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So, as promised, I’m finally ready to annotate the wondrous lyrics of a Hold Steady song. I’ve selected the beautiful “Stay Positive” off of their fourth album of the same title for this go.

[Sort of half-chorus thing where only the background people sing, but sing sort of pirate-style]
(Whoa ho ho. Whoa ho ho. Whoa ho ho. Whoa ho ho.)

I’ve got a lot of old friends that’re getting back in touch
And it’s a pretty good feeling, yeah it feels pretty good.1
I get a lot of double takes when I’m coming round the corners.
And its mostly pretty nice its mostly pretty alright.2
‘Cause most kids give me credit for being down with it
When it was back in the day, back when things were way different.3
When the youth of today and the early seven seconds
Taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons.
[Lyrics break/Guitar jam on D]

[Verse 2]
There’s gonna come a time when the scene’ll seem less sunny
It’ll probably get druggy and the kids’ll seem too skinny.4
There’s gonna come a time when shes gonna have to go
With whoever’s gonna get her the highest.5
There’s gonna come a time when the true scene leaders
Forget where they differ and get big picture.6
‘Cause the kids at their shows, they’ll have kids of their own.7
The sing-a-long songs’ll be our scriptures.8

(Whoa ho ho. Whoa ho ho)
We gotta stay positive9
We gotta stay positive
We gotta stay positive
We gotta stay positive

When the chaperone crowned us the king and the queen,10
I knew that we’d arrived at a unified scene.11
And all those little lambs from my dreams,
Well they were there too.12
‘Cause it’s one thing to start it with a positive jam13
And it’s another thing to see it on through.14
And we couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you.15

[Chorus 2]
(Whoa ho ho. Whoa ho ho.)
We gotta stay positive
We gotta stay positive
We gotta stay positive

1. The narrator (a lot like the frontman/song writer, one Mr. Craig Finn) indicates, in “Party Pit” and “Hostile, Mass.” that he left Minnesota for college (specifcally, according to Mr. Finn’s biography, Boston College–although this is not mentioned in any of the lyrics). These lines indicate that the narrator is looking back on the days leading up to the present is in a good place.

2. Finn has indicated in interviews that he never expected that this, his second band, would be the one that got not only extensive critical acclaim but also a large following. These lines again indicate a healthy state of personal mental health.

3. …because his first band was a punk band

4. Appears to refer to the current standards for hipsters in Mr. Finn’s neighborhood (Williamsburg, bitches!!!). For those of you who don’t know hipsters tend to be very skinny and wear girl jeans–but not necessarily emo-style. The idea here is that we’re all going to get older and as time goes on we do less drugs. We grow up. Also, this refers to how the scene is going to reduce its druggy nature…eventually…maybe…

5. The lyrics from the first song (“Hornets! Hornets!”) on their second album begin as follows: “She said always remember never to trust me. She said that the first night she met me. She said there’s gonna be a time when I’m gonna have to go with whoever’s gonna get me the highest.” These are the words of Hallelujah, the main character for most of that album and a recurring character on the other three.

6. From “Sweet Payne” on their first album: “…I always dream about a unified scene. There’s James King and King James and James Dean. At a table in the corner of my unified scene. They want a double order of love and respect. They said they just got back from up in hostile, Massachussetts…” So then the idea here is that, eventually, the scene doesn’t matter any more. The feuds, the arguments, all the crap will eventually become unimportant. It’s possible that the “unified scene”–and this is my own personal conjecture–could actually be when everybody is too old to give a crap. The kids and the wife always get in the way of your drugs, your tattoos and your musical disagreements.

7. This is the line that provided the insight for the conjecture above.

8. Only some of the most amazing wordplay you’ll ever hear in music these days.

9. The first song on their first album is “Positive Jam.” To summarize, the lyrics traverse the years between the twenties and the nineties, apparently with the conclusion that everything up until then sucked. After that, the song ends with: “We got to start it off with a positive jam. All the sniffling indie kids. Hold steady. All the clustered up clever kids. Hold steady. I got bored when i didn’t have a band. So i started a band. We’re gonna start it with a positive jam. Hold steady.” And of course, the second song on that album, “The Swish,” in my opinion, is nearly perfect (and exceedingly positive). Strictly for emphasis, the guitar work on “The Swish” is amazing–straight distortion except for the light Phase 90 use during the chorus. The intro is awesome, “Robbie Robertson but my friends call me Robo” is awesome, “I blew red white and blue into a tissue” is awesome, “I came right over the counter just to kiss you” is awesome, the four-note outro is awesome. Don’t just take my word for it, watch the music video on YouTube. Nearly perfect as well. All in all, that song: 9.9/10. I took away .1 for not quite understanding what is meant by the last couple of lines. Tuscan raiders? Were you working for Muslims? Anyway, yeah, so the first song is “Positive Jam.”

10. The eighth song on their third album, titled “Massive Nights,” ends with the following lyrics: “She had a gun in her mouth/ And she was shootin’ up at her dreams/ When the chaperone said that we’d/ been crowned the king and the queen.”

11. This is probably a waste of your time, but refer to numbers 6 and 7.

12. Possibly a comment about how a lot of these stories didn’t happen, that all these songs are just figments of Mr. Finn’s imagination.

13. Refer to number 9, but mostly just the first part.

14. Again indicates that this is a “Looking Back on My Life” song. See numbers 1 and 2.

15. “Dear Fans, I love you, thank you for supporting us in all our endeavors, see you on tour. Sincerely, Craig Finn and The Hold Steady”


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] our discussion he turns to me and goes, “I’ve got to be like The Hold Steady. You know, Stay Positive. The sack’s half full.” At which point, I applauded him for his brilliance, integrity, […]

  2. […] than a year after discovering The Hold Steady, I’ve found, with the help of The Chef’s solo album debut, the kind of lyrical interplay that […]

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