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It’s almost midnight on a Saturday in the summer, and I live in New York City. I’m still in my 30s and I don’t have to get up early tomorrow. By anyone’s standards, I should be heading out for the night; dancing, drinking, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, making mistakes, and feeling young in a city that allows you to remain young despite your age growing higher. I should be out there living.
Instead, I just put a load of laundry in the machine in my building’s basement. I’m wearing a pair of green shorts and I feel like an asshole in them. I have knobby knees and shorts don’t look good on me. I am wearing a light green tshirt and the whole outfit makes me vaguely feel like a middleaged man dressed up for his first day of kindergarten. I am going nowhere tonight, and I suspect this may apply in the long term as well.
This seems like the perfect time to write about Jeff Rosenstock.
Because no one I’ve ever met creates art that encapsulates this state of mind more than Jeff. It’s music that’s catchier than any other music, music you can scream along to in a joyous frenzy. But simultaneously, if you really listen to the lyrics you’re shouting, they can speak to a loneliness and desperation so profound it’s soul crushing. I’ve lost myself in joy to Jeff’s songs and I’ve sat alone depressed to Jeff’s songs, and I’ve felt both those things to the same song, sometimes on back to back listens.
Nobody can take the exhilaration and possibilities of life and balance them with the depression of a laundry room on a Saturday night like Jeff Rosenstock. His music can be like a funeral taking place inside a bouncy house, or like a kids’ birthday party taking place inside a morgue. I say that with the utmost sincerity and the intent to offer only the highest of praise.
If you’re reading this, you probably know the legend of Jeff Rosenstock by now. The Arrogant Sons of Bitches had Long Island’s attention, and then mutated into Bomb the Music Industry, a collection of musicians that were among the first to just give their music away, that spray painted tshirts for fans, that did everything in a way that was financially illadvised and built a cult unlike any other in the process. Sometimes their shows had a dozen musicians on stage, sometimes it was Jeff and an ipod. No matter what, there was always one thing that remained the same – this band had as much integrity as Fugazi with none of the pretension but with all the emotion but with a lot more fun and also I have to reiterate none of the pretension. To me it seems like Bomb was like Fugazi if the members of Fugazi had been willing to let down their guards and laugh at fart jokes. Again, this is meant as high praise. I really like Fugazi and am not trying to talk shit, it’s just an apt metaphor.
When Bomb ended, Jeff was left standing in a lonely spotlight and we all wondered if he’d be ok. Instead of even giving us time to find out, he put out We Cool? and showed us all what growing up looks like. Growing up fucking sucks, but it’s not for melodramatic reasons. It sucks because your joints start hurting and you know you probably aren’t gonna get some of the things done that you’ve always promised yourself you’re gonna get done and you still have a lot of guilt about dumb shit you pulled when you were like 19. We Cool? showed us that Jeff Rosenstock’s version of growing up wasn’t going to betray Bomb or its fans or the things people loved about them, it was going to put a magnifying glass on his own impulses and insecurities as an individual in a way that was both shockingly frank and impossibly catchy.
Jeff’s music, if you ask me, is for people who really and truly feel like they could change the world, if only they could muster up the strength to leave the fucking house. It’s for people who get into group situations and have every instinct inside their heads scream that the world is a fucked up and terrifying place and they should crumble up into a corner and wait to die, but who instead dance like idiots because what the fuck else is there to do? It’s music that makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, if I do things the right way I can help make the world a better place, while coexisting with the knowledge that I don’t fucking matter and there’s no reason not to give up, except maybe I shouldn’t because what if deep down people are actually beautiful, giving, and kind?
It’s music that makes me lose myself like I used to when I was 13 and first discovered the joy of punk rock, but it’s also music that makes me think way too fucking hard about why the world is how it is and if I might be someone with enough heart to throw a few punches in the effort to make shit just a tiny bit better for others for one fucking second of one fucking day.
It’s simple punk rock. It’s also complicated and beautiful and working class and perfect.
Is the above a little cheesy? Sure. But I think it’s true and I think it’s all worth saying. Because having become friends with Jeff over the past few years, I can say the following with great certainty – he actually is what he says he is. And because of that, all the above applies. His integrity is untouchable. We all need to take a second and appreciate how much time this guy has wasted finding all ages venues. How much money he has passed on to retain his credibility as an artist. If other artists – myself chief among them – conducted themselves with an ounce of the integrity Jeff approaches all areas of art and life with, the world would be a better place.
I know this might sound silly to people who don’t get it – they might say “ It’s just punk rock, calm down.” – but fuck those people, we all know Jeff is a musical genius. If he wanted to go ghost write songs for Taylor Mars and Bruno Swift, I bet he could make millions of dollars doing so. Music is easy for him. He could write empty songs and hand them off to hollow artists and we all know he’d kill it and he wouldn’t have to deal with shaking down shady promoters for a few hundred bucks or driving overnight to get to the next venue or stressing about paying bills or any of it. He continues to not do any of that easy shit and that’s because he’s not bullshitting about doing things not just the right way, but in a way that’s more idealistic than reality actually allows for. He does that for us.
The guy is a genius poet while simultaneously being the definition of a fucking goon from Long Island. There is nothing not to love. The album you are about to listen to, WORRY., only furthers and exceeds the myth of Jeff Rosenstock, he who is mythical for being the most normal dude from a boring place any of us have ever met; mythical for sticking to his guns when all logic points in the other direction; mythical for writing melodies that stick in our brains and lyrics that rip our guts out; mythical most of all for being not mythical at all. He’s just Jeff. It’s not that complicated. But in a world where everything is driven by branding and image and hidden agendas, being not that complicated makes him perhaps the most complicated artist I know.
Enjoy this album. Enjoy it as a whole. The second half is going to blow your mind with its ambitiousness – in my opinion the second half of this album will be viewed over time as a triumph and high water mark of a cool ass career. And the singles – “Wave Goodnight to Me” is untouchable. “Blast Damage Days” will make you feel ok about the fact that the world seems to be built on a foundation of quicksand.
And when you’re done listening, don’t forget – you probably can’t change the world, but you’re kind of a dick if you don’t at least try. Jeff’s been falling on the sword for the rest of us for years and it’s on all of us to at least go down swinging.