The Hold Steady
I try not to leave the house because I rarely return, from whatever it is I have gone, saying, "Gee, I am really glad I did that." I have a far better time staying in my big house on the hill, with my computer, where I am able to write, correspond with fans (http://tinyurl.com/3m6cdvo), and manage my fantasy football teams (fuck you, Peyton Hillis). But on Sunday, my friend Matt had an extra ticket to the Treasure Island...Music Festival. Aside from maybe "Barry B." and "Creeping Charlies' Scrapingbooking Project," there might not be a more terrifying phrase in the English language.
There was a time when I loved the fucking things. In 1990, my buddy Rich and I went to England, where we fought our way to second row, center, for the Knebworth Music Festival. Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd...
Seeing Pink Floyd was especially awesome, since a few days earlier, I had hunted down their reclusive former lead singer, Syd Barrett (http://tinyurl.com/4y9o54x), up in Cambridge (#4 Cherry Hinton Lane, Margaret Square. Don't bother looking for him now. He's dead). Although, honestly, the best band that day? Tears for Fears. I shit you not. They were incredible.
That concert was 15 fucking hours. 120,000 people. How the fuck I was able to stand there, in that swelling sea of stink, and not have to piss sixty times is beyond me. Of course, I was 19 then and my prostate wasn't the size of a grapefruit.
The most memorable moment of that concert came with the two hippy girls Rich and I met. Rich and I were just good Christian kids from CT. We didn't drink. We weren't terribly adventurous. This trip was a big deal. Three months backpacking through Europe. Oh, the adventures we were about to have... We didn't have any adventures. We spent a lot of time indoors, deeply entrenched in a hasidic Jewish community, out by Seven Sisters Station, with a (slightly anti-semetic) man named Pat Sweeney (don't bother looking for him, either. He's dead, too). Meeting the two hippy girls from California was a striking juxtaposition. They were backpacking as well, but I don't think they quite followed the same...agenda. They were cute. Blonde, if I remember. Of course, being hippies, they stunk, ratty hair and all that. But being a cute girl grants a wide berth. I doubt we tried to pick them up. It wasn't the hippy part so much (I hadn't yet developed my disdain for all things patchouli); we simply had no game. But we talked. I don't remember much of what we talked about. The part that sticks was when Zeppelin played "Going to California," how they started crying. It sounds terribly cheesy now. Actually, it was pretty cheesy then. But there was a certain sweetness to it, too. So far from home, being so touched by the power of music.
But like I say, that was over 20 years ago. My friend in Miami, Scott, tells this funny story about trying to go to a music festival in his 30s. In the parking lot on his way in, he saw some kids doing drugs, and his first thought was to find a cop and say, "Arrest these kids! These are bad people!" And he knew then that his music festival days were behind him.
If it's too loud, you're too old. I'm too old.
But on Sunday, the Hold Steady were playing. There are four musical acts I will brave any condition to see live these days. The Gaslight Anthem. Tom Waits. The Boss. And the Hold Steady.
I'd seen the Hold Steady before, once on the Stay Positive tour, and again on the Heaven Is Whenever tour, and both times they were fucking amazing.
The Hold Steady is basically Craig Finn, who is probably the best lyricist going. This is no small compliment. I take words seriously. I love the Boss, but even he has a "Glory Days" and "Pink Cadillac" to throw the curve. I can't think of a single Finn miscue. Check out the opening lines to the chorus to "Stuck between Stations."
She was a really cool kisser / and she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian.
She was a damn good dancer / but she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend.
Fuck, man, there aren't that many lines I'd kill to have written. But that's one of them. And, really, I could say that about pretty much all of Finn's lyrics.
(Speaking of Seinfeld, Craig Finn really does look like he could be George Costanza's long lost younger brother.)
I met Matt on Treasure Island. He lives on the south side of the city. I live in the El Cerrito Hills. Matt got there early. The Hold Steady were playing at 8:30, so I got there around 6:30, just as the sun had started to set. I'd never been to Treasure Island, which offers a beautiful, up-close view of the city from a totally different perspective, its light twinkling colorful, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate shining bright. Because Matt was already inside the festival and was holding my ticket, I had to text him to meet me. While I was waiting, I saw two hippy girls, clearly not from this country, dressed a little too funky to be American. I heard them talk. They spoke English but sounded German. Or maybe Polish. Young, pretty, taking pictures of each other making goofy poses in front of the water, San Francisco in the background like postcard. I asked if they would like me to take a picture of them together. It's good to have mementos from times like that.