Local Current Blog

The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn talks about his days as a college music journalist

Here’s a bit of local music history: before he was touring the globe with the Hold Steady, Craig Finn—who was raised in Edina—spent some of his college career writing music reviews for The Heights at Boston College.

While at BC in the early 90s, Finn reviewed the likes of Uncle Tupelo, who are set to reissue their Americana classic No Depression on January 28. (1992: “If Uncle Tupelo keeps making records as good as Still Feel Gone, there is a strong possibility that they will be revered for a long time by those who know.”) He also wrote about:

  • Green Day. “So this record [Kerplunk] may be a little simple, but that’s quite allright by me. What do you want, the latest rock opera by Rush/Yes/Spinal Tap about a pigeon toed computer hacker who takes it upon himself to break into the Pentagon’s computer system and take over the country in the name of rock n’ roll and black concert tee shirts?” (1992)
  • Ween. “If They Might Be Giants were full time stoners instead of full time dorks, then they might just be Ween.” (1992)
  • Dinosaur Jr. “Mascis conveys a sense of desperation so well that it doesn’t matter that you have no idea what he’s talking about. You just feel it.” (1991)
  • Superchunk, Afghan Whigs, and A Tribe Called Quest. Later, Matt Hendrickson—another Heights writer—reviewed a show by Finn’s own band, Sweetest Day.

As a college music journalist myself, I had a few questions for Finn about his years at BC. He took time to answer my questions while preparing to release the Hold Steady’s forthcoming album, due March 25 from newly-minted Razor & Tie imprint Washington Square.

For how long did you work in student journalism?

I think I just wrote for The Heights for two years, my junior and senior years at BC. I had a friend, Matt Hendrickson, who wrote record reviews for the paper. Matt was also a Minnesota native, and I would see him at a lot of shows where we would talk about music. He knew I loved music so he asked me to try to write something and introduced me to the editor Dave Daley. I was enticed by the bounty of free CDs and guest list spots. Incidentally, I still am in touch with Matt and Dave.

Do you read reviews about your own music? Has your experience in reviewing music affected that choice?

I think reviewing music made me realize how difficult it can be to explain why you really like something. Music taps into our emotions in a way that is very personal and can defy logic at times. I do read some of our reviews, but I also try to temper it. I don’t think reading too much about yourself is good for an artist, no matter if you are being praised or criticized.

Has having reviewed other artists’ work influenced your own work as a musician?

I wouldn’t say it has. That was all a long time ago and I was figuring out a lot of things about myself at that age. I guess it got me into more shows and listening to more music, so it might have influenced me that way.

How do you now perceive the relationship between musicians and music journalists?

There are a lot of really good writers out there, as well as some not so good ones. I think once you’ve done a thousand interviews, you really start to appreciate the ones that are thoughtful and well prepared. I’ve met some pretty great people that are music writers.

How has the role of music journalism changed since your time at Boston College? Your reviews were published in print; how has the presence of the Internet altered music journalism?

With the rise of the Internet, I think the role of journalism has been diminished and the role of the blogger has been promoted. To me as a music fan, this change has not made for more interesting reading. Also there seems to be a rush to be first to report information. That said, the Internet is also a music fan’s dream. I’ve been able to discover some pretty amazing music from my favorite music blogs (Aquarium Drunkard, Dangerous Minds, etc).

KT Lindemann is a senior at the University of Minnesota, Morris, pursuing studio art and Spanish. She is a native of the Twin Cities and is a wannabe musician, artist, and music writer.

  • Ryan Carter

    Wow! UM Morris, The Hold Steady, mid 90s alternarock, and pre-internet album reviews smacking together in one piece. I took some drawing classes from Jess Larson in 95/96 during a time when I was listening to a lot of Afghan Whigs, Uncle Tupelo, Dinosaur Jr, and Green Day. And I wrote record reviews for a local paper maybe a year or two prior to this. Your piece here is remarkably well written. Much better than anything I ever could have done. Thanks for the memories!

    • KT Lindemann

      No way! Wouldn’t happen to be the University Register, would it?