The retail store I work at (Sportchek) generally plays a mixture of pump-up songs aiming to make the gym-buff buy more muscle shirts, the hockey player amped to practice with his new stick, and the golfer to ready to feel his swing in the golf course simulator. This is a portion of Sportchek’s advertising scheme aimed to get customers excited while in the store. But then I heard 45 by Gaslight Anthem and wondered if the gym-buffs, hockey players and golfers that were shopping knew the true meaning of the song. I didn’t really notice the darkness of the lyrics at first because of the upbeat nature of the song itself, but after I heard it a couple more times I began to think of the dynamic interaction between virtual experience and virtual time; first about the lyrics, secondly about the music, and lastly about the incongruence between the two in this particular song.
The story within the lyrics focuses on the familiar story of a man who lost the love of his life and has to deal with his loneliness, his friend’s [sometime’s harsh] opinions, and his past. You can tell already that he is angry in the first line, “Have you seen my hands, just look at ’em shake” and catch glimpses of the pain he has for his lover by the end of the first verse. Following the chorus, it starts to dig deep into his true feelings, “The tick, ticking of hours lonely… I hear the alarm. /I used to hear when she would sleep in my arms.” The songwriter also used an interesting form of dramatic illusion, which I think creates the sense of suspense-seeking resolution in the song that tends to represent intensity. The songwriter talks about the present and looking forward into the future, but it almost seems like a poetic illusion because he is stuck in his past, “And I dance with your ghost. But that ain’t the way…/I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same.”
A hard rock song such as this offers intense rhythms, loud phrasing, fast tempo, and full instrumentation. This song has a hearty rock n’ roll feel with a kick of country bass that is infectious. Its rhythmic structure has a driving tempo that is unpredictable. Its harmonic structure is stimulating and discordant, with a melodic structure that climbs sporadically with short-held tones. Its dynamics are disjointed and punched, and get louder and faster as the song progresses. Lastly, the song has many amplified instruments. All of these aspects of the song point to representative intensity in the musical elements.
Tragic lyrics paired up with an intensity musical pattern can have various effects on the listener. I think that in this case it is meant to inspire the listener to be strong after a break up; I think that the band wanted a song that could speak to people in a similar situation.The song also uses strategic ambiguity by not including any details of the ‘break up’, leaving listeners drawn to the song because they can theorize their own background stories. I know for a fact that if I would have listened to just the lyrics or just the music I would have a very different opinion on what message the song was trying to portray.
Ultimately, the emotional message of the lyrics and the conceptual message of the music contradict each other, making the lyrical and musical messages incongruent. I believe that the band chose to combine the two incongruent elements to create a lasting effect on the listener.