Monday, April 16, 2007

Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy. So Jewish. So emo.

A few years back, I read an article by Chicago-based writer and feminist Jessica Hopper entitled Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t and it allegedly shook the insular world of emo. Granted emo is a sensitive genre (short for “emotional hardcore”) and shaking it up is probably easier than, let’s say, offending the world of death metal. Nevertheless Hopper’s allegation raised a pierced eyebrow or two when she stated, “emo’s yearning is not to identify with, or understand, but rather to enforce sexual hierarchy and omit women’s power via romanticide.” And while you may retort that all rock music is more or less sexist (and you would be right), Hopper contends that emo is the most problematic because it’s marketed at the impressionable foundation, or “the province of the young.” Unlike scantily clad teen pop stars or everything else on the radio.

But before I continue to modify Hopper’s supposition, I should define what emo is for those of you not reading this article from a computer in your high school library. Emo’s current wave (there have been three) consists of melodic punk rock rife with lyrics that read like diary entries. Most music snobs dismiss the genre as a worthless watered down version of its raw origin and despise the formulaic and predictable song structures. Their snobbery is validated by the formulaic and predictable song structures, but then again, these are the things that also make emo great. Others will belittle the genre because, comparatively, the earnest lyrics make Nicholas Sparks sound like Dostoyevsky.
Here is an example:
“Hands down this is the best day I can ever remember/
I'll always remember the sound of the stereo, the dim of the soft lights, the scent of your hair that you twirled in your fingers and the time on the clock when we realized it's so late and this walk that we shared together/
The streets were wet and the gate was locked so I jumped it, and I let you in/
And you stood at your door with your hands on my waist and you kissed me like you meant it.”

Incidentally, no musician wants to be identified as emo, particularly those in emo bands.

Nonetheless, I loved listening to emo and therefore spent a pretty significant period of my life in the hardcore/emo scene. I have some pretty fond memories of the good times wasted on some random dude’s rooftop getting wasted. And while Hopper’s point may have been somewhat valid, it’s also wholly inaccurate. I distinctly remember an abundance of women actively involved in all that romanticide and if I recall correctly, the boys were whining and writing songs about their pain because the girls were taking advantage of them. I spent more time consoling the freshly dumped, ego-stricken male than slapping him five for enforcing his sexual hierarchy.

However, Hopper is correct in suggesting that emo is not known for its diversity. But whenever I was at a show or hanging out with the members of this incredibly incestuous scene, it wasn’t the girls’ presence that was lacking. It was the Jews.

In retrospect, I had never felt more self-conscious of my Judaism than when I was emo. Sometimes I felt like a secret agent Jew infiltrating the inner sanctum of angsty gentiles. And the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. If Woody Allen, the quintessential Jew, had been a musical genre, he would have been emo. Boys with guitars were complaining about an obtrusive pain, over-analyzing the intentions of others, suspecting infidelities based on non-substantial neuroses. And the vocals are always akin to the high-pitched whining of an excitable grandmother. Ultimately, the only thing missing from emo was a lactose intolerance. So why was the genre so ideologically Jewish but yet so un-Jewish in practice?

I’ve been the music editor of Heeb Magazine for over three years, and in that time, I have had just about every Jewish musician pitched to me for a potential feature. There’s even been a coverage request for an artist that, while not being Jewish, had attended a Passover Seder the year before (seriously). Thus far, I’ve covered the gamut of styles—folk, metal, rap, prog rock, new wave, funk, rap, electronica, hardcore, and rap (Jews seemingly love rap, but that’s another article), yet I’ve never written about emo. This troubled me. I then decided to compile a comprehensive list of Jewish emo musicians because when you’re Jewish and into emo, this seems like the thing to do. I came up with five entries:
1 - Gabe Saporta of Midtown and Cobra Starship
2 - Ari Katz of Lifetime
3 - Mike Hanau of Halifax
4 - Two guys from New Found Glory
5 - The abbreviated name of popular emo band Jimmy Eat World is J.E.W. This only sort of counts but I think it’s still worth noting.

For additional research, I called my friend Andy Greenwald, the uncontested authority on emo, and the author of the emoest book ever Nothing Feels Good.
I told him about my list.
“Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy is also a member of the tribe,” Andy said. “And he’s a good guy.”

So now we have six. Kind of.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. The reason you never put emo bands in Heeb is that emo has never been cool, and never will be, even if it now sells lots of albums. It's too ridiculed, and not obscure-ish at all. It's the music of 16 year olds. It just doesn't fit with the Heeb vibe; it's not because emo isn't Jewish.

2. You forgot a bunch of emo Jews:
- Max and Coby of Say Anything (seriously...Coby went to Shalhevet!)
- Brian Lane of Brand New
- Rob Hitt, also of Midtown (though Gabe brings in more points because, a. he rocks the Jewfro, and b. he was in Humble Beginnings, who were awesome)
- Ben of Armor For Sleep (went to Solomon Schechter high school in NJ, as did Gabe Saporta, I hear)
- Dan Yemin! How can you forget him? He played in Lifetime AND Kid Dynamite, AND he's a PhD - such a catch. Any Jewish mother would approve.

So I already doubled your list. And when you think of emo, you think of New Jersey and Long Island, which are also places that are known for being full of Jews. So I'm convinced there are way more on this list. A friend from college claimed that someone in The Movielife belonged to her family's shul on Long Island, and the interweb tells me that Matt Rubano of Taking Back Sunday and Justin Beck of Glassjaw are both Jewish.

And if the abbreviation J.E.W. is worth noting, then certainly the actual band name Silverstein is important. While most Jews in TV, film, and music change their last names, in emo there's a Jewish last name as a band name!

Plus, who is THE poster boy for emo? Duh, Seth Cohen from The OC. The character is Jewish and is probably one of the most Jewish TV main characters ever, and he's played by a real Jew, Adam Brody. See also: Zach Braff. It seems to me that in popular culture, the emo boy IS Jewish. Being nebby (and from New Jersey!) is part of the whole nerdy-emo-boy thing!

3. Maybe you didn't encounter many Jews in your time in the emo scene, and maybe your emo friends lacked ambition and in that way weren't Jewish-like, but there have always been Jews in the emo scene. As I said before, I mean, basement shows in New Jersey and Long Island made the scene, right? You think that in those areas, some of the kids at shows weren't Jews? I mean, did you wear your kippah to shows? Well, even if you did, I'm sure you were the only one showing his Judaism via wardrobe accessories, because though I'm sure there have always been Jewish emo band members and scene kids, few are observant (though that's changing a little bit now). But that's not specific to emo; you don't see many kippot at hardcore, ska, metal, etc. shows either. (Yet you do when it's a jam band or classic rock...which is, of course, a whole different topic.)

And look, the first time I saw Saves The Day, it was at a synagogue. Acne-pocked boys (though, okay, named Chris) singing about girls and New Jersey at a shul on motzei shabbat. Does it get much more Jewish than that?

12:38 PM  
Blogger Arye said...

Wow, that comment warrants its own blog entry. Thanks for writing.

I've always wondered about Max Bemis but assumed that he just wasn', he wouldv've been a great Heeb interview. Too little, too late, eh?

And re: Silverstein: I wanted to like their music pretty badly based solely on the name. Sadly, I don't.

You should be my Emo Sommelier consultant. Damn, you gots emoskillz.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

suggesting that zack braff and/or seth cohen are emo posterboys is kinda silly.

12:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the most hysterical blogs I've ever read. Thank you for enlightening me that Gabe Saporta went to a Solomon Schechter school.

2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, gabe did in fact go to solomon schechter, as did his humble beginnings bandmate josh dicker. all the members of random task, a band ben jorgensen was a member of, also went to solomon schechter.

4:21 PM  

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