- Josh Ritter, “Change of Time,” from So Runs the World Away


Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Apr 23, 2017
Category: Rock

This is Poetry Month, and I’ve been so distracted I haven’t pushed any favorite poets on you. And now, instead of a poet, I’m praising a musician. Worse yet, a singer-songwriter. And just to seal the bummer, the lyrics of Craig Finn’s best new songs are lacerating. Some are stories of millennials you and your kids don’t know and wouldn’t want to be; others are reflections of our inner lives, narrated by a writer who lives at the corner of Irony and Sadness.

Finn’s new CD, “We All Want the Same Things,” precisely articulates the disconnect between the trumped-up descriptions of our lives and what we actually experience. Finn is from Minnesota — he knows a thing or three about the lives of people who aren’t fighting for career, money and love in a city. This is life in the heartland. You know, that rusty region that Big Media is suddenly obsessed with.

Big Media bores us weekly with accounts of opioid addiction and hopeless youth. Craig Finn does what John Prine and Bruce Springsteen would do: he creates vivid music that works in your head like a movie. “God in Chicago,” for example, takes me back to a time in my life when I hung out with dead-enders. A few more wrong turns and I wouldn’t be typing this; a few poor choices in your life, and you wouldn’t be reading this. This CD is your homework in a course called Compassion and Empathy. [To buy the CD from Amazon and get a free MP3 download, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]

Start with “God in Chicago.” [To buy the download, click here.] The words — could this be a poem? Could it even be Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” by other means?

Her mom found her brother
Then she found the container wrapped up in a newspaper
Stuffed in a duffel bag with hockey pads and seven grand in rubber bands
We didn’t speak at the service but later a message from a number that wasn’t familiar said
“Hey it’s Charlie’s sister
Would you do me a favor?
There’s unfinished business
It’s roughly the size of a baseball”
I said I wasn’t totally sure, but yeah I could probably call someone
I knew this kid from my dorm when I went to school in Wisconsin
My two semesters were a total disaster and he was part of the problem
Hadn’t talked in forever
But Wayne from Winnetka picked up on the first ring
I explained the situation
He said he’d be interested but we’d have to come to him
We said lunch time on Wednesday
A Mexican restaurant a mile north of Midway
He worked for his father’s shipping company out west of the city

Right now I’m not working
She said we could split it
Just glad to be finished and not even tempted
But it’s so goddamn sad in her house right now
He’s still here in everything
She just needs a break from it
Said she wants to come with

We left really early
Went from St. Paul to Cicero in my Chevrolet that didn’t have any radio
Had a boombox in the back seat that was running on batteries
Played “1999” into “Led Zepperlin III”
When the tape deck got all wobbly she still sang the harmonies

The transaction was easy
My buddy looked similar just a little bit heavier
And counting all the money in front of him seemed silly
This isn’t the movies
It was over so quickly
Wayne got in his car
Drove into the sunset, turned left onto Cermak
And she turned to me and said:

I’ve never been to Chicago
I got nothing going on tomorrow
Maybe we could stay here tonight
Lose ourselves in the glass and light
Never been to Chicago
I’ve got nothing going on tomorrow
Maybe we could stay here tonight
Lose ourselves in the glass and light

We got a room at the Hyatt
Michigan Avenue I can still picture you
We each got a toothbrush from Walgreens
We drank in the taverns, we ate somewhere Italian

Then she’s on the sidewalk trying to ask for a cigarette from oncoming traffic
I felt God in the buildings
The light from the skyscrapers showing up in the river
And four years didn’t seem like much anymore
We both want the same things
We kissed on the corner
We kissed in the corridors
We fumbled with clothing
We all want the same things
And then it was morning

We drove back all hung over
And all the way to Eau Claire she played with her hair
Came up on St. Paul and she was sobbing

Can you take one more? This is “Be Honest.” [To buy the download, click here.]

Her body was an outpost for ideas that didn’t work
A nation failed and broken
Invaded and then burned
And the crumbles and the ashes that settled in her purse
Were the ruins of an empire and the people we once were

We were limping up towards Lake Street and she motioned towards the church
Said the hardest question thing they ask me is “Amanda does it hurt?”
‘Cause it’s not pain, it’s more like pressure on the edges of my eyes
I see scales and bloody feathers when I look into the lights

And my password is “be honest”
And my network is evolved
And I can’t guarantee I’ll pick up every time that you call

Ain’t it spooky when they all go away?
Ain’t it strange when they just disappear?
It really sucks getting sick on the bus
It’s even worse when the teenagers cheer
Ain’t it funny how we all get by?
But not the way that makes us laugh
The lust burns off into handshakes and hugs
In the end it comes down to the cash

I was calling from the carpark when they kicked in the door
They pulled the pistols from the holsters
Put the people on the floor
It’s not the fear, it’s the frustration
Getting sick of being scared
They pulled your princess to her feet
Made a handle from her hair

I was thinking about the progress
How a change is gonnas come
I was hearing the announcements
I was running from the guns
Desperation fueled the dancers
There’s a sadness in the sex
They lingered over dinners and then ran out on the check

And our safe word is still “stop it”
And our style is self involved
And I can’t guarantee I’ll pick up every time that you call

Ain’t it something how the people switch partners?
Yeah, you just got to wait your turn
It’s really hard getting kicked in the heart
It’s even worse watching big buildings burn
Ain’t it strange how it all fades to black
Just when it starts to feel really nice?
I was banging round your party
Trying to locate all the love and the light

And the speed it crested early and then it ran its course
I showered and got ready and started on my chores
It was rushing through my blood
It was coming from my pores
And my heart was charging forward and I threw up off the porch

We were limping up on Lake Street and she motioned towards the church
She said the hardest question ever is “Amanda does it hurt?”
It’s not pain, it’s just a pressure but it some ways that’s much worse
The ruins of an empire and the people we once were

If revolution is really coming then we all need to be well
So maybe it’s just best if we both take care of ourselves

Hold that thought.


Short Takes

The answer to the question in the title of “What to Do About the Solomons” — read it.

American Jews in Israel. An inheritance, which means money and a lot more. Back in Los Angeles, a son’s alleged financial crime — what kind of crime did you expect? — has become a family scandal. Not promising material, when you consider how Jews are presented in American fiction. The writer loves them. Or the writer hates them (or, more correctly, hates herself/himself). And in a first novel yet! I ask you: What was the last great first novel you read about Jews? Goodbye, Columbus. Okay, what else?

Bethany Ball’s “What To Do About The Solomons” is my favorite length for fiction: blessedly short. But in those 235 pages, we get a large — there are so many characters that Ball starts the book with a Solomon family tree — and unruly clan. They’re like moose with antlers locked: They can’t get closer, they can’t get apart. But you’ll have no trouble telling them apart. And coming to like them, for very different reasons.

For a novel about Real and Serious Things, this is a very funny book. Bethany Ball writes with wit as sharp as the blade of a mohel. For once, I totally concur with a New York Times review: “I ended ‘What to Do About the Solomons’ absolutely swimming with affection, not just for the characters but for the multiple worlds that created them. Despite their collective penchant for psychodrama, there’s something profoundly lovely — and loving — about the Solomons. And about Bethany Ball’s debut.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Love the novels of Christina Baker Kline? Chat with her on Thursday, April 27

Do you know about Book-the-Writer? At this pop-up book event in New York, a small group discusses a book…with the writer. Next Thursday (4/27), the writer is Christina Baker Kline, author of a terrific novel A Piece of the World, about the woman who inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World.” Her last book: the mega-bestseller, “Orphan Train.” I’ll be the moderator and occasional interrogator and, perhaps most important, wine butler. For information and tickets, click here.

Garland Jeffreys: What are the odds?

The so-called law of life says that you start winding it down as you hit the golden years, but Garland Jeffreys is 73, and at City Winery, he put on a 90-minute show that ranged from reggae to New York soul to sound-clouds that would have done Van Morrison proud — he and his raised fist of a band rocked hard. And then he delightedly signed CDs for a legion of adoring fans. More confounding: His new CD, “14 Steps to Harlem,” is just as strong as his 2011 classic, The King of In Between. As a brother on the Back 9, he’s inspiring. But he’s a pain in the ass for me as a reviewer — he sends me to the dictionary for fresh superlatives. To buy the CD of “14 Steps” from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.

In a month of causes, “Happy Hour” matters three different ways.

Every month has a cause. This month, Gretl Claggett has three. As a writer, Monsoon Solo: Voices Once Submerged more than qualifies her for prominence in National Poetry Month. And “Happy Hour,” a film she made of a poem from that book, fits right in to National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. “Happy Hour” isn’t fiction; it’s a short, unsettling account of her childhood abuse by a family friend during cocktail parties while her parents socialized downstairs. Narrated by Julianne Moore, it won awards at film festivals. Here’s the trailer:

You can now download the film on Amazon and iTunes, with all proceeds on both platforms going to a small group of nonprofits whose focus is treating and preventing sexual abuse and promoting healthy relationships. For film buffs, there’s a bonus: an early look at a writer-director who’s moving on to features any minute now.