Before things begin, I shall kick things off with the words of someone else. Ted Rall is a witty, no-holds-barred political cartoonist with a wonderful sense of humor. Shamefully, I don’t read his weekly comics as often as I’d like to/should. But, as I flipped through the most recent edition of the Weekly Dig, I noticed something particularly alarming. Take a look:
No, it wasn’t Rall’s commentary on Obama that was striking (although that is a particularly interesting comment on Obama’s policy, though I often feel that Rall reads in between the lines a bit too much… but that’s part of the humor of absurdity). It was Rall’s quick side-swipe at emo. For someone who combs through detail after detail in the search of the elusive truth in modern politics, the fact that he managed to quickly label emo as crap with his humorous jab is a bit frightening.
Now, I may have gotten ahead of myself or gotten off to a bad start. So, let me rewind here and explain:
This blog isn’t meant to be a place of bitter complaints and sideswipes. I can easily see the humor in Rall’s use of emo as an aural weapon for torture (in fact, I myself have done the same thing in the past, equating jam-based act OAR with musical punishment). I’m not getting needlessly upset by Rall’s quick side-comment; this is simply a starting place for my general frustration with our society’s close-mindedness as seen through the microcosmic scope of emo.
So, rather than complain and or try in vain attempts to change certain individuals’ perspectives on emo, I shall write my thoughts and concepts on the culture in this blog for anyone who is open-minded enough to see it. Of all the pop phenomenons to dominate the American mainstream and be a face of our country’s cultural output, emo has had a terrible rep. It’s been labeled a suicide-hungry cult. It’s apparently been the root cause of teenage violence and cultural friction in Mexico. It’s even been blamed for the death of a 13 year-old in the UK. And to think that a few years ago people thought of it as harmless love songs for punks.
If only things were so easy. To think, we could blame some cultural product for all of life’s problems. If that were the case, we wouldn’t really have to worry that much about anything. So, there are two options we as a society can take: start an anti-emo cult petition to fictitiously solve all our ails, or try and solve our problems not by blaming them on outside sources, but by making constructive attempts to work towards an actual solution.
Making an attempt to understand emo couldn’t hurt. In fact, solutions and emo should be thought of as being hand-in-hand. When the cultural movement and sound that was originally tagged as “emo,” short for “emotional hardcore,” arose, it was at the center of a community looking for self-improvement. Back in 1985, the DC punk scene was going through a Renaissance. After suffering the downfall of hardcore punk into violent, bigoted chaos, a handful of forward-thinking youngsters in the DC area decided to make a positive change. Centered around Dischord, the DIY record label home to DC’s most prominent hardcore acts, a burst of creativity surged through teens who had seen the best and worst of the underground hardcore movement. These individuals began to form bands that subverted the usual hardcore histrionics, taking the passion and power of hardcore and slowing it down, pumping it with a pop-friendly sense of musicality, and packing it with cunning lyrics imbued with ideas about change, maturity, community, self, and politics. And politics. They began to protest the Apartheid in South Africa and become more involved in the local DC community, with a particular bent towards helping the underprivileged communities of their fair city. And it was doomed to be called emo.
Since then, emo has spent two decades-plus in the American wilderness so to speak. For decades, emo thrived in the underground, changing and evolving with each community that was touched by it, until it’s come to the present state of popularity and misconception. But more on that later.
This blog will be more than a simple lesson in history. Some entries (in fact, most) will not even directly be associated with emo. To be truthful, most of what is commonly referred to as emo today simply doesn’t affect me in the way that the emo of previous years has. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but alas, that is not the rule (and that may be one of the reasons why emo is generally thought of as terrible). But, whatever may crop up, I will inevitably find a way of connecting it with emo. Be it political debates, zombie movies, football, current subcultural movements, I will find a way of connecting it to emo… or at least try to. I’ll mostly touch upon the music that I find particularly appealing, and if it isn’t within the realm of emo, I’ll connect it to what I feel is one of the most important cultural forces in recent years.
Why is emo so important? It could be the fact that, unlike any other genre of pop music and its reflexive culture (with the exception of rock, which seems to include every form of pop), emo has covered the most rugged, twisted, and adventurous path. It could be the fact that it’s evolved in ways that mirror the various sub-genres of rock, yet it all seems to be contained within an odd three letter word. It could be the fact that, whatever the band from whatever year, nearly any fan of rock or pop could find an act that they could connect with. It could be the fact that with all its changes and intents, emo is one of the greatest reflections of our society. Or it could be the fact that emo simply is, and has been, an amorphous blob that’s been anything to anyone over decades of time.
This blog is called “Perfect Lines,” a title I cribbed from a song by 1990s emo wunder-band The Promise Ring. The Promise Ring is an act that I admire in particular for the cunning use of language that makes each song so vibrant. Singer Davey Von Bohlen’s words seem to bleed into each other, creating a sense of boundless ideas that make each listen a new experience. The lyrics are like little treasures that continue to give long after the gold has been found. Or just amazing puns that aren’t corny. I hope that my writings in this blog are similar to Von Bohlen’s capacity as a songwriter; the kind that always seem to have something new to say, where ideas are intertwined with a certain sense of ease. Simply put, I hope to write perfect lines.
(Sorry folks, it’s not “Perfect Lines,” but it is another great song by The Promise Ring off the same album – “Nothing Feels Good”)