Last Thursday night, The Hold Steady played a tenth anniversary show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Either just before or just after the opener (they started off with a positive jam, obviously), Craig Finn explained they’d played their first show there in 2003 when it was still called Northsix… flawless math, as far as I’m concerned. It was a flawless show, too.
I wasn’t there in 2003, but I did see my first Hold Steady show at Northsix in the winter of 2005 or 2006. I drove down from Providence and stayed with my brother in Greenpoint. We went with some of his music writer friends—I’d ordered a ticket online, and felt embarrassingly provincial about it as they entered empty handed, giving their names at the door. Someone bought me my first ever 4Loko and I took about two sips before gagging on the cough medicine taste and handing it off to a stranger. After that, I bought myself a normal beer. I don’t remember the particulars of the set list, but it pretty much had to be songs off their first two records. I remember screaming along and spilling out onto the street at the end of the night hoarse and joyful and sweaty and buzzed, giddy at the prospect of moving to New York after I graduated that spring.
I first heard Your Little Hoodrat Friend on a compilation CD that had come polybagged with an issue of Jane magazine, and it so electrified me I’d gone to Tom’s on Thayer Street and bought Separation Sunday the next day. A week later, I went back for Almost Killed me, and I would have listened to those albums exclusively my senior year of college if my roommates hadn’t insisted I switch it up sometimes.
Sometimes I’d quote the Jane review pictured above when singing the band’s praises. Jeff Johnson was and still is one of my favorite writers, and I have no idea how that compilation CD was assembled, but I always sort of imagined him choosing the tracks. I know how unlikely that is now, but still, I feel like he’s personally responsible for bringing their music into my life.
Later, I’d work as an assistant for a magazine owned by the same company that published Jane, and it thrilled me to ride the elevator with their editors, though by then, Jane herself was gone and so were many of the people I’d admired in those pages. A year or two after Jane folded, I became an editor for the other magazine’s website, and I remember sitting through a meeting with the consumer marketing department while they explained why these flimsy messenger bags would make the best gift with purchase of a subscription. They said athletic socks were also a good option. After the meeting, I went to Bryant Park and cried. Those piece-of-shit bags would never mean anything to someone, and neither would my work.
On Thursday night in Williamsburg, I got a little self-conscious about screaming along and headbanging and doing the things you generally do when you’re in a sold-out room with loud guitars—I was never as punk as I wanted to be and I’m less punk now than I once was. I’ve been making a concerted effort to resist nostalgia, but I still got sentimental about the other Hold Steady shows I’ve been to since college, and about the many, many moments in my life their music has been the soundtrack to.
Mostly, though, what I thought about was how loving something can fill you with so _much_ joy. I heard a song when I was 21 and it unlocked a room in my tiny heart and shined light into it and eight years later my life looks a lot different but that room is still there and the song is still the key. Standing there next to my brother—like we did eight years ago, and also not at all like that—I felt a surge of gratitude to him and to Jeff Johnson and to Jane and to The Hold Steady and to all the threads that connect the person I am now to the person I was then. How lucky I am that the music means something to me, that it never stops meaning something, that it never stops meaning something different.