Stuck Between Americana Rock Stations: A Conversation With Craig Finn
    • WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 03, 2016

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right
    Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together

    Those were the first Craig Finn lyrics I ever heard. Fired off like a hyper-literate rock opening salvo, they bring "Stuck Between Station" and Boys and Girls in America (the third Hold steady album) roaring to life. I heard that track before I'd ever read On the Road, where Jack Kerouac utters the famous quote that named the record. But it hit me like a punch to the gut. But Craig Finn thought the line was funny.

    "When I wrote that song, I had read On the Road when I was a kid and sort of pretended to like it, but I was so young I couldn't really understand what it all meant and how funny it was at times. There are these moments of humor that are just great. and when I read that book the second time, I think I was 33 and I just thought it was hilarious cause boys and girls in America do have such a sad time together."

    Craig Finn has released six albums with his band, The Hold Steady, as well as two solo records (the most recent of which, Faith In The Future, was released last year). Making a name for himself as the frontman of arguably the best "bar band" in all of indiedom and transitioning into an elder statesmen of the Americana rock scene, Craig Finn has more than secured his legacy as one of the most beloved songwriters of the last 12 years. And that position in the heart of the Americana rock scene is now manifesting itself with a headlining performance with Lincoln Center's American Songbook program.

    "It's really an honor...not just the American part of it but just looking at the other songwriters who have also done it at the venue. I spent a lot of time in skeezy clubs so it's nice to be able to cross the street and play somewhere like Lincoln Center. It has some levity to it...the home of opera and classical music and that kind of thing. The sort of feeling of being recognized as a songwriter and as somebody who has been doing it for a while, with a massive body of work. And the American part, allows for an American perspective wherever you're's something you can't quite put your finger on but it's easy to circle of those things being what it means to be an American or what it's like to be an American."

    And Craig Finn was able to discuss how that sense of American identity shaped his music and the music of the artists who inspired him.

    "A lot of Americana is -- and Springsteen's a great example...Drive by Truckers being another -- being rooted to a single place whether it's New Jersey for Springsteen or the deep south for Drive by Truckers. and it's about the people who are from the place you are from and how that affects how they live their lives."

    If you've ever listened to a Hold Steady album or a Craig Finn solo album, you know how well-read Finn is. His love of literature shows in all of his works, and he once voiced iconic American author Walt Whitman on the 2010 Titus Andronicus record, The Monitor. And of course, I had to ask Finn about the role literature still plays in his music.

    "...with literature, the reading really informs what i do. The main place i get ideas from is fiction but if I ever start to feel a writer's block which rarely happens, reading is the way to push through it. It's a really important part of what I do."

    When asked what authors he could see himself voicing on a future The Monitor-esque concept album, Finn was quick to reply with David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, and Raymond Carver.

    For an artist whose music is so rooted in Springsteen-ian Americana (and a healthy dose of The Who-esque power pop) on the early records, Finn also had plenty to contribute to what young artists can do to stay true to their own influences while pushing forward with their own art.

    "in my case, it really was coming up and being in love and entrenched with the things around me whether it was punk rock and hardcore and then indie rock and then in my 20s picking up more classic rock that I was originally resistant to and finding that these songs matter or last or endure because they speak to bigger things and are well crafted and makes everyone feel something. It's hard not to be moved by "Born to Run." I think that kinda happened to apply to something bigger but maybe understanding that the details may change and being able to offer specifics that may apply to people's lives."

    Craig Finn's performance at Lincoln Center is tonight. We'll be on hand (and have a full report on the evening tomorrow). It's going to be an event that can't be missed.

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