Yes, Dave Holmes was on MTV. He “lost”
the Wanna Be a VJ contest to Jesse Camp in 1998, but was subsequently hired by
MTV anyway because somebody had the good sense to realize that, while Jesse’s
batshit persona was charmingly annoying, Dave Holmes actually knew a good deal
about music. Holmes probably could have worked for MTV in some fashion forever
(God knows many have tried), but moved on to a variety of gigs, including but
not limited to appearances on Reno 911,
Best Week Ever, and FX’s DVD on TV. While, for better or worse,
Camp has been written off as a disposable product of the ‘90’s, Holmes has
remained a relevant, intelligent, and charming Pop Culture commentator,
humorist and actor, finding a new generation of fans via Twitter (Twitter.com/daveholmes)
and Tumblr (daveholmes.tumblr.com).
The process of narrowing down one song
to discuss with Holmes was arduous as there is an enormous amount of crossover
between our respective record collections, but the song that kept coming up was
“Stuck Between Stations,” from the Hold Steady’s Boys & Girls in America record. Seeing as how a new Hold Steady
record is on its way, that seemed like an appropriate enough choice.
Anderson: Do you remember the first time you heard “Stuck Between
Stations?” Did it make an immediate impact or was it a song that gradually
worked its way into your life until it had burrowed in?
Dave Holmes: Boys & Girls In America was one of the first albums I downloaded right at the stroke of 9pm
Pacific time the night before its release. I was a big fan of Separation Sunday, I had seen them live
a couple of times, and I was teenagery in my anticipation for the new one. And
I think I listened to “Stuck Between Stations” 15 times before I
moved forward. In fact, according to my iTunes, it is the most-played song in
my library. I probably listen to it most while running; when I was training for
the NYC Marathon, I put it on my “training playlist,” timed for the
exact moment at 13 miles when I become delirious.
KA: I love and hate that “downloaded
at the stroke of 9pm Pacific time” has replaced “picked up at the
stroke of midnight at [local record store].” What is it that the tune
would do for you at the 13 mile mark? Restore sanity or make delirium more
tolerable? It’s such a frantic song, lyrically and musically, that it could
really go either way, but “soothing” is certainly not the first word
that springs to mind when I think about the Hold Steady.
DH: Thirteen miles is when my
energy really starts to flag, and a song like “Stuck Between
Stations” just picks me back up. Plus the endorphins make it easier to
imagine myself performing the song in a packed and rowdy 3-to-5,000-seat
theater. (Anything larger diminishes the intimacy I like in my imaginary
KA: Who is your backing band?
DH: California Dreams,
obviously. No. It’s an ever-changing assortment of old friends who used to want
to be in a band but are now bankers. There’s something really exciting about
this wave of bands made up of regular working guys in their 30s (The Hold
Steady, Wormburner, Action Toolbelt). I imagine this is what black teenagers
felt like when Grandmaster Flash et al came out.
KA: I guess the first and most obvious question about the song itself is,
do you think that Sal Paradise was right? Do boys and girls in America have such a sad
DH: Boys and girls in America do
indeed have such a sad time together, and boys and boys and girls and girls
don’t fare much better. (If I ever do a one-man show, I’ll call it “Boys
& Boys In America,” so let’s all hope I never do a one-man show.) The
active ingredient in the sadness is revealed a couple of seconds later, in one
of the most succinct and devastating lines ever: “Crushing one another
with colossal expectations.” Now there’s a line I could have stood to hear in my early 20s.
Ditto. And I could probably stand to hear the line occasionally now, though
I’ve crossed the threshold into my 30’s. So, is this a cautionary tale to you,
or is Finn saying, “this is something we all go through because it’s
something we all HAVE to go through?” Say you had heard the line in your
early 20’s, would it still have hit home and, if so, would it have been
advantageous to avoid some of that sadness and disappointment?
DH: I think I went into
relationships expecting these poor gentlemen to just make everything right for
me. I think if I’d heard this line at age 23, I might have realized I needed to
do a certain degree of that work myself. Actually, no- I still would have been
an idiot. But the lesson got learned nonetheless.
KA: The thing I like about Finn’s writing in this song in particular is
that there’s a sort of fatalism to it without being especially pessimistic.
There’s a push and a pull. “There was that night we thought John Berryman
could fly / but he didn’t, so he died.” In one couplet he sort of sums up
the grand delusions of youth and art and contrasts them with the reality of
life and death. If I were in my early 20’s and heard that song, it would have
sent me spiraling into a month-long depression. But hearing it at 26 or 27, it
just sort of hung there and reminded me of a time when I thought John Berryman
could fly – when hero worship and ambition were boundless. Do you think Finn is
too fatalistic or is he just being a realist?
DH: There’s a definite undercurrent of
disappointment running through this song, a sense that the things you want in
your youth (fame, love, booze) can’t sustain you forever. For me, the key line
is “He was drunk and exhausted and he was critically acclaimed and
respected.” It’s not but, it’s and, which suggests that acclaim and
respect are injuries. That line blows my mind.
KA: That, to me, is what makes a
great line great. The difference between “and” and “but.”
Do you agree with Finn’s assessment of acclaim and respect, at least in that
context? Are they, to some degree, albatrosses that lead to a compounding,
albeit different, set of colossal expectations?
DH: Acclaim and respect can
make a man think he’s getting called up to the majors, where everything is
going to be easier and better and shinier, but everyone everywhere is confused
Plus, recognition can insulate a person
from actual human connection. Once you’re published- or put on TV or played
through stereo speakers or whatever- suddenly there’s a character out there
with your name who looks and sounds like you, but isn’t exactly you. Sometimes
you get confused as to which one you’re supposed to be, sometimes people are
attracted to the public, published you who doesn’t really exist. Relationships
get crowded and confusing and become critical injuries for poets and sensitive
types like John Berryman. (Some just become their fake selves, and you can see
examples of this kind of soul death on reality TV literally all day long.)
KA: This is something Springsteen
has addressed a couple of times, mentioning that the Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t allow Bruce Springsteen to visit
strip clubs, which, evidently, is something Bruce Springsteen liked to do on
occasion. Because of that rift between public and private personae, when
private Bruce Springsteen acted out in defiance of the Bruce Springsteen, private Bruce tended to go overboard in his
misbehavior. Or so the story goes. The thing is, at some point, Craig Finn
became the Craig Finn, right? I’m
curious as to how he reconciles those colossal expectations he is now saddled
with. Have you ever had instance where you caught private Dave Holmes behaving
in a way the Dave Holmes wouldn’t
approve of, or vice versa?
DH: A good friend of mine met Craig Finn recently, and went into
insta-gush mode, as would I. As the story goes, Craig waved it off graciously
and asked my friend about his band,
and they had a nice, long conversation. So it seems like Craig’s got his head
on straight, which is what happens when you get recognized a bit later in life.
Of course, this tracks perfectly with the the Craig Finn in my mind. It’s a hall of mirrors.
My career didn’t pick up until I was
pushing 30 either, so I haven’t really had to wonder who the real me is.
Sometimes if I’m working on a live shoot for a long time, I find it hard to
switch off the quip machine, but that’s just a mild annoyance for my boyfriend.
From a purely musical standpoint, the song is very cinematic and sweeping – I
suppose this is why the default comparison is the E Street Band. For me, that
makes as big an impact as Finn’s lyrics. From note one, this song is huge. If
it had just been Craig Finn reciting lines over somebody fingerpicking an
acoustic guitar, would the impact have been the same for you?
DH: Yeah, I’m not interested
in hearing a stripped-down version of this song. The driving-ness of the song
is a perfect counterpoint to the weariness of the lyrics. To me, it says,
“No, things don’t work out the way you want them to, but you can still go
on joyfully.” Life is long and weird and sometimes really sad, but we’re
all in it together. That’s kind of what Hold Steady shows are all about, and
that’s why I see them every chance I get.
I am fucking crazy about the Hold Steady.
So here’s the disappointment that this song reminds me of: In 1989, I graduated
high school and had myself narrowed down to two colleges: Boston
which I had gotten into, and Holy Cross, which wait-listed me. Because they
didn’t like me as much, I decided I had to go to HC. (This pattern would repeat throughout the next 21 years.) I got
into Holy Cross in August, and spent the next four (and a half) years adrift in
a sea of boozy self-hatred in a college full of sportsy lawyery New Englanders.
Had I gone to Boston
had I just known myself a tiny bit better- Craig Finn would have been in my
class. How we would have gotten each
other back then! The late-night conversations about music! Regrets, I’ve had a
Kasey Anderson is a songwriter, singer, dog owner and bacon enthusiast from Portland, Oregon. His three albums, Dead Roses (2004), The Reckoning (2007), and Nowhere Nights (2010) have earned plenty of praise from critics (No Depression, USA
Today, The Onion) but, unfortunately, have not as yet yielded the
Swedish Fish endorsement Anderson so badly desires. If you’d like to
have Kasey Anderson sing, play harmonica and strum a guitar at you,
you’ll find him on tour all spring and summer (dates and info available
or if you’d simply like to read on as Anderson discusses various songs
with other artists, writers, friends and cohorts, you’re in the right