While The Hold Steady usually get described as being somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and The Replacements, there is a surprising amount of Led Zeppelin in their music.
And while in retrospect, that should be somewhat obvious — the b-side of their first single was a cover of “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” — in 2005, I was totally surprised by the big-ass Zep riff that Tad Kubler unleashed for the epic “Stevie Nix,” which they could have easily titled “In My Time of Living.”
You came into the ER
Dinking gin from a jam jar
And the nurse is making jokes
About the ER being like an after bar
Of course, and given that riff is framing vivid scenes that could be entire songs in and of themselves, you could be excused for thinking that “Stevie Nix” is just another story about the the kids and what they were doing during their unconstructive summer vacations.
Instead, it gets heavy as it gets druggy, as Finn conflates one of rock ‘n’ rolls most enduring urban legends and a real life tragedy:
She said you remind me of Rod Stewart
When he was young
You’ve got passion and you think that you’re sexy
And all the punks think that you’re dumb
The guys around the lockers
Got a story about the stomach pump
And the guys behind the theater
Found a body in the garbage dump
And just like that, “Stevie Nix” completely breaks down.
And as Franz Nicolay makes like Roy Bittan for awhile, just noodling around the piano, letting us know that nothing is ever going to be the same again. And when Craig Finn finally comes in again, the entire mood of the song has gone from aggressive and cocky to wistful and philosophical.
She got screwed up by religion
She got screwed by soccer players
She got high for the first time at the camps
Down by the banks of the Mississippi River
Lord, to be seventeen forever
“Lord, to be seventeen forever.”
I mean, right? I mean, when I was seventeen when I graduated from high school, and I would of course love to have that endless potential and infinite energy forever and forever, but if we could keep the potential & energy but skip all of the subsequent fuck-ups, that would be OK, please and thank you.
She got strung out on the scene
And she got scared when it got druggy
The way the whispers bit like fangs
In the last hour of the party
Lord, to be thirty-three forever
“Lord, to be thirty-three forever.”
Of course, that was the age that Jesus died, and for me, 33 was the age where I realize that I needed to at least and try to become a responsible adult. And so, to me, being thirty-three forever means forever delaying the decision to grow up, once and for all.
Not that growing up (to the extent that I have) in the last 20 years has been so awful, but there is always going to be something about balancing on that precipice of youth and maturity that defined the mid-1990s for me that I’m always going to treasure, especially because I fell in the right direction.
Meanwhile, “Stevie Nix” ends with a long, twin-guitar elegy just so you can reflect on growing older while remembering being younger.
“Stevie Nix” performed live in 2009
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