Every now and then you have an experience that lets you know you are still alive, that restores your faith in yourself and in the things you love. It makes you believe again, lets you know that you were not foolish to open your heart to something in this frightening, cynical world. Last night at the Stone Pony was one of those nights.
The Pony will be gone soon, perhaps in a matter of months, and I have experienced many magic nights there. But the people I shared them with are mostly gone from the scene now; other priorities have taken over their lives, and music is not what it once was to them. But I have not changed. To me, this place, this music is everything, and it kills me to see it dying before my eyes.
It is dying, but it will not go without a fight. Rock’n’roll has long since fractured into a million pieces, and other idols have replaced it in the hearts of America’s youth. But every now and then a band comes along that understands what this music has meant, that loves it as much as you do. A band that keeps the spirit of rock'n'roll alive, that picks up the standard and carries it bravely and unabashedly into the future. That wears its heart on its sleeve and doesn’t care who knows it. The Hold Steady is such a band.
I don’t know how this is happened. How does it ever happen? The power of music is a mysterious thing; the process by which it insinuates itself into our hearts and minds is innate, organic. It is part of who we are. How else to explain it? You are in a room full of people whom you have never met, that you have nothing in common with. And then suddenly the band you love walks out and begins to play these songs that mean so much to you, and you are instantly old friends. You share a deep connection that needs no explanation. Which is a good thing, because how would you ever explain it?
How would you explain that feeling you get when the band walks out and picks up their instruments, strumming and tuning and grinning in anticipation? That moment when the first chords sound and the room lifts off the ground and starts whirling in space. When a song has caught fire, has moved out of itself and become a physical presence. When the band is caught up in the swirling wall of sound; when they smile at each other with joy and love and abandon, and you know that they feel like you do—they wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world at this moment. That moment when everyone in the room knows this is it, this is the place to be. You are there and you know that tonight, you are watching the best band in America. You are in on the secret; you know something no one else knows yet. But still you want to share it. It’s so amazing, so mind-blowing that you want to shout it to the world—this is it! This is where you need to be right now! This is the band, this is the moment!
The Stone Pony will soon be gone; and this band will move on from this time and place. They may become huge stars, may be on the cover of Rolling Stone. And they may remain a cult band that never sells more than a couple hundred tickets a show, a few thousand records. They may have a long career or they may crash and burn tomorrow. But they will never again play like they did last night. This was a special night in a special venue, and they knew it. And that’s fine. That, as they say, is rock’n’roll; you wouldn’t change it even if you could. And you don’t care. Because this band gave you this night, and you were there to see it. On this one night, for those two or three hours in a run-down bar in a faded resort town that once meant so much to so many, they were the best band in America. And if you love this music, that is all that matters.