It’s only rock and roll… but I love everything about it!

You know how the mystical entity known as they “they” always say that as soon as you stop looking for something, you find it?

Well, it finally happened for me.

Yes, boys and girls, that most amazing, magical thing that could possibly happen to a person happened to me on Friday night.

No, I’m not talking about love. I’m single and probably will be for life unless they eventually make it legal for a crazy cat lady to marry her seventeen cats. Which in some states, might actually happen before gay marriage, but that’s a topic for another blog and another day. (For the record I have no cats. I hate cats. Which is why it’s truly horrible that my destiny is to become a crazy cat lady. Pray for me.)

So what happened to me on Friday?

Only the best and most wonderful thing that can happen in my world!

I went to New Jersey to see the Gaslight Anthem. And I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t expecting it, hell, I wasn’t even THINKING about it. But it happened.

Bruce Springsteen popped up on stage at a show that I was at in Asbury Park.

And I was front and center.

Okay, slightly off to the right of center. But close enough.

Several very reliably sources told me that he was there that night before he came out on stage.  But I was relying on Bruce’s own dictum to “Trust none of what you hear, and less of what you see,” because I had been burned by rumors before.

Of course, I probably should have been able to guess that Bruce would be there, because Friday was just one of those incredible, too-good-to-be-true, perfect days when the stars all align and everything works out exactly as it should.

There were no hiccups on the way to Asbury Park at all. The ICC is finally open in Maryland, shaving half an hour off the time it takes to get there. And even Delaware cooperated! Worst-state-in-the-union Delaware got its act together in time for my trip to Asbury Park. Somehow, in what can only be described as a Festivus miracle, the road work that has been going on since the dawn of time in Delaware seems to be FINISHED.

And even more miraculous, the toll plaza of doom that always caused traffic to slow to the point where you actually start moving backwards has been replaced with a high-speed EZ Pass. Granted, I’m sure when I eventually get to hell (and trust me, that’s where I’m going when I die), the gates of hell will look nothing like Rodin imagined and will instead be the exact toll plaza that used to ruin all road trips through Delaware, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Seriously, after Friday, I’m thinking about letting Delaware remain a state when I take over the world. The state clearly read my earlier blog about my plan to revoke its statehood and is making the changes necessary to ensure its survival. And I respect that effort.

And thanks to those changes in Delaware, we made it to Asbury Park in record time, even with a Superman-style stop along the way for Lynnlee and me to change out of our road-trip yoga pants and t-shirts into the glamorous rock and roll goddesses you see at a show. Seriously, we walk into the rest stop as Clark Kent and we emerge as Megan Fox. It’s amazing what a little glitter eyeliner, mascara, and cleavage can do.

Which is also probably how we managed to make it to the very front of the pit, despite not being the first people in line, but I don’t question these things. When the stars align, you let it happen. (Ana, that was for you!)

Of course, even in my rock goddess mode, I feel a little out of place at a Gaslight Anthem show. Mostly because I’m neither fifteen years old, nor do I have approximately 863 tattoos. Seriously. The band might sing about “your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos,” in “Old White Lincoln,” but they seem to have left out any mention of the skulls, mermaids, song lyrics, and the one really freaky tattoo that I saw on some girl’s chest that looked EXACTLY like my dead grandma.  Seriously.  It scared me.

And with how tightly packed that pit was, I’m really glad tattoos aren’t contagious because I’m pretty sure I would have caught a whole lot of them from the people around me. Piercings too. Like I didn’t know you COULD pierce your eyelid or chin dimple or pinky finger. But I learned Friday night that apparently there is nothing attached to your body that can’t be tattooed and/or pierced.

I’m also pretty sure that I now have internal bleeding from the moshers. I’ve never understood the appeal of moshing. Like I’m happy to dance at a show. And I understand the appeal of wanting to be as close to the action on stage as possible. But I’ve never felt the need to hurl my entire body at the people around me as hard as is humanly possible for the sake of showing my enjoyment at a concert.

I guess I’m just weird.

Especially considering that the old Asian couple behind us were seriously getting into it. They were there with their teenage daughter, and I felt sorry for her because I was positive that when the moshing started, they were going to yank that girl out of there faster than you could pierce an eyelid. But Asian dad was moshing like a pro. Like he actually was. And I think I even saw Asian mom crowd surfing at one point.

But I forgot all about the moshers and crowd surfers and the chick who was busy trying to tattoo the Gaslight Anthem logo onto the back of my shoulder when Brian Fallon told us that he had a Christmas gift for us. And somehow, collectively, the entire audience’s Bruce-dar went off.

I think Lynnlee still has nail marks in her arm from how hard I grabbed her.

It was only one song. And it honestly had nothing to do with why I was there that night, because the Gaslight Anthem is unequivocally my favorite band in the world after Bruce. But it was one of those moments that absolutely shifted my outlook on everything.

Clarence is still gone and none of us mere fans have any real idea of how Bruce is going to handle that for this next tour. Hell, we don’t even have a hint of what the next album is going to be called or any confirmed US tour dates. Just a promise that they’re coming.

But whatever happens, I’m ready.

Because when Bruce shows up to play in Asbury, all is right in my world.

And so, with a hoarse voice, massive internal moshing injuries, and a half-finished tattoo that looks like the one Steve-O got while off-roading, I return to my normal, non-rock goddess life, to await the new year of albums and concerts and touring, oh my!

But after Friday night, I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring.

In the words of the Gaslight Anthem, “Bring it On”…

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I’ll always love Bruce Springsteen… but we’re seeing other people too

Every time anyone mentions Bruce Springsteen’s name, everyone who knows me has to call me to tell me. Well, okay, not EVERYONE. The people who know me WELL usually text me instead because they know how much I hate talking on the phone if I’m not driving or shopping. (Don’t judge, it’s an ADD thing.)

For example, when Bruce played the Super Bowl halftime show a couple years ago, I got approximately 987,426 text messages saying “It’s Bruce!!!!!”

Which meant that I spent the entire second half of the game typing “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” approximately 987,426 times.

No, not really. I’m nicer than that in real life. Which is why I actually have some friends. (Yes mom, I have friends. Real ones.)

But that happens every time Bruce’s name is mentioned in conjunction with anything. And while I appreciate that people think of me, it makes me feel like everyone is convinced I’m a crazy stalker fan.

Which I’m totally not.

Stop laughing.

Stop it right now.

I’m not!

Granted, I’ve been to Asbury Park so many times that the bouncers at the Stone Pony know me on sight. And I can find Bruce’s house on Google Maps. And three of the coolest moments of my life were the two times he called me “sweetheart” and the time he pointed at me on the line “where the girls are pretty” in “Darlington County.” And yes, the characters in my first novel meet following Bruce on tour (because they say to write what you know). And I named my dog Rosalita so I could say “Rosie come out tonight” when it’s time to take her out.  And you can see me right in front in this video.

But it’s really not as bad as people think.

In fact, I’m going to tell you a little secret: my current playlist that I’ve been updating and listening to for months now only has two half Bruce songs on it.

(I count a half song as when he guested on someone else’s album, but it’s not his song and he’s just doing some of the vocals/guitar work.)

(And the two songs are Jesse Malin’s “Broken Radio” and the Dropkick Murphys doing “Peg O’ My Heart,” both of which are awesome and you should check them out if you don’t already have them.)

Right now you’re probably asking, “What happened, Sara? I thought that Bruce was all you listened to!”

Well, you thought wrong. Sorry to disappoint. But while Bruce bootlegs make up a huge percentage of my iTunes library, his music makes up a small percentage of what I’m actually listening to these days.

Now okay, that’s subject to change when there’s a new album coming out and/or he’s on tour. But right now, with nothing new officially in the works, he’s not getting a lot of airtime in my house or car.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love him and always will. He was my first musical love, and he’s always going to hold a special place in my heart for that reason. (See my blog post about how I got into his music and what it’s meant to me over the years if you want that story.) But before I got into Bruce, my favorite bands were Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, and Better than Ezra. I know, I know. Fail on all counts. Even trying to explain that it was the mid-late 1990s doesn’t really justify it. All I can say was that I was a dumb kid who didn’t know any better.  Although I should have, considering the chick on the cover of the first Third Eye Blind album was literally smacking herself in the face like she’s thinking “WTF am I doing on THIS album cover?!?!?!”

And then I met Bruce (metaphorically. Still haven’t really MET him… and I’m 100 percent positive that I’ll make a fool out of myself when I someday do… they’re probably going to need security to pry me off of him. Although I do think that most 61-year-old guys wouldn’t mind getting a hug from me… but I digress). And everything changed. And I’ll admit, for a few years there, he was pretty much all I listened to. It’s like how it always is in your first REAL relationship. You get totally wrapped up in the relationship, spend every waking moment together, and forget all your friends. We’ve all done it. I did that with my first serious boyfriend and I did it with Bruce. Unlike with John, however, Bruce and I have stayed close even once we were no longer exclusive. And I will always love him.

But I think the most important thing that came out of my relationship with Bruce is that he opened the door to the world of music for me. He was my gateway drug. And that may be the only place in the world where you see Bruce compared to pot. But you get the idea.

I was asked recently if I’d listened to the Bruce and Little Steven interview from a few weeks ago yet. And I actually haven’t. In fact, and I’m going to get blasted on BTX for this (the Bruce message board for those of you who haven’t had an all-consuming relationship with Bruce), but I haven’t even watched the Houston concert from the Darkness box set yet. (Don’t worry, I watched the Paramount footage—I just haven’t found the time to invest in watching a full concert yet. I’m sorry. I’ll watch it soon, I promise. Please don’t shun me, BTXers!)

And to be fair, a lot of what I’m listening to right now could be considered to be derived from Bruce. My current playlist’s top artists (based on having more than five songs on the playlist… there are a lot of others on there too) are Jesse Malin, the Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, and Fake Problems. Let’s trace the genealogy here: I started listening to Jesse Malin because Bruce guested on his album Glitter in the Gutter in 2007. I started listening to the Gaslight Anthem (who have a million Bruce references on their second album, The ’59 Sound) because Jesse Malin talked them up on Facebook when they were on tour together and because Bruce played with them in London. And I started listening to Frank Turner and Fake Problems because they both opened for the Gaslight Anthem at shows that I was at. And I’m loving every song that I’m listening to.

Will I ever stop loving Bruce? Doubtful. He’s been a tremendous influence in my life and I can’t imagine that would ever go away. But we’re both allowed to see other people now. So if you stop by my house or ride in my car (and in either case, I truly hope I know you… if you’re one of my like six random fans who I don’t know, please don’t suddenly show up in my house or car one day. Seriously. I’m totally pepper-spraying you if you do. Nothing personal. It’s just creepy.) and Bruce ISN’T playing, don’t worry. I’m not going through some weird existential crisis. I’m just experimenting with the other music that Bruce turned me on to.

And to all of my Bruce fan friends, don’t worry, I’ll still see you further on up the road… as soon as he’s touring again.

"If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music"

Saturday night was about as perfect as they come.

Why?

Because for only the third time in my concert-going life, I got to see Bruce play in Asbury Park. And in my world, that is truly as good as it gets.

If you’re not one of my fellow Bruce fanatics, I know that you don’t understand the significance of this. And you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Here she goes, talking about Bruce again.” But hear me out, I’m going to try and explain it.

Wikipedia defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially…human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

Keeping in mind the one infallible tenet of the universe that Wikipedia is NEVER wrong, I think that music can fall into the category of a religion.

Go with me on this. Picture music as a religion. I mean one of the big religions, not some little weirdo one like that church of body modification (it’s real… bizarre, but real) or a cult like Scientology or Jews for Jesus, but as a real, legitimate religion.

(Note: if you’re easily offended by people mocking religion, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post… And if you ARE easily offended and DO read the rest of this post despite my warning, please don’t post your comments about how I’m a heathen because I’m just going to delete them. Yes, I have that power. Which I suppose makes me the god of this blog. Insert evil laughter here.)

Obviously Bruce is at the center of the particular denomination of musical religion that I practice, but just as Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, I can see the inherent value of other musical messiahs.

So okay, if Bruce is the deity-figure (I’m going to refrain from calling him Jesus—partially because I think that’s going to offend everyone but the Jews (I’m not as worried about offending Muslims because I’m an American Jewish chick… they’re not reading this anyway and if they are, my very existence is already insanely offensive to them) and partially because I’m Jewish and calling him Jesus just gets too confusing), that would make the members of the E Street Band his disciples. If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d do a version of the Last Supper to illustrate this. But my Photoshop skills are, unfortunately, somewhat limited and I don’t feel like wasting that much time. You get the idea.

Then there are the prophets. These are the other musicians who are heavily influenced by Bruce. (And you could probably make an argument that since Bruce was heavily influenced by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry, among others, they could figure into some Father/Holy Ghost type analogy, but I don’t know enough about Christian theology to really flesh that out.) So in that group would be the Gaslight Anthem, Jesse Malin, Tom Morello, Eddie Vedder, Social Distortion etc. All of them are ABSOLUTELY worth going to see in their own right, but their music/styles contain some elements of the Bruce gospel.

We also have the scholars, who, like biblical scholars, interpret the word of our deity and pass these interpretations on to the masses. Some, like Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh, are established as being the authorities (love them or hate them, the Bruce camp has cemented their position by giving them super exclusive interviews), whereas others learn from these teachings and put their own spin on what they’ve taken from Bruce. You can find these scholars in many places, from BTX to Greasy Lake and everywhere in between. Some are strict and believe that only their interpretation is legitimate, whereas others are more welcoming of new points of view. (Think of the difference between ultra-orthodox Jews and reform Jews—you find the same kind of argument about what makes someone a “real” fan on BTX pretty often.)

I, as someone who has written a book in which the characters meet following Bruce and as someone who blogs about his importance in my life fairly often, fit into the scholar group, although I’m still a novice by most standards. My father was the one who introduced me to Bruce and he was the one who started taking me to shows, and it is a pretty male-dominated scene among the heavy-duty Bruce fans. And in my debut work, Beyond the Palace, I told the story from the point of view of a guy.

Which, of course, makes me Yentl.

(No one but my mother laughed at that, but it amused me. Papa, can you hear me?)

But the best part about travelling to our Jerusalem (Asbury Park) to worship at the holiest of holy sites, isn’t even that Bruce showed up. (Don’t get me wrong, that was absolutely unreal.) No, the best part is the feeling of community among the true Bruce fans at a show. Because I don’t care what people on BTX say makes you a real fan versus a fair-weather fan; when you’re at a show in Asbury Park and the lights have dimmed and there’s even the slightest whisper in the air that Bruce could be there that night, you’re with your family.

That feeling struck me several times Saturday night, well before Bruce took the stage. I had conversations with a whole bunch of different people who had been at the same shows I’d been at, who had the same bootlegs, who loved the same other musicians, and who felt the same things that I felt being there that night. And that sense of community and belonging is the reason so many people go to synagogue or church week after week. It’s to feel a part of something bigger and to be with people who believe in the same things you believe in and have faith in the same things you put your faith in.

No, I don’t literally worship Bruce. I’m actually a fairly observant Jew, and I understand that comparing music to religion is a stretch for those who don’t feel the way that I do. But the reason that I think it’s an apt comparison is that it has given so much to my life and to who I am as a person. And Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre was where I truly felt that I was home. And I can only hope that all of you who read this have a place where you can feel that same sense of acceptance and belonging.

And I REALLY hope that 2011 brings a new tour. Because I’m already eagerly anticipating my next religious experience.

A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010

New Jersey may smell like Old Jersey… but I secretly love it anyway!

I have a secret crush on the state of New Jersey.

I hide my love for the armpit of America well. I joke about the state and the people who live there often, but I’m secretly jealous of New Jerseyites and wish that I lived there too.

You may ask why I would love a state like New Jersey. It’s one of the smelliest states in America (drive through Elizabeth, New Jersey with your windows open if you don’t believe me), you can’t make a left turn anywhere in the entire state, the accents are ridiculously annoying, a lot of the shore towns are beyond trashy, and every summer hoards of horrible “bennies” descend and manage to make the cast of Jersey Shore look classy.

I’m not even going to try to dispute any of the negatives. They’re all true. And not in a charming way. In fact, the unofficial state song, “Born to Run,” is about getting the hell OUT of there.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (Official Music Video)

But New Jersey has a lot going for it that no other state can boast.

For example, it’s hard to hate a state with so many beaches. I love the beach and hate that all Maryland has is Ocean City. For anyone who hasn’t been to Maryland’s Eastern shore, it’s kind of like Seaside Heights from season one of Jersey Shore, but with WAY less hot people. In fact, most of the people in Ocean City, Maryland look like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies. 

Only instead of eating a baby, they’re shoving funnel cake and french fries down their throats so fast that you can actually watch their fat expanding. Jersey beaches have their share of fat, ugly people, but with so much more coastline to spread them out along, the ratio of fat people to attractive people is much lower and therefore makes going to the beach a far more pleasant experience.

One of my favorite things about Jersey is that the music scene there is ONLY topped by the music scene in New York City. And it’s close enough to NYC that you can get there easily for other concerts too. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes Jersey bands so good. Maybe it’s something in the water (although even suggesting that jokingly makes me think of Blinky, the three-eyed fish created by the pollution from the nuclear power plant on The Simpsons).

Or maybe it’s because New Jersey is mocked on such a widespread level that bands coming from there feel that they have more to prove to the world. But whatever it is, it works.

Two of my New Jersey favorites: The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen

 The New Jersey Turnpike often sucks, especially as you get closer to New York City, but I have to say, New Jersey drivers are WAY better than drivers in most of the rest of the country. 

The reason for this is that New Jersey drivers understand that you’re supposed to drive on the right and pass on the left. DC, Maryland, and Virginia drivers don’t get this concept. In Maryland, it’s completely normal to see people driving ten miles per hour under the speed limit in the far left lane. In New Jersey, no one does that unless they’re from out of state. I’d trade our left turns for drivers who know what they’re doing any day. 

In fact, if people in Maryland knew which lane they belonged in, I might be able to be on time more often! (Okay, probably not. But it’s possible.)

People in New Jersey may pump their fists, but they DON’T have to pump their own gas. 

They’re actually not ALLOWED to. When I started college and met my first New Jersey natives, I found it hilarious that they didn’t know how to pump their own gas. 

But once I’d driven to New Jersey and experienced this myself, I started wondering why the rest of the world isn’t as awesome as New Jersey is. I’m not exactly Miss Feminism; I like it when people open doors for me and are extra nice to me because I’m a girl. So do I want a nice man to pump my gas for me? Why yes, I do indeed. And gas prices are even LOWER in New Jersey. On road trips, I tend to coast into the state on fumes, just to experience the joys of New Jersey gas stations. It’s not that I MIND pumping my own gas. It’s just so much nicer when I don’t have to. A gas jockey at a New Jersey station even killed a spider in my car for me one time. That just doesn’t happen in other states.

So New Jersey, I know everyone makes fun of you, but some of us are just jealous. And the rest of the haters just don’t know what they’re missing. 

And to everyone who has been reading this whole post expecting me to talk about how my favorite person in the whole world is a New Jersey native, give me a little credit here.

Dr. House is just the icing on the cake. 😉 

You’ve gotta fight for your right…to stay at the front of the pit

I am mildly claustrophobic/agoraphobic, and am therefore NOT a big fan of tightly packed crowds. In fact, despite being an inveterate shopaholic, I refuse to set foot in a mall during the month of December for that reason. (Side note: I think it’s a sign of the impending apocalypse that Microsoft Word recognized “shopaholic” as a legitimate, accurately-spelled word. Maybe the Mayans were right. The end is near. Repent now.)

But I love concerts more than I hate crowds, so I brave them pretty frequently to see some of my favorite bands. At Bruce shows, that’s not much of a problem. If I’m in the pit (which I usually am, because once you’ve been in the pit, you never want to be in seats again, even if they’re REALLY good seats), and it gets too crowded, I’ll retreat to the back of the pit, where I’m still super close to the stage, but have room to breathe.

Taken from the pit in DC, 5/18/09

Although to be honest, that’s not much of a problem at Bruce shows, because it’s an older crowd. They may be desperate to get closer to Bruce, but at least they’re not moshing or crowd surfing. Bruce is the only one who crowd surfs at a Bruce show, and I’m not going to object to HIS butt passing over my head.

Taken from the pit during Bruce’s final show at the Spectrum, 10/20/09

At other shows, however, the pit can be scarier than Lindsay Lohan driving after hitting the crack pipe.

I love being in the pit though, so over the years I’ve developed some tricks to try to protect some of my personal space when I’m at the front of the crowd.

First of all, it’s better to be off to the side on the rail than dead center but a few people in. The reason for this is simple: at the rail, you have a certain amount of inviolable personal space that no non-rail position can provide. For a claustrophobe in a crowded situation, that’s worth its weight in gold.

So how do you guarantee a spot on the rail? At a Bruce show, you can’t. He uses a lottery system for the pit, which is great sometimes because it means you don’t have to camp out for a week to be in the front.  I lucked out at the show below (second person back in front of Bruce, right in front of my uncle, who’s wearing the white baseball cap).

Of course, it sucks like a Dyson when someone three numbers after you gets called and you wind up way far in the back.

For other shows, it means getting there early. Now I’m chronically late for everything I do, but I plan to arrive insanely early for concerts when I want to be in the front. Therefore when I’m fifteen minutes late, I’m still earlier than most of the other fans who DIDN’T plan so far in advance.

You also can’t skip the opening acts when you want to be in the front. For me, that’s a bonus though because I love opening bands. Sometimes they’re awful, but I’ve found a lot of new music that I’ve really liked from checking out the opening bands. (Most recently notable: Frank Turner and Fake Problems, both from Gaslight Anthem shows… Check them out, they were awesome!)

Once you have your spot on the rail, TAKE UP AS MUCH ROOM AS YOU CAN. Seriously. Pretend you’re really fat and hoard as much space as you would need if you were six times your own body weight. Pay special attention to hoarding the space behind you. People will fill that space in once the show starts, but the more room you can take up before the show, the better your chances of being able to breathe when it starts.

There are two words I can’t stress enough when you’re in the pit: DEFENSIVE ELBOWS. I learned this trick at crowded bars, and it’s NECESSARY at a concert. If someone is invading your space, keep your elbows out. If you make it uncomfortable enough for them to crowd you, they’ll eventually stop and try to squeeze in somewhere else.

Most people aren’t comfortable in high heels for a whole concert, but I am, and this works to my advantage. Because if someone behind you is crushing you up against the railing (like Saturday night’s Gaslight Anthem show in Charlottesville—true story: I have a massive bruise along my rib cage from getting slammed into the stage. But it was an AWESOME show, so it was well worth the bruised ribs and possible internal bleeding), a stiletto heel to the foot is your only available weapon. And it REALLY works well.

My last trick comes courtesy of my great grandfather, who gave this advice to my grandmother for riding the bus: keep a hatpin handy. Now I don’t know where to get a hatpin in this day and age, but safety pins are super cheap and easy to conceal. If the situation behind you starts to feel like a proctology exam, stick an open safety pin in your back pocket pointing out. No one is going to keep grabbing your ass if they’re getting stabbed every time they do.

So if you’re ever behind me at a concert and decide to rush the stage, be warned. I’m never going to be rude or start moshing, but I’ll fight for my spot in the pit if you make me. And that has nothing to do with being claustrophobic or afraid of crowds.

It’s because guys with guitars are REALLY hot.