I went to buy American Slang from Easy Street records today, but they were sold out. “Oh, that’s OK,” I said, but they responded, “No, it’s not OK. We had a problem with our supplier.” So they gave me a $2 voucher and promised me the record would be in tomorrow.
I’m wearing a Hold Steady shirt in this photograph, and carrying the Gaslight Anthem postcards they gave me in lieu of the album, which is useful because it lets me tell you about the difference between the Hold Steady and the Gaslight Anthem. They’re both fairly similar bands, you know. Playing anachronistic rock ‘n’ roll with a deep respect for the heroes of yesterday, particularly the one hero to rule them all, Bruce Springsteen.
Both Hold Steady and Gaslight Anthem sing, always, songs about girls, but more importantly they sing songs about being around music. But they sing about music differently, and herein lies the distinction. The Hold Steady sings about being around music: shows, concerts, scenes and scene girls. Their references concern conversation about bands between devotees. It’s fascinating because we, the audience, recognize our own discussions in Craig Finn’s words.
The Gaslight Anthem, on the other hand, sings songs about music itself. The band’s borrowed lyrics, its easy slippage between the everyday and the lyrical, speaks directly to the experience of listening to music. This is a band about not the moshing crowd but instead the revolving 45. Lead singer Brian Fallon sings about Miles Davis and Tom Petty and Adam Duritz (!?) and, of course, Bruce Springsteen. And Fallon sings about girls, too. Finding girls in those songs and understanding girls through those songs.
The Hold Steady sings about girls as well. Their girls are girls out at the parties and the shows; the girls on the scene. Does this make Craig Finn’s girls more real than Brian Fallon’s imagined musical girls? Maybe. But Fallon knows girls too, and perhaps Finn’s are as much an imagined, romantic ideal as Fallon’s are.
Because don’t all boys have imagined, romantic ideas of girls? Doesn’t everyone have an ideal? Isn’t the struggle in pop music always about the gap between idealized imagined girls and real girls, better and worse than you might have imagined?