Many of you out there might understandably be under the impression that Thunderegg brings in the big bucks, but in fact I do have a day job. I am a freelance copy editor, reading and marking up manuscripts for various large publishing houses here in New York.
My current project is about emo: emo music, emo culture, emo fashion. It’s kind of like a Preppy Handbook for kids who have built their worlds around a core of bands that I’m humbled to confess I’d mostly never heard of until this week. And these are major-label, platinum-record bands, too–groups like the Promise Ring, My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Brand New, Fall Out Boy, and Dashboard Confessional (well, I’d kind of heard of those last two).
Now I’m sitting here on a rainy night eating some spaghetti with garlic and oil (cost to me: about seventy cents), thirty-three years old, trying to watch some of these bands’ videos on my pokey computer. I have to admit that Fall Out Boy have some great song titles: “Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for my Sham Friends” cracks me up, and there are many more like it. I also much preferred Fall Out Boy’s “Thriller”-esque seven-minute video for “A Little Less ‘Sixteen Candles,’ a Little More ‘Touch Me’” to “Helena” by My Chemical Romance. Both are soaring, hooky, and super-slickly produced, but the Fall Out Boy guy doesn’t look as though he’s about to start crying. (At least not this time.)
Anyway, to get to the point: Is Thunderegg emo? 90 percent of the answer is no. We’re too old, we don’t have tattoos or nice clothes, and the only gold record I’ll ever have I found on a street corner and belongs to somebody else. Maybe it’s the fault of this book’s authors, but it seems that the most important emo bands also happen to be gigantic rock stars–and that the biggest difference between 00s emo kids and 80s Goth kids is that 80s Goth kids saw obscurity as a badge of honor. I mean, Peter Murphy and Ian Curtis and Siouxie Sioux were their biggest heroes, it seemed, and they weren’t exactly mainstream.
Emo music, though, is eclipsed by emo as phenomenon: It is a massively commercial enterprise, with MTV playing its usual sinister part and seemingly every band launching its own clothing line. The book’s authors flatter themselves by crediting straight-edge Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye as the genre’s spiritual godfather, but this is the kind of stuff that gives MacKaye conniptions. To create something called “emo,” the music industry essentially co-opts various models of both rock ‘n’ roll rebellion and rock ‘n’ roll community, and repackages them for nice kids who would’ve run frightened from even a cartoon character like Glenn Danzig ten years ago. It also draws on rock’s tradition of genre hair-splitting to put a new wrapper on more or less the same product. Everybody likes to feel like they’re involved in something unique, like they’re part of a “scene.”
But, if emo is still just a little bit about the music–if it’s at least partly about aggravated, protracted angst–then I must maintain that there is some emo in the Egg. The lyrics to “In the Loft” and “If I Went on a Diet” certainly have their fair share of righteous self-pity, a quality that isn’t exactly in short supply on the Open Book mega-anthology. And when I was twenty, writing my first songs in college, man, that was Emo City: “Tie a yellow ribbon ’round my neck/Make sure it’s tight”? “You string me on and on and on and on and on”? 90 percent too old, too fat; 10 percent quiveringly sensitive.
Of course, this post has turned out to be super-long and self-scrutinizing–to say nothing of its anxious It would still be nice if some emo kids found it and noticed me subtext. (Textbook emo. Make that 15 percent.) Probably it’d be better if these hypothetical emo kids didn’t read it, though. They’ll just think I’m a big fat hater. But I’ll bet all my Smiths cassettes that ten years from now, they’ll see where I’m coming from. That is, if they still care about music.