Almost Killed Me

From the suburbs to the cities to the streets, there’s kids whose heads are overstuffed with broken bogus dreams. They sold us all on success and put a price upon our prime so high that most of us don’t even try. We recede into the backrooms of bars and clubs with anyone just to score up some commotion to divert our minds away from all our failures.

It’s there in that backroom that I find myself hanging with The Hold Steady. Upon our introduction it was clear just where the name came from. They swagger on their heels and slur their speech but just a bit as they balance at the brink of a full-blown binging bender. They hold it steady, alright. But just barely.

They’re plenty agreeable though. Nice guys who keep the drinks and drugs at close disposal. But I could have scored that shit anywhere. What I’m here for is that The Hold Steady shit that only they provide.

Pleasantries aside, I make my intention known. The guys look at each other and then back at me. One smirks. Another smiles. And another slides a shiny shrink-wrapped copy of Almost Killed Me across the table. Someone snarks, “If you can handle it,” but the money’s on the table and I’m already out the door.

Back at home with the lights down low, the stereo, it glows. Things start out quiet but they have to; I know just what’s in store and that shit has got to be brought in slow. You can’t just drop it all at once. It’s not supposed to be a suicide. Not intentionally.

Single coils burn hot under a soft strum as The Hold Steady cover 80 years of youth-targeted consumer culture and the casualties induced. It’s a hell of a history lesson and brings me all the way up to our new millennium miasma.

And that’s when shit lets loose. Drums. Bass. Guitar. Guitar. And that voice that sounds like an American Mark E Smith. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, cause this guy’s actually making sense, but the conviction is right there. And so it the rest of the band. Everything up front. Everything in the red. All right on the edge. But keeping it all held steady. But just barely.

This keeps up for three more tracks. Thick sheets of granite guitars rain down like scary shrapnel. The drums keep punching with inhuman relentlessness. And the bass keeps the whole thing true to their namesake.

Then a change. Piano? What the fuck? This sounds like Billy Joel. Hell, it’s even about Billy Joel. But it’s still there: that deep dark wound that haunts their words and drives their debauchery. Getting high isn’t just about getting high; it’s about getting so low you’ve got no where else to go.

But best dry my eye or else miss the kick in the head that’s coming next. The rock is back and it’s more desperate than ever. Seething. Stomping. Raging. Restless. This is the shit we take when we don’t want to sleep anymore.

And still there’s more to come. More rock. More sadness. More piano. Even a saxophone solo right off the set of Saturday Night Live that inexplicably incites a “Fuck yeah!” where it should have earned a “Fuck you!” They bring me right to the brink and then lay off just enough to take me even further with the next rush.

These guys are experts, man. They do this shit for a living. So they know they can’t just leave me all amped up and aching. No, there’s a resolution here to bring me back down to a functionable level. No worse for wear but worn out just the same.

So may be now I can finally sleep. There’s sure to be a hangover tomorrow and a headache that hangs on. But there’s still half a case of Coors in the cooler and that The Hold Steady disc is still sitting in the stereo just waiting for when I need it most.

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