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New Jersey: A Mecca Of Rock N Roll (My Chemical Romance, The Gaslight Anthem, Springsteen Feature)

Monday, 22 April 2013 Written by Heather McDaid

Two recent events have drawn my thoughts towards New Jersey of late. First, the band who formed my teenage years and fuelled my passion for music split up. That would be New Jersey's own My Chemical Romance. Then, while being freakishly organised, I found a review I wrote regarding The Gaslight Anthem, noting that they hailed from what seemed to be 'a Mecca of rock 'n' roll'. Ever since I read that, I've been unable to shake that New Jersey feeling, because - truthfully - that state's track record is pretty spectacular. 

I'd be as well getting the eyeliner-clad teenager out of me before she goes wild. My Chemical Romance formed in 2002 and fuelled many a music fan's passion for New Jersey, mostly courtesy of their documentary-style DVD 'Life on the Murder Scene'. Through capturing an aggressive moment in time on 2002's 'I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love' to reinventing themselves with a dark and bloody aesthetic and a unified vision in 2004's 'Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge', My Chemical Romance signed their name as another NJ success story. 2006 saw their career peak with their wildly ambitious 'The Black Parade', culminating their recorded career with their next reinvention - the colour, optimistic and comic-suited 'Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys'. Though the band look to be continuing in separate directions with music, they will stand out as a creative force from the area. 

And though they're not as visual, or as creative in terms of total reinvention, NJ hold another modern wonder: The Gaslight Anthem. If there was any remaining doubt of that fact, seeing them blow away two packed evenings at the Glasgow Academy at the end of March would quash them. Though both 'Sink Or Swim' and 'The 59 Sound' retain the momentous, stripped back wonder of their earlier years, and 'American Slang' proved a welcome addition, it is their latest offering that really blew fans away. 2012's 'Handwritten' feels like a rejuvenated and crisper Gaslight Anthem, though there was no real call for rejuvenation in the first place. They're a strong band when it comes to fan connection, with their bare tracks playing soundtrack to many a teenage year - so evident in a live setting. Years in, there's few bands who look anywhere near as happy as Gaslight in a live setting, and it's a shared sentiment from band and fans alike. 

A heavy influence on the band comes from one of New Jersey's greatest exports. Bruce Springsteen  may be in his 60s now, but he's still putting on shows that woo fans just like they did in decades past. Sure, the vibe and atmosphere might be different, but the fact remains: he's still fantastic, and he plays for hours on end every night, often finding himself cut short by venues or festivals. Touring alongside the E Street Band, Springsteen deals with a strong sense of Americana and love for his home town. Plucking high points from his extensive career in music would prove relatively obvious - the commercial peaks falling to 'Born in the USA' and 'Born To Run', yet 2012's 'Wrecking Ball' proved that The Boss still had it in him to produce great music. A complete icon of music, let alone just New Jersey. 

And if he had a large influence on Gaslight, it would only make sense that a huge influence on My Chemical Romance was also a home town hero. Glenn Danzig, founder of the horror punk kings the Misfits, hails from Lodi in New Jersey. Founding his most famed act in the 1970s, he and his bandmates were told they would never have a career in music. They forged forward by merging a slant on the Ramones-esque punk that was dominating at the time with lyrics and imagery steeped in horror influences and hat tips. Disbanding the Misfits due to animosity with other members, he continued on his own road with Samhain, before renaming the band to Danzig. Despite being famed for his horror rock era, he deviated into gothic works, and a bluesy-metal side. Basically, Glenn Danzig was not someone to settle on one sound, and used his creative freedom to push himself in as many directions took his fancy. It's little surprise his work inspired such a shape-shifting band. 

Patti Smith may have been born in Chicago, but she moved to New Jersey with her family at the early age of 9, identifying that most of all with her childhood and most influential years. Patti is hailed 'the Godmother of Punk' because of the impact she had on the local punk scene in New Jersey and, more pertinently, New York - especially following 1975's 'Horses'. Though currently in her 60s, Patti still tours the world and speaks with passion on her music, her past and many current issues. In a Glasgow show last year, she erupted into a 'fuck you' rant to anyone who would put Pussy Riot down, empowering the women for standing for what they believe in. Smith is different to many punk icons in that she is acclaimed as a poet and writer of her own merit - the likes of 'Just Kids' cannot come more highly recommended. 

Zakk Wylde is a New Jersey native who forged quite the career in music, from work as Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist to Black Label Society. Though Ozzy was easy with his band, in that they weren't committed to him if they sought to pursue other music, Wylde remained loyal for years. This loyalty was obviously appreciated as Ozzy showed up to his induction to the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame in 2006. 2013 also hits the 15 year mark for Black Label Society,  Wylde's other dominating musical suit. On a slightly unrelated, yet completely brilliant note, two of Wylde's four children are named Sabbath and Hendrix. If that wasn't a dedication to rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, I don't know what is. 

New Jersey also plays host to Skid Row. Though the band have had quite a number of line-up changes over the years, the 'classic' line-up consisted of Sebastian Bach, Rob Affuso, Dave Sabo, Rachel Bolan and Scotti Hill (the latter three still present in the current incarnation). The likes of their eponymous album went 5x platinum, and hit the #1 spot with 'Slave To The Grind'  in 1991. The group took a break, though never officially disbanding, and reformed in 1999 with Johnny Solinger at the fore. Still going strong, 2013 saw the release of their first EP since 1992, 'United World Rebellion: Chapter One', said to be part of a series due over the next year or so. 

And though there are many more to choose from, a final personal inclusion goes to the Bouncing Souls. Capitalising off of an aptly bouncy element to their songs, they opted for fast paced tracks with a light hearted feel. A solid addition to Epitaph records, the band saw success through their eponymous record and 'Hopeless Romantic' amongst others. Live, they're a delight to see. That bounce evident in their music is clear as day in a live capacity - Greg Attonito seems almost awkward as he dances around the stage, but it has a certain charm to it. Surpassing 25 years as a band, the Bouncing Souls have still got a lot to give, and they're fantastic. 

From metal to punk, gothic to classic rock 'n' roll, New Jersey has quite a number of names to work with. The passing comment made about New Jersey in that review last year comes with a deal of supportive information - there are many great musical names that hail from there, including Frank Sinatra - though, he's probably not best suited to the rock 'n' roll ideology. A fascination with NJ started through the early-teen adoration of My Chemical Romance, and I possibly lucked out on the peaked interest in such a good state. It seems worth picking another at random and seeing just what musical qualities hail there too. For another day, perhaps.

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