‘Grantland Pop Culture Podcast’: A Conversation With Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus and Craig Finn of the Hold Steady
Listen on ESPN Podcenter.
It was only a few minutes after Patrick Stickles’s arrival at ABC News HQ1 that the thought first popped into my head: This was a terrible idea.
We’d arranged for Stickles — frontman of mouth-bleed rock-and-rollers Titus Andronicus — to come up to the office, where Grantland East has its podcast studio, to record an interview with his pal Craig Finn. The plan was to have Stickles plug Titus’s wild-eyed opus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy; for Finn to talk about Faith in the Future, his second solo album away from his main squeeze, the Hold Steady; and for the two to talk about their friendship. But it turns out that Stickles, in person, is raw, unstepped-on Stickles. A geyser. Undirectable. Uncappable.
The proceedings began auspiciously enough. Finn and Stickles met outside on the streets of the Upper West Side on a sunny August afternoon, and chatted Frasier and House Hunters International. Finn, 43, looked understatedly elegant in shades and a blue oxford. Stickles, freshly 30, looked looser. His beard was biblically bushy. His teeth were nicotine yellow. His basketball sneakers were missing shoelaces.
Once upstairs in the building, Finn got settled while Stickles roamed around and marveled at the strange sights before him: the tidy kitchenette, the carpeted-and-cubicled hallways, the leftover plastic containers of Potbelly fixin’s. He told a loud, aggressive joke about half-and-half. He closely guarded a messenger bag that he promised was packed with props and bits. He plopped a Ziploc baggie of [redacted] and papers on the desk and inquired as to office smoking etiquette.
From the worried faces of Ryan and Jordan, our podcast studio warriors, Stickles was persuaded to push the smoke session till later. He swore it was no problem; he promised that he’d be just as engaging and magnetic without it. And that’s how it went. From go, he was a fount, pouring forth.
For the impropriety he was pushing under the harsh fluorescent office lights, it was thoroughly entertaining. For the guy who recorded a rock opera as an attempt at a full-scale grappling with his bipolar disorder, it was thoroughly on-message.
But the thought did cross my mind. This is perhaps a man who was made to exist and entertain in the world in general. The constraints of time and space are not his concern. Podcasting is perhaps not his medium. This was a terrible idea.
The conversation was, you should be warned, decidedly wayward. Honestly, I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense, minute to minute. But I enjoyed it greatly.
In the union of the cool of Finn and the prickle of Stickles, there are some questions to be asked. About the meritoriously calming effects of time. About the proper/expected essence/nature of the creator. About, effectively, what a rock-and-roller is supposed to act and talk and look like.
Stickles and his band are a certain kind of rock ideal: the unwashed, unleashed poet-raconteur. Finn, at this point in his career, is another: the storyteller, in complete control of his craft.
I’ve loved the Hold Steady, with great fervor, since seeing them play a tiny Detroit bar called the Magic Bag in 2005, in support of their own, perfect rock opera, Separation Sunday. That night, in front of maybe 30 people — just as they have every single night I’ve seen them since — they crushed. Faith in the Future is a consciously quieter album. But the details — “They had the cross in the car, they had the pig in the pen / I was in the bathroom, doing my best to ascend” — still carry you away.
After the interview, I followed them out of the air conditioning and back into the sun, where Stickles finally got to use his lighter. In front of the building’s ABC sign, he had us snap photos while he instituted the latest rollout of his version of the Loud Challenge: basically, smoking [redacted] in front of corporate logos. Finn, smiling, played along. Then we all pumped hands, and they walked off together.