Tag Archives: My Chemical Romance

All emo at True/Slant

I’m still kicking it over at True/Slant, and my latest is a piece on an Australian news site’s puff piece on the new My Chemical Romance album.

Read it. Reblog it. Tweet it. Tumblr it. Love it.

Make It Stop…

Tsk Tsk LA Times. I’d already done away with (500) Days of Summer a handful of weeks ago, and this is merely another exaggerated interpretation of “emo culture.” So on the one hand, I’d like to dissect it. But, I think the words clearly speak for themselves:

“500 Days” is, as far as genres go, a hybrid picture, something of an emo version of a romantic comedy: It disdains machismo, futurism, violence and volume in favor of subtlety and heartfelt, if often mumbled, emotion.

The one time Tom really runs afoul of Summer’s feelings is when he throws a punch at a guy who’s been hassling her at a bar (downtown’s highly photogenic Broadway Bar, by the way). Tom is one of a number of emo leading men to emerge from Hollywood this year, joining sensitive types in “Adventureland” and “Away We Go,” among other pictures. As Gawker noted this week, the cineplex has been full of “gentle, sensitive, geeky male outsiders with a love of Lou Reed and snug hoodies.”

With its very particular aesthetic point of view and calibrated tone, “(500) Days” shares much cultural ground not just with indie bands but with emo culture broadly defined — with journals like McSweeney’s (whose founder, Dave Eggers, cowrote “Away We Go”), radio programs like “This American Life” (whose host, Ira Glass, is Tom with chunky black glasses and a decade or two older) and so on.

Well, I wouldn’t expect an architecture critic to have a complete understanding of a cultural enigma like emo, and Christopher Hawthorne certainly proves that idea. He is, in effect, confusing sometimes fluid state of emo fans and indie culture, though all his descriptions match that of indie culture. Most “emos” – be they the Revolution Summer folks in the 80s, Fugazi’s punk-for-one-and-one-for-punk calls to arms of the late 80s through the aughts, hell even My Chemical Romance – don’t match Hawthorne’s description. Even the stereotypes of “emos” today – depressed punk youths with a fetish for self-violence – doesn’t match that description. Hawthorne’s words are of indie through and through, from a love of McSweeny’s right down to the Morrissey fandom from this quick spec on the movie.

Among the many camps, Morrissey tends to be tossed into the indie one, and Regina Spektor without question as well. Emo is always, always land of the punk, even if it is an extremely watered down version of that.

To break it down a little further and call it a night, sensitive does not always equal emo culture. Everyone has feelings, every music has some sort of emotional depth behind it (even if it is a shallow pit, there are some feelings elicited towards how hollow a music can be). THAT is one of many reasons numerous emo musicians diss the term and a reason that so many confuse the two.

Night all.

Trek to Fandom

What’s the difference between these folks:

Well, specific interest for one. Not level of interest though. Each of these photos represents the countless number of fans of everything from Star Trek to anime to the Oakland Raiders to My Chemical Romance. In each one of these, the individuals express their adoration through some form of costume or method of dress, only to a certain, highly fanatic extreme.

This is a bit inspired by a conversation with a co-worker of mine, who appears deathly afraid of Trekkies and refuses to see the new Star Trek film partially because of an unknown fear that everyone will be wearing these costumes. Now from this branched any number of arguments, being on the conceptualized level of fandom of trekkies versus, say, sports; said co-worker believes that, proportionately, Star Trek fans tend to be more intense about their fandom than sports fans, a point I disagreed with completely. Aside from, say, the infamous “Black Hole” at the Oakland Raiders endzone made up of fanatic ticket holders painted in silver and black from head to toe, there is a certain appearance and assumption that most sports fans tend to have a casual relationship with their team whereas Star Trek fans dress up and have an insane fanaticism with their world.

But, to be perfectly honest, this lead into my general disagreement with the very argument we were having. In many ways, the image of Trekkies that my co-worker upheld is merely an image perpetuated in the media, provided by footage and shots of Star Trek conventions, where dressing up is encouraged. I would argue that, like a sports team, many Star Trek fans have a pretty loose fanaticism with the series/universe/whatever you perceive it as; after all, the very world of Star Trek has lasted countless films and decades of different television series.

So what’s the big difference there that leads to my main disagreement?

Well, sports fans are more accepted in our society. No one will argue that sports is one of those things that young boys (and girls, but, for decades, boys) are reared to love at from an early age, and “geekier” fare such as Star Trek is looked down upon by the majority of society. After all, why would my coworker cower at the idea of a Trekkie when she finds sports fandom perfectly acceptable? But, fandom and obsession has its limits and a turn towards obsession can be a bit much in any case; if you can’t pick it out from among people around you, I highly suggest checking out the new movie by Robert Siegel (who wrote last year’s excellent film, The Wrestler) Big Fan. Clearly, the title says it all. It won’t ruin anything to say that the main character, played by Patton Oswalt, is so obsessed with his team of choice that it dominates his life, underlines his day’s highs and lows, each on-the-field play not only controlling his heartstrings that Sunday afternoon, but the following day and week, and off-season to boot. For these fans, there is nothing else, and they place their very life at the whim of the game.

And yet, there’s a certain cultural acceptance that greets individuals who don a $100+ replica New York Giants jersey (well, not in the case of the film, but that’s a pretty extreme case) versus someone who decides to fit plastic sharp ear molds to the sides of their face and dress up for an afternoon, or wear a Star Trek-themed t-shirt.

All these fans are perceived as a little bit odd, not only because of their level of fandom, but simply because what they’re so enthralled with isn’t quite… normal:

Troll 2 fans

 

Star Wars fan

Star Wars fan

 

Rocky Horror Picture Show fans

Rocky Horror Picture Show fans

And there is a point in that – all these previous pictures depict fans dressed up as other-worldly creatures (or whatever you want to call Rocky Horror‘s characters without giving away any of the plot) and not, say, LeBron James.

Which more or less leads in to the main point of this blog. Emo fans don’t dress up as aliens or monsters, and yet, are treated as such. Again, the media is partially to blame, as many a negative interpretation of emo comes from incorrect reports in “the news.” But then it really comes down to individual people and how they personally perceive those who dress differently. Or it could just boil down to the fact that all these other levels of fandom, when expressed with clothing, are only done in certain circumstances where it’s welcomed; many an emo fan tend to dress up as they want to 24/7, a case which, like so many subcultures before hand, not only invite those around them to look at them, but negatively judge them as well. It’s not a costume there, but how these individuals choose to dress to express themselves not only as fans of a genre or part of a subculture, but what they feel is their individuality. And for that level of fandom, a perfectly healthy form of expression that truly hurts no one, they are persistently mocked.

It may be a generalization, but chances are 99.99999999% of Star Trek fans don’t wear Vulcan ears or a Star Fleet uniform on a regular occasion (after all, all you have to do is like or enjoy something to be a fan). However, many a fan of currently-produced, mainstream emo dress in the perceived fashion of the day all day every day, and unfortunately may suffer for it.

 

Interview with Patton Oswalt about Big Fan:

Objection!

Emo is getting a bad rap in New Zealand.

First, there was the charge of a gang of so-called “emo killers” threatening youths who basically didn’t even consider themselves emo at Spotswood College; the entire incident appears to have died down and had the basic mark of sensationalist-driven journalism looking to dig up dirt on a usual – though still concerning – issue of kids picking on others who are different then them.

But a court case has taken the cultural stereotypes to an extreme. As The New Zealand Herald reports, emo was brought up in an all-too negative light:

Papanui teenager Marie Davis was not an “emo” and had never indulged in self-harm, her mother told the trial of the man charged with murdering the schoolgirl.

The question was raised in cross-examination by defence counsel Frank Hogan at the trial of Dean Stewart Cameron who denies charges of rape and murder.

This is absolutely absurd. Though I obviously wasn’t in the courtroom, from the focus of the article it’s clear that Frank Hogan and the defense have a tough case on their hands. After all, they’re relying on cultural assumptions of negative stereotypes concerning emo to either prove their client innocent or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s beyond pushing the line of what should be accepted as actual “evidence” or even something worthy of pursuing in the courtroom.

I’m surprised the judge allowed the defense to proceed with such an ill-advised line of thinking. Clearly, Hogan was attempting to link a potential interest in emo to Davis having suicidal tendencies. Considering how any evidence supporting these connections is merely a blame-game at best and pure drivel at worst, it’s unbelievable that this was actually taken seriously in a court of law, a place that’s seen as a bastion of historically-read reason.

And what possible evidence did Hogan run on to assume that Davis was even attracted to emo in the first place? As the Herald reports:

Cross-examined, she said children used to say Marie was an “emo” because of the way she wore her hair.

Basically, not much. The article previously states that:

She had never been diagnosed as having any mental health issue. There had been no major disciplinary issues, and she had never discussed suicide, Mrs Davis told crown prosecutor Chris Lange.

So, in reality, though Davis did have fights with her mom from time to time and maybe didn’t like school all that much, she seemed like a normal teen. After all, like most normal teens:

Marie was not obsessed about anything, but she could take up to an hour a day to straighten her long hair.

I may not have been a teenaged female, but most young people with long hair would be self-conscience enough to take good care of it… though who knows if that would hold any water in court either…

Out of all of this, the ones who continue to suffer are the teens of New Zealand, who, in some feigned interest or boredom, may continue to be scrutinized by peers and elders simply for purchasing a My Chemical Romance album.

Watchmeh

Ok, the Watchmen movie wasn’t as bad as the title of this post would imply, but it wasn’t exactly as great as my expectations. However, considering the massive odds against it, the hype, and my own conceits, Zach Snyder’s take on the book was, in many ways, true to its original nature, if also a shallower version of the Alan Moore book. (Then again, try cramming all that moralist and down-to-earth-human perspective into a Hollywood film, and you’d be lucky to produce the same film.) I realize many folks considered the narrative “unfilmable” for various reasons, but viewing the movie I thought one aspect that could never really transfer that well is dialogue; Snyder’s direction and a couple of actor gaffes aside, the words Moore made for the graphic novel just don’t transfer that well to the same… they don’t have the same spark on screen that they do on page and on certain occasions appear a little naive.

 

Watchmen graphic novel cover

Watchmen graphic novel cover

 

Other than that, for a 2 hour, 45 minute film, I sat in rapt attention, which is a feat considering the weighty subjects as told through a Hollywood blockbuster. If only the soundtrack wasn’t so… well, terrible. But if that’s the worst problem a movie has, then so be it. And poor My Chemical Romance for covering Bob Dylan… or should I say poor Bob Dylan… or poor viewers/listeners…

 

My Chemical Romance – “Desolation Row” (Bob Dylan cover):

Just Short…

So, for folks who’ve been following along in this blog, I submitted a proposal to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series to write a book about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. Series editor David Barker emailed everyone who submitted a proposal today concerning those he picked to make it to the shortlist, the final compilation short of the 20 or so that Continuum will select to be turned into fully-fleshed out books (you can check out the shortlist). Unfortunately, my proposal wasn’t chosen for this list, for simple space reasons on the shortlist (I emailed David to find out specifics of why my proposal was turned down and it turns out it was one of a handful that barely missed the cut). In any case, I really enjoyed writing this proposal and speaking to those involved in creating the album about the process of writing a book on Nothing Feels Good. Rather than let it go to waste, I’ve decided to post my proposal here, below, for your enjoyment, complete with some multimedia elements that could not have been included in what was submitted to 33 1/3, but are helpful illustrators nonetheless. Enjoy it… and if anyone has any interest in further pursuing this project with me in some other forum, please feel free to contact me:

33 1/3 Book Proposal:

The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good

Guilty pleasures tend to rear their heads in an interview with music’s next big thing. So when a VBS TV correspondent was chatting it up with No Age, the uber-hip and critically acclaimed experimental punk duo from L.A., singer/drummer Dean Spunt interrupted guitarist Randy Randall’s ruminations on MC Hammer with a shocking revelation:

“I used to like The Promise Ring.”
Beat.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied the stylish interviewer.
The three guys proceeded to awkwardly chuckle and talk over each other until the interviewer brought up his stunning thought:
“Is it really at the point where MC Hammer is less embarrassing than The Promise Ring?”

Great question. And not unlike one I ask myself just about every time I crank up my stereo while playing 30 Degrees Everywhere or Wood/Water. What’s so embarrassing about The Promise Ring? It could be the band’s association with emo, the now-repugnant term for a post-hardcore genre that’s all but taken over the Billboard charts. It was the release of 1997’s Nothing Feels Good that the four “averages Joes” that made up The Promise Ring were presented with the title of poster boys of a genre once thought to be six feet under. The rest of the trials and tribulations of emo remain embedded in our international conscience thanks to numerous pop-punk acts influenced by The Promise Ring. Say what you will about your Fall Out Boys, My Chemical Romances, Dashboard Confessionals, Cute Is What We Aim Fors, Thrices, Taking Back Sundays, Panic! at the Discos, Saves the Days, Coheed & Cambrias, Alexisonfires, New Found Glorys, and Underoaths; when push comes to shove, most of these bands don’t come close to the potent passion, intelligence, and vibrancy of The Promise Ring and their sophomore effort, Nothing Feels Good.

Embarrassment aside, Spunt should have nothing to be ashamed of for name-dropping The Promise Ring as a band that’s clearly influenced the critically-lauded musician. The Promise Ring’s back catalog is filled with nugget and gems of post-hardcore-meets-pop bliss, and much like when No Age’s current work combining elements of pop with hardcore, the results are fantastic. Nothing Feels Good is The Promise Ring’s best and most succinct work, an anthemic, passionate burst of homegrown pop-punk, filtered through tales of existential crises, cross-country road trips, and references to modern Americana. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics poignant, and the performance still as unbelievably urgent as the day the original tapes were mastered over a decade ago.

Part of what’s so phenomenal about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good is the impact the album had when it hit record stores in the fall of 1997. Neatly-packaged emo-pop amalgams are a dime a dozen these days, but there was nothing “neat” about Nothing Feels Good when it was released. Although the album’s music has the sugary-sweet taste of bubblegum pop that numerous artists today no doubt want to tap into, the band’s sound subverts the pretenses of slick pop on Nothing Feels Good with quick bursts of hardcore-influenced instrumentation that seem intent on spilling out of each track marking and into the life of the listener. To mis-quote The Promise Ring, it displays a sense that the band had of having no defined sense or absolute understanding of the world around them, but simply enjoying the view. Life’s peculiarities, ambiguities, and “big questions” aren’t shunned, but brought to the surface with keen observation. In frontman Davey von Bohlen’s hands and sweetly contorted lisp – a performance factor that only makes the music on Nothing Feels Good sound an umpteenth more sincere – The Promise Ring made an album of daring proportions and a musical document to the banalities, every day norms, and even celebrations of human existence not heard since Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Nothing Feels Good cover

Nothing Feels Good cover

Part of the story behind Nothing Feels Good is known, but little of it has a concentrated focus on the actual album or the band behind it. Beyond the musical content, Nothing Feels Good was a smashing success. For Jade Tree – The Promise Ring’s label – it meant financial stability, as the album surpassed their modest predictions and allowed the company to flourish, something of a miracle in the years following the alternative music buyout which had left many independent record labels for dead. For the national emo scene – a ragtag, ambiguous assemblage of independent artists around the U.S. – it legitimized their work in the face of the post-grunge milieu that ruled the radio waves and crippled mainstream creativity. For the members of The Promise Ring, it meant video premiers on MTV, critical acclamation, a position as one of the most creative bands operating in America’s underground music scene, and, much later, a place in cult-music lore for having inspired countless musicians to take emo (or whatever genre they called their own) in new and distinctly personal directions.

Although we’re still feeling the impact of Nothing Feels Good today, the known-narrative of the album’s creation is bare. What inspired the dozen songs on the album, and what transpired in their evolution from muddled creative concept into full-blown pop gold? What about the practices that hammered out the hooks, high-hats, and lo-fi hits in The Promise Ring’s oeuvre? What about the guys behind the instruments, their day-to-day existences and thoughts that no doubt burrowed their way into the band’s sophomore album? What were the moments before, during, and after 1997 that made Nothing Feels Good stand out from a mass of other bands and recordings that make up emo’s so-called second wave? What about each member’s upbringing, their lives in the Milwaukee area, relationships with friends, family, and significant-others? What made four young men band together to form The Promise Ring and create such a phenomenal release as heard in Nothing Feels Good?

These are the pivotal questions I’m seeking to answer with my book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. Here is an album and a band who’s impact on music today in innumerable. Part of the unknown quality of The Promise Ring’s importance is due to the fact that these deep-seated questions have never been asked – or rather, published – on such a large-scale forum. Considering the fans that the band amassed since forming in 1995, a list that no doubt has been growing with every article, band, or cultural critic name-checking the quartet as one of indie rock’s great cult bands, The Promise Ring are more than due for their proper place in the rock narrative limelight. And the 33 1/3 series is the place I would like to bring the tale of The Promise Ring’s best album.

For this project, I plan on writing the kind of book that exemplifies the credence imbued in Nothing Feels Good. My model for this manuscript isn’t confined to the band-nostalgically-reminiscing-on-a-piece-of-the-past-type writing you may see in a lot of oral histories or straightforward music books out there. Certainly my work will represent the mold that previous 33 1/3 books have upheld, but I’m also inspired by the writing styles of the great new journalists and literary non-fiction pieces. In essence, I’m looking to produce a book that lives, breathes, eats, speaks, and plays music the way that the members of The Promise Ring did when they made Nothing Feels Good. I want to make someone who’s never heard the album feel as though they’ve been following the band since Day One, that they’re back in 1997 and sprinting to the record store in order to merely touch an album by a band that has touched them. Essentially, I want to write a book about The Promise Ring in the same way the band created their music.

My main informants for this project will be the members of The Promise Ring; as I want to get into their heads and extract information about their environment, attitudes, and memories, they will be my go-to source for the book. I’ve been in touch with Promise Ring singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen for well over a year, having recruited his current band (Maritime) for a concert and Davey himself for a previous writing project. I have been corresponding with von Bohlen about this proposal for well over a month, and he has given this project his supportive and enthusiastic seal of approval, and has gotten me in touch with the other members of The Promise Ring. At the moment that I’ve submitted this proposal, I’ve been in touch with two other Promise Ring members, Jason Gnewikow (guitar) and Dan Didier (drums), and both are quite enthusiastic about the project. I plan on having extensive interviews with these three members, as well as the two bass players who played in The Promise Ring during their Nothing Feels Good era, Scott Schoenbeck and Scott Beschta.

Although interviews with the members of The Promise Ring will constitute a large portion of my research, I plan on culling information from as many sources as possible in order to make the narrative more vibrant and colorful. I plan on soliciting interviews with not only those closely associated to the band, but also their detractors and adoring fans. Alongside a list that includes friends and family, I plan on speaking to Tim Owen and Darren Walters (Jade Tree owners), J. Robbins (Nothing Feels Good producer), Stuart Sikes (Nothing Feels Good engineer), Jessica Hopper (former publicist), Tim Edwards (former booking agent), Josh Modell (creator of Milk Magazine and close friend), along with musicians who’ve worked with, influenced, or been influenced by The Promise Ring, including Tim and Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), Bob Nanna (Braid), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Matthew Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Eric Richter (Christie Front Drive), Eric Axelson (The Dismemberment Plan/Maritime), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Chris Simpson (Mineral), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and countless others for their involvement in this project. Although not everyone listed is guaranteed to be involved, with my personal connections to some of the people previously listed and with the help from the former Promise Ring members, I will have an enormous number of people contributing to the book’s dialog.

Interviews aside, I plan on digging through swaths of information to aide in the creation of the book. Included will be the usual sources of information; articles on the band, reviews of their albums, zines, blogs, and any other published work that would enhance the narrative. But, I plan to go beyond those musings as well. I will approach the band members to see if I could use personal paraphernalia to help me spin a more personal yarn. This would include anything from old photographs, letters, journal entries, lyric sheets, music sheets, and even doodles scratched into scraps of paper they’ve kept through the years. I will also approach the narrative from the direction of an informed anthropologist by researching the socio-economic background of The Promise Ring’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through census information, background information on area high school and college education systems, and the resources for youth in Wisconsin that was available at the same time Nothing Feels Good was in the making, I hope to gain a better sense of The Promise Ring’s background. I’ll also dig up information on American society’s views of Wisconsin and the Mid West and how that was reflected in the actions of those who lived there. It may seem onerous, but the brief scene in Wayne’s World that takes place in Milwaukee speaks volumes about the international perception of the place where The Promise Ring was formed. Throughout all of this, I hope to get a sense of why The Promise Ring did what they did, but from an entirely different perspective than the usual interview could warrant.

What I hope to accomplish after 15 months of research and writing is a work that can live up to how I felt after first popping Nothing Feels Good on the stereo, and something that will be as powerful as each subsequent listen to that album. My work may lack the aural quality of the album, but I hope it will be able to bring an entirely new sense of being to Nothing Feels Good, and one that will only boost the listening experience of longtime Promise Ring enthusiasts and bring some new fans to the album as well.

Waiter, There’s Autotune In My Folk!

Bon Iver is streaming the new Blood Bank EP through myspace, and there’s quite a surprise. Take a listen to “Woods”:

That’s right, a nice healthy dose of autotune! Now there’s some forward thinking folk. I’m interested to see how diehard folkies will react and those stuck on the sound that drew people into For Emma. Then again, this isn’t a drastic departure from Bon Iver’s sound, but people are wary of change. Just look at this response from the Stereogum posting:

“Yeah, “Woods” is a mess. Like T-Pain attempting heartfelt a cappella folk. Dig the rest of it, though.
Posted by: tmushett at 01/08/09 1:57 PM | Reply
Score = 0″

Who will be the next to tackle autotune? My fingers are crossed for My Chem… I mean, come on! Who wouldn’t want to hear an over-the-top musical about a teenager traveling across the universe, fighting off aliens from every galaxy that existed, with high-pitched autotune styles against pop-friendly arena-pop-punk?

 

…I guess I answered my own question… but is it yes or no?!?!