In a new music
documentary, Craig Finn & Co. prove that rock will always be awesome.
BY RANDY HARWARD
Less than five minutes into A Positive Rage, the heretofore inevitable documentary about The
Hold Steady, singer-guitarist-songwriter Craig Finn says it: “We’re not reinventing the wheel.”
Yup. There’s nothing new about playing bare-bones
guitar-bass-drums rock n’ roll, adding piano, and referencing Jersey pub rock,
Minneapolitan alt-rock, and Led Zeppelin-even altogether. Someone has done it.
The question is what, exactly, does reinventing the wheel mean? Creating something that already exists and presenting it as
new technology? Or just making a wheel and demonstrating why it’s so awesome in
the first place? Unironically do the former and you look like a jackass.
Perform the latter, again unironically, and you’re a genius, blowin’ minds from
coast to coast.
That’s The Hold Steady. And the purpose of A Positive Rage (Vagrant; included is a
companion audio CD) is to examine why
they’re so special if they’re just playing straight-up rock ‘n’ roll-and
admitting as much. Is it because Finn writes songs like Ginsberg or Bukowski or
Brautigan wrote poetry? Is it his blinding intellect, is he the Stephen
Hawking, Albert Einstein or even Adrian Veidt of rock? Maybe, maybe not-who
cares? What THS has done to deserve the viscous praise we drool upon them is
capture the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, which is absent from the music of so many
“rock” bands who desperately try to reinvent the wheel, the first way.
As we see in this concert film, which follows the band on
tour around the world in order to pinpoint their charm, it’s how they get
onstage and show us what rock music is all about: tension and release, honesty,
and fun. Like Finn also says, still early in the film, is that it’s about
having a “great attitude.” That, and being just a bunch of regular guys playing
good rock songs with smart lyrics is what people relate to, because it’s more
honest and durable than bands that actually try to recreate that round thing,
only to watch the trend and their career “cycle out.” That, he points out, is
the great thing about The Hold Steady and straight rock ‘n’ roll. It’s immune
to the ebb and flow of style-“it just is.”
Could it be that simple? Yeah. It can.