Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem

“And with this pen, I thee wed from my heart to your distress.”

The most important messages in my life are handwritten: the cards I’ve received from loved ones, the notes of devotion I write to Diana and the first letter I wrote to my niece Amelia.

Writing things by hand is a pain for me. I’m left handed so my hand often cramps up when I write for too long. My handwriting is naturally pretty messy so it takes a lot of effort for me to write in a way that is legible. Also, there’s the fact that I write much slower than I type and there’s the lack of ability to edit. But it’s worth it.

Everybody’s handwriting is like a fingerprint and through this expression we not only read the words but feel who they are. The title “Handwritten,” the new single from Gaslight Anthem takes this idea and delves deep into feelings of loss and the connections between us that save us in our darkest moments.

The first verse starts by describing a song that the protagonist has been crying to since a young age. The fact that this song is out there and expresses the pain he feels helps him know that he’s not alone. He believes that “they’re waiting to heal,” and through this faith’s “holding his breath,” hoping for something better.

The chorus begins with “sirens that never come,” help that never actually shows up. So they write by the moon, to “ease the loss of youth and how many years I’ve missed you.” The chorus touches upon that idea that through self-expression, whether its music or writing we can find salvation.

The second verse deepens this sense of connection. There’s the holding of hands and the acknowledgment that they have both been hurt in the same way. “There’s nothing like another soul that’s been cut up the same,” isn’t a “misery loves company” sentiment but an expression of relief like in the first verse knowing that someone isn’t alone in their feelings.

The bridge pushes all the pain aside and describes the feelings of love through the beauty of the night.
Here, in the dark,
I cherish the moonlight
I'm in love with the way you're in love with the night
And it travels from heart, to limb, to pen.
He loves her and appreciates what is central to what she loves: the moonlight. This is foreshadowed in the early choruses “And we only write by the moon."  It comes straight form his heart to the pen, the way that he expresses in more than any other way his love.

One of the things I love about The Gaslight Anthem is the way they play around with the verse chorus form. Often just when you think they are going to end a song or simply repeat a chorus in the a way you expect that they do it in a slightly different way mirroring the journey their characters go on in their music.

The bridge has a different texture without drums and a thinner instrumentation. This isn’t really unexpected, but what they do coming out of this sections is creative and powerful. Instead of simply going straight back into the chorus, they sing the first two lines of the chorus slower with a different melodic line. They don’t finish the chorus but instead they build up to the introductory guitar riff.  The song continues to build to one of the most beautiful lines I’ve heard in a rock song in recent memory: “And with this pen, I thee wed from my heart to your distress.”

The music video is a triumph as well.  It follows the creation of song into a record, which is then passed around. This video is subtle and powerful, with moments of deep emotion illustrating the different personal meanings one song can bring to many people. 

Next time you need to write someone a note, pick up a pen and write it by hand. It may or may not feel that different for the recipient but it will feel different for you.  These words will mean more to you and to those who read your words by capturing feelings and memories that the heart sometimes forgets but the soul yearns to remember.

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