I almost went and listened to the new Gaslight Anthem album all over again, Get Hurt. At first listen I didn’t like it. But at first listen I didn’t like American Slang, and now it’s at 54 listens on my Dell’s iTunes alone, and I didn’t like Handwritten either upon first, but when I left Orland Park, IL for the last time, after being bathed in the company of probably some of the best people in the country, though never to return, “45” seemed like the perfect soundtrack. That album was a little heavier, more visceral.
Also, the liner notes for that album had some of Nick Hornby’s best writing. I’ve always found his novels a little bland, but leave it to inspiring rock music to concentrate these things.
Also, I once had a dream about the Gaslight Anthem. It was one of those dreams that was very simple, but also very hard to explain. I was sitting in a car. This much is non-debatable. My boss somehow came up to me and talked to me, I guess traffic was stopped. He asked what I was doing. I said, “Just listenin’ to some American-Fight-Porn-Star.” Then a black dude appeared in the dream and said the words “It’s Pell Mell.”
K, let’s back up here a bit. Pell Mell is the name of a somewhat trippy, but really mellow instrumental band from Seattle, WA, fronted by a dude named Steve Fisk, a lifelong Seattleite who has very little to do with grunge, it’s more like a surf-ish R.E.M. without vocals. It’s signifying of change, finality and resignation to me.
So this is how this cog was set in my mind: life would always be a matter of fighting, pleasure was just the empty, prurient, fleeting. This idea was dripped onto my mind with finality and resignation, by way of this dream.
Unfortunately, I’ve been to Colorado in my life. I worked there for three years. It was a lot of random crap, basically people who couldn’t hack it in the places they were from, moving there to be in a place where nothing happens.
I’m not even sure what the significance of that is, other than that it’s something against which I juxtapose my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, an ugly place by all accounts, where I had this dream. In Colorado, I expected the winters to be filled with social attrition and foreboding tinges, but actually everyone was constantly in high spirits, content. My first winter back in Indiana, I expected the constant motif of conflict and merciless malevolence to dissipate and subside during winter, since, with our winters, who the hell in their right mind would hold themselves to any standard, but, much to my chagrin, people kept stomping profusely at me and giving me looks like they wanted to kill me and fu** my dead corpse.
So is there still a motif of seasons in life? Our lives our so sterile. We can pretty much go to the produce section and get the same stuff, no matter what time of year it is; the only difference is in holidays, these change our practices. Bukowski was against celebrating holidays; I personally am all for them, I don’t see anything wrong with them. But maybe people don’t celebrate seasons themselves as much anymore, to an extent, or just don’t think anything of them, or whatever. I guess the work weeks stay the same.
Boston is really intense, a place of fighting, whereas Seattle has been described by lifelong denizens thereof Mudhoney as a “vapid expanse” (somewhere on the album The Lucky Ones). California has been described as a lifelong citizen thereof as “mellow.” Most notable literary “on the road” experiences, and those in life itself, happen from east to west, therein the “exploration” and “discovery,” and this was the direction of manifest destiny, so it stands to reason that this would be the direction of the symbolic or ethereal manifestation of the seasons. That is, the east coast is an intrinsically “spring” place, spring being a time of fighting and proving manhood, and the west coast being by nature a “fall”-oriented endeavor, more prone to placidity and, probably, “knowledge,” the populace being more literate, somewhat how the season of fall has the lively times of summer and spring clearly in its rearview.
So if the Gaslight Anthem is the perfect archetypal east coast band, of spring, of confrontational victory and the tough-guy tenets of truth carried by traditional Americana, Modest Mouse is the perfect west coast band — less confrontational, but not necessarily carrying of less of a burden. Take a song like “Whenever I Breathe Out You Breathe In (Positive Negative)” on their venerable, high-profile odds-and-sods collection Building Nothing out of Something. The shapes taken by its sad tinges are interwoven and manifold. There’s the music itself — the “weeping” slide guitar with the ultimate down-stroke; there’s the lugubrious lead-in lyric set; and overall, as is per Isaac Brock’s general m.o., there’s the idea of even the most theoretically successful dating relationships being doomed with uncertainty and malaise. If Brock knows this well to the greatest extent of anyone, and if he exacts this feeling most directly onto musical wax, then, to me, he is the (Caucasian) king of the west coast.