You're in the car, or cleaning your house, or in the shower and you're listening to that song. It's that song that makes you think "Holy shit. I wish I was in this band". All this week we will be sharing the songs that make us think the same thing.
Before iTunes there was Napster. But if you were too afraid to download Napster you'd download Bearshare, and if Bearshare didn't have the song you wanted you'd download Limewire. You'd log on (legit, log on) to the internet and spend HOURS downloading one song, praying to God that your Mom didn't pick up the phone and fuck up the whole thing. Back 1,000 years ago that was how we downloaded music, kids. It took effort! That's how I 'owned' my first ever Phantom Planet song. It took maybe 9 hours to download "California" and for all the headache it took to get it, it became my favorite song.
After their hit with that song Phantom Planet did something most bands wouldn't do: they completely changed the sound that made them radio famous. They got dirtier, and the result was their self-titled album which is full of frenetic energy and distorted bass. It's a real shame that they called it quits after their best album. Who knows though, maybe this tiny post on this tiny blog will get them back together and maybe they'll let me play that distorted bass. Then some chubby kid can spend 7 seconds downloading our song off of whatever replaces iTunes next year.
As an artist I am somewhat limited by my physicality. Writing requires none at all, and considering that it is my preferred mode of self-expression that works out pretty well. However, I urge to express myself in other ways as well. I accomplish this partially through the medium of film, which I am very much attached to. However, I’ve always wanted very much to be a singer/songwriter, despite the fact that I cannot play any instruments, cannot sing and, in fact, have basically no sense of rhythm at all. I love music deeply, and have a great attachment to a number of songwriters, but I have always been unable to engage in their mode of expression, much to my great disappointment. Of course, I probably could if I put in the time, if I were willing to devote a few years to the pursuit of some degree of musical dexterity, but I posses little drive to actually learn, leading me to the somewhat disconcerting conclusion that I like the idea of being a songwriter but not the idea of becoming one. However, Craig Finn allows me to continue to fantasize. The first time I heard Stuck Between Stations, the first Hold Steady track I ever came across, it was a revelation to me. Here was a guy essentially speaking these wonderful lyrics, not attempting to conceal the fact that he couldn’t really sing in a conventional sense but instead using his lack of a typically pleasant voice as a weapon. Finn wasn’t hiding behind anything. He could do what he could do, and he put it front and center without fear and without reservation. Finn is a remarkable writer first and foremost, and he writes songs that serve his limited vocal range well. For one shining, radiant moment I thought “I could do that too.”
Of course, I really can’t. Considering my lack of musical experience and my inability to do anything at all related to music with any kind of competence it’s hard to find people who are willing to indulge me in some experimentation, let me try to speak some poetry over some guitar and drums and see what happens. “Let’s see if I can eventually write and perform something that will perhaps slightly resemble a song” isn’t exactly a great sales pitch to make to potential bandmates, and even if they did accept I would be terrified of wasting their time. Still, listening to tracks like Stuck Between Stations, Positive Jam, Banging Camp and Stay Positive allows me to hang on to the thought that, if given a chance, I could maybe someday write something which in some way resembles a song slightly, and that fantasy is enough to keep my absurd singer/songwriter dream alive while allowing me the freedom to continue to apply no effort at all. I’m not proud of myself, I’m just being honest. Of course, after Stay Positive Finn began to take voice lessons, and his vocals on tracks like Oaks, A Slight Discomfort and Balcony (the latter from his excellent solo album) raise him to the unattainable elevation of every other songwriter I love. I’ll never be able to do what he does now, but maybe, somehow, someday, I might be able to do something close to what he did back then. It’s a fairly maddening thought, as it’s one I know I’ll probably never be able to test, but it allows me the ability, occasionally, to put on a Hold Steady record, close my eyes and imagine I’m there.
In 1980/1, Talking Heads were the best live band in the world. They had recently expanded their live lineup to a staggering 9 pieces, adding, essentially, a second everything: guitar, bass, percussion, keyboards, and vocals. Well, I would be #10, and I'd do a little bit of everything. No one in that band is dispensable, so I would just add my own little touches. Extra percussion? Sure! Melodica? Why not! Another weird guitar tone? Absolutely!
Being the utility man in that era of Talking Heads is akin to being on the bench for the '86 Mets - I don't need to be a star, just a contributing member to the winning team.