48. Song No. 319: “American Slang,” The Gaslight Anthem
American Slang, 2010
Ooooohhhh, I need a second to revel in the absolute majesty of the New Jersey scene. Springsteen may be our most iconic claim to fame but the Garden State is such fertile breeding grounds for legendary local music. Saves the Day and Early November and hometown heroes The June Spirit were my opportunities to watch a band go from headliners at skating-rink shows and hyper-local fests to the national stage firsthand, and I do somewhat regret being such an elitist malcontent about the horrors of suddenly sharing the bands I’d come to love in tiny, cramped venues where my friends comprised a significant percentage of the audience that I couldn’t fully embrace the pride of knowing more of a band’s story firsthand than those less blessed by geographic happenstance. I did always swear that we had one of the greatest caches of local talent ever, and I still maintain that Florida’s our only real rival when it comes to a homegrown indie scene worth bragging about.
Everyone always grabs for the low-hanging fruit of Springsteen comparisons when they talk about The Gaslight Anthem but, much like cliches, some dots are the easiest to connect because they say more than any other pat comparison could. Sure, Brian Fallon sounds like The Boss with his smoky, soulfully tortured vocals, but there’s a proud plaintiveness of the valiantly suffering radiating from both of them that fundamentally appeals to me. The difference is that it took me a while to warm up to Bruce, whereas Gaslight Anthem had me absolutely smitten as soon as I heard them.
I haven’t listened to this band in a while so I had forgotten that there is such deep-rooted melancholy in them regardless of the music itself. They sound like unrequited love no matter the story the lyrics are telling. It’s that poignant ache of having survived something you can finally see the merit and growth and wealth of experience in, but it still fucking hurts to remember no matter how retrospectively polished and nostalgically filtered its raw, jagged beauty is.
Like, hubs and I start getting in the Halloween spirit mid-August, which starts with bingeing all the movies and shows we’re gonna want to watch again once the spooky season properly begins. This year, that meant tearing through all three seasons of Stranger Things TWICE, with neither time letting me get through Hopper’s letter to El without crying like an irreparably wounded little bitch. But that line “When life hurts you, because it will, remember the hurt. The hurt is good” was just so perfectly complemented by having this song in my head, which led me back to Gaslight Anthem’s and Fallon’s echoes of persistent heartache that never completely abated.
Because these bands that sound wise beyond their years — an inevitable parallel when you’re comparing the bard of the working class to a brunch of Millennials half his age — also tend to sound like the consequence of acquiring that premature maturity. And as someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time contemplating and taking stock of my own interior maelstroms, there IS something indulgent about occasionally dwelling on those formative wounds that so much of the person you’ve become grew around to protect and reinforce.
This isn’t my favorite Gaslight Anthem song (but getting unresistingly sucked back into this band had me absolutely living inside “Mulholland Drive” for a good while, which is a trip I’m always happy to take, even if there are lingering blues from getting a little too recklessly in touch with some old hurts) but it was a wonderful welcome-back and invitation to detour through some familiar, if mildly, exquisitely painful, feelings. And I do love it when songs leave a path of breadcrumbs down a rabbit down of cathartic musical masochism, albeit maybe a little too eagerly.