Still Screaming: Remembering the Power of Emo Music

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It’s 2018 and I’m getting ready for Brooklyn Emo Night. Is it too on the nose to wear the Dashboard Confessional shirt I bought at one of their anniversary concerts?

Emo music, known mostly for dramatic, angsty lyrics and accompanying Hot Topic wardrobes, has mostly retreated into music history, though bands have been making the rounds the last couple of years, riding the nostalgic wave of the early aughts. I caught Cartel last year touring on their Chroma album anniversary, but I’m really kicking myself for missing Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue tour. A violinist? In a rock band?! That shit was iconic.

I decide to wear the shirt. It’s probably uncouth, but where else am I supposed to wear it?

My friends and I meet up at Brooklyn Bowl and we decide we’re too old and cold to wait in the line that’s wrapped around the block. There are hundreds of people waiting in line who have paid $20 to listen to some guys press play on a playlist of songs we cried and danced to 15 years ago.

It’s at this moment a negative thought starts to creep from the dark recesses of my mind and makes its way front and center — this might be really fucking stupid.

We order $16 cocktails at a hotel bar across the street hoping the line will chill out by the time we’re done and I feel like a proper fraud — an emo kid turned plain and boring, barreling down the path of the Middle America we swore we’d escape.

I’m sipping on something made with gin and bee pollen and I can’t help but wonder: what happened? What good was emo music anyway, telling a generation of millennials to be raw and exposed when we ended up just being mocked and shit on by older generations who needed scapegoats for their own messes?

A horrifying thought enters my brain: did overexposure to Dashboard Confessional turn me into a “snowflake?”

I remember how I felt when I first listened to Jimmy Eat World and The Starting Line, but those feelings are now locked away, beaten back and archived in the basement of my heart beneath the mountain of adulthood that happened between 19 and 29.

Is this what Taking Back Sunday would have wanted for me? What would the guys from New Found Glory say if they could see me right now?

Who knows though — maybe they’d enjoy a bee pollen cocktail. Even the most hardcore scene kids have to grow up.

We finally make our way in and the venue is huge, but we’re packed in tighter than a pair of Pete Wentz’s skinny jeans. The first hour is all waiting to get a beer and coming to terms that our hosts, two white bros on stage with microphones, really like hearing the sound of their own voices between songs.

Why did I pay for this? I can literally throw this party in my living room for myself and my friends whenever I want. The party, so far, is straight up misery business.

I turn to my squad who are sipping on their beer, also struggling to find the happy place we remember emo music used to take us. “If he announces he’s going live on Facebook one more time, I’m going to lose it,” I yell.

Instead, the music stops, and out walks mother fucking Ace Enders, lead singer of The Early November. He looks amazing, mature, and handsome, like a wizened emo shaman summoned to guide our sad spirits through the night.

I feel electricity in my bones and my jaw drops as he sits down and starts playing “I Want to Hear You Sad,” a classic in the emo canon, on his guitar.

His voice rips through each verse like a chainsaw and I feel it — that mountain of adulthood, burying the romance and sincerity inside me, disintegrate.

I turn to my friend Matt and he’s singing every single word to Ace’s last song, “Baby Blue.”

“Isn’t it crazy?” he says. “The songs just come back to you.”

And they do.

Ace’s voice unlocks something within me and all my cynicism and resistance to the night melt away. I can feel the limits of my empathy stretch and expand with every howl of the crowd, remembered chorus and, admittedly, swig of beer.

Ace takes over DJ duty for a while and every song hits me right in the gut. The gooey music packaged in hard, pop punk shells remind me it wasn’t that long ago I was able to access these emotions and that they aren’t that scary at all. The catharsis the music is triggering is actually staggering — a musical therapy that’s well worth the cover charge.

The lights shine and flicker and the crowd becomes a singular nostalgia-fueled chorus. We wail and scream and sing, and, for one night, feel again.

And maybe that’s why hundreds of people lined up on a cold night and paid money to listen to songs we can listen to for free whenever we want. Maybe we aren’t plain and boring after all. Maybe it’s a trick society played on us when we entered adulthood, a ruse to get us to fall in line and abandon the black parade.

There’s an entire generation of us who all once screamed our lungs out — to be heard, to feel more, to get out of this town.

And we still can.


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