Winter Bummers & Constructive Summers – Craig Finn

No one knows indie/punk/rock show culture, shares those spot-on observations and speak-sings about it in as interesting a way as Craig Finn does.

The voice of Lifter Puller, The Hold Steady, and most recently, Craig Finn and Some Guns, the 41 year-old Brooklynite by way of the the Twin Cities and Boston, is by far one of the most entertaining, interesting and smartest songwriters of the last 10 years.

craig finn

You know the story: club punk poet/bar band bard from Minnesota Metropolis, Craig Finn moves to New York, forms The Hold Steady, recounts his tales of survival, perfectly captures the scene, waxes philosophical about life, death, drugs, girls and God and flawlessly enunciates every word every time over timeless and classic rock-inspired bar band riffs, rhythms, and melodies.

Instantly recognizable, mostly unforgettable, and largely hummable/singable, The Hold Steady’s live shows were nearly as legendary as the ones that almost killed them.

From massive nights and killer parties to Clear Hearts and Full Eyes, the bespectacled punk rock Woody Allen tells it like it is, calls ‘em like he sees ‘em and even when he’s singing a sad song, there’s a hint of a smile because he can’t help but stay positive.

That’s always been Craig’s M.O.

While Separation Sunday has always been an almost perfect Fall/Winter record, I listen to the bulk of my Hold Steady in the summer months. They just feel like a Summer band without sounding like the hordes of lo-fi indie popsters heading to the beach. No, the sentiment is mainly tied to the lyrics, sound and vibe seeming tailor-made for Summer road trips. Craig Finn and Kerouac make easy bedfellows and unsurprisingly, they inform the other.

In my head, Finn’s favorite Kerouac character, Sal Paradise is looking out the window, watching the American landscape zoom, zip and blur past to the exciting sounds and quiet moments of Almost Killed Me, Stay Positive, and yes, Boys and Girls in America (among others).
Going to festivals, going to bars, going nowhere with nobody or the one you want and secretly love – that’s what Summer’s about. The summer is a blank canvas for all of youth and those who long for youth. Paint your path or paint over your past and let all those past memories bleed into one giant constructive summer.

While Finn and THS will be back on tour previewing new material and pleasing crowds with the hits, fan favorites, deep cuts and classic covers in no time, I recently gave Clear Heart Full Eyes a few more listens.

The first piece of criticism I heard or read about CHFE was that it was kind of a bummer.

With story songs about broken promises, shattered dreams and hearts needing mending accompanied by eerie, twangy lap steel guitar and alt country swirls, it kinda can be if you let it – but don’t. Stay positive. Finn sure is. Even when all seems lost for the souls of the narrative and darkness reigns o’er them, the silver lining can be seen and smiled at.

Some people may not be able to reconcile a solo record from the The Hold Steady man, but some people are idiots.

CHFE is probably up there for me as a favorite winter record and during the dog days of summer, I warmly looked back to that amazingly intimate and unforgettable club show one cold night in Columbus, Ohio at an appropriately named “The Basement,” where Craig performed with such passion and intensity, but with the same warm feelings and good vibes I felt with the friends whose company I was lucky enough to keep. Shots were passed around and quickly downed and everything but the feeling the music left in us left us fuzzy and blurred.

So, it should come as no surprise, CHFE makes my best list for 2012 and it should also come as no surprise that CHFE is my favorite bummer record because it gleams and shines with such possibility and positivity.

Staying positive is just something Good Ol’ Craig Finn can’t help even when it sounds like his heart has been broken and he’s lost his best friend (and faith?). His clever wordplay makes him a favorite among writers or at least those who appreciate good writing. The focus on the lyrics is key to Finn’s near-universal appeal (in our circles) and unwritten yet sure-to-be impactful legacy.

Craig Finn could’ve been any other incarnation of singer-songwriter in any other genre (country, folk, synth pop, hardcore punk, corporate arena rock, etc.) but luckily he put his faith in good Ol’ Rock n’ Roll.

In other words, God Bless Good Ol’ Craig Finn, his golden heart and that silver tongue.