Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

#32 - Just because it's a song doesn't mean it's true

"First Night" - The Hold Steady

So I saw the waitress again. You know, the one from Minneapolis. Those who don’t know, please refer back to posts #6 and #22. I apologize this blog does not have an internal search engine.

It was last week. She was without her laptop, and scribbling in a small notebook in the balcony of Irving Plaza at the TV on the Radio show. She was on the VIP side, on the right; I was with the people, directly across from her on the left. The show was extra-terrestrial. Great clouds of weed smoke rose up from the crowd beneath us, and the band churned out waves of soul-drone energy so massive it was all you could do to hold onto the boogie board of your consciousness and ride it until a lull. It’s appropriate they’re on 4AD, because they totally have that swoon-rock thing down, like Cocteau Twins and Lush, but more gnarly and boyish and groovy and urban and dissonant and hippie-ish and hairy. Dave Sitek, the white dude, had these little windchimes attached to the peghead of his guitar, which he kept wacking against the microphone, and that seemed like an apt metaphor---taking delicate, beautiful things, like Kyp’s falsetto and Tunde’s soulman tenor and the overall droning ambiance, and churning it around.

As I believe I've noted before, there’s something mannish in this woman's appearance, substantial in that Midwestern Nordic way; broad shoulders, horsey teeth, and strong legs. She wore one of those little half-sweaters, black, affixed beneath her bosom over a leotard, with small green crystal earings and a wooden cross, which looked half-goth, half-Christian, like it coulda gone either way.

And so it did, as I found out when we spoke after the show. Like many Minnesotan progressives, straight and gay, she apparently couldn’t quite shake the Christianity, despite her obvious distaste for the way it’s been hijacked by nutjobs and bigots and homophobes and hawks and powermongers and psychotic TV preachers and faux-pious rappers and craven political spin-meisters and clueless Germanic popes. So she made it a fashion accessory and a social networking tool. We talked about first communion and confirmation and Jesus Christ Superstar, which was my very first album and hers too. In fact---and this is the first weird thing, but not the most weird thing---she had the words JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR tattooed in the shape of a tiny cross on the front of her right shoulder, just below the collarbone. She pulled down her top an inch or so to show it to me.

She explained it was the first album she ever owned, and thus the first tattoo. She also said she was embarrassed to have the name of an Andrew Lloyd Weber creation inked into her flesh, but that it only goes to prove that, and I quote here, “you should not get a tattoo when you are young and foolish, just the same way you shouldn’t discuss marriage with someone while on ecstasy.”

We talked about the show by Merzbow, the Japanese noise artist, which was the last time I saw her. I told her about the mass retching at the show, which she had not seen, but had read something about in Pop Matters. It turns out she left early because she’d felt queasy. I told her my theory that he was an activist vegetarian sonically attacking carnivores. Sure enough, she’d eaten hanger steak that night.

It turns out she lives in New York full-time now. She’s a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, but also writes on music---for Rolling Stone, Blender, Spin, No Depression, Bust, and Arthur. We talked about writing, though I didn’t mention this blog. And we talked about tattoos. The Jesus Christ Superstar one she did herself, using a mirror, which I found remarkable.

And that’s when the most weird thing happened, the recognition of which was precipitated by my hearing a line from a song in my head, which goes:

“Tiny little text etched into her neck it said ‘Jesus lived and died for all your sins.’”

And then another line that went:

"Damn right I'll rise again."

And yes---I found out her name was Holly. It’s a name I like a lot. Its the name of the transvestite in the first verse of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side,” the one who “shaved her legs/then the he was a she,” and who is based on the real life Holly Woodlawn. And that’s kind of appropriate, given this Holly’s boyish demeanor.

But this Holly, as some of you now must realize, has been specifically immortalized not in the songs of Lou Reed, but in those of the Hold Steady, and it's been going on for two albums now. Not accurately immortalized, I now know, but immortalized nonetheless.

“Fucking shitbag liar,” Holly says in an Irish bar on 3rd Avenue that we wind up in. There is no Jesus tattoo on her neck, as the song "Yr Little Hoodrat Friend" suggests, just the one on her shoulder. (She says "Little Hoodrat Friend" is about her too, even though it doesn't use her name.) As for the tattoo on her lower back---the one that Craig Finn snarls about reading as “Damn right I’ll rise again”---is actually a knockoff of a Maori moko design like the kind Ben Harper has on his back and has been showing off over the years. No words at all. It’s right on her sacrum, in fact. She excused herself, went to the bathroom, unsnapped her Danskin snaps, and came back out to show me. She rolled down the top of her Lee's, and I reached my hand out to steady myself against a pillar. As mokos go, I thought it was a pretty good knockoff.

“It’s pagan, not Christian,” she said, sitting down in the booth. “That’s key. He made me out to be some junkie trainwreck Jesus freak. I’m more pagan than Christian, really.

She shook her head. “Fucking liar,” she said.

“Wow,” I said.

“And I did go to Hazelden," she said. "But just to chill, really. And my parents didn’t name me Hallelujah. It’s just Holly. That came from a joke---Craig would say “Holly-lujah! whenever he was drunk, which of course was constantly."

"Asshole,” she said.

After that she fell quiet. And then she had to leave, because she had work the next day.

“First Night” is the only song explicitly about Holly on the Hold Steady’s excellent new record, Boys and Girls In America. It’s my favorite: it made me teary-eyed before I met her, and it still does. So does the line in “Same Kooks” about “making love to the girls with wrapped up wrists.” “First Night” mentions something about Holly, the character, being in a hospital. I didn’t ask her about that. But I did look at her wrists, which seemed unmarked under her string bracelets.

Holly doesn’t have a blog. She doesn’t believe in them. “I don’t write for free,” she said. “Fuck that. It’s too hard. I’d rather just keep my thoughts inside my head until I need ‘em.” She grinned a toothy Midwestern grin.

I also didn’t ask her whether she moved to New York for Craig, although I assume she did. And I didn’t ask for her phone number, because I didn’t want her to think I was hitting on her, because at the time I wasn't sure I wanted to. I just said “I’ll see you around.” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But I am certain I will see her around. The movements of music writers, after all, are very predictable.


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