The Hold Steady held forth at the Grammy Museum Monday night, talking about their new album, Heaven Is Whenever, and playing songs from it and their previous CDs. I’ve loved this Brooklyn band since Separation Sunday, in part because their members are originally from my old Midwestern stomping grounds — guitarist Tad Kubler grew up about 15 miles from my Wisconsin hometown, and front guy Craig Finn and I know the same old indie rockers in Minneapolis (we talked about our drug-dealing bass player friend, a quintessential HS character, when I interviewed Finn a few years ago). Those shared roots make their Springsteen-meets-Replacements anthems about bars and quarries and pot parties all too familiar. It was fun to see them in an intimate, stripped-down environment — though I think they’re best enjoyed rocking live in a small club.
It occurred to me Monday that while Springsteen sang about the old industrial economy in decay, the Hold Steady sing more about the new economy, what Mark Deuze calls “informational hypercapitalism” or what Scott Lash and John Urry call “disorganized capitalism.” I’m reading Deuze’s book Media Work. Some of his comments about changes in the workplace, like the intrusion of women and the decline of family, are disturbingly retro. But others hit home: “The worker of today must become an enterprise of her own: perfectly adept at managing herself, unlearning old skills while reflexively adapting to new demands, preferring individual independence and autonomy over the relative stability of a lifelong workstyle based on the collective bargaining power of a specific group, sector, or union of workers.”
The Hold Steady seem to be looking nostalgically at that Springsteenian past — ah, I remember working at the drive-in movie theater in Kubler’s hometown — but also acknowledging a changing present. Or as Finn put it Monday, quoting another commentator when asked how he would describe the Hold Steady: “Led Zeppelin meets Microsoft Office.”