I listen to Wisconsin Public Radio's Here On Earth with Jean Feraca fairly regularly in podcast form, and I can't get enough of it. Jean Feraca provokes a reaction in me similar to what I feel when I listen to Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. Jean and Craig, if you read this, please don't get the wrong idea, because I love what you're doing, in a weird way. Listening to Jean Feraca's tense, lyrical voice and chronic romanticizing of everything that ever happened is very similar to the experience of listening to Craig Finn's Newfoundland-y snark droning on monotonously about teenagers doing drugs and finding religion.
Their acts are totally different. Jean interviews other gentle and not so gentle souls, always teasing every topic into a rich froth. It's all about richness with Jean: every person, thing or event is full of portent and tradition and connections and things to be learned and insights to be gleaned. She has a great laugh. Whenever her guests or callers make a joke she blows my eardrums with an eruption of gusty guffaws. The laugh that spurned me to write this post came about like this. The guest was discussing the cuisine of Morocco, and a man called in to ask about some food he had eaten when he'd lived there. He tells the guest what's in it but she's not sure what it is. He goes "I forgot to tell you about one ingredient: hashish!" and Jean let loose a torrent of laughter that brought to mind my grandmother saying "Isn't that rich!" and Will Ferell as Inside The Actor's Studio's James Lipton saying "Delightful!" at the same time. Come to think of it, if Will Ferrell's James Lipton had been turned by Lorne Michaels into a movie, Jean Feraca could play Lipton's wife. Thank you, Jean Feraca.
Meanwhile there's Craig Finn, surprisingly difficult to find much info on old Craig on the intynet, I imagine it feeds into his image as a badass teenager who don't care about nothin'. My favorite Craig Finn line is "You on the street with a tendency to preach to the choir, wired for sound and down with whatever, I heard Gideon did'ye in Denver". It's the perfect confluence of out of touch badassery, hipsterism, and antihipsterism. I don't know if The Hold Steady is all an elaborate ironic joke, but if it is I hate it. If it's not, I will continue to be transfixed by it. I am a bit concerned that it is a bilateral pretend unironic enjoyment event (a BPUEE), in which a band ironically makes music that they pass off as sincere, and then the audience enjoys the music ironically while claiming to enjoy it sincerely (see Clem Snide for an example of the unilateral pretend unironic enjoyment event).
The thing that brings these two people together, that brings me back to them time after time even though listening to them puts me on edge and feeling somehow embarrassed, is that I get a voyeuristic thrill from listening to them say the most out of touch, cheesy things anyone could possibly say. Jean seems to think that any time something good comes out of poverty it's some sort of revelation. Moroccan banquet tradition owes a debt to the institute of slavery. Oaxaca, the poorest part of Mexico, has the most well preserved traditional culture. Both of these facts are marveled at by Jean. I suppose part of it could be that Jean is a radio personality, and must, as I must in my job as an English teacher, ask the obvious questions all the time, but one would think that after traveling around the world as Jean has, one would know that there are two types of rich culture, the kind you have to go out and spend money looking for and the kind you are too poor to escape.
Finn, on the other hand, has the ability to write and sing words that must undoubtedly appear on the page to be indulgent, borderline moronic, and essentially empty, and then sing them with great conviction of a sort. It's something I've never seen before. The Hold Steady sounds like a proficient bar band that knew that they needed a gimmick to overcome their mediocrity, and found and kept Finn as a singer because he was both somewhat original and the only game in town. You know that type of band, if you knew any bands in high school.
So I just want to salute Jean Feraca and Craig Finn, from the bottom of my heart.