pagers that come with all the powders," I'm struck by how remorseful the new songs feel when compared to the carefree days of "The Swish" ("Pills and powders, baby, powders and pills.") All the talk about Judas and Jesus in the song "Citrus" also makes me think of Joni Mitchell's "Coyote", where she describes how "the players lick their wounds, and take their temporary lovers, and their pills and powders to get them through this passion play".

The new Roots album is depressing too. I was prepared for a return to form, with the Roots crew welcoming Malik B. back into the fold, and making a fresh start on a new label. The cover of Game Theory told me that it wasn't going to be pretty, and the single "Don't Feel Right" only hints at the unease throughout the album. The title track and the three songs that follow it all warn against visiting downtown Philly. Here's Malik B. from "Game Theory":
It wasn't all that ill until the start of crack
Now it's a body caught every night on the almanac
Rock bottom, where them cops got a problem at
Where them outsiders getting popped for their wallet at

Black Thought, from "Don't Feel Right":
That's the reason the system making paper from the prison
And that's the reason we living where they don't visit
Where the dope slangin keep swangin like Sonny Liston

I can almost imagine Craig Finn intoning these lines from the Roots' "In the Music":
Cops and robbers, cowboys and indians
Clips and revolvers and Georges and Benjamins
A celebration of the loss of your innocence

Finn's characters and their drama seem small-time in comparison:
Meet me right in front of the Rainbow Foods
I got a brown paper bag and black, buckled shoes.
And if anything seems weird, then just cruise.

If Boys and Girls in America is about the users, then Game Theory is about the dealers, and the people who struggle to survive while living among them.


At 10/06/2006 12:22 PM , Anonymous Paula said...

Eh. Is there anything more boring than a suburban white guy writing songs about the harsh, unforgiving streets and drugs? One assumes he has the means to avoid both. Pre-ten-shus.

At 10/06/2006 1:47 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Why Paula, you heartless bastard! If you've learned nothing else from rap music, you should know this: don't hate the player, hate the game. If one has the wherewithal to avoid the mean streets, one can no longer write about them? That would make Jay-Z a far worse offender than Craig Finn.

At 10/06/2006 11:04 PM , Blogger Paula said...

If one has the wherewithal to avoid the mean streets, one can no longer write about them?

If one comes from Darien, CT, or wherver Mr Finn is from, then yeah. I'm gonna take a wild guess that Craig did not grow up in Harlem, the South Bronx, or East New York.

At 10/07/2006 12:27 AM , Blogger 2fs said...

Hi Paula. Hi Jon. Anyway: I haven't heard this Hold Steady album. I don't know where Craig Finn is from. (I do know some of his band used to be in a Milwaukee-then-Minneapolis act called Punchdrunk.) But: from Jon's description at least, Finn's narratives are less about mean streets than they are about mean choices and mean consequences. And it doesn't matter how well-heeled, how suburban, or how privileged you are: you're still capable of being fucked up, of fucking yourself up, and then of realizing that fucked-up-ness. I'd also disagree that having means means they're sufficient to allow you to avoid all troubles...such as those that might come from drugs, whether those drugs are taken to party, to escape, or just to experiment. Oh, hey Jon: you should do a Figgs retrospective, to bring us up to date on what's clearly one of your fave bands. (I selfishly ask this so I can know which records to buy first.)

At 10/07/2006 3:26 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Well said, sir. The lyrics to the Hold Steady songs are definitely about the hard consequences of hard drinking and substance abuse. We all know Paula is from the swamps of Jersey, which is essentially the sixth borough of New Yawk. Viz the Figgs: check the June archives of this here blog for a career overview, and start with their albums Low Fi at Society High (1994) and Sucking in Stereo (2000).

At 10/09/2006 12:04 PM , Anonymous Paula said...

We all know Paula is from the swamps of Jersey, which is essentially the sixth borough of New Yawk

Huh? I am not sure what that's supposed to mean. I am a middle-class suburban girl through and through, I don't try and pass myself off as anything but that.

And I stand by my original statement: writing about drugs and drinking? Boring.

At 10/09/2006 1:08 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

Paula, I was trying to tease you. But seriously, I don't think Craig Finn is trying to pass himself off as being from the hood. He writes about middle class suburban boys and girls in MPLS, Massachusetts, and anywhere. And his lyrics aren't necessarily autobiographical.

I also think that writing about drugs and drinking, like any topic, can be compelling if the writing is done well. And I think Mr. Finn has succeeded in doing that.

At 10/09/2006 2:20 PM , Blogger Ann said...

He's from Edina (or at least that's where his parents live), a cake-eater suburb of Minneapolis.

His songs remind me of this one episode of Frontline, where all these upper middle class suburban Atlanta teens were druggin' and drinkin' and debauchin'--and a bunch of them got syphilis. Even after the Health Dept called, a lot of the parents didn't believe it.

Perhaps you could speak to that, Mr. Manyjars?

At 10/09/2006 3:15 PM , Blogger jon manyjars said...

I was waiting for my MPLS reader to weigh in here. You are referring to "The Lost Children of Rockdale County", which also addressed the school shootings in that community. Another friend of mine from MPLS (who has since moved back there) was the social worker at Rockdale Hospital when that happened. People in that area (which is actually over an hour's drive from Atlanta) were very unhappy with the attention they received from that program.

At 10/10/2006 11:59 PM , Blogger Baby said...

Finn wrote a great record that deserves attention. However, I think the reason I like it so much is because it makes me feel like the Get Up Kids' 'Something to Write Home About' did all those years ago. It's still good, just not blow your mind great. It's better than just about every pop album of the year and certainly the finest bar album.

cheers, Baby

At 10/12/2006 9:26 PM , Blogger 2fs said...

Having said what I said (above), I can still see Paula's point that writing about drinking and drugs can be boring (or, more accurately, that some listeners will be bored by the subject). I dunno...I guess that so long as drinking and drugs are large parts of many people's lives, anyone writing about people's lives will, at some point, perforce write about drinking and drugs.

Unless they're too fucking drunk and high to write a damned thing.


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