In Opening Night, Gena Rowlands plays a Broadway actress who witnesses the accidental death of an adoring young fan as she tries to snag an autograph from the star. This experience both traumatizes and enlightens Rowlands's character to the point where she questions the very nature of what she does for a living. Her lack of actual responsibility for the death is slightly outweighed by her guilt for indirectly creating the situation that led to it; her fame brought the fan there, after all, and caused her to look "upwards with wonder" from the start. When Craig Finn of the Hold Steady sings, "Some nights it's just entertainment/And some other nights it's work," on the song "Slapped Actress," which references the John Cassavetes film, he's talking about the moments in which the fantastic escapism of the entertainment world meets harsh reality.
Playing out like the vivid musings of a reformed punk rocker, the stories on the Hold Steady's fourth LP, Stay Positive, are among the most fluid Finn has ever written. We are no longer visiting with Holly, Gideon, Charlemagne or any of the other characters from previous Hold Steady songs. Instead, these are new characters, who maybe knew those people back in the day but are now growing up to face some "Massive Nights" of their own. Where the band's last album, Boys and Girls in America, primarily celebrated the pangs and joys of youth, Stay Positive focuses on the aftermath of the parties, trying to find substance scattered throughout the broken bottles and cigarette butts. In a sense, the parallel between these two albums is not unlike that of Springsteen's Born to Run and its much-lauded follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town: the former sets the story into motion; the latter provides the cathartic conclusion.
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