It has been a decade since American Slang was released and it has been roughly the same amount of time since I moved to Brighton. Due to my nature as a self-absorbed dickhead I have drawn immense thematic parallels between these two occurrences, namely that of the loss of youth.
The Gaslight Anthem released American Slang on a wave commercial success generated by The ‘59 Sound, a seminal songbook of Jersey Americana that I have never had any reason to associate with so strongly. And yet I did.
Tales of jean jackets, fairground rides and the infinite promise of youth colour these records. Through the rose-tinted hues of Americana remembered songs blur the line between fantasy and reality as much as that between writer and listener.
The record is a faultless collection of odes to youth. Ten songs that ebb and flow with ease, each new track seeing stars rise and fall in verse and minor chords. It is an overlooked part of the band’s catalogue and it has been a constant soundtrack to my own fortunes, all told in American Slang.
With the record in my ears I moved through the city by the sea and thought myself king. I had Madeira Drive for a Jersey boardwalk, piss-soaked student clubs for the all-night diners of my dreams. I listened to American Slang and painted myself as the protagonist. I was a kid for cool summer nights and a lonesome lover waiting for the phone to ring.
As time passed I clutched these songs to my chest like a winning hand that never came good. So wrapped up in imagined glories I failed to see that the fortunes had come and gone for the richer men while I was left with gallows, just waiting for the liars to come down and hang.
When you begin to believe in your own story you lose sight of the life passing by. As others moved forward I threw myself ever deeper into the narrative. The record shielded me from the harsh reality of my own stasis. I was the boxer, the orphan and the star of every song. The lonesome hero of a New Jersey diner scene I had never lived.
And when it was over, I woke up alone.
The record is a bittersweet ode to the roar of our twenties, to the passing of the youth we thought we would hold forever. The record is about learning to say goodbye to these things.
On Boxer Brian Fallon sings of the titular character “He found the bandages inside the pen and the stitches on the radio”. This act of healing is integral not only to the two minutes and forty-seven seconds of the track, but to the record, if not the band as a whole.
Quite regrettably this was a beat I missed, and badly at that.
The folly of youth is to assume that your woe is the greatest to befall all man, that your blues are bluer than the next guy’s, that your wounds bleed more righteous red than any before.
“You say the night just got too cold,” Fallon croons on Bring It On, “Well everybody’s cold” the record replies in perfect punk rock harmony. The cause and the remedy come in sequential lines and I – and I assume many others – failed to understand it.
I mistakenly cast myself as the responder when I was the subject. At 20 years old I thought I knew the world and the way that it worked, that I was the grand narrator doling out advice to the sorry folk below. Naturally, as anyone with a passing knowledge of men at 20 years old will attest, I was nothing but a boy lost in bright lights and the wave of a summer dress.
The record reaches its peak in Orphans as Fallon cries “The clothes I wore just don’t fit my soul anymore” a sentiment that we all find ourselves echoing at one time or another. Caught in the reflection of our mirrored glass past the change in ourselves become clear, as long as we allow ourself to see it.
In the years since the record was released the songs have stayed the same. Fallon has grown, all of its listeners have grown, but American Slang remains.
It took ten entire years to find that I was the Orphan of the song not the son of regret I thought I was. It took ten entire years to realise that I am older now, not then. I was doing it when I was young, I was living the years I thought myself looking back on.
In a rush to be older I missed the glory of youth itself, but now I see that the clothes don’t fit anymore, I see that the bones I thought my own are for someone else to call.
Young boys will always wish to be men and I guess the curse is that you never realise until it’s too late. You never realise that you burn brightest when you want it least.
I have given this city the fire of my youth and triumph of my enemies. I once thought these to be outside forces but the enemy is, was, and always will be the refusal of time, of growth, of life.
Days have passed, years have passed, friends have passed and loves have passed. I have learned to say goodbye to all of these, but this is not to diminish the pain. The dull ache of loss that rises when I see the carousel and remember the people we have left behind, the places we went and all that we loved. Learning to say goodbye is not to abandon these things, but to let them live forever in our growing past.
American Slang will always be American Slang. Youth will only ever be for the young. Ten tracks, thirty-four minutes. A punk rock memorial to glory days we wished away.
I see now who I was, who I am and I see what American Slang was meant to be. As I stand at the swell and say goodbye to the ferris wheel and it’s patient glory I know.
I am older now and we did it when we were young.
Goodbye circus wheel, may you rest along the sea. I have given you the fire of my youth and the triumph of my enemies.