Since the Hold Steady played a show at First Ave this evening, I figured now is a good time to re-post this essay. Discuss if you wish.
This is not a post arguing the appeal of The Hold Steady. I love the band, but I can understand why others don’t. Finn’s a ragged raconteur, and most of his lyrics sound spat toward the listener rather than sung on pitch. They’ve got their bar-band niche, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em, and that’s that. Agreed?
One thing you’d be hard-pressed to argue, however, would be Finn’s love for Minnesota. He was born in Boston and resides in Brooklyn, but between stops he was raised in Edina and attended Breck School. References to Minnesota are abound in Finn’s lyrics: Osseo, highway 169, the Mississippi River, Edina, City Center Mall; you get the feeling nearly every song is set here. Consider too his mentions of Minnesota during interviews, his love for talking Twins during concerts and even the recorded version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played at their games; I can’t recall any other celebrity so interested in telling stories about Minnesota.
Which leads me to my question: is Craig Finn the best Minnesota ambassador in the state’s history?
That isn’t to say he’s the most famous. There have been hundreds more renowned Minnesotans through the years: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prince, Hubert H. Humphrey and Bob Dylan to name a few. But, for the most part, these celebrities up and left, and with the exception of a passing quote about growing up in the Midwest, most remain quiet about the location of their upbringing. (Not that I blame them. Minnesota isn’t for everyone – in fact, during the ruthless winter months I’m convinced it’s not for anyone.)
Though I admit they aren’t yet a household name, THS has appeared on numerous “best of” critic lists, opened for the Rolling Stones, played shows around the globe and sold hundreds of thousands of records. I’m still amazed punk kids from around the country are sing-speaking along with Finn about these local joints I grew up in and around. In terms of state-pimping, Finn is unmatched.
There are other candidates for Minnesota ambassador, of course. Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” has been running since 1974 and was made into a 2006 movie, though public radio ain’t exactly the epitome of cultural prominence (and I find him unfunny, which does count for something, this being my made-up argument and all). Kevin Garnett was the state’s ambassador in the sporting world, but he was mercifully given his walking papers last year. Joel & Ethan Coen’s “Fargo,” a lighthearted skewering of our state and one of my favorite movies, put Minnesota on the map back in the mid-90s. There are tons of local bands who’ve gained national recognition, though very few have achieved the national prominence of The Hold Steady, and of those few, none referenced Minnesota so regularly.
Could it be possible, that Craig Finn, he of the admired but not nationally known band The Hold Steady, is the best Minnesota ambassador in history? I’m inclined to say yes.