Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is incredibly un-fun in 2020 and I miss blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Songs That Make Me Want to Smear on the Guyliner
Halloween 2004, I dressed as Benji Madden from Good Charlotte. Or maybe it was Joel… I can’t remember which is which, and I’m not going to look it up, so let’s say it’s a little of both. It’s not every musician that lends themselves to cosplay, particularly among punk rockers post-1985 or so. Here are some fun facts about that costume:
- I taught public speaking to a bunch of undergrads wearing this getup, and then voted in the presidential election.
- When I walked down the stairs of the Lory Student Center toward the radio station, my friend Mikey saw me and told me he thought to himself, “Oh God, who is this dipshit poseur? Oh wait, that’s Jonny X…” Successful Halloween costume!
- I had to run to the mall with my then-girlfriend (now wife) so she could finish her costume off, and while in Hot Topic, I got mistaken for an employee twice, which was hilarious. Many of the people who work there in 2020 still inexplicably look like this.
- We tailgated before a football game the next day, which my mom drove up for (and which explains my sunglasses tan in the photo above). I still had the painted nails and the temporary tattoos on me. I think she hated those both with the power of a thousand suns.
Popular music is very much a product of its time and circumstance, and I wondered what led all of us to gravitate to these tiny little beta males screaming about how important their feelings are. My guess is that on a cultural level, we were all pretty sick of the macho horseshit and tough guy posturing of the Bush Administration. Think about Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and all the other old ass wannabe cowboys gettin’ tough on terror or whatever the fuck. It makes sense that a bunch of fashionably trashy, loud as shit, navel-gazing emo kids felt like the perfect antidote to that energy.
So, with punk rock live streams on the docket for the weekend, let’s have some fun and bask in that energy. Slap on some guyliner, get out the black t-shirt, pick up a deck of Marlboro Lights, and let’s get embarrassingly and cathartically emotional.
“Cute Without The ‘e’ (Cut From The Team)” by Taking Back Sunday
When I think of the emo/screamo moment of the early-to-mid aughts, these guys represent the apotheosis in my head. No one could belt out solipsistic heartbreak jams like Adam Lazzara. He’d be up there jiggling his head back and forth with his stupid bangs in his face just caterwauling Why can’t I feel anything for anyone?! It feels all so deeply silly these many years later, but at the time, we all kinda wanted to bathe in the depths and profundity of our many deadly serious emotions.
And that’s to say nothing of the song itself. It still fucking rips. It’s propulsive from the jump as Lazzara launches into a lyrical onslaught (ping ponging with other vocalist John Nolan) that the instruments catch up to after his first tidal wave of words. And then it doesn’t let up until the breakdown where Nolan screams My regret is that I never let you hold me baaaaaaaaaaaack. In some ways, it’s a calamitous mess. In other, more important ways, I want to hook this song up directly to my veins and mainline it right to my heart every single day.
The thing that kills me about “Cute Without The ‘e’” is that it’s not even the most overly emotional jam on that record. “You’re So Last Summer” – a great title if you’re a petulant 8th grader – features this lyric, one so desperately lovesick and subservient, you could give me a hundred years, and I’d never find one to top it: “You could slit my throat. And with my one last gasping breath, I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt.” The video for this song features Flavor Flav dressed like a tablecloth you’d find at a state fair lip syncing the entire song. 2020 is the most bizarre year on record. Things were also strange in the mid-aughts (read my description for that music video again), but in a more fun and whimsical way.
“The Anthem” by Good Charlotte
I’m pretty sure for Halloween I thought I was dressing as this band’s two frontmen ironically, or like as a commentary on them or something. With the benefit of time and perspective, it was in a weird way an act of wish fulfillment. I always wanted to radically change my look, but never had the guts to go through with it. I also won a humorous award from my college radio station called “The Too Punk Rock for Punk Rock” Award. I took it as a badge of honor, but I realize now they were poking fun at all my bullshit affectation.
And man, how I hated Good Charlotte. It was a weird time when we all got bent out of shape when bands would sign to major labels and we’d call them sellouts and shit. These guys were massive, which meant the target on them was the biggest of all. Like the good little acolytes we were, my friends and I despised Good Charlotte appropriately and made fun of them whenever possible.
Time is funny in that your life or death opinions tend to flatten out into a more general landscape of happy nostalgia. I listen to this song now, and I wonder why I wasted so much energy hating it. It’s basically a perfect pop punk song. The guitar distortion in this song tickles me just so, the riff is chunky and satisfying, and the lyrics are deliciously ironic. It’s always funny when the biggest band in the goddamn world shouts an *ahem* anthem preaching non-conformity. Our popularity doesn’t qualify, and you’re special and different for liking us, you and the other 4.9 million people who bought The Young and the Hopeless. Good for you for being the correct flavor of different!
“Anthem of Our Dying Day” by Story of the Year
Full disclosure, I like “Until the Day I Die” as a song a little better than this one, but this music video is superior. (Ed. note: The Anthem -> Anthem of Our Dying Day -> Until the Day I Die. It feels like I’m doing some dumb word association, stream-of-consciousness exercise with these song titles.) And why is the video superior? Because Story of the Year represents the pretentious wing of the punk/emo/screamo movement in this list.
One of the funniest and most savage takedowns I ever read was in the Rocky Mountain News who did a preview of whatever year’s Warped Tour, which featured Story of the Year. About them, the author wrote (and I’m paraphrasing), “They think by showcasing a bunch of existential shots of birds flying, they’re being deep and they rock. They’re not, and they don’t.” Look, I can generally handle some pretentiousness in my art, but that’s just plain funny. All of the bands on this list are guilty of sniffing their own farts to some extent, it’s just that it always felt like Story of the Year had no sense of humor about it. I mean, the next two bands on this list are My Chemical Romance and The Used. Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, wrote a song called “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison” about himself and The Used’s lead singer Bert McCracken. That’s a dose of wry self-awareness Story of the Year could use.
Not that I ultimately care when it’s 11:30 pm, I’m 8 IPAs deep, and watching music videos in the dark after the rest of the house is asleep. I still love Story of the Year in all its self-satisfied glory.
“The Taste of Ink” by The Used
The inaugural episode of Chris DeMakes a Podcast featured John Feldmann from Goldfinger. In it, he talked not only about their iconic song “Here In Your Bedroom,” he talked about some of the multitude of bands he’s produced. Germane to this post, he discussed pushing The Used to come up with a chorus for this song. They sat on his couch and came up with the one you hear over the course of an afternoon.
Can you imagine this song without the gigantic “So here I aaaaaaaam! Alive at last!”? It’s a totally forgettable song without it. As it stands, this one is phenomenal on the highway. Just roll the goddamn windows down, and belt out that chorus as the miles whip by.
Remember the show “The Osbournes?” For a time Kelly was dating lead singer Bert McCracken and his personal hygiene came up again and again on the episode he was on. Watch that video and tell me you don’t think that guy smells terrible. He looks filthy and greasy and unkempt. Probably smells like cigarettes, cheap hooch and whatever fromunda has accumulated on his person. Is it weird that I’m so exhausted by a year of social distancing and solitude, that I physically ache at how much I want to be surrounded by stinky disgusting punks in a club that smells like stale beer, old sweat, cigarette stench hoodies and cheap weed? Jesus Christ, I could write my own emo song about how much I miss this.
“Helena” by My Chemical Romance
If Story of the Year is pretentious, My Chemical Romance is like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of decadent overindulgence and lavish spectacle all masquerading as simple punk rock. How I love it so. Most of that manifests fully on The Black Parade, the album after this one which featured “Helena” (along with “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” “The Ghost of You,” and “Thank You for the Venom”). But you could see them reaching operatically, especially in this extravagant video.
This song and video are everything. Gerard Way with the Carmex smeared on his eyes to make them all puffy. Video that takes place in an opulent Catholic church during some vampiric looking funeral. Little punk goth fairies doing elaborate Broadway-style dance choreography. It’s enough to make old people and Republicans in 2004 very nervous, and the rest of us rock the fuck out, or swoon with very confusing feelings. Maybe both! Wait, what?
What I love most about this song, and about My Chemical Romance in general, is that it combines two things I absolutely love. 1) The whole “let’s give ‘em a fuckin’ show!” vibe in all its garish glory, and 2) Furious, noisy, singalong punk rock. These two sensibilities don’t collide as often as I might like (heavy metal is admittedly way better at incorporating elaborate theatrics – I just don’t have the patience for that much masturbatory guitar noodling), so it’s with the utmost glee that I gawk at My Chemical Romance music videos.
I’ve seen My Chemical Romance live only once. They supported Face to Face on Face to Face’s last tour before they broke up the first time in 2004. I wish I could remember more about their set beyond it rocking my nuts off. Since it’s 2020 and I haven’t been to a concert since January, I find myself lamenting lost details to shows I either attended or missed. One thing I can tell you is that I’m going to do my best not to miss any shows once we’re all free from this fucking pandemic.
And if I do ever start whining about going to concerts again, you have my permission to slit my throat. Because with my one last gasping breath, I’ll apologize for bleeding on your shirt.
Such a good line.