by Sam Houghton
There must be some sort of liberating protons in the New Jersey ground water: Makes the bagels sweet and breeds a wild, sweeter strand of frontmen. We’re not talking wild in that sense that Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger were weird and wild and raunchy and threatening, but more to the point that in New Jersey, their hearts are thumping on their sleeves and they desperately need the audience to be right there with them, like a girl in heat, needing to spill the beans… with a whole load of feedback and saxophones and drums pounding behind them.
Perhaps I suffer from over-exposure to the Brooklyn, uber-cool showmen with electrical gadgets spilling out of their pores that has become thankfully cliché, but I think there is something to be said for the resurgence of highly emotional Springsteen inspired bands like Titus Andronicus and The Gaslight Anthem and the swelling number of underground rock bands in New Jersey like The Everymen.
Taking the late night train from Hoboken on the main line up through Passaic County is perhaps the finest glimpse at the origins of this ethos. In a hundred years, it will be installed as some nostalgic exhibit, a cross examination of 21st century culture: Young girls frolicking through the aisles, drunk and high on the hormones and testosterone bouncing off the walls; dudes in tight shirts declaring their brotherly love; conductors throwing fits out of sheer adolescent incompetence. It would show the core ideals of most every rock band from New Jersey with a hard on for Bruce Springsteen: Screaming emotions flowing like the NJT train were the outside hall of some high school prom in the height of a full moon.
My first experience with Jersey rock was from this band called The Roadside Graves. I happened to catch them at their tenth anniversary show, in New Brunswick. Having no frame of reference to the New Jersey scene, I was like a young boy casually waltzing into puberty, unshielded to the horrors (I was there for the opening act, Gunfight!, a great punk band from Brooklyn). As soon as the show began, emotions began flying. Fans would make their way on stage and hug random band members, congratulating them on whatever – a marriage, a baby being born, a fantasy football victory, and god knows what; at one moment the singer broke into tears, and another moment a fight nearly broke out; The guitar solos were epic; teenage girls and middle-aged women were crying: All this from a rock and roll band. It was fantastic.
After the experience, I understood this heavy fascination with Bruce Springsteen. If you understand “Thunder Road” or The River or have seen Springsteen perform, you’ll understand most Jersey rock. The idea, it seems, is to unleash everything: frustration, confusion, guilt, anguish and scorn and whatever else that has been hiding in the deep catacombs until there is absolutely nothing left in the tanks… everything until you’re lying on stage dried up in a pool of your own slobber and vomit. His music is seemingly quite liberating or maybe even therapeutic.
Last Tuesday night at the Mercury Lounge, I caught a Jersey punk band, The Everymen, a revolving cast of underground go-getters. My ideas of Jersey rock were confirmed and solidified. At a crossroads during their set – at the beginnings when the crowd was sober and a nice crescent of open space sat in front of the stage – in true Jersey fashion, frontman Sarin McHugh dove into this heart-felt monologue on how much love was in the room and how happy he is that everyone in the crowd was there and how much love he had for them. The show was a benefit for a friend recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis so perhaps there was some extra emotion mixed in there, but all said and done, after the speech, the Mercury Lounge turned into a different animal. The crowd got thick and converged towards the stage; people started dancing and hooting and hollering; the band started playing better and it turned into a real show.
The whole point to this long tangent is that the uptight white dudes in our fine Brooklyn community should probably stop hating on the dirty Jerse and learn some good lessons. Music doesn’t have to be about some dumb popularity contest and how many halfwits you can drag to your show, it can be about getting together and letting the steam blow.
I recently read an article in The Times about some Japanese culture that bragged the greatest life expectancy rate for men. One unique trait that struck the writer was that the men would gather together quite frequently, drink saki and shoot the shit. I can’t remember the name of the saki or the culture, but that’s not the point. Point is, when you get together and let the anguish fly, spill the beans till dawn, you’re living the good life. New Jersey may be a shit hole depending on your loyalties, and maybe New Jersey dudes are just unnaturally reserved, but I believe they are onto something cool.
Track 2 and 3 on this EP are great.