Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Gospel According to Craig Finn

The Gospel According to Craig Finn
A musical memoir by Bill Reese

Where was Craig Finn when I was seventeen?

In the fall of 2001, my heart was broken. Fifty miles to the west, the city of my dreams was severely wounded and struggling to fight on. The girl of my dreams (or so I foolishly believed) had rejected me. The only girl I had ever loved was gallivanting with some other guy I had never heard of. To cope with all this, I listened to two records on repeat: Stay What You Are by Saves the day—arguably the greatest record of “The Genre” before the boom, and Dashboard Confessional’s The Places You Have Come to Fear The Most, a record I haven’t listened to in full since the summer of 2002.

Though I didn’t follow the scene, dress like the scene, or even appreciate most bands in the scene, I was about as close to an emo kid as an overweight, Yankee-capped wannabe-Kevin Smith could be. I spent that fall wallowing in my heartbreak, complaining about my romantic debacles on LiveJournal and exploiting my teenage angst to write my own emo-punk songs that nobody ever heard. I had decided to become a hopeless romantic based on some Hollywood fantasy. All of my crushes built up to giant emotional climaxes where I inevitably went down in flames. I went balls-to-the-wall. Either you go big or you go home.

This was all before I went to college, when my musical world-view was fractured and re-assembled by the brilliant musical minds that surrounded me. This was before the head yuppie himself, Mr. Sal Bono introduced me to The Hold Steady.

I wish I could go back to the fall of 2001 and listen to “Soft in the Center,” a track from the Hold Steady’s new record Heaven is Whenever. When 17-year-old me lost interest in the middle of the first verse, I’d smack him upside the head and say, “Pay attention to this chorus.”
You can’t get every girl… you’ll get the ones the love the best.

You won’t get every girl… you’ll love the ones you get the best.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to learn the lesson of those two simple lines. I’ve been blessed to have some of the best female friends a straight guy could have, but I’ve lost one or two of them because I made the decision that we were meant to be together, and lost it all in pursuit of such a risky proposition. Only after learning this the hard way have I been able to disassociate loving someone I get from the crushy, lusty, giddy love that I never understood and always mishandled.

As much as I’d want to go indoctrinate my 17-year-old mind with the gospel according to Craig, that teenage version of me just wouldn’t understand it. Seventeen-year-olds understand love like Americans understand rugby—they get the general concept of the game, but when they get into their first scrum, they’re scared, confused and end up wounded. Now that I’m a little older, that particular lyric gets scratched deep into my soul because I’ve experienced it first hand; and experiencing something is the only way people can truly understand it.

Seventeen-year-old Bill would still need to go fuck up a couple romances, that’s a part of growing up. The lyrics might bang around his pubescent head like a guitar riff-driven “I told you so.” In time, he’d get off the emo, discover the music of Bruce Springsteen and stop whining about girls that broke his heart and start singing about belief in the promised land where all things are possible. He’d listen to Sam Cooke and decide that he wouldn’t marry a girl who wouldn’t have a 60’s soul band play their wedding. He’d meet Dan Romer and the Baobabs and learn how to dance and sing and feel alive. He would throw house parties and play Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy” at full volume; managing to rap every line of the song despite being completely wasted. Most importantly, he wouldn’t get every girl, but he’d love the ones he got the best.

Getting older makes it harder to remember,

We are our only saviors…

Bill Reese is an infrequent contributor to who has written for Skope, Good Times, Prefix, Hello Stranger and The Purchase Independent.