Portrait of an emo fan at 30; or, why I can’t get over the Get Up Kids

What the hell is wrong with me?

A couples weeks ago I was hipped to an emerging scene in the North Eastern part of the States  made up of bands who use 90s emo as their primary touchstone. They embrace the tortured vocals, jammy guitars and heavy breakdowns of groups like Promise Ring and Texas is the Reason. Of course, as soon as I heard about this I immediately started scouring the Internet for records. Safe to say that I’m now completely enamored with bands like Everyone Everywhere, Into It. Over It., and Grown Ups and the label Top Shelf Recordings (as an odd side note, these bands and this genre are for some reason being classified as Twinkle Daddies. I’m not making this up.)

Seeking out new bands is all fine and good. But what bothers me is the kind of bands that I’m after. These twinkle daddies basically sound like bands I loved ten years ago. And here I am, a decade later, still being pulled into their little sonic webs.  I can’t stop listening to the music of my youth. And when I say the music of my youth, I’m referring to the slew of late-’90s, early ’00s emo bands I swooned over in my early 20s – Lifetime, Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day and the Get Up Kids – I listen to them on a regular basis,  their albums taking up valuable space on my overstuffed iPhone. I’ve even rebought have these LPs on vinyl. And now they’re brushing up against a bunch of new ones that sound just like them.

I get the appeal of what’s familiar. What I can’t account for is my continued devotion to bands who were supposedly meant to appeal when you’re in your teens and early twenties. Most of the songs are in some way about unrequited love aimed squarely at young men (yes, there are female fans, but I’m going with the stereotype here) unable to process their teeming emotions. So why do I, four months shy of 30, continue to identify with their music? Even  the bands who are most identified with the emo tag did everything they could to drop the association by either breaking up, drastically changing their sound or both. If they can walk away, why can’t I?

While the stereotype of the awkward 17 year old crying to Dashboard Confessional songs in their room has become a little tired, it’s not that far off from the truth. Over the holidays I read Andy Greenwald’s book Nothing Feels Good, which back in 2004, tried to make some sense of this whole emo thing. And based on the accounts from the fans he interviewed, my self-identifying with the problems these dudes were singing about paled in comparison to the emotional connection other people had with it.

But I think there’s more to the music than just broken hearts and spineless young men. What I continue to connect with is the non-specific emotional malaise, not the pained tales of heartbreak. Whatever problems I had with girls are long since past me (I’m in a long term relationship) and even if they weren’t, the problems that arise with the opposite sex at 30 could never be encapsulated in a 3-minute Dashboard tune.  What remains though is a general confusion with life.

Which is whay I’m so drawn to this new generation of bands,  their songs about tiny apartments and having bigger fish to fry speaking to me far more that the orchestral pop and folk-tinged indie rock that so pervasive, particularly up here in Canada (and thanks to Arcade Fire’s recent Grammy win, won’t be disappearing anytime soon). There’s a restless energy to these bands. Like the best music rooted in a punk rock aesthetic, they’re raging about something, even if its not immediately clear what that something is.

I similarly still feel this restlessness, though I can’t quite pin down what it is.  Suffice to say though what I continue to hear in the band’s of my youth and this new generation of groups is a sense of uncertainty about what’s to come.  Their pained wails and thrashing guitars saying far more than any movie or book I’ve encountered have been able to.

At some point maybe this feeling will pass, and I’ll look back on these songs with the same sense of longing nostalgia that I’ve since bestowed upon bands like Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. But even the bands who walked away, due to frustration of expectations or embarrassment at the public airing of their deepest feelings have returned to not only play together live again, but to record new music. If they can continue to find new meaning in their own music, why can’t I? And why can’t a new crop of groups tear this music away from the clutches of mainstream stereotypes and make something meaningful with it again? It seems as if what were once constants aren’t so constant anymore.

The Get Up Kids – “Action and Action”

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