Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

Not sure whether this blogging thing is going to take again, but what the hell...

On a recent Bill Simmons podcast w/ Adam Carolla they did this bit about Bruce Springsteen and how his music was so overtly, unabashedly, middle-class. They went on about his newest (and most made-up release) Factory about the factory that makes the factories was shutting down... a little over the top... but right on point. The gag being that the Boss would do whatever he could to connect with blue collar middle America. While I don't think his motives are quite as suspect as Simmons and Carolla joked that they were, Springsteen's middle class nostalgia, seems disconnected in the post-internet age. Suffice to say the Boss hasn't been middle class in, say, three decades, so what's he really got to say about losing your job at the steel mill.

I bring this up because my first exposure to The Gaslight Anthem taps into this blue collar theyreshuttingdownthefactorythatmakesthefactories vibe that Springsteen made famous on Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. Beyond the obvious comparison between the gruff rock voice of lead singer Brian Fallon and Springsteen, both parties seem to capture the anger/confusion/longing for something simpler, of their respective generations.

I think what makes the connection between Fallon and the GLA and Springsteen interesting is how, simultaneously, they are so similar and so different. Both the GLA and Springsteen speak the same NJ blue collar language of the working man, but the more than 30 year gap between the emergence of the GLA and Springsteen is indicative of how that language and how that sub-section of blue collar steel belt America has changed.

In Springsteen's era the group was more populous, starting to wane, but hanging on. As such, the Boss' music seems longing, but hopeful and the edges of his music are softer, more palatable, and somehow seem less important. Maybe this has to do with The Boss as a rock icon or our/my familiarity with his songs, but in comparison American Slang, doesn't quite have the same sense of urgency, or meaning, or personal importance.

For example, when most people (and I've had this argument several times) that most people think "Born in the U.S.A." is a pro-America song, and while the lyrics are decidedly not, the melody might as well be the new American national anthem. In 2011, Springsteen's music feels as though it should be in a commercial for the newest Chevy Pickup Truck.

In contrast, American Slang (the album) and "American Slang" (the song) feels as though without a bigger audience to connect to, that they can speak for downtrodden in New Jersey. American Slang feels as though it's the sound track for the guys who didn't finish high school, and are going to have a tough time of it in a knowledge based economy where manufacturing work doesn't exist in America. Where Springsteen feels like he's selling pickup trucks, the GLA is the soundtrack for the Dicky Eklunds of the world.

None of this is to say that the GLA is better than Springsteen. Springsteen is, IMHO, one of the greatest rock 'n' rollers of all time, and without the Boss, there is no Gaslight Anthem. What I am saying is that the Gaslight Anthem has taken the torch, and from now on they're be speaking for NJ.

"American Slang (acoustic)"

The Gaslight Anthem w/ Bruce Springsteen "The '59 Sound"

1 comment:

Jesse said...

My favorite was "they shut down the factories that made factories".