Dear Craig Finn;
This isn’t my traditional method of communication; writing letters or blogging them. However, last night I was inspired, and felt the need to share with you (should you ever come across this on the vast expanse of the internet) and my readers the joy that your music brings to me.
I’m a recent convert to your band, The Hold Steady, and like many of my musical journeys this one started with a guy. When my boyfriend Jeff and I started dating seven months ago, he made me a playlist on Rhapsody to keep me upbeat during finals week at College. Among the songs he chose was one off of Boys and Girls in America, Massive Nights:
From this point he let me borrow the rest of Boys and Girls in America, which I copied into my music library and devoured like a greedy child, instantly falling head over heels in love with basically every single song. I listened to them on the long walk to my apartment before I got a car, I listened to them in my car when I finally needed a car, and they kept me entertained on my long drives up to Omaha to visit Jeff when he still lived there.
We’re both relatively in tune with the local music scenes (i.e. we’re Hipsters, which we hate to admit, but admitting oneself a Hipster means that you have lost the true sense of being a Hipster in a way), so when we found out you guys were coming to play at the Slowdown in July, we bought tickets and I drove up to Omaha to enjoy what I hoped would be an evening of amazing live music.
And it was.
But, and I still think this to this day, the crowd sucked.
Seriously, you guys make amazing music, anthems for our generation, your performance was upbeat, so full of energy… and the crowd just stood there. People gave us dirty looks when we yelled and jumped up and down. I was disappointed in them. I didn’t expect much from the Omaha music scene I admit, but I felt bad. You guys deserved a better crowd. I’m sorry.
I loved the show personally. I was still pretty new to your music so I didn’t recognize half the songs, but I loved them and I danced to them, and sang along to the ones I knew.
And then you played my favourite song, the one I didn’t expect you to play as it’s a slower tempo and I wasn’t sure anyone else actually liked it, that maybe it was just me.
But you played it. You played First Night.
I admit it; I cried. I bawled like a small child in my boyfriend’s arms while you guys played the one song I hadn’t expected. It was a glorious night; we were drunk on screwdrivers and danced until our feet hurt. Had the crowd been less ridiculously lame, I would call it one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Sadly I didn’t get any pictures because my camera was dead and buried in my backpack somewhere back in Lincoln. But it was wonderful.
A couple months passed. Jeff moved down to Lincoln, school started up again, I still listened to your music between classes and during my long night shifts at the library where I work.
I’m an aspiring novelist, and I started working on a new story idea over the last couple of months. As I was designing and creating character concepts one night (I couldn’t tell you which), I was sitting at work listening to Boys and Girls in America for what had to be the thousandth time, and something clicked. Two characters, now older and more grown up, remembering their younger, college days, dancing at parties and going to concerts. The songs spoke to them, made them come to life when before they were just names. Leo and Holly. (A pure coincidence, her name being Holly, but one that I embraced).
From then on the words started to flow. I listened to more of your albums on Grooveshark, playing them over and over as my characters interacted and the story progressed. The music became their anthems, and my inspiration.
Jump forward to last night. I hit a roadblock in my writing process and sat in my favourite coffee shop for hours, miserable and surly and worried about finding a new job, graduating university, following my dreams, trying to figure out if I was good enough, if I was competent in any way.
After a while I figured I should get something to eat, so I shuffled despondently across the street to Noodles & Co, knowing that if nothing else mac and cheese would cheer me up. I settled in to a table in the corner with my laptop and sketchpad, doodling and daydreaming and waiting for Jeff to get off work and go to the Bourbon Theatre. We’d both had a rough couple of weeks and needed a break, so last week I picked up tickets to your show.
Then I glanced up and saw a guy sitting at a table across the restaurant. He looked rather familiar. After a couple quick google searches and picture stalkings I confirmed my suspicions and found myself overwhelmed with nervous childlike fear and excitement.
Because I had just recognized Craig Finn sitting in Noodles, reading a book and eating some dinner before his show.
So, fangirlish little nerd that I am, I took a few deep breaths and dug frantically in my bag for a sharpie. Approaching, hands shaking, I warbled embarrassedly to you, saying you looked familiar and asking if you were Craig.
You were friendly, gracious, calm. Signed my sketchbook without a second thought, even asked me my name and signed it with the date on the top. I babbled a bit about how I’d seen you in Omaha last July, how I was a huge fan, how I was excited to see you perform tonight. Then I left you to your dinner and went back to my chair to hyperventilate a little.
I didn’t get to say all the other things I wanted to say. That your music inspires me, inspired two characters in my novel who are very dear to my heart. That your music sang to me as a girl in America who does a lot of wild things and has a lot of wild nights. That I hope someday to be as passionate about making art as you obviously are in your performance.
But all I could do was shake and babble, and that’s okay. Any more conversation and I think I would have been creepy or obnoxious.
I’m not sure I believe in signs, but if they exist, I think this is one of them:
The name of one of your better albums of course, but I took it to be something of a sign.
The show at the Bourbon was wonderful. Both supporting bands set the mood (seriously, first show I’ve been to in years where the openers didn’t suck), and Jeff and I went through the same routine we did last time we went to see you guys: screwdrivers and dancing.
I admit, I’m poor as dirt, and never found the time to track down and really give Heaven is Whenever a good listen. But I recognized and sang along to more songs last night than I did the time before.
The crowd was better. The crowd was so much better. We all danced and yelled and sang along. A guy in front of me kept on saying ‘Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” Clearly a first time attendee of your concerts, and definitely a huge fan. We were among good company.
I even remembered my camera.
You played songs I loved as well as ones I wasn’t familiar with. I danced until my feet ached and I reeked of sweat. Everyone around me got sweaty too and we all stank of beer and didn’t care.
You didn’t play First Night. Or Massive Nights, which is Jeff’s favourite of your songs. But we didn’t care, because you played Stuck Between Stations. You played Chips Ahoy, and You Can Make Him Like You, and We Can Get Together, and so many other songs that made us laugh and smile and scream and punch the air. And so did the rest of the crowd.
I thought it was better than the night at the Slowdown. I hope you did too. You guys deserved a crowd that wild and joyous.
We stumbled home and called that night a victory, a triumph in escapist tactics and recreation. An example of why live music is glorious and beautiful and should be experienced loudly and often.
I couldn’t have asked for a better night.
So thank you Craig Finn, you and all your awesome companions in The Hold Steady. Thank you for inspiring me, for putting on such an amazing show last night, and for reminding me that above all, it’s important to stay positive.
You are one of my heroes. I hope you stay positive too.
With sincere appreciation and rock love,
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