Friday, September 15, 2017

C'est la vie; Save me

I want to talk to you about American Steel. They're a band. A Bay Area punk band. You might know a few of those.

So yeah, American Steel is a capital bee Band. But there's an excellent chance that, even if you listen to punk that you may have inadvertently avoided them. I know I missed out on their greatness for years.

I felt endless alone in grad school. There was no one source of this despair: a college ex-girlfriend in the making, entrenched anti-Semitism, and being stuck in Buffalo, New York as proudly stubborn and stubbornly prideful Brooklynite who had failed to get his driver's license.
Living in Buffalo taught me why America is a country of roads. I had been spoiled by my ability to just walk places. Instead I was thrust into a world where my feet did not matter and my knowledge of the intricate network of the MTA was worth less than Dime Night wings. Going out to find a community was hard, but I also didn't feel safe. It wasn't that Buffalo was dangerous - I just was not in a good place and venturing into the world was not something I was ready to do.
So I let my fingers take the place of my feet and the ethernet supplanted my MetroCard. I explored the world of punk on the Internet. I uncovered a world of people who felt Outside; I found a new home. 
See, I had gone "away" to college but it wasn't really that far from where I grew up. My best friend was a year ahead of me and I knew nearly two dozen people from my childhood who were attending the same school. There was the familiarity of a reboot. I was able to seamless become who I thought I myself to be without having to examine exactly what I was.
Graduate School was different. Buffalo had its own identity that existed in dissonance to not only how I perceived myself but also to the Alex that actually was; an Alex that was intransigent. I retreated to punk because I knew it but also because of the myth of Punk Rock. I loved the story of those outside grouping together because of collective rejection by society. My companion during the work day was an internet radio station that gave me respite from the city's immune response to my intrusion. 
One day I heard this song.

I hated it. Then I heard this song.

Okay, I liked that one. Over time "Dead and Gone" grew on me. I acquired the Destroy Their Future. I devoured it almost daily. 
American Steel sounded like no other band I had ever loved. I continued digging and found their catalog. I fell head over heels. They became my favorite source of nourishment for a month, forsaking everything else on the menu. The pleasantly rare Rogue's March drew me in more than than black-and-blue self titled album. 
Jagged Thoughts, though. Oh man Jagged Thoughts.
I have seen "Maria" described as a perfect song. I am hard pressed to disagree. It is soft and inviting before pulling you in for an amazing crescendo that spikes over and over. "Maria" is lovingly layered with each instrument walking their own path, tripping over each other only to roar in unison every chorus. It is an absolute delight.

Where "Maria" coasts, "Rainy Day" soars. The song lulls you in with soft tones before cutting your heart out with absolutely gut wrenching hurt. Every time I listen to the song I can see the tattered wound where a heart once was and it sings to me. 

I have a thing for musical moments. The backstroke distortion halfway through the chorus gets me every damn time. I can listen to this song on repeat for an hour easy and always find something new to appreciate. They wrote the hell out of it - the soft layers, the atmospheric guitars, the reverb on the ending chorus - everything that makes you Feel.
When thinking about American Steel I tried to remember what kept me away at the onset. It was the vocals. They're sour. In fact everything about the band is just a bit too tart. But over time everything about American Steel stopped being offensive to my palate. I had wanted a light pilsner but American Steel are a flat out Gose. 
American Steel's catalog did some heavy lifting for my soul during one of the lowest points in my life. I could sink into "Rainy Day" and wallow in someone else's misery to distract me from my own.
A few years later I was out of Buffalo and in a much better place in my life. American Steel released Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts. The energetic opposite of "Rainy Day." It became a new blanket for a different sort of comfort.

See American Steel had gotten me through a tough time. It got me to a place where the friends I made online became my friends in real life. The community I searched for became tangible. We partied and it was good. 

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