Save the Emo

I was at the Reading Festival (a music festival in Reading, Berkshire, England – not a festival about reading books) a few years ago, and, like you do, I struck up a conversation with a complete stranger. Conversations in such circumstances usually relate to musical tastes, and my interlocutor announced:

“I can’t stand emo”

I replied by paraphrasing something Guy Picciotto once said (do not worry if you have no idea who he is, you will soon enough). What Guy Picciotto actually said was:

“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.”

The conversation meandered on for a bit longer and then we both stopped and started listening to whatever band was playing on the main stage at that time. I am pretty sure they were not an emo band… if there is such a thing. And then, my friend Christian, who had been stood beside me and listening to this whole conversation with this stranger, asked me

“what’s emo?”

which made me feel moderately cool and with it. Knowing about emo somehow validated that I was still in touch with the kids, which is rather satisfying when you are a 30-something that is well on the way to being a 40-something. So I explained to Christian what emo is, or is not, depending on whether you believe it exists in the first place. The explanation went something like the following….

There was a band called Hüsker Dü that formed in 1979. Although they were never very successful, they were ahead of their time. They did something new and unique but which started a trend that has influenced a lot of other bands since. In the beginning they were a typical hardcore punk band, but after a while they learned how to play melodies too. They did both AT THE SAME TIME. The Hüsker Dü equation is hence: hardcore punk + melody = three-minute injections of melodic energy. Here is an example:

About the time that Hüsker Dü split up, the Washington D.C. hardcore scene was blossoming. In 1987, a new band, Fugazi came together. It was made up of members of earlier bands that had been important in that scene. They wanted to deviate from the standard hardcore formula, and introduce ideas and sounds drawn from other genres like funk, raggae and even hip-hop. Here is a live version of one their earliest and best known songs:

Neither Hüsker Dü nor Fugazi were emo, or “emotive hardcore” to give emo its full title. At least, there were not emo at the time, because nobody was emo at that time. In fact, it is debatable if emo really is a musical genre even now, because the bands have so little in common musically. However, language is determined by what people actually say, and these days some people certainly talk like there is a musical genre called emo. If you think like Guy Picciotto, of Fugazi, then there is no such thing as emo, because the term makes no sense. On the other hand, lots of people think Hüsker Dü and Fugazi, amongst others, established the basis for emo music. Of course, they were not trying to create the mould for a new genre of music, they were trying to break – or at least bend – the mould of an existing genre. Emo is what you get when you start out with hardcore punk, then learn to play a bit of melody, then experiment and combine it with some other musical influences, then slow it down a bit because you are getting old, then retire, then some kids listen to your old records and start copying them. That is emo. Emo is teenage punk anger and vitality morphed by broadening tastes and old age then morphed again when rediscovered by a new era of angsty teenagers. Which is why people brand Guy Piccotto’s old band, Fugazi, as emo, whether he likes it not (for proof, browse through the comments on this site.)

So emo had a bad start in life. Emo is unloved by its musical parentage, who refuse to understand it or condone it. But being willful youngsters, emo fans persist in their love of the music anyhow. As befits their mixed up parentage, emos wear lots of black, but they end up looking more like goths than punks. If you wanted a perfect stereotype for the modern, sensitive, thoughtful teenager that is the antithesis of the chav and desires music suitable for both listening to in darkened bedrooms and for jumping around to in the open air, you would probably settle on the emo. Despite being disowned by their musical forebears, the emos persist in their devotions regardless. But now a worse fate has befallen them. Sensitive thoughtful young people who want to listen to different music, to dress differently and to be different run the risk of attracting unwanted attention. They make an appealing target for bullies. And now the emos have been targeted by perhaps the biggest bully of all: the 15th most popular newspaper in the world, and the self-appointed mouthpiece of the British middle classes, the Daily Mail.

If you had never heard of Hüsker Dü or Fugazi or Guy Picciotto or any of that, I can assure you that nobody writing for the Daily Mail has heard of them either. In fact, they know rather less about emo than my friend Christian now does. Or perhaps they know a lot more. A LOT more. Because, it seems, the explanation I gave Christian may have been totally wrong. I, like the stranger I was talking to at Reading Festival, naïvely thought emo had something to do with music. How wrong we were. Thankfully, we have the well-informed research performed by the journalists at the Daily Mail to clear up our ignorance. It turns out, according to the Daily Mail, that emo is in fact a ritual death cult.

Perhaps I should do a little research about emo through the internet. You know, the kind of research even the laziest and stupidest journalist might want to consider doing. Here is a summary of the results I obtained when trying to find an answer to the rather silly question as to what emo is…





Website Emo is something to do with music? Emo is a ritual death cult?
What the Heck is Emo Anyway? fansite yup nope
Emo Corner fansite yup nope
Emo page on Wikipedia yup nope

There you have it. A true case of pioneering, trail-blazing investigative journalism. Everybody interested in emo thinks it is a kind of music, or a sort of music, or not really a sort of music but something to do with music. In contrast, the Daily Mail’s research has shown emo to be a death cult. Let us have a closer look at the foundations of the Daily Mail’s death cult claims, to see how solid they are. Back in 2006, the Daily Mail was warning middle class parents (presumably their middle class kids have moved on to read better quality newspapers and so cannot be influenced by the Daily Mail) about the cult of emo. In a depressingly random article, which cited Byron, Lily Allen and everything in between, we found out that bad taste references to death in the fringes of music, art and cartoons (cartoons??) provided enough justification for the author to worry about the irresponsible way that music and fashion ‘cultures’ (suitably vague to ensure the Daily Mail could not be sued by anyone in particular) were encouraging a cult of suicide. You can read it here. What a lot of obnoxious rot. No actual evidence was cited to justify the preposterous claim that emo was a death cult, but it seems guilt by association was enough for this lazy journalist. What exactly do we learn from this masterpiece of insight?

  • Byron had gothic tastes.
  • An unnamed governor of an unnamed school said self-harm is as serious a problem as binge drinking.
  • Apparently emos share tips on self-harm via the internet [but we are not told where on the internet, presumably out of a self-righteous desire not to encourage that kind of thing].
  • Nigella Lawson is alluring and has a touch of goth about her.
  • Horror films are now more popular than romances amongst young women.
  • Emo is a death cult.

Hmmm. Forgive me if I fail to see the logical sequitur in the argument. Perhaps it has something to do with Byron dying from a bad cold or this journalist living next door to a school governor. Strangely, the journalist lists every possible source to justify the concern that a death cult is on the rise, but can find only one cause – emo music. For some inexplicable reason, the poetry of Byron, the content of horror films and the recipes of Nigella Lawson are not held accountable for the actions of today’s black-wearing youth, but emo music is.

On the same basis, I too have done some research, and found out some shocking facts about a music and fashion culture popular not just with today’s youth, but with people of all ages and walks of life. It transpires that there is this music called rock and roll (sometimes abbreviated to rock ‘n’ roll) which is responsible for all of the following:

  • Obesity. A guy called Elvis Presley reportedly ate too many hamburgers.
  • Drugs. Keith Moon of the The Who and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones both lost their lives because of their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
  • Paedophilia. Someone called Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year old cousin. That story is tame compared to what Gary Glitter did.
  • Plane Crashes. Victims include Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • AIDS. However, some argue that Freddie Mercury died because of a crazy little thing called love.
  • Death Cults. Bradford band The Cult have previously been responsible for the Southern Death Cult and then Death Cult. Clearly these are more than just silly and pompous names. Although nobody has been known to have committed suicide as a result of their music, severe irritation can be caused to any unwilling listeners.

The Daily Mail’s claim in 2006 that emo musical acts had encouraged fans to commit suicide was based on the flimsiest of associations. Encouraging your fans to die is hardly a good way to secure long-term popularity, and it is not as if the Daily Mail was able to pinpoint anyone specifically. However, the Daily Mail’s dreams of forging a link between a minor musical fashion and teenage suicide were to be realized two years later. In 2008, a depressed 13 year old from Kent called Hannah Bond killed herself. How did the Daily Mail respond? In a calm and balanced way, pointing out that of the lamentable teenage suicides that had taken place, this was the first one they could link to emo music? No. Instead, their headline read: “Why no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo”. You would think a single death hardly justifies the conclusion that there is a dangerous trend – one which no child is apparently safe from. Other teenagers will sadly have taken their lives since the Daily Mail started its witless campaign; presumably none fit the skewed viewpoint espoused by the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail, undaunted by the absence of facts, resorted to lies, damned lies and statistics. Its article stated the following:

“New figures show that the number of children admitted to hospital due to injuries inflicted on themselves has risen by a third in five years.

In 2002/03 there were 11,891 such admissions; in 2006/07 this had risen to 15,955.

In both periods, there were more than three times as many admissions of girls as of boys.

Crucially, those who self-harm are more likely to go on to attempt suicide. While there is a multitude of reasons for this epidemic (exam-related stress and bullying to name but two), it is hardly surprising that the emergence of a sub-culture that appears to glamorise self-harm and even suicide is being regarded with alarm.”

Did you notice the ham-fisted logical plunge into the abyss? The Daily Mail threw some meaningless stats in the reader’s face, admitted there a multitude of reasons for the epidemic of suicides, then slipped in an irrelevant non-fact: that alarm has been caused (by journalists) seeking to make a tenuous link between fashion trends in youths and suicide. In other words, the only substantiation for this link is the suicide of a single unfortunate young girl. Any reader might have the impression that “because those who self-harm are more likely to go on to attempt suicide” that there are rising numbers of suicides in the UK, and that girls are particularly vulnerable. However, the official statistics tell us the opposite story. Suicide rates in the UK are falling according to national statistics. Looking at the detailed numbers on UK suicides shows that, for more than a decade, and across all age groups, males are three times more likely to commit suicide than females. The official data on suicides, rather than showing a link between the musical tastes of teenage girls and suicide, shows the people most likely to commit suicide are least likely to correspond to the description of 13 year old Hannah Bond. It rather tells us we should consider poor Hannah a one-off, or that we should look for the explanations for her suicide elsewhere.

The reason to be so dismissive of the Daily Mail is that, if they wanted, they could have trawled through emo lyrics to find examples of the glamorization of self-harm and suicide. But they do not. Is this out of a heart-felt concern not to further draw attention to them? I doubt it. More likely, the Daily Mail looked hard, but could not find a single example to back their claims. No serious examination of the content of emo music justifies such an outrageous slur. The Daily Mail had to shamelessly focus on the title of an album by one of the best-known emo bands, My Chemical Romance. That album is The Black Parade. It is a concept album, and it tells the story of a life, from beginning to end. The black parade is a metaphor for the end of life. Does that mean it glamorizes death? Hardly. Take a look at some of the lyrics from one song on the album, called Welcome To The Black Parade:

We’ll carry on
We’ll carry on
And though you’re dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We’ll carry on
And though you’re broken and defeated
Your weary widow marches on

Do or die, you’ll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you’ll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part (We’ll carry on)

Sounds like pretty life-affirming stuff to me – carrying on and not being defeated in the face of death. I would love to see a lazy Daily Mail journalist try to twist the interpretation of those lines into a message encouraging suicide. Suicide is about giving up, not carrying on. Now if you want a song about giving up, you should try this one:

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye-
So you think you can love me and leave me to die-
Oh baby- cant do this to me baby-
Just gotta get out- just gotta get right outta here-

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters-, nothing really matters to me,

Any way the wind blows….

Those of course are lines from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Did that song start a death cult too? Or how about There Is A Light by The Smiths:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine

Did teenage road deaths go up as a result?

Fortunately, the educated middle-class kids showed the Daily Mail that they too intend to carry on, in the best way imaginable for educated middle-class kids… by holding a march and demo outside of the Daily Mail offices. Of course, it was all orchestrated by My Chemical Romance as a neat bit of publicity for them. But then, if I were in My Chemical Romance, and the Daily Mail was having a go at me, I too would make sure I made the most of the opportunity to build my fan base by fighting back against one of the most reviled institutions in Britain. I half hope that the Daily Mail will attack this blog, just for the inevitably tide of sympathy that would flow my way afterwards. Of course, it must have been very annoying for the Daily Mail to have its silly stories about suicide-obsessed youth unwilling to leave their bedrooms undermined by gangs of black-clad teenagers gleefully singing protest songs in the bright light of day whilst sat outside their offices. There is even talk of releasing a documentary about the demo. As might be expected, some internet pranksters gave a clue as to where most of the scare stories linking suicide to emo really come from. They changed a single letter in the URL for the demo’s website, and put up a near-identical copy, except that it included several spoof videos asking the demonstrators to show their contempt for the Daily Mail by committing mass suicide. Hmmm – not very funny. But even that showed more humour than the self-righteous press release issued by the Daily Mail following the emo protest:

“Mrs Bond told the court: In Emo it is a very glamorous death to hang yourself. The band she was into, the music she was into-the whole thing is based on the black parade which is all about dying. She called Emo a fashion and I thought it was normal. I didn’t know about the cuts.

Her father said he had seen cuts on her wrists and his daughter had told him they were an Emo initiation

…We note it has been pointed out by others that all this provides wonderful publicity for Warners and their impending release of My Chemical Romance’s latest album.

The Daily Mail is a broad church and is always ready to listen to the views of readers. We do, however, suggest those who want to protest or comment read everything we have published and act on fact not rumour.”

Talk about the pot calling the emo black! In a few short paragraphs, we are lead to believe that Hannah’s Bond mother is some kind of expert on emo lyrics (which she obviously is not), that My Chemical Romance are cynical for using the suicide of a young girl for publicity purposes (and presumably are supposed to believe the Daily Mail is only motivated by the public interest) and that people should act on fact, not rumour, when the Daily Mail printed a lot of words, but very few facts! Perhaps the Daily Mail would have done a better job if they asked some hard questions of Hannah Bond’s parents instead of exploiting their grief. Their opinions were printed as if they were facts. These opinions were then backed by a biased trawl for any information that might back the Daily Mail’s existing claim that emo is a threat to all kids. A simple glance at the stats on suicides shows the Daily Mail turned a convenient blind eye to any information that did not suit their story. Given that the Daily Mail had to wait two years for an emo kid to commit suicide, and so give credibility to their silly claims about death cults, it should not be surprising they were less than objective when it eventually happened. A tiny bit of objectivity would have helped tell the story of this suicide. The astute reader may have noticed some very disturbing revelations about Hannah’s parents in those few paragraphs of justification released by the Daily Mail. Whilst Mrs. Bond professes to know about the content of the music her daughter listened to, she said she was unaware of the cuts on her daughter&#8217s wrists. Her father, on the other hand, had seen those cuts. What does this tell us about the state of communication in that family? Did the parents spend so much time worrying about lyrics, that they never thought to talk to each other about the scars on their daughter&#8217s body?

We live in a world that can be intolerant of anyone who wants to be different. Depressed people will find various ways to express themselves; limiting freedom of expression deals with the symptoms, not the cause of depression. I am not worried about young people dressing up and feeling a little sorry for themselves. I am worried about them being punished and persecuted for doing so. In recent times, we have had stories from all over the world about cruelty to young people who express a different taste in music or fashion. In Mexico and Chile, emo kids have been physically attacked. In the UK, a young Goth couple were attacked without provocation by a drunken gang of teenagers. As a consequence, 20 year old Sophie Lancaster lost her life. The hectoring, bullying style of the Daily Mail, designed to deliberately whip up misunderstanding, fear and suspicion, should be seen in light of that intolerance. Thankfully, a good number of people have had the courage to speak out against the Daily Mail and name it for what it is: bigotry. Bigotry fuels the fear on our streets. If the parents of emo kids want what is best for them, they should not punish them for being different. They should punish the Daily Mail for spreading irrational fear about anything and anyone different to the norm.

In recent days, another 13 year old emo fan, Sam Leeson, has sadly chosen to take his own life. However, the press, including the Mail, has so far taken a more reasoned tone in presenting the story. Instead of blaming the emo music and culture, the explanation cited in this case is bullying. Bebo, the social networking site, is blamed for being the conduit of this bullying. That too seems an absurd inversion of logic. The blame squarely rests with the bullies, and not the mode of communication they use. We do not blame BT if a bully makes a phone call to abuse a victim, and the same should be true of Bebo or any internet site. The Mail’s reporting of the story interestingly makes no mention of Hannah Bonds or the hysterical way that emo was blamed as the cause of her death, despite the earlier claim that to do so was in the public interest. They do not even refer to My Chemical Romance or The Black Parade although other papers report that Sam was a fan of My Chemical Romance and had adorned his Bebo page was their pictures and lyrics. Perhaps there are a couple of factors at play here. For a start, it sounds like Sam Leeson, though an emo fan, did not fit the absurd but carefully crafted rationalization constructed by the Daily Mail to explain the Hannah Bonds suicide. The Daily Mail had emphasized self harm amongst girls, and Sam was a boy, with no mention being made of him ever harming himself. Sam is described as also liking other bands that sit outside of the emo scene. Most importantly, there is no quote from a parent citing emo as the cause. The other factor here is that even the Daily Mail must be wary of pushing their luck too far. Prissy claptrap may help sell newspapers, but not if it leads to a backlash. This can happen if it becomes too obvious when human misfortunes are both milked and twisted to suit sales targets and editorial stances. Linking emo with death cults is a rather unsubtle form of bullying, designed to encourage people to think of emo fans as miserable suicidal loners. That kind of bullying leads to a self-fulfilling prophesy. Depression can follow from bullying, and bullying is a likely result of ill-considered attempts to marginalize the tastes and fashions of minorities amongst young people. It is a terrible shame that another young person has to lose their life for some self-regarding journalists to show they can act with a modicum of responsibility. However, we should not expect better until readers start responding to these reckless scribblers in the only way that will make a difference – by not buying their papers, and so punishing their wallets.

Truth be told, like the stranger I met at Reading Festival, I do not like emo music. I loved some bands that are cited as the originators of emo, but I have no love for most of the bands branded emo today. To my ears, their hardcore origins have been watered-down too far. But my not liking emo is not a reason to stop other people from liking it. One of the Daily Mail journalists argued that kids should listen to Ian Dury instead of emo. That is what happens when you give the average moron an opportunity to write what they think in a newspaper. They write that the world would be a better place if everyone was more like them, and less like you. I hate the music of Ian Dury, not that he ever did any harm to me, or to anyone else, as far as I know. If I was marooned alone on a desert island with only an album of Ian Dury’s greatest hits for company, I would gleefully hit it with my rhythm stick until it was unplayable. Then hit it a little more to make sure. Then burn the remnants. Then tie it to a rock and throw it into the sea. If I was bored I might go diving for it and if I found it I would hit it a bit more. So you might say I am more of a fan of emo than I am of Ian Dury. Listing what people should like, and should not like, what they should do, and should not do, is what the Daily Mail does best. The only thing is, they never risk having an opinion that might seriously jar with a large number of its readers. Which is why it is the 15th most popular in the newspaper in the world. Middle class parents did a poor job of dealing with depression in the family? Better not print that. Blaming some minor trend in music is far easier and far less challenging. The Daily Mail only attacks people if they sit outside of its readership, belying its authority to be a moral guardian. Of course, the easiest people to pick on are the ones on the margins, such as kids who like to dress up in black. The Daily Mail is the exemplar of the modern, democratic, self-appointed thought police. Think the way we do, or there is something wrong with you. Dress like us, talk like us, mouth the same opinions as us, listen to the same music as us, or there is something wrong with you. The journalists at the Daily Mail are little more than rabble rousers for bullies. Like any bully, the only way to beat them is to stand up to them. If you want to live in a happy world, then I have two suggestions. Save the emo; give succour to emos and anyone else who takes a healthy pleasure from being different (which includes Ian Dury too, I have to admit). Starve the Daily Mail; render it, and any other trumped-up bullies impotent, by turning your back to them. To feed our freedoms, we need facts, not fear-mongering.

2 Comments

  1. Chap on the train recently asked me if I would like to see the daily male and I flashed my ring: married, mate. He persisted so I had a browse and there were no men in it at all, just lots about gardening, women’s problems and offers for sports casual clothing. I felt suicidal.

  2. Nice post dude – really enjoyed it. The link to the 2nd video did not work for me, might be good to check it?

    The Daily Mail is a daily institution for me – it serves as a brilliant way to laugh my way to work, and to remind me of what I could become if my brain stops working.

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