As we continue our discussion of popular music and its discontents, I opened up the paper this morning to find a charming tribute to the place and milieu in which I grew up: the New Jersey hardcore scene. Although it’s partly a record review, the piece does a good job capturing the local vibe of being near, but not quite of the City. One of the groups featured, Titus Andronicus, are of a younger generation than I am, and don’t sound very good. But Ted Leo is a real eminence gris whom I remember from his days in the beloved neo-mod band Chisel (Citizens Arrest were definitely before my time).
Chisel were based in D.C. But somehow they preserved that New Jersey sound, which evokes the experience of being pressed up against the plate glass window of a cool, expensive restaurant or lounge, watching the goings-on within from the cold street. Springsteen had that sound, of course. But so did punk bands like the Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, and a dozen even more obscure, mostly short-lived outfits of kids with guitars.
None of this is great, or even good music by Roger Scruton standards. But pure aesthetic achievement isn’t the only thing we should, or do, value in music. The new Ted Leo record contains some terrific, thoughtful rock ‘n’ roll. What’s more important to me, though, is that it sounds like home.