“I get so emo, I could die” / Drop the attitude, fucker / In music, nothing happens…

[Update : Jack Sargeant writes about suicide, girls, and the difficulties involved in giving all your love to just one genre in ‘It’s hard to be emo and be respected’, The Australian, May 3, 2007.]


    I know what you’re thinking. “What are the roots of the musical genre known as emo?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this blog is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would metaphorically blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel emotional? Well, do ya, punk?

Some hack called Chris Johnston has a regular column called ‘The Crate’ in EG — the ‘entertainment’ consumption guide published with each Friday’s edition of The Age — in which he writes about ‘classic’ albums (columns which will presumably, one day, be published collectively as the aural equivalent to The Age Good Food Guide). Last Friday (April 27), in his most recent column, Chris wrote about Hüsker Dü‘s Candy Apple Grey album (1986). After noting that the recent joint suicide of two local girls has been linked to the supposed fact that they liked ’emo’, Chris opines that Fugazi and Hüsker Dü were the genre’s true pioneers. Thus according to Chris, music giveth, not taketh away, especially:

…the pained, cathartic wailings — the railing against the world, the wondering why — of the best “emotional hardcore” music, or emo. Emo has now been appropriated by corporations, so it’s kind of the pop version. The same thing happens to every decent underground uprising. But 20 years ago, there was no name for it — it was just the most intense music on the planet. Fugazi and Hüsker Dü, the greatest, who set the most desperate odes to freedom and pain and the sense of being captured within the world to the most hardcore, transcendent guitar music of the era. It took you right out of yourself, as the newest generation still does, despite being corporate. As such, it was, and is, and can be, a saviour, not a killer.


A few comments:

1) The notion that Hüsker Dü was somehow an emo pioneer is one that Chris first proposed elsewhere, in a review (March 29) of The Pixies recent tour. There, Chris argues that “Hüsker Dü, the other bookend to a nascent Pixies, were somewhat different. They were the abrasive post-punk trio led by Bob Mould who, with Fugazi, the Minutemen and Black Flag, pioneered the whole American ’80s hardcore scene, which in many ways was the original emo”.


Don’t ask me why, but it seems that in the intervening weeks, Chris has decided that maybe the Minutemen and Black Flag weren’t so emo after all. This may have something to do with the fact that the whole American ’80s hardcore scene, in many ways, had bugger-all to do with ’emo’. Certainly Black Flag and the Minutemen never did… although I do recall many years ago a mate describing Henry Rollins as a hardcore Morrissey. And like, Morrissey has been known to express his emotions on occasion…

So yeah, good point Chris.

2) Candy Apple Grey was Hüsker Dü’s fifth studio album, and the first to be released on a major label. It therefore makes very little sense to refer to the ‘corporate appropriation’ of emo by way of an album actually produced and distributed by one of the six corporations that dominated the industry 20 years ago, and even less in reference to a band whose signing was much-remarked upon at the time as being evidence of a renewed corporate interest in ‘punk’ and ‘alternative’ music.

3) The term itself is kinda stoopid — as its current, dominant use as a marketing device by the marketing departments of the handful of corporations that continue to dominate the music industry might otherwise suggest. And if the term once held any relevance, it was really only as a means to distinguish the musical subject matter, lyrical content and general attitude, approach and feel of certain US hardcore bands of the mid-80s from that of others. (Elsewhere, two other hacks, Ben Cubby and Larissa Dubecki, helpfully add that “With roots in the goth movement, emo is short for “emotional” and is known for its angst-ridden music and moody introspection”.) In this context, ’emotional hardcore’ was to be distinguished not merely from ‘political’ hardcore, but the macho bullshit bands — precisely like Black Flag — tended to perpetuate (and which a number of punk poseurs continue to perpetuate under the false notion that selfish indifference to others is somehow a quintessentially ‘working class’ — not middle class — attitude).

4) In any case, Embrace and Rites of Spring — not Fugazi and Hüsker Dü — are usually considered to be the first ’emo’ bands. Not that it matters much:

Mark Prindle : Okay so, whether you like it or not, you’re basically considered to be the creator of “emo.” And I was just wondering – why have you always thrown yourself so emotionally into your music?

Guy Picciotto : Well, first of all, I don’t recognize that attribution. I’ve never recognized “emo” as a genre of music. I always thought it was the most retarded term ever. I know there is this generic commonplace that every band that gets labeled with that term hates it. They feel scandalized by it. But honestly, I just thought that all the bands I played in were punk rock bands. The reason I think it’s so stupid is that – what, like the Bad Brains weren’t emotional? What – they were robots or something? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

But anyway, when I was young, I was always over the top because I was so fucked up. Not “fucked up” as in “wasted” but more mentally “fucked up”. And I was really jacked up. So it came out of that. I mean, before I was in Rites of Spring, I was in a band called Insurrection with Brendan, the Fugazi drummer who I’ve played with in every band I’ve been in. And our music was like Motörhead and Discharge and Venom – shit like that. That was what the band sounded like. And we weren’t very good! But nobody was calling THAT “emo”. Then when we started Rites of Spring, I guess we got more serious about what we were trying to do. But I didn’t actually sing in Insurrection. In Rites of Spring, I decided to sing and that’s what came out. Because when I was young, I was nuts.

5) I hate myself & I want to dye my hair : I don’t know shit about the two girls who killed themselves, but if anything, the music which Chris purports can ‘take you right out of yourself’ in this case, sadly, only managed to take them out of this world; and probably because, rather than despite, its being ‘corporate’. But until such time as rates of youth suicide begin to seriously imperil the continued reproduction of labour, it’s unlikely to be treated seriously by state authorities.

6) As an aside, the supposed link between music and suicide has been made before, only 20 years ago it was the !cinataS influence of heavy metal over impressionable young minds that had particular groups worried, Christians in the US in particular. Thus:

During the late 1980s, a pair of well-publicized cases involved claims filed by the parents of children who had injured or killed themselves after listening to heavy metal music.

In 1988, John McCollum, a 19-year old, shot himself in his bedroom after listening to songs of John “Ozzy” Osbourne, from Blizzard of Oz, and Diary of a Madman. The plaintiffs claimed that one of the songs, ‘Suicide Solution’, preached that suicide is the only way to solve one’s problems. They also alleged negligence and incitement to suicide.

Once again, the court said no.

In its ruling, the court noted that entertainment, like political and ideological speech, is subject to First Amendment protection…

A 1989 case, Vance v. Judas Priest, dealt with the issue of actions that the plaintiffs claimed were the result of subliminal messages contained on the group’s Stained Class album.

Raymond Belknap, 18, and James Vance, 20, had barricaded themselves in Vance’s bedroom, where they sat for five hours, drinking beer, smoking pot and listening to the group’s music. When Vance’s mother knocked on the bedroom door, the boys jumped out the window and went to a nearby church playground, where they shot themselves.

Belknap died immediately, but Vance survived after blowing most of his face off. A wrongful death action followed.

When the case went to trial, the judge ruled in favor of Judas Priest, noting that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the group had intentionally placed subliminal messages on the album or that the messages were indeed the cause of the suicide and attempted suicide. The judge did rule, however, that while song lyrics are protected by the First Amendment, subliminal messages are not…

~ Jerry Rhodes, Professor examines issues of free speech rights, media accountability, UDaily (University of Delaware), November 15, 2002


On Saturday, SBS screened Don Letts‘ documentary Punk : Attitude, a film which was voted the most popular documentary @ the 2005 Melbourne Film Festival, and which I naturally missed seeing. But that was then and this is now, and now I’ve seen it. I’ve also read Letts’ synopsis, which is odd, and his filmography, which is exciting: — at least, exciting in the sense that I’ve also now discovered that he’s made a film about one of my favourite artists, Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003). But as for Punk : Attitude, I thought it was a reasonably entertaining and informative film, heavily weighted in favour of the UK and US, but slightly more expansive in terms of its list of interview subjects than might otherwise be expected. Thus Roger Miret (Agnostic Front) makes a brief appearance, and Henry Rollins refers to Fugazi — both useful, if for no other reason than their ability to remind audiences that, whether or not punk was born in the mid-’70s in London or New York, its legacy and its tradition transcended these times and places. Blah blah blah. Letts: “With hindsight we are able to recognise [punk] as part of an ongoing movement of counterculture. It is in that spirit that I made this film. Not as a nostalgic look back but rather a way to move forward. After all, if it happened before it can happen again.” In reality, it’s history, and history is what’s happening. But according to some…


ACMI is screening a series of films which focus on punk in a coupla weeks (May 11 — May 20):

In the midst of a current punk revival [sic] criticised for being more ‘mall core’ than hard core, rediscover the real thing at ACMI. Curated by Jack Sargeant… inspired by No Focus: Punk on Film edited by Chris Barter and Jack Sargeant. Incidentally, this book’s available from the ACMI Shop. Some of us have got to live as well, you know. Who do you think pays for all this rubbish? They’ll never make their money back, you know. I told him. I said to him, “Punk”, I said, “They’ll never make their money back”.

Unfortunately, in this case, the operative meaning of ‘punk’ is musical events occurring in the vicinity of London in the late ’70s (Jubilee / Punk and the Pistols / The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) and the United States in the early ’80s, loosely documented in the shape of Penelope Spheeris‘ first film Suburbia — which is fucking awfulLadies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Repo Man. (Another film included for its Camp Quality is Desperate Living by John Waters.) The other films included in the series are a documentary on The Gun Club, Alan Clarke‘s Made in Britain (starring Tim Roth as a bonehead in Fatcher’s Britain) and various shorts by Billy Childish and a bunch of wankers from New York… So basically, punk as a cultural phenomenon, born in England and the United States in the late ’70s, and dying there in the early ’80s.

The same old story, in other words, and one that goes on like a broken record…

    recuperation : consolidated : 1994

    the grunge industrial and tekno folk genres have been recuperated colonized sanitized if the jazz music of the sixties was the refuge of a violence without a political outlet it was followed by an implacable ideological and technical recuperation bob dylan is replaced by kurt cobain neil young is replaced by dinosaur jr. nina simone by queen latifah lightning rod by bushwick bill the most rudimentary meaningless themes pass for successes if they are linked to the mundane preoccupations of the consumer the rhythms of exceptional banality are often not that different from miltary rhythms in music nothing happens and in forty years it has seen only marginal or cyclical movement change occurs through minor modifications of a precedent each series repeated with slight changes enabling it to parade as an innovation the singers of the seventies [eighties] are back in fashion in the nineties [noughties] and today’s kids enjoy their parent’s music at times however the quality improves song becomes critical and heralds a new subversion by musicians cramped by censorship who stand alone

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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4 Responses to “I get so emo, I could die” / Drop the attitude, fucker / In music, nothing happens…

  1. Dimma says:

    @ndy, i love you! When tings go to shit mon, jah be blessed me can always relax, smoke de erb and read ye cool writins…


  2. Lumpen says:

    Holy shit. I decided on a sadistic whim to google “James Vance” and saw a pic of him. Did you know they based a character in Garth Ennis’ Preacher on him? The character’s name was (wait for it)… Arseface.

  3. @ndy says:

    Dimma — i love you too mon. you be mos righteous. but some people, dey listen to

    ‘De Rong Song’

    “Your house is
    Falling down
    And you got
    To eat,
    Don’t worry
    Be happy.”


    Lumpen — funnily enuff, no. arseface eh? *ouch*

  4. Pingback: Media, Technology and Education » Dear everyone who looks the same, CUT YOUR HAIR AND STOP SHOPPING IN THE KIDS SECTION (boys, this goes for you too)!

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