Sugar we’re goin’ down swingin’
“Music saved my life” is a phrase that, when uttered in seemingly any circumstance, elicits simultaneous grimaces from anyone who’s ever been a teenager, including myself. Such a reaction out of people stems from an overuse of the bold hyperbole, and the association of it with a particular time in their lives: a forgotten time, long ago, filled with dyed hair, sweeping bangs, lip piercings, and so much eyeliner. That’s right—the dreaded emo phase. If you experienced such a time in your life, like so many struggling youths, you probably don’t remember much beyond loud music, regrettable fashion choices, and a lot of emotional turmoil. But while you may look back on that time in your life or the lives of other sad, outcasted teens as one full of tears and regret and wildly over-exaggerated feelings, it’s surprising to think that there are people out there whose embarrassing phase actually had a significant influence on the rest of their lives.
Emocore, more commonly known as emo, is a genre of edgy punk or rock music with lyrics that heavily focus on emotions, which therefore attracts an audience of confused teens suffering from intense emotional distress. A big aspect of being emo is following the style and fashion choices, including tight, dark clothes, brightly colored hair with distinctly styled bangs and, as previously mentioned, too much eyeliner. Additionally, being emo requires a specific attitude; one where you’re supposed to make clear to the world your suffering, isolation and hatred for life. On account of the heavy focus on emotional lyrics and confused youth following, the emo genre is frequently associated with made-up emotions and whiny hormonal teenagers.
If emo culture had a slogan or motto, it would likely be, “Music saved my life.” Suffering teens tend to pour all their passion into this emo music, feeling they relate to the lyrics, making it all they care about in life. The expression is regarded as a dramatized and unhealthy exaggeration, or as unfair to students or professional musicians whose lives really do revolve around music as their life’s work. This type of investment can be a way for teens to feel like they fit in somewhere, or an emotional outlet. However, adults and more well-adjusted youths find it hard to believe that these feeling are valid. Personally, I’ve experienced such a connection to music in the past, and while I was never a picture-perfect style icon of emo, I certainly had the attitude and attachment to popular emo bands of the early 2000s. However, even I couldn’t say that music saved my life. It had a significant impact on me when I was younger, and it helped me through a lot of hard times, but I could never first-hand say that I would be dead without music.
However, despite all the stigma, painful memories, and embarrassing behavior, there are some people whose emo experience goes deeper than the cutout depressed teenager act. For a lot of young adults who are more mature now than their past emo selves, that time in their life did more than influence who they are now; in some of these cases, music really did save their lives. A friend of mine who I’ve known for a very long time is a flawless example of how being emo, while embarrassing and upsetting to reflect on, had a huge effect on who she is today as a young adult emerging from a difficult youth. In an interview with Lauren over the phone, we discussed her relationship with music throughout her life and how it has evolved and shaped her as a person. When Lauren was very young, her music taste was widely varied and influenced significantly by what her dad listened to, anywhere from the Beatles, to opera, to alternative radio. She claims, “Through that radio station, I found out about My Chemical Romance before Fall Out Boy.” She describes My Chemical Romance as fuel for her “internal emo,” while her physical appearance was still behind in the style of dress.
In the eighth grade, Lauren’s father passed away, marking the peak of the most difficult time in her life. At this point, she was feeling depressed and had no motivation to go on with her life. She found no purpose to get out of bed in the morning and was essentially consumed by sadness for a long time. This led to frightening and dangerous thoughts; she was contemplating suicide, feeling as though that was her only option to escape the tunnel of depression. Lauren eventually discovered, though, that she could find solace in only one thing: the pop punk emo band, Fall Out Boy. Lauren claims that their music gave her a purpose in life. Their lyrics about their own experiences with sadness and depression gave her hope and made her feel like somebody out there understood her. In particular, the song “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown On a Bad Bet” off the album Folie A Deux spoke to her, literally. “It felt like the lyrics, especially the one line, ‘darling, I know what you’re going through,’ was actually written for me. It felt like fate.”
As her love for Fall Out Boy increased and Lauren began to get help for her depression, she poured her passion into the type of music for which Fall Out Boy opened the door. She became invested in emo culture; she began dressing the part and, due to her emotional struggles, acted the part, too. Lauren was full-on emo at the end of middle school and some of high school, and she reflects upon it as many previously emo kids do. “I’m definitely embarrassed now about having been emo, about fitting the mold.” However, Lauren had something unusually deeper to say about the matter when further prompted. “But I’m not embarrassed about the music, or how much I loved it. I even enjoy thinking about it, about how much they helped me. It’s bittersweet. Fall Out Boy filled a void for me.”
Nowadays, Lauren listens to mainly eighties rock and show tunes. Music is still a huge influence in her life, mainly socially. Despite having changed and grown in her tastes and improved mental health, however, she still listens to Fall Out Boy and other emo bands from that difficult time in her life. Music has always been a huge part of Lauren’s life, and she’ll forever acknowledge all that Fall Out Boy has done for her. “Music saved my life,” she says, with truth and conviction.
Gabrielle Ferro, Contributing Writer, is a freshman Integrated Marketing and Communication major who panics at the disco.