• Hank Melluish

Looking Back on “Slapped Actress,” the Finest Album Closer of All Time

One of my greatest regrets in life is not being born in the late-eighties or early nineties and growing up with the music of that era, eventually plopping me at seventeen or thereabouts when The Hold Steady--American rock legends fronted by class-A poet, Craig Finn--were really at the top of their game. To be in high school when Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America dropped would have been a transcendent experience, and becoming an adult when the wistful Stay Positive came out… words couldn’t even describe what that would have meant. My parents took their sweet time, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Regardless, The Hold Steady are one of those groups that furnish your taste in music. Help you come of age in adulthood like an audio Fight Club. Discovering music has almost stopped being “magic” to me, despite still coming upon quality stuff. The Hold Steady are the recent exception.

Stay Positive found me at just the right time. Homebound and depressed, lost and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, those opening chords of “Constructive Summer” blew me out of the water in that simple way I wasn’t expecting. I listened to the entire thing front to back about three times that day. I believe I’ve heard their entire output now, and am consistently floored by every lyric, the truth and the power bottled down into them… but none have had such an effect as the phenomenal closer of that introductory album, a song called “Slapped Actress”.

Sitting dead-center at the transition between the presence and departure of keyboard-player Franz Nicolay, “Slapped Actress” finds the protagonists Finn had been crafting throughout his entire career at something of a juncture. Between the naivete of youth and the backfacing maturity that comes with real, authentic adulthood. When getting drunk every night and going to parties becomes self-defeatist. When you’re the oldest guy in the room and it’s just getting weird. Finn has stated in many interviews that the whole album was influenced by his profound reaction to the 1977 film, Opening Night and knowing this, much is illuminated. In one particular Vulture article--in which Finn and guitarist Tad Kubler picked th