It’s easy to get screwed up watching the news these days. We’re seeing the first effects of the coming scarcity of oil, and yet we refuse to properly explore the alternatives. Tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes and famines and unjust wars are killing millions and sometimes, just sometimes it feels like the end of the world really is nigh.
Yes, that same end of the world so desperately craved by the Christian fundamentalists, waving their “No Fags” banners and eagerly scurrying to renounce womens’ reproductive rights. Because the end of the world will bring Jeebus sailing back down from heaven to cast away the sinners and take the righteous to heaven.
Only Jeebus probably ain’t coming. Even if he does, his dad is a sanctimonious asshole who long ago stopped caring or understanding what it means to be human; what it means to be a part of his apparently exalted creation. Do you really want to share the “heaven” of an entity given to frequent bouts of divine wrath; an entity whose idea of fun is a monstrous arboreal confidence trick? I’ll pass, thanks.
I guess I heard about original sin. I heard the dude blamed the chick. I heard the chick blamed the snake.
Because what it means to be human (or one small, raucous reflection of it at least) is right here, in a small downtown music venue somewhere in America, and it’s belting out impassioned storied songs about belief and confusion and delirium whilst Craig Finn bounces around stage growling out his bar-room narratives like a certifiable madman, and for an hour or so everything is wonderful.
Tonight’s poster-children, this moment’s embodiment of what it means to be human is called The Hold Steady.
“There’s so much joy goes into what we do up here” Finn says to the audience after a couple of songs, and it’s self-evident as each new tune starts up and he grins and gestures and mouths asides away from the microphone.
And what you realise, swept away in songs about weird parties (“they start lovely, but they get druggy and they get ugly and they get bloody”) and a messed-up little hoodrat named Hallelujah (“the kids all called her Holly”) is that this is art – it’s alive and it’s honest and it’s human.
It’s about the twisted beauty of the ugliest moments and the fractured joy which life brings us, and when you listen for a while you start to understand what makes the human race so fantastic – these highs that we can reach when we just let go and dive headlong into the moment.
No, it doesn’t stop the horror of the world – the bloody massacres, the natural disasters, the famines, the coming energy crisis or the dour-faced self-appointed Moral Guardians Of America. And it doesn’t remove our responsibility to do the best we can to mitigate the horror, however tiny or vast our individual and collective reach may be.
We may well find ourselves battling through a slew of this horror in the decades to come, and really there’s nothing so new about that. But when the opening chords of “Multitude of Casualties” fire up again in your head outside the venue, you realise something.
That even if we have to fight our way tooth and nail towards a better world, it is worth fighting for. Because we deserve a better world, a world where the delirious beautiful art of folks like the Hold Steady belongs. And whilst we do what we can to get to that place we should carry these moments in our hearts, a blueprint for a future where everyone can dance and smile and dream. A future where we all know how a resurrection really feels.
(I think this came out a bit Morford, but frankly the guy is another reason to be glad, so it’s all alright by me…)