Monday, May 21, 2007

The Wild, The Innocent, and the Craig Finn Shuffle

May 16, 2007

by Bob Hill

Craig Finn is not the new Springsteen. He’s not the new Springsteen anymore than Springsteen was the new Dylan or Dylan was the new Guthrie, for that matter.
Call Finn a direct descendant of E Street. Call him a pop poet, a rock revivalist with three albums worth of street cred. Call the Hold Steady rock 'n' roll's great white hope. But for the love of Pete, do not call Finn the new Springsteen.

Talk about how Springsteen’s broken-dream beaches gave rise to Finn’s Penetration Park; how Finn is Holly the Hoodrat to Springsteen’s Puerto Rican Jane; Charlemagne to his Spanish Johnny.

Discuss how Finn’s characters seek freedom through excess and salvation through religion, while Springsteen’s heroes exist along the dark and desperate highways of our conscience -- faint and forgotten, but somehow still bound for hope and glory.

Point out how Springsteen’s protagonists matured in time with their biographer, spiraling out of a decrepit seashore town, settling in the hearts and minds of blue-collar America, while the Hold Steady’s music remains steeped in nostalgia – nostalgia for the drugged-out, beer-addled parties of our youth; nostalgia for the rock stars who documented our passage from adolescence to adulthood, nostalgia for the fleeting dream of being 17 (or even 33) forever.

Reference the large role sense of place plays in both artists’ music, how mundane places like Asbury Park and Minneapolis are transformed into romantic inlets of love, betrayal, escapism and fear.

Write about the fact that the Steady’s songs (as well as their live sets) are quick bursts of sonic energy, punctuated by Finn’s flamboyant onstage presence, that while “How a Resurrection Really Feels”is a brilliant climax to an equally brilliant album (Separation Sunday), it does not exist on the grand scale of early E Street epics like “Jungleland”and “New York City Serenade.”
Make the point that Springsteen was seven albums deep by the time he reached the age Craig Finn is right now; that the record industry in 2007 is worlds removed from what it was when Bruce first auditioned for John Hammond way back in 1972.

But please don’t compromise anything the Hold Steady has accomplished by calling Craig Finn the new Springsteen. It’s the classic shortcut of music critics who aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. It’s also a large part of the reason great rock ‘n’ roll bands go largely unheralded these days in much the same way (and for much the same reason) that the rock journalists who write about them do.

There is no Lester Bangs to saddle-up alongside Lou Reed, no Landau to proclaim the future of rock ‘n’ roll, no William Miller to tell you Russell Hammond isn’t really the golden god he claims to be. There is only a watered-down wasteland of Web logs, anointing bands like the Cold War Kids and the Arcade Fire as the second coming. That type of atmosphere is the bane of great retro acts like the Hold Steady, Marah, and Jesse Malin.

In a 2003 interview, Bruce Springsteen is quoted as saying, “For me the greatest pop music was music of liberation: Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Public Enemy, the Clash, the Sex Pistols. Those were pop groups that liberated an enormous amount of people to be who they are. That connection, I always thought, was the essence of the great bands that I loved – that they did that for people. It was the spirit of popular music that courses through everybody from Woody Guthrie to Hank Williams, the great Robert Johnson, all the way on, you know. I wanted to be a link in that chain. I wanted to just come and do my part as best I could.”

It’s that exact sentiment that brought Bob Dylan to Brooklyn State Hospital in 1961, the same sentiment that prompted Springsteen to hop the gate at Graceland in April of 1976. It’s the spirit of immense possibility that allows one artist to inspire greatness in another; to accept and then pass the torch to the next person in line.

And along with that power comes a knowledge that you can inspire that same type of magic in your audience; that for a couple of hours on a Friday night they can forget about their jobs, or their mortgage, or the broken marriage that threatens to capsize both of those things.

Personally, I’ve only seen a handful of performers who have that type of onstage presence. Springsteen comes to mind, as does Joey Ramone, Dave Bielanko, Eddie Vedder, and of course, Bob Dylan. But a few months back, I stepped out into the cold Asbury night after a blazing 90-minute set by the Hold Steady and remembered what that feeling was like again.

Rock ‘n’ roll has a king, and a prince. It even has a boss. It’s got a godfather, a killer. It even has a walrus. Perhaps Craig Finn can be the dean.

Yeah, that’ll work. Call Craig Finn the Dean of Rock ‘n’ Roll, if you like.

But please, whatever you do, don’t call him the new Springsteen.

Listen: The Hold Steady “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” [at]
Watch: Bruce Springsteen “
Jungleland” [at]

No comments: