The Hold Steady
When you think about it, the Hold Steady are the perfect Boston band. They’re wicked smart. A little rough around the edges. They read a lot. They drink a lot. And, like a goodly number of this city’s citizens, they’re irrevocably marked by both the stultification and the residual spiritual yearning that are part and parcel of being raised Catholic. They also rock. They’re not from Boston, of course. They’re from Brooklyn, via Minneapolis. But Hold Steady founder and frontman Craig Finn’s roots are in Massachusetts, and he was educated by the Jesuits at Boston College (class of ’93). He’ll be returning to his alma mater on Tuesday for a “Master Class” conducted with English professor Carlo Rotella. It’s billed as “informal conversation about his life, career, and music,” so we’re imagining something along the lines of a Charlie Rose chat, or an Inside the Actor’s Studio for hyper-literate musicians.
So, back to school?
Yeah, it’s first time I’ll be on campus since I graduated. It’s pretty cool. I’m 36 years old now, and a lot of people [in my class] have gone on to do really incredible things in maybe more traditional ways. And certainly made a lot more money and things like that. But it’s nice to have the university kind of come back and say there’s a lot of different ways to judge success.
The Village Voice called the Hold Steady’s second album, 2005’s Separation Sunday, “the most egregiously American Catholic album” in decades. Talk about how Catholicism informs your lyrics.
When I was at Boston College, I sort of figured out, pretty late in the game, that the coolest thing you could do there was to take the theology course, because it exposed you to the Jesuits. So I kind of got interested in that, maybe more than the religion idea. Right now, I’m not going to church. [But] right around Separation Sunday, when I was writing the record, some heavy stuff was happening. The wife was ill. One of the bandmates was having a baby. It kind of got big-picture all of a sudden, and I started thinking about Catholicism and what role it played in my life. I realized that, having been brought up Catholic, and gone to Catholic schools, and spending all this time in church, whether or not I was currently practicing, it had shaped me a lot. It is a part of my person. So Separation Sunday focused on the part of Catholicism I enjoyed: the ideas of forgiveness and redemption.
The Jesuits are pretty cool. You don’t get the imperious vibe from them that you might get from, say, the Prelate of Opus Dei.
Absolutely. It’s a relentless pursuit of education more than anything else. Those are inspiring people to be around. And very easy people to speak with. They seem inherently more normal, in a way.
Heard of any priests who are Hold Steady fans?
Very few. But I have actually gotten some e-mails and stuff from people in seminary.