In this week’s edition of Ask an Indie Rock Dude about Sports, we turn our attention towards the grubby, east-coast punk idealism of New Jersey, where The Gaslight Anthem have been making some of the best bright-eyed folk-punk in the world. Nurtured on heartland Springsteen excess, OG metropolitan hardcore, and the Ritalin-pop of the least embarrassing Blink-182 songs, Gaslight has etched out a niche specifically designed to make those late-night pangs of teenaged nostalgia feel like some of the most precious things in the world.
Will all that blue-collar empathy, it should be no surprise that the boys in Gaslight Anthem have watched a lot of sports. My conversation with drummer Benny Horowitz goes for nearly an hour, as we assess the state of his beloved New York Giants, Yankees, and Brooklyn Nets. We talk about his fondness for Eli Manning, his schizophrenic flings with Jason Kidd, the fading Steinbrenner Empire, and getting spit on by Eagles fans.
Gaslight Anthem’s fifth album, the sprawling, searching Get Hurt, was just released on August 12 via Island Records.
How did you first start watching sports?
I was raised with the Giants. I had no choice. Sunday was a thing, we always had to watch the game. We had a family friend who had Giants season tickets so we’d always buy one or two games a year to see them. I’m 33, so I remember ’85 and ’86 and the Super Bowl. My brother was really into basketball, but he was a Knicks fan, and I just never liked the Knicks. Nobody in the family was a baseball fan, but I collected baseball cards and watched the Yankees. I’m really attracted to statistics and statistical progression, I got super anal about stats as a kid to the point where I got obsessive with cards and spent all day organizing them into these weird piles.
How optimistic are you about the Giants going into the 2014/15 season?
I was more optimistic before the preseason. I try not to put too much into the preseason, but I thought they did a really nice job patching up the things they needed to patch up. I think they had a good draft. But there’s a couple things I’m really nervous about. Going into the season we thought we had Chris Snee, but now he retires and you have to put a bunch of responsibility on guys you don’t necessarily trust. We have an issue at linebacker, but that seems to be on the up and up. If Beason can play a whole year, he’s become a real leader in the locker room from everything I’m hearing. As a Giants fan I have a hard time seeing us win more than 10, and that’s probably pretty liberal. But if there’s anything I’ve learned about watching the Giants is the year you have high expectations they disappoint you, and they year you don’t expect much, they win the Super Bowl.
Who do you hate more, Cowboys or Eagles?
Eagles by far, it’s funny you even ask that because I consider myself a righteous sports fan. I don’t want to hate teams or people, sports are my entertainment, and they shouldn’t become something stressful. I don’t want to be annoyed watching sports, I just want to appreciate a good game! But all of that being said I fucking hate the Eagles. I grew up going to Giants/Eagles games, and those are rough man! I’ve been to Philly for games before and it’s just brutal. Also they have connection to players I hate like Vick and DeSean Jackson, and lucky for me Vick goes to the Jets and Jackson goes to the Redskins so I get to hear about them every day on sports radio. Some guy spit on my brother when I was like nine when we were walking out of the game. He was yapping his mouth a little, but these guys are spitting on little kids! They almost killed Santa Claus!
What are the chances that this is Coughlin’s last year?
I’m going to say 30 percent. I don’t think it’s as high as other people do. Especially how the Giants run. They’re not a team that’s quick to give up on people. Coughlin has mostly won with the Giants, two Super Bowls, etc. That they brought in some younger offensive minds bodes well for him, it gives him some leeway. I think Coughlin has earned himself some wiggle room going forward. If there’s another completely dud year? I don’t know.
You said you’re an Eli lover, do you disagree with the offseason scuttlebutt about maybe having the Giants move on from Eli?
I think they’re fair. Watching Eli can be infuriating, to the point where it’s like, I don’t even play football and I would’ve known not to do what Eli just did. But that David Tyree catch wouldn’t have happened without Eli being Eli. Didn’t Joe Namath finish with more picks than touchdowns? Gunslingers take a lot of heat because they don’t care about turnovers, and it can make them look really stupid sometimes. If he was a more conservative player he’d never be successful in the NFL. He doesn’t have those tools to sit in the pocket and do that sort of thing. He’s risky and crafty, that’s who he is. It used to annoy me that he never got mad, but as I’ve gotten older I think I get it more.
How do you feel right now about the state of the New York Yankees?
I’m super bummed man, I was at that game a couple nights ago where Robertson gave up the three-run homer to Carpenter. It’s like, I watched Carpenter strike out four times that game. He went 0-4 with four strikeouts. And Robertson just throws a meatball down the plate. That’s when I finally threw in the towel in my own head. They had the Astros and White Sox back to back, and if we had a chance, we’d have to take five of the next six. That didn’t happen. It’s just not the year. The underperformance of every contract we handed out doesn’t bode well. The fact that Girardi is already giving up games against lefties to Cervelli, and I’m watching Russell Martin with an over .400 OBP in Pittsburgh right now… I’m not optimistic. There were some bright spots, I loved what Gardener did this year, Ellsbury is basically doing what he should be doing, there’s some young relievers, there’s some positives. But I’ve never seen Baltimore look so good. The wild card game is either gonna be to the Angels, As, Mariners, Tigers, who are all significantly better teams than the Yankees.
Are you going to miss Jeter?
For sure, I started really following the Yankees in ’86, in my area when I grew up there was this rivalry going on between Yankees or Mets. In my school everybody was either choosing between Yankees or Mets. So between’86 and ’94 I was a big fan of the Yankees and they weren’t great during that time. A little Don Mattingly, a little Ricky Henderson, but not much. But by ’95 we have this crew of guys that we latched onto, and I watched the bulk of them play for so long. That’s my dynasty. It’s what I think of when I hear these old guys talk about all these other teams that they grew up watching. There is something really special about those Yankees. In that short period we saw so many championships and so many playoff runs. That’s why Yankees act like petulant children if they don’t make the playoffs. So I’m super sentimental about Jeter, and I could easily say that he’s the most important baseball player in my baseball life. So yeah, I’m bummed!
So the Nets lost Paul Pierce, they gave up a lot of draft picks over the next handful of years which is starting to look a little ugly considering how Kevin Garnett looked last season, what do you make of this franchise going forward?
I’m cautiously optimistic. I think we forgot that the Nets do have the equivalent of a big three. If you have a well-functioning Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams on the court at the same time, that to me should be a good team.
But how sure are we that Deron Williams wants to play basketball anymore?
Well we’re not sure about any of these things, and that’s the reason I’m cautiously optimistic. The entire season is running on Brook Lopez’s health, Deron Williams’ state of mind. Joe Johnson, say what you want about him, he’s incredibly consistent. People might make fun of me for saying this, but he’s getting up to borderline hall of fame numbers. He’ll have 20,000 points, seven all-star appearances. That’s an impressive career. I’m not that upset about losing Pierce, I think his leadership and versatility was good, but he got beat a lot last year. He’s got no first step anymore. I think he’s lost a step on the other side too, he always made a hard shot look hard last year. That being said I don’t mind replacing Shaun Livingston with Jarret Jack, I think Plumlee is a legit player who can go upwards of 25 minutes a year. He’s exciting, and he does something that Lopez can’t do, which is defend the pick and roll. And I thought considering all their cap inflexibility, they were smart about the offseason. They bought into the second round of the draft and you might catch some lightning with one of those guys. You didn’t see much during the summer league, but you never know. I think all Nets fans are hoping that Bojan Bogdanovic is the second coming of Peja Stojakovic. If that happens, we might be alright!
What were you feelings about that weird Jason Kidd thing in the offseason?
Ugh, painful. Super painful. You know, Jason Kidd has done this to me a number of times. I have a bizarre relationship with Jason Kidd. I was a huge fan of his in college, there’s not many types of players in all sorts of sports than a pass-first point guard. I love a guy who’s a nuisance on the floor, who handles the game with complete confidence, he was such a great player. He gets drafted to the Mavs, he has some problems there, he goes to the Suns and has some issues and he beats his wife and everyone is like “Jason Kidd is an asshole!” and I’m like “okay fine, Jason Kidd is an asshole.” But then I wake up one morning, and Stephon Marbury has been traded for Jason Kidd. I don’t know if you remember, but that trade had no hype. I woke up and my least favorite basketball player has been traded for my favorite basketball player. So of course, I’m like “I LOVE JASON KIDD!” And we go to two finals, and we have the best NBA Nets teams that have ever existed, teams I love. He ends his career with the Knicks, and came back to the Nets to coach. I was so excited that I forgot that Jason Kidd beat his wife and Jason Kidd is a total piece of shit. Then I wake up, and I learn that Jason has attempted a power play with Nets ownership. He was one of the most exciting parts of what was happening, and then he tries some garbage like this, and it’s like “man Jason Kidd, what a prick.” He’s a drunk wifebeater that I think is an asshole again. This is my torrid love affair with Jason Kidd. I can’t say he won’t be a good coach, because he showed real promise last year. It’s upsetting to see him go, but I don’t see him ever coming back to the Nets. He’s officially on my sh*t list forever.
What do you think is unique about sports fandom in New Jersey compared to other cities?
Where I’m from in Jersey is a section where you have a choice for every team. Regionally you’re not Giants or Jets, you’re not Mets or Yankees, you’re not Nets or Knicks, you’re not Devils or Rangers. Farther south you even start seeing Phillies fandom. There are so many pro teams that it makes it harder to pick, but one of the interesting things is people get really intense about their team because there’s always a rival sitting right next to you. I know more Mets fans than Yankees fans. It’s hard to find someone who likes all the same teams as you.