In December of 2020, I watched one of The Hold Steady’s live streams with my boyfriend at the time. It’s a time in my life I talk about a lot because it was weird and shitty. We’d just moved to Philadelphia a few months earlier. I’m spending all my time inside trying to care about law school. I don’t really have hardly any friends yet while my boyfriend is much more social and it’s making me feel kinda bad.
The Hold Steady always belonged to him in a way that I don’t think any other band did— if not him, then other men between 27 and 38 that I knew tangentially. I sort of railed against liking them for a long time because it felt like music for dudes older than me in a way I didn’t need to be a part of. It didn't help that the locations in the songs were the same locations my dad would mention when he talked about growing up around Minneapolis. He could have the kind of bar rock band with a lot of piano.
They’re also a band with a fervent and, if faced with it too early in your familiarity with the music, potentially alienating fan base. I don’t say that because the people are unkind, they’re not, they just want you to love The Hold Steady like they do. I was introduced to the cult of The Hold Steady by someone deep enough in that he didn’t know how to encourage me to actually buy into it.
Eventually, by osmosis and an admission of defeat, I got into “The Weekenders” and “You Can Make Him Like You” and “Charlemagne in Sweatpants” and then it was a quick tumble into really getting it. I think they’re a band you have to choose to buy into. It’ll just be easier. Buying into something like that can also make your shitty, doomed relationship easier, too. At least for a while.
There is this deep earnestness about The Hold Steady— this total disinterest in being cool— that either you’re in on or you think they’re an easy target. You’re not impressing anybody by being a big fan of their band, but the joy of their band is in the practice of loving it and loving people who love it. It stops there. You get sucked further into the songs and the shows to the point that you don’t need to talk about it with people who don’t get it.
I’m not ashamed to have my music fan identity wrapped up in the people I’ve dated, but I think I was left in a weird spot with The Hold Steady when my relationship ended with the person who introduced me to them. Everything else we liked together— The Weakerthans and Jeff Rosenstock and The Menzingers— was fine. That stuff became mine, too, because I knew people who liked it as much as we did and they were my friends. Listening to The Hold Steady felt sort of impossible for a while because I think some part of me still felt like it wasn’t really for me.
That said, I was already a public Hold Steady fan— my podcast had Steven Hyden on to talk about the band!— so eventually I had to get over it. The thing about writing this newsletter for the years I have and doing a podcast and talking online about music is that nobody cares how I got to the music I did. It doesn’t matter that I associate these things with my ex-boyfriends. All that stuff just became stuff some people associated with me— my friends, the people in my podcast’s discord, the girls I talk to online about having the music taste of Just Some Guy— and I think I found some power and confidence in that.
This past weekend I went to see The Hold Steady with The Mountain Goats and Dillinger Four in Chicago. It was at a venue I’d never been to— to show that time had passed and the city had changed since I left— and I had arranged to meet up with someone I’d only met over zoom since she was going. Before the show at The Hideout we talked about a shared favorite writer, her Mountain Goats fandom and how she’s been spending her summer in Chicago. Meeting people in real life for the first time always feels like it’ll be more awkward that it ends up being.
In some ways, standing in that room watching The Hold Steady felt like the logical end of the last three years of my life trying to figure out what I wanted my life to be.
I cried through a lot of that livestream I watched years ago. The deep isolation of moving to somewhere I knew nobody mixed with Craig Finn’s constant invoking of community and the way they broadcasted feeds of fans holding up signs in their homes— it got to me. I don’t think I’d feel like I knew how to navigate my life for another full year. I struggled to figure out how to be happy with myself and build a life I could be comfortable with.
Going to see The Hold Steady play with a girl I know because we both write and exist within the same sort of community online sort of felt like I finally finished that process. (Sorry to put that on you, Grace!)
In other ways, it was just a show I went to with a new friend. Grace and I talked about what we thought of The Hold Steady’s set— longer than we expected, happy they played “Family Farm,” surprised they didn’t play “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”— just like you would after any show.
Either way I can look at it, it was beautiful and it was fun and there was [Craig Finn voice] so much joy. Nothing else really matters.
Hope everybody in America's Fourth of July is going well. Have a hotdog. Comfort your pets.
Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter to keep updated on cool blogs I read: @mirandareinert. This blog does have a paid option and I would so appreciate any money you would be willing to throw me! You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. As always, thanks for reading!