12 years ago today, The Hold Steady released their triumphant, beer-soaked album Boys and Girls in America. Not many narrative heavy, organ and guitar frenzied indie rock albums have made their way into existence, and even fewer have accrued the same record sales and loyal fanbases as The Hold Steady did with this record.
It’s not surprising. Boys and Girls in America has everything: alcohol-fueled tales, reoccurring characters, dueling solos, hollering guitars, dark cynicism, choruses! and the reassurance from Craig Finn’s speak-sing voice, that it doesn’t matter how awkward or f*cked up it gets in this universe, everyone makes it out alive (with some resurrection required).
Now, grab a solo cup and fill it with something persuasive. Here are 12 verses from Boys and Girls in America, an indie rock epic that still makes us melt for the weirdness of being young.
She said ‘You’re pretty good with words/ But words won’t save your life’/ And they didn’t/ So he died: Inflated with literary references, Craig Finn manages to ground his high-mindedness with a classic gut-punch in “Stuck Between Stations“, a track which forgives the debauchery that depresses us when we learn it from our heroes. He was drunk and exhausted/ But he was critically acclaimed and respected: R.I.P Jack Kerouac, R.I.P John Berryman, R.I.P You, R.I.P Me, Craig Finn doesn’t allow for “Stuck Between Stations” to conclude before we are all fully enlivened to the point of destruction.
Came in six lengths ahead/ We spent the whole next week getting high/ I love this girl but I can’t tell when she’s having a good time: Craig Finn really puts his characters through a ride in this one. Dooming a romance with addiction, “Chips Ahoy!” transcends musically, using madness-driven organ credenzas to dilute the sadness of two people who can’t—and won’t—help themselves. The band played ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’/ You thought it was stony and adorable/ It started in the vestibule/ It ended in the hospital: A celebratory lament for those who fly too close to the sun, while still enticing us to follow Lazarus and his lover, and succumb to that “Hot Soft Light“.
Charlemagne pulls street corner scams/ And Gideon’s got a pipe made from a Pringles can/ Holly’s insatiable, she still looks incredible/ But she don’t look like that same girl we met/ On that first night: The rascal triumvirate returns for a bleak, though completely in character appearance in “First Night“. Craig Finn shows some love for Gideon, Charlemagne, and Holly—even through their indecencies. He shows some love for us, too. Because we can’t help but age with them. Don’t even speak to all those sequin-surfed beach boys/ When they kiss they spit white noise: Life has gone on to disappoint you, so what? Craig Finn is talking to his own characters here—this is, after all, an album they would listen to—and reminds them to rebel.
We all kind of fumbled through the jitter bug/ We were all powered up on some new upper drug/ And everything was partying/ Everyone was pretty: You’re blushing, you’re proud and embarrassed because you know exactly what nights Craig Finn is talking about, and you’re lucky you made it out of those “Massive Nights”. She had a gun in her mouth/ And she was shootin’ up at her dreams/ When the chaperon said that we’d been crowned/ The king and the queen: If most of the “Massive Nights” lyrics call upon happy high school memories, fondness for old friends, this concluding line is the negative of those images, frames which becomes more chilling upon inspection.