Iris Recommends: “Entitlement Crew” by The Hold Steady

More often than not, Katie Darby Mullins’s recommendations on Twitter lead me to new songs that feel like old friends I’ve had at my side since the beginning of time. Case in point: an appreciation thread for The Hold Steady’s Thrashing Thru the Passion, which brought me to “Entitlement Crew” a couple of months ago. No prizes for guessing why someone who’s always felt like a square peg in a round hole would be drawn towards that title.

“Entitlement Crew” reads like a perfectly formed flash fiction piece, set in the four-walled universe of a house party. In the living room are the people who sing, dance, brag and bray their way to a good time; in the kitchen are the drunks and the losers and the one-night conspirators, hanging out among empty bottles and torn bags of chips, exchanging secrets they’ll have all but forgotten the next day. There’s the hint of a possibility, a connection, a spark that fades too quickly: two systems in the dark and people dancing, just like two parallel lines never ever meet, and two intersecting lines only cross once, usually too briefly to move past the awkwardness of an unflattering first impression. And there’s the Entitlement Crew, fabulous and fashionably late, to remind you that whatever you’re hoping might happen is never going to come your way (or if it does, it will never be the grand, fateful moment you made up in your head).

I’ve known my share of Entitlement Crews. I’ve met them at lectures, outside of bars where I was the only one not smoking, at the clubs my friends talked me into dressing up for (whatever the “little money and no dress sense” version of it was in the mid-2000s). I used to know who was a handshake person, who was a hug person, and who would insist to kiss everyone on both cheeks. I accepted their sugar-coated and back-handed compliments with smiles that felt stuck to my face with Sellotape, but never learnt to laugh at jokes that weren’t funny, not even then.

A decade later, it’s no surprise that very few of the friends I downed tequila shots with at parties are people I’d still call to go out for a coffee. The Entitlement Crews of my youth revelled in their pack mentality, their safety in numbers, the confidence they seemed to have acquired as a birthright. I, on the other hand, only hoped to cut through the noise and find someone like me: another person who was never taught how to keep up the act; who spent every waking hour in the company of a sinking feeling; who knew deep down that everything is brittle and is breaking apart but wasn’t quite sure who else they could tell.

Every verse in “Entitlement Crew” holds a tiny truth, and some of them break my heart on behalf of the person I used to be. The strongest feeling I get when I Iisten to it, though, is gratitude. Here’s a song that captures what it’s like to cut your path through life on your own and at an unsteady pace, with better words than I could ever hope to find.

(Song recommendation by Federica S.)