At some point every phenomenon gets a book and by all accounts “emo” has become a cultural phenomenon. Written by Leslie Simon and Trevor Kelley of Alternative Press, few are perhaps better suited to documenting this phenomenon than two writers of the magazine most responsible for reporting on the scene each month.
Now, it’s important to note that the book largely concerns itself with the newer, more palatable version of “emo.” The Promise Ring and Rites of Spring may earn a mention in the book, but this is largely the world of Panic! at the Disco, Fall Out Boy, 30 Seconds to Mars and others of their ilk. There are those who still want to “take back” the word emo from this new breed, but they need to accept the fact that the Dischord/Revelation version of emo died when Chris Carraba found hair all over his apartment and picked up an acoustic guitar.
With that in mind, the book is largely an easy-to-read compendium of all things emo, from film to fashion to literature. The tone of the book is largely light-hearted, since despite working at the bastion of new emo, both Trevor and Leslie are actual grownups, with their own friends, driver's licenses and can probably buy beer legally too. Generally, the book presents the facts and adds some snark, but never really becomes nasty. Its best moments come when they venture outside the music scene, and really poke fun at some of the more complimentary cultural icons like describing William Shakespeare as “emo to the core” and name-dropping Holden Caulfield and Sylvia Plath.
While it does present an overview of the evolution of emo, one question I would have liked to see examined is how exactly we got from the no-frills punk/hardcore of Weezer and Braid to the rather flamboyant and often ridiculous music we hear today. The book never really addresses this and I certainly would like to know. On top of that, the tongue-in-cheek approach seems perfect for those on the tail end of their life in “emo” but I’m not entirely sure those fully immersed in that world find anything funny about their ostensibly miserable lives.
I will also posit that there are a few changes that the book should make for their next printing. First of all, the book section talks about Catcher in the Rye, but never talks about Goethe. What could be more emo than a lovestruck and suicidal guy named Werther? It also claims that action movies are “not emo” and yet I think The Crow is about as close to the perfect emo action movie. Brandon Lee decked out in black leather, covered in makeup with the Cure blaring in the background? He kills a half-dozen people and takes a break to cry. That’s definitely emo. Keep that in mind, guys.
Overall though, the book is a light and breezy read and seems as appropriate for those trying to understand emo as those trying to experience it. While I feel no closer to understanding how we got from Embrace to whatever is happening here, I at least know that I’m not alone in trying to figure it out.