Sunday, October 12, 2014

It Feels Like The First Time

You know when you hear a record and it's like the first time you're hearing those songs? Maybe you've heard the same song ten times before, but you never really felt anything until that moment? That happened to me recently.

When I was in Kalamazoo for my great grandma's birthday party my dad, brother, and I went to the local record store, Green Light Records. I wasn't there for anything in particular and was just browsing the shelves when I happened upon The Gaslight Anthem section. Gaslight was a band that I became interested in around Freshman year of college (right around The '59 Sound). I was discovering all this new music at the time and really expanding my tastes, so it wasn't long before they got lost in the pile.

I remember trying to keep up with the band, listening to their newest records as they were released and playing some of my old favorites every now and then. American Slang passed me by quickly and I just wasn't interested in that kind of music at the time. Then came Handwritten in 2012. I remember the release mostly because a couple of tumblr blogs I followed were run by really cool chicks from the UK who loved the band. They made me want to love the band again too, and I really tried to become captivated with Gaslight's sound again. Anyway, after listening to 45 and Handwritten a few times I once again gave up. I liked the songs, but just couldn't seem to connect to the album.

That's why I found it so strange that once I put my hands on Handwritten in the record store, I couldn't get it out of my mind. I knew that I liked a few songs on their newest album Get Hurt and it would have made much more sense for me to buy that record. Even the guy at the counter commented about not getting the newest album. It's hard to explain, but something about it just felt right. It's like the album came back into my life to help me. To create this perfect moment. To remind me that there are other people out there who love music the same way I do.

The Handwritten vinyl has this great packaging; the liner folds out and the lyrics are on the inside. Plus the record itself is blue vinyl. It's the type of quality that sets the record apart and something I was disappointed in when I purchased the Get Hurt record. Yes what I really care about is the music, but quality packaging should be a priority as well. While I sat listening, I discovered this note by Nick Hornby printed on the inside cover. His words are a reminder that although The Gaslight Anthem's sound might be clearly influenced by bands of the past, they are a talented composition of all those influences.

"And the second is this: you think, write, play and sing as though you have a right to stand at the head of a long line of cool people - you recognize that The Clash and Little Richard got here first, but they're not around any more, so you're going to carry on the tradition, and you're going to do it in your own voice, and with as much conviction and authenticity and truth as you can muster. And if you can pull that off, you'll be amazed at how fresh you can sound."

The picture is kind of small but you can read the whole thing here.
"And the Gaslight Anthem sound fresh. Anyone who has ever been frustrated by anything - a girl, a boy, a job, a self (especially that) - can listen to this music and feel understood and energized."

As the record begins to spin there's this moment of anticipation before 45 starts playing that just sucks me in every time. The Gaslight Anthem has this raw vintage rock sound that begs to be played on vinyl, or blasting from a car radio on a dark night drive. There's something magical and transformative about their music. Sometimes I imagine myself going back in time. Other times I just picture a different life in the here and now. I picture myself lying under the stars on a warm summer night next to this guy that loves me, someone who understands how music can make you feel so many things at once. I'm sure that sounds crazy, but it gives me hope that maybe there is someone out there waiting to share those moments with me.

I love this acoustic version of Mae.

I know that The Gaslight Anthem isn't for everyone and that's okay. You don't always have to like everything all the time. Like I said, when the album was first released I didn't even like it all that much. You never know what might make you feel differently in a week, a month, or a few years. When I listen to Handwritten now I feel this part of me connect, like something latching into place. It's like the music is there to keep me going. Part of me wants to scream along, sing those words with every bit that I have, but part of me just needs to lie there listening. It's like needing a good cry, or going for a run, or just listening to the songs on repeat until something inside of you is finally healed. Often you don't even know what it is inside of you that needs fixing, but there's a realization that this music is what you needed all along.

Part of me feels like the record is meant for some angsty teenager, but I'm just a hopelessly lost human being. One who is floating around in her mid-twenties desperately trying to find the door that will let her out of this mess and onto something better. God knows I've never been good with directions. Too often I get stuck running in circles, getting no where fast, just going over the same thoughts again and again.

Maybe all of this sounds silly to you. Maybe I'm weird for thinking music can hold this much power. But for me music is like a religion. It's the one thing I have total faith in. It gives me hope, it keeps me going, it's there when life is good and when it's bad. Sometimes it's the only thing that makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I have a future and a purpose. It's records like Handwritten that reinforce my faith in something bigger.

And I'm not saying all music has to have meaning. Like all forms of art, sometimes it's just there for you to appreciate. There doesn't have to be a story behind it. There's no need to analyze every detail until you can figure out what the song is about. A song can have however much meaning you want it to have.

Just take a moment to listen, feel your heart beating, and remind yourself that you are alive.


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