After reading all eight million comments on Love Hate Hero's MySpace page and looking carefully at their haircuts -- couldn't find any full frontal nudity, alas; I guess they're no Fall Out Boy -- I am still no closer to understanding Love Hate Hero.
Perhaps I am simply too old, and my expiration date for enjoying that type of music has passed. I did, after all, just celebrate the big two-six, and though that seems young, it makes me a dinosaur in emo's youth-obsessed, teen-positive culture. Perhaps it is the fact that I am of the fairer sex, and as anyone who has ever read Jessica Hopper's essay, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't," knows, girls exist only to stomp on hearts. At the recent Bamboozle festival, where 25,000 kids who cannot yet legally buy cigarettes packed Giants Stadium, the Hawthorne Heights guy dedicated a song thusly: "Ladies, this song goes out to you because you break our hearts." I just keep visualizing an emo tree house, with "No Grown-Ups Allowed!" scrawled in big letters on the front. I may go to noise shows in warehouses where bands play chainsaws, but to these kids, I'm as uncool as my nana who loves opera.
But, boy, if I were 10 years younger and still stuck in my old hometown of Clackamas, Ore., I would probably like them. When I was that age, I was listening to a lot of indie rock, which had similar themes about being wounded and heartbroken. Of course, Elliott Smith never wore bad eye makeup and still liked (and respected) the ladies in the morning. But I can see the allure of good-looking boys with broken hearts; they're like wounded puppies, and only you can nurse them back to health.
Love Hate Hero got together in 2003 in L.A. and did the usual "self-release a record and tour thing." When they talk about touring, they're so earnest that it almost makes me feel like a big meanie for not really digging them. Their online bio closes with: "Our goal is for people to really listen. Hopefully we will make a difference in their lives and still have a killer time doing it." They also claim "drug-free" status, which sounds pretty damn close to straight-edge to me. Musically, no matter how strenuously they claim to sound different, they really do sound like most emo bands out there: howling vocals, songs about sadness and loss, metal-influenced leads ... it's not horrible, and for doing something that has been done many times before, they do it well. This is clearly a band that works hard and is dedicated to their craft; any traces of sloppy punk ethics are missing.
This emo stuff is huge, and it exists in a totally different world than most of us are used to. One review of the Bamboozle fest said emo is the first genre that isn't about albums but individual songs. Most kids don't buy emo records; they download them off the Web and trade links on MySpace, the conduit for the zeitgeist of the cyber-universe. This stuff gets very little mainstream press coverage and almost no commercial airplay. Another piece pointed out the potential connection between this trend and the fact that Spin magazine just sold for next to nothing and that commercial alternative radio stations are shuttering right and left.
On one hand, emo represents what rock 'n' roll is really all about: pissing off the grown-ups, giving a voice to those things kids scrawl in their diaries (or blogs) late at night. Unlike the bands I dug growing up, who sang mostly about twenty-something angst and political issues, emo bands stick to the basics: being sad sucks, Mom and Dad don't understand you, you don't really want to be one of the cool kids. (Paradoxically, kids across all subgenres seem to dig this stuff, and they all seem remarkably pretty. Aren't teenagers supposed to be awkward and gangly?) Emo steers clear of politics and larger social issues -- odd, considering the times we live in. Reagan gave us punk, Bush the first gave us grunge and riot grrl, but this music seems only to exist in an online vacuum, where the biggest issue is that you're not in [insert name of former best friend]'s top eight anymore.
Love Hate Hero at Rock Coffee with the Smashup and Kill Radio on Sunday, May 21, at 7 pm. Tickets: $7. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.