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Brian Fallon Loves Bruce Springsteen, Just Please Don't Leave It At That

"There are some things that are whispered and some things that are shouted, and I'm not in a shouting place right now," Brian Fallon says.
Danny Clinch
Courtesy of Big Hassle Media
"There are some things that are whispered and some things that are shouted, and I'm not in a shouting place right now," Brian Fallon says.

Brian Fallon starts to answer the question.

"It's funny, because..."

He trails off, and then tries again.

"And it... uh..."

He laughs.

Fallon has a solo record out. His band, The Gaslight Anthem, went on hiatus last year, and since then he's fathered a second child.

The question was about how having children changed him and his songwriting.

A softball question, sure, and one any songwriter would've been asked enough times in interviews to make them question their decision to procreate at all. Fallon, after all, has been doing interviews for a decade, since The Gaslight Anthem's debut in 2007.

And yet he pauses.

"No one has ever asked me this question."

It's the perfect reflection of the over-simplification Fallon has endured since he became a notable figure in rock music. He's become almost a caricature of himself: classic cars and radios and Springsteen. So much Springsteen.

"The Gaslight Anthem is a band almost exclusively defined by their relationship with Bruce Springsteen," Pitchfork wrote in a scathing review of The Gaslight Anthem's Get Hurt. Fallon admits that the review cut him deep. Springsteen is a huge influence on Fallon; he just isn't the only one.

"It really does frustrate me, and it's harder because I love Bruce Springsteen," Fallon says. "And I don't want to say anything negative about it, because I love him so much, musically and personally.

"But I don't want to get lost — I don't want my career to be lost in a Bruce Springsteen comparison."

Still, there's no sense pretending that Fallon is blameless here. On Gaslight's breakthrough record, The '59 Sound, Fallon name-drops a number of artists, but none more prominently than Springsteen.

"We tattooed lines beneath our skin," he sings at one point, adding, " No surrender, my Bobby Jean."

Also, Fallon and Springsteen are both from New Jersey, and both occasionally sing like they've got throats full of sawdust and forgotten dreams. The comparison obviously helped in The Gaslight Anthem's rise, but at some point it became a burden for Fallon to bear as he tried to evolve and experiment.

"I didn't say I was the next Bruce Springsteen; you said that," Fallon says, referring to music journalists. "This is not my claim. I'm not the savior of rock 'n' roll; you said that. And, as a matter of fact, I think it's ridiculous."

Fallon's solo debut, Painkillers,is more folk-influenced and noticeably quieter than any album Fallon has released before. There are Gaslight Anthem fans, and rock purists, who simply aren't going to like it. He worked with producer Butch Walker, who told him to not "give a s*** what the fans are gonna think."

Some people, Walker says, will be unhappy whenever things change.

"There's a lot of people who want to eat the same thing off the value menu every day the rest of their life and come home and watch Fox News the rest of their life," Walker says. "And listen to the records they liked whenever things were simpler for them and their life didn't suck. And you know what? That's cool, but as an artist you can't stay in that box the rest of your life, because we grow, man."

Earlier this summer, at Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta, Fallon sat wearing a dark denim jacket, sipping a coffee around noon. Two years prior, The Gaslight Anthem played the 8 p.m. Friday slot at this festival, opposite Spoon. Today, Fallon is sandwiched into a 2:30 p.m. set that he'll play alone, with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.

I lost most of myself pleasing everyone. I had to learn how to begin again.

"There are some things that are whispered and some things that are shouted, and I'm not in a shouting place right now," he says.

Fallon mentions The Felice Brothers' 2008 ballad " Wonderful Life" as he talks about the kind of songs and lyrics he's looking to write these days.

"That's the thing about telling the truth," he says, after quoting the song's third verse word-for-word. "You don't have to yell to be angry, and you don't have to cry to be sad. You can just say things."

Painkillers has brightness, to be sure, even as it deals with themes Fallon has written about his whole career: jealousy, regret, mistrust. Themes that were "embedded" in him when he was born into a single-parent household.

"That was the first lesson I learned — that nothing is permanent," Fallon says. "There's even an old Bible verse that comes to mind; like, if the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do? What happens, who do you trust? When you're born and it's smashed up like that... I don't.... I don't know."

As his band was going through its final years (at least for now), so was his marriage. Fallon and his wife of more than 10 years divorced, and since then he's found a new relationship and had a second child. They're life changes that might be interesting to hear about, if someone would just ask him about something other than Bruce Springsteen.

"I feel like I don't even live on the same planet that the person five years ago lived on," he says.

Listen to a Spotify tour through the best of Fallon's career:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.