After seeing the Boss for the first time in 1974, music critic and future Springsteen manager Jon Landau wrote: "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
It's a kinda cool, kinda trite quote every rock writer gets to use once a career. But it's pretty much solely propaganda without Landau's next line: "And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time."
Landau's words may not mean shit to the kids, but to any aging rock fan they're gospel. The older we rock fans get, the more we need to feel young; the more we need to feel young, the harder it is to find bands that make us feel young. We're like heroin addicts without the mystique.
I don't know if Landau felt like a total dickhead when he penned his Springsteen gush, but I know I do as I typethese words: The Hold Steady is the future of rock 'n' roll.
The Hold Steady is what Springsteen would sound like if he got flat-out pissed instead of introspective, if he liked Budweiser and the harder stuff, if he replaced the E Street Band with Rancid and emulated a G-thug's flow and snarl. The band makes me want to dance and drink and fuck and fight.
Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn actively imitates Springsteen's early lyrical style-most notably the ramblings on the Boss' first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. But instead of trying to seduce Rosalita, Finn wants to smuggle hard drugs across state borders with a hoodrat named Hallelujah, or "Holly" for short.
"I've always listened to artists like Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan who named their characters," he says. "But I've always wanted to know a little more about those characters. That's why I keep using the same characters again and again."
A literate punk band from New York by way of Minneapolis, The Hold Steady was founded by Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler after the breakup of their first project, the literate hardcore band, Lifter Puller. The two moved to Brooklyn to regroup, and a few years later came the 2004 debut Almost Killed Me-an earnest tribute to messed-up adolescents. Then 2005's Separation Sunday, which followed a linear story about "really desperate young people." Now the band completes the ode-to-juvenile-mistakes trifecta with Boys and Girls in America.
Unlike Springsteen, who was in his early 20s when he made records about people in their early 20s, Finn's songs come from reflecting back on his late adolescence.
"I'm 35 now, so I think it's easier to look back at that age with a little distance and see what was interesting about it," he says. "After six years in New York, I can finally understand what was important about growing up in Minneapolis and being 19 in the hardcore scene there."
Like Springsteen, Finn and The Hold Steady made two critically acclaimed early albums that haven't sold very well. Now with a huge buzz growing, they're hoping Boys and Girls in America will be their Born to Run. It's a super-long shot, but Finn thinks they have a chance.
"I tend to think that we're a little more abrasive than most of the stuff I hear [on rock radio], like, say, The Killers," he says. "At the same time, I was pretty surprised to hear Modest Mouse go platinum. We keep playing bigger and bigger venues. Sometimes you just can't tell."
Unless you're a dickhead like me (or Jon Landau). Then you can tell. The Hold Steady will be big. They've gotta be-they're the future of rock 'n' roll, the band that makes me feel young enough to get the extra PBR or two at the show. Who knows, maybe I'll be managing them some day.
Editors Note: Jed Gottlieb has zero chance of ever, ever, managing The Hold Steady.
The Hold Steady play with Sean Na Na at Brick by Brick on Oct. 13. Doors open at 8 p.m. $12-$15. 619-275-LIVE.