Certain Songs #605: The Hold Steady – “Sequestered in Memphis”

hold_steady -stay_positive-frontal Album: Stay Positive
Year: 2008

One of the things about that differentiated Stay Positive from its predecessors was that there weren’t just quite a few songs that weren’t about fucked-up kids from a fucked-up scene.

Nope, there were also songs about fucked-up adults, too!

Like the protagonist in “Sequestered in Memphis,” who is clearly not having a good day, as he’s being interrogated by cops about something he barely remembers from a recent business trip.

Now they want to know exactly which bathroom
Dude, does it make any difference?
It can’t be important

Yeah, sure I’ll tell my story again

In bar light she looked alright
In daylight she looked desperate
That’s alright, I was desperate too
I’m getting pretty sick of this interview

Driven by a crunchy Tad Kubler guitar riff, and sustained by Franz Nicolay’s soulful stew of organ and piano, the verses of “Sequestered in Memphis” evokes the claustrophobic desperation Finn’s protagonist clearly feels at having to go through all this twice.

And at the same time, the joyful horns and sing-along chorus lets us know that he’s secretly thrilled that this is happening at all, and you can tell that he’s already composing the story he’s going tell everybody once it’s all over.

Subpoenaed in Texas
Sequestered in Memphis
Subpoenaed in Texas
Sequestered in Memphis

As the first single from Stay Positive, there was a feeling that if The Hold Steady were ever going to make the break for the mainstream their music deserved, “Sequestered in Memphis” might just be the song to do it.

After all, it had all of the makings of a classic rock single, right down to the sing-along breakdown that dominated the end.

But of course, in 2008, the chances of anything like that actually happening were already somewhere between zero and none, so it didn’t happen.

“Sequestered in Memphis” performed live in 2009

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