Sean X. Ahern
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“Until that darkness was gone”: Home for the Holidays 2014

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12-26-14

With +/- 90 bucks in my bank account, I find myself at the Stone Pony on an unnaturally warm December night. Thehome-for-the-holidays-2014 Bouncing Souls, those New Jersey mooches, are playing a three-night blowout–the now annual Home for the Holidays (H4TH). Per tradition of the Ahern household at Barnegat, Santa found two nights of tickets at the bottom of his immense sac for me.

I’m alone among the crowd for the first time in my four years of going to the event, though it would be short lived. I spy my cousin Pat fighting for a frosty brew at the back bar of the Pony.

“Dude, what are you doing here?” I pat Pat on the back.
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here? I get all three nights every year! What are YOU doing here?”

A beat passes. A woman howls for shots of Fireball. The bartender is not one pleased with her and it has become uncomfortably clear that she is the bane of this bartenders life. She is also the reason Pat can’t get a beer. We shift to another bar.

“…You should have texted me!” Pat, with an sudden and alarming interest in technology.

We laugh it off. Mis-communication is as Ahern as the Pabst in our hands moments later. For the past week or so, Pat and I have been gravitating to each other at family events. Commiserating between uncles and their stories of youth wasted. Uncle Johnny and the motorcycle incident(s) were a favorite this year. For the past few years, Pat has become a symbol of being “home.” He’s the one I gravitate to, the human embodiment of the Bouncing Souls song “Gone,” helping me get out of the darkness that knocks me on my side every six months or so. Tonight is a reprieve from the rest of the family, the shots of high-end whiskey, the small cousins who freak out when you mention Krampus.

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Bouncing Souls (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

Close to a decade now, Home for the Holidays has been a staple at the Stone Pony in the dead of winter. It has become a part of rejuvenating the shore in the off season–benefits for the local food pantry, charity tattoos and punk rock flea markets DJ’ed by The Pete are only a few of the pre and post show offerings that bring life to an otherwise frozen shoreline. It is a time for reflection at the end of the year, a time when we rekindle relationships and remember where we all came from. Recharge for the coming summer of tours, tides and Long Islanders invading the beaches and bars nearby. Part of that comes in the donations that Home for the Holidays brings in, the local businesses who see an influx of activity for one weekend at the end of the year. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived through the winter of an east coast beach town. My parents live near Long Beach Island, NJ. It is so dead there in the off season the traffic lights are a suggestion. The speed limit goes up by ten. Ghost towns scatter the shoreline past Exit 100 on the Garden State Parkway. Asbury Park is of course one of these places, one could argue the worst off of these places. Though, Atlantic City is pushing for that crown these days.  A set of sold out shows that brings the youth down to the shore in troves is a godsend this time of year. And by the gods, they sound good as well.

For the longest time, it never felt like I was home until I was sweaty and swamped by studs, skinheads and Descendants holiday sweaters on all sides. Eight hour train rides from Buffalo, twelve from Bowling Green, Ohio, would be capped off by three hardcore openers and the Bouncing Souls moving me, shaking off the rust of academic performances and following the other true believers to Asbury Lanes for a nightcap. Epic early 20′s that involved a cannonball run from Albany, New York, for the shoreline and back again in 2009 to get my co-pilot home in time to go skiing with her father the next morning. 2012 had me introducing a Polish academic to local punk bands to add onto her research. 2013 I got a stomach virus and had to miss the second night (though, I did get to marathon Orange is the New Black, so that is a win I guess?). Nights of drinking coffee with a hope of destroying the new year. Youthful transgressions seem like light years as you see close friends engaged and pregnancies being announced on Facebook. Home for the Holidays is the amalgamation of who you were and who you will be–A Christmas Carol for the scene kids. Five years later and you gotta start asking yourself, “What’s Next?”

These aren’t just punk kids–these are young adults working on loan payments and fantasizing about offing their boss as they smash, crash into you as Greg Attonito reminds us that we’re all just hopeless romantics and Quick-Check girls in disguise. These are parents that might as well be the punk rock equivalent of Deadheads–kids in tow, beyond the barricades and aging skinheads. It’s generational, a seasonal experience–like the Dropkick Murphys on St. Patrick’s Day or NOFX on Warped Tour–and it’s about the deep roots of community continually growing.

Someone just proposed to his girlfriend on stage after the ‘Souls called up another young couple to sing “Wish Me Well.” The crowd erupted. Pandering? Cheesy? Not at all. Ever see a bunch of punks get misty over traditional marriages? Right. Thought so. This ain’t your nihilism, not your cynical posturing or second-wave hardcore masculinity. This is community ties that puts your local township to shame. The founding fathers were the guys in the back with face tattoos and X’s on their hands since 1989. It is a spectrum of peoples that live on H20 and have No Use for A Name. These are people taking off the camouflage of accounting jobs, law firms, advertisement agencies and police protocols. They slam into each other like thirsty fourth liners in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. Tomorrow it all could be over, but for now I am home. My body will creak tomorrow, but tonight it moves seamlessly with a 13 year old El Duque tee and caked-with-dirt-and-sweat Chucks. “Lamar Vannoy” plays, I get checked towards the stage. Then “No Rules” and “Kid” as Pat taps my shoulder with his kunckles as if to say, “Here we are, buddy.”

There are more important things in our lives than the daily grind and a paycheck. Screaming along to “ECFU” as an anthem to a viscous nationality is one of them. Diaspora lite in a middle finger salute. We all move away but have to fight the same. When we come home, its still a ways away from the end. We have changed, but to keep the fire within you (like that young “Kid” you once were) is viciously important. We move on, but we keep growing, and you gotta hold onto where you came from, cultivate it, for the next generation.

12-27-14

I’m pumped for tonight because The Scandals are opening. It was back in 2008 that The Gaslight Anthem opened during Home for the Holidays at the Asbury Convention Center. Of course, it wasn’t the night I was there, yet five years later Gaslight has transcended such opening slots and rock out Honda advertisements and concert venues the world over. Five years from now I expect to hear The Scandals in Kia ads and at Devils games when I visit the Rock in Newark. In the new year, The Scandals are going on tour with The Gaslight Anthem. Brian Fallon helped produce their recent EP. Oh the tangled networks we weave.

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The Scandals on the line (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

Jared Hart is jumping into the crowd during “Avalanche.” He demands you to listen. He and his band have fought for your respect at eye level. His microphone is a tench-knife…and like he says, “we’re all just trench-knife kids.” He guts you with “Jersey Sweep.” He field dresses you with “Four Seventeen.” He is one of us, and like Fallon, or Pete, or Brian and Greg of the ‘Souls, he won’t let you down. Not while he has air in his lungs. He’s fueled by the youth. He gives his all, he never backs down, never misses a beat. He’s the Derek Jeter of the scene–but he fights like Thurman Munson. We work to achieve such level of grandiose potential. The Scandals are there. Time to swing for the fences, no more RBI’s. Grand fucking slams, over and over again. Grand fucking slams with a pickslide.

Jared Hart of The Scandals (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

Jared Hart of The Scandals (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

If Jared is Jeter, then his bassmen Sean Carney is the Teddy Williams of The Scandals. “Built on Merit” is his song and you feel like he is singing it with a heightened sense of the stakes at hand. He grins ear to ear as he plays it. He’s animated, like a Hannah Barbara or Looney ‘toon. It’s beautiful, surreal, and the sign of amazing band cohesion. Jared and Anthony Iarossi thrash away along with Sean. All the while, Paulie Yaremko is behind his drum set slamming away like the maharishi with focused, near religious rhythm. These dudes need to make it, now. Right fucking now. The upcoming tour with Gaslight is going to be clutch, for sure. It pleases the rock gods to see them succeed. Okay, maybe just me. A minor god, a trickster god, but a god none the less.

If The Bouncing Souls are the building blocs for the modern Jersey punk band, Home for the Holidays is an expedited course in punk culture for the dreamers, do it yourselfers, and do-gooder novices. It showcases a spectrum of classic and upcoming bands that educate whilst entertaining. It sets up the next generation. You can be the next great thing by the shore. The Stone Pony is a schoolhouse, its great pupils fill the walls and have murals that remind us, fondly, of the past “Greetings, from Asbury Park.” This is the house Springsteen built, but the Souls give it new life every December.

12-28-14

Meet me at the Lanes (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

Meet me at the Lanes (Photo by Sean X. Ahern)

It is Sunday and has been such since we left The Stone Pony and meandered over to The Asbury Lanes at the conclusion of night two of Home for the Holidays. I just woke up after a long night of drinking with The Scandals and their crew. They stayed over at our place for the night, I left the conversation at about 4:30 in the morning during a heated conversation about the merits of Tim Hortons vs Dunkin’ Doughnuts vs Honey Dew. Epic hangs were had and crawling out of my bed five hours later was not the easiest thing in the world. Apparently I was on /r/Fishing when I went to bed because my phone has a picture of a Red Snapper staring back at me.

I step downstairs and meet with Sean Carney who has awoken and is chilling. I pour some coffee into a TARDIS mug I got from an Ohio girl originally from South Amboy. Sean and I talk about the Christmas gift over a cup of the brown stuff and I find a mirror to check out the bruise I received from a crowd surfer during their set. It looks like a hickey, which is the most action I have got in five months, then. Everybody begins to roll out and head home. I won’t be going to the last night of Home for the Holidays, I’ll go back to bed for a few more hours and then kill the last of the pistachios I got in my stocking. New Years is right around the corner, the new beginnings of 2015 with them. Bring it on, I say.

The holidays help to remind us what is most important in life–family, friends, and community (whatever that might entail). We change, we move to new cities and new spaces. Yet at the end of the year we find ourselves back in our childhood room, surrounded by the memories of our youth a few hours before mom pulls the roast out of the oven. High school friends and the rock stars of our teenage years become the escape we need. We find new communities in old habits, gems in the ruff. We may change but it doesn’t mean we can escape or past, nor should we. We are built on the environments of our past–The Scandals are built on the pop punk network created by The Bouncing Souls two decades ago, so are the punk kids who were handing out flyers to their YouTube channel during the Lagwagon show weeks earlier. We are built on the past and need to be reminded of it as we change, grow up and introduce the next group of freaks, nerds and romantics to circle pits and songs about toilets. I am brought back to the shoreline every December, and the flow of the waves remind me of the cyclical life we all lead. As much as we want to move away, we get pulled back by the undertow. Bring me home to my family, and bring me home to a community that is always looking for something to believe in. I will sing along forever.

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