new life into rock and roll clichés
Wednesday, May 18 2005
A few weeks ago on WOXY (which I stream across the internet) I heard a song from a band that sounded an awful lot like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, though it was somehow more modern (vaguely post punk) and lacked influences from Bruce's 80s phase. It was as if Bruce and his band had been cryogenically frozen right after Born to Run in 1975 and then been thawed out again in 1999 and given a few years of exposure to all the Scandinavian bands who have proven such masters at breathing new life into rock and roll clichés. The band is called the Hold Steady and the song I heard is called "Stevie Nix," though there's nothing specifically about Fleetwood Mac's witchiest singer in the song.
The singer (Craig Finn) often isn't really singing so much as speaking, much as Bruce used to do in some of his early Bob Dylan-influenced songs. The lyrics generally take the form of a coherent paragraph (usually without either chorus or bridge) about some sort of beat-down underbelly-of-society situation. Parties, drugs, sex, violence, and (most especially) mud-spattered Christianity figure prominently. The only indication in the music that the singer doesn't know what he's going on about is his frequent use of the word "druggy," which (as far as I know) is only used by people who don't know anything about drugs and don't even know anyone who has ever taken them.
One of several mysteriously engaging things about the lyrics is how rich they are in the names of name-dropped celebrities. Nina Simone, Rod Stewart, Mary Tyler Moore - nobody who's anybody is safe. The frantic way Finn name checks people with that loose-cannon voice of his sort of reminds me of the songs sung by Sean Costello, a celebrity-obsessed retarded reporter with an outfit called How's Your News?.
The wacky lyrics and their unusual deliver are a good fraction of the Hold Steady's wallop, but just as important is the hard-rocking instrumental arrangement. The backing musicians sample all of classic rock history, from the cheesiest organs to the goofiest guitar solo. But if you listen to enough of this stuff you'll hear the musicians deliberately fucking with some rock and roll cliché, like how the pianos veer incompetently out of tune a minute from the end of "Stevie Nix."
This evening I got around to organizing a tiny fraction of the chaos in my laboratory. At one point I gouged the drywall with a plank I was using for shelving. So immediately out came the spackle. But I wasn't content to just spackle the wall's injury. No, I had to go nuts and make some "art" too. I covered several square yards of drywall with textures of rough spackle, eventually uniting it with subtler textures made above my computer a year ago using layers of paint. I like restrained chaos in the form of white on white in low relief. The appearance of the surface changes dramatically depending on the lighting, and there's nothing the slightest bit reproducible about it.
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