Sacraments of the Scene


When the female backup singer presses Holly, the album’s hoodrat protagonist, to “walk on back” to the Catholic faith at the end of Separation Sunday, it might as well be Faith Hill singing—it’s that disruptively heart-melting. Faith gets around, and there’s no reason whippets, road head, and TLC can’t factor in. Not in my Jesuit-educated and Jesus-loving life, and not on this Hold Steady record, where the Catholic tradition solidifies a lot of loose talk about being fucked—mind, body, and spirit. To wit:

“They got to the part with the cattle and the creeping things/They said, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard this one before/Don’t it all end up in some revelation?/With four guys on horses, and violent red visions, famine and death and pestilence and war.”

“He likes the part where the traders get chased out from the temple/I guess I heard about original sin/I heard the dude blamed the chick/I heard the chick blamed the snake/I heard they were naked when they got busted/I heard things ain’t been the same since.”

“She likes the part where one brother kills the other/She has to wonder if the world ever will recover/Because Cain and Abel seem to still be causing trouble.”

“Tiny little text etched into her neck/It said, ‘Jesus lived and died for all your sins.’/She’s got blue-black ink and it’s scratched into her lower back/It said, ‘Damn right I’ll rise again.’ ”

“Holly wore a cross to ward them off/She said, ‘If they think you’re a Christian then they won’t bring in the dogs/And if they think you’re a Catholic then they’ll wanna meet your boss.’ ”

“He was breaking bread and giving thanks/With crosses made of pipes and planks/Leaned up against the nitrous tanks/He said, ‘Take a hit/Hold your breath and I’ll dunk your head/Then when you wake up again/You’ll be high as hell and born again.’ ”

“Holly was supposed to be at C.C.D. but she was down on shady streets.”

“We heard the deacon’s hopeful eulogy/At least in dying you don’t have to deal with new wave for a second time.”

“While he was down in Lowertown/She was feeling out the 5:30 folk mass/And the night that she got born again/He was getting with her little hoodrat friend/They did wade in the water into one tin soldier/She started to cry/Youth services always find a way to get their bloody cross into your druggy little messed-up teenage life.”

“We didn’t go to Dallas/’Cause Jackie Onassis said that it ain’t safe for Catholics yet/Think about what they pulled on Kennedy/And then think about his security/Then think about what they might try to pull on you and me.”

“We mix our own mythologies/We push them out through PA systems/We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen/I’m not saying we could save you/But we could put you in a place where you could save yourself.”

“Sweet Saint Paul/That must be the hardest-luck saint of them all/We met him in some suburban St. Paul mall/When Saint Theresa came to Holly/I wasn’t even at that party/I’d already moved out to New York City/When Judas went up and kissed him/I almost got sick/I guess I knew what was coming.”

“We gather our gospels from gossip and bar talk then declare them the truth/We salvage our sermons from message boards and scene reports/We come on to the youth/We try out New Testaments on the guys sitting next to us in the bars with the bars in their windows/Even if you don’t get converted tonight you must admit that the band’s pretty tight/They did ‘She’s Got Legs’ into ‘Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg’ into something by the Dixie Dregs.”

“Hallelujah came to in a confession booth/Infested with infections/Smiling on an abscessed tooth/Running hard on residue/Crashing through the vestibule/The Crucifixion cruise/She climbed the cross and found she liked the view/Sat reflecting on the Resurrection.”

“The priest just kinda laughed/The deacon caught a draft/She crashed into the Easter Mass with her hair done up in broken glass/She was limping left on broken heels/When she said, “Father, can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?”

“Today she finally came back/She said, ‘St. Louis had enslaved me/I guess Santa Ana saved me/Saint Peter had me on the queue/The Saint Paul saints, they waved me through.’ “