Hood up, headphones in, head down. I was on the sidelines of the same basement bar that was particularly beat on the rain-ridden night. I had grabbed one of the scattered bar stools, placed my PBR on a wobbling table that sat guard in front of me, and kept watch over the stacks of cases and cords — ruins of the opening set that my depression haze kept me from making. I almost hadn’t made it at all. But the appeal of the mourning rites of a night drive–one indulgent hour each way–served as my motivation. You get the satisfaction of a reflection of the past and a fantasy of moving forward, all without having to negotiate the logistics of never returning home.
Normally I’d feel like an asshole stuffing headphones in my ears in between bands, but as the floor fell quiet aside from intermittent feedback, I felt more self-conscious sitting in relative silence. That’s just a death wish, a “you’re invited” written across your forehead. I had been re-learning the merits of tuning out. Once upon the simpler times, the quality of my school day was completely measured by how many times I got called an ugly dyke and whether or not I left my earbuds in my other hoodie. Then, as an 18-year-old know-it-all, I proudly proclaimed my independence from stomping around with wires hanging down from the fringe I was so adamantly growing out. Then, as a 20-something, we front like forgetting headphones for the gym is the only unfortunate instance, when really, truly, the tragedy is what’s all around us. And so, you feel like a kid again as you break for lunch at work. Right and left earbud in, you light up a cigarette, and take two drags.
Emo, for me, will always be a time capsule of sensory deprivation, an ode to a time when all pragmatic senses cease and the feelings in our hearts heighten. Hood up, headphones in, and head down. Oh, and hair in your eyes. I wasn’t lying when I said that I spent all of 2009 with no peripheral vision. After years, this was a capsule I was willing to break open, mostly thanks to Nothing,Nowhere. That’s the band that my friend, Clyde, better known as KornFan420, had turned me onto this past week, and the band that I’ve been listening to with exclusivity. NN demonstrates that being a former emo kid is much more than a recovery project, as I’ve joked in the past. They are visions of the past, re-envisioned. Emo, R&B, and suicide. A balance struck between self-awareness and honesty. Their innovative brand is what I signed up for long ago but never got thanks to shit growing trendy and formulaic.
And so, back at the show, Nothing,Nowhere was who I was shamelessly taking hits of between every try-hard stoner crew. Brief escapes. I went out for a smoke with uncertain intentions of returning for the headliner. As I hugged myself under the small awning trying to keep warm and dry, some Klebold-looking kid took my invitation. Two strangers brought together by some chance weather event. A sly smile and an endless gaze. It all could have been very romantic if I could give a shit about another man but one. He was an hour away, and this kid very well could have had a carbine tucked under his trench.
In some fleeting luck, a crowd came and huddled around us, taking a bit of the pressure off. But, unfortunately, the situation regressed into the roast of a kid in a Joy Division shirt, mostly by kids whose egos were held together by Slayer patches. “But Bauhaussss” cut with a mocking tone as I saw one of the openers attempting to load out though the entrance. I tried to warn them to watch out, but I went unheard, and three were struck forward from the impact of the door. The conversation shakily kept on.
“Hey you” one said, pointing at my chest. “You said something. What did you say?”
“I was trying to tell you to watch out for the door,” I said without faltering. “And I like Bauhaus.”
I threw my butt on the ground and went back in. I had forgotten my headphones on the table.
From the comfort of my spot, I served as witness to what can be described as a Great Value brand Bongzilla that had been moved to the reduced for quick sale section. Wives took the front row. Fried blonde hair, sequin Chucks, and leopard leotards. I guess it was appropriate enough for listening to a 50-year-old man wail about lighter theft into a cardboard-covered mic stand intended to pass for a bong. We will always work to resuscitate what we believe has passed away. For some, that means emulating your favorite artists, doing reefer-related arts and crafts, and wearing sunglasses indoors. For others, it might mean decorating yourself in the Ebay-bought artifacts of Ozzfest ’96. As for me, I choose to simply reminisce on doing whippets to Senses Fail at the skate park.
After my treasured time behind the wheel, I very accidentally ended up drinking KG until dawn while beating Nothing,Nowhere’s Deadbeat Valentine to a bloody pulp. You know you’re getting old when the samples of cable news’ investigative reports pin emo as the biggest threat to our youth instead of Marilyn Manson. Maybe it had taken all this time to make sense of what was. The immediate years after the emo days came with a knee-jerk cringe, but now that we’re going on nearly a decade since I spent my days after school blissfully laying around to Meg & Dia, it all feels much more significant. Like damn, maybe I wasn’t just being a jackass. Maybe I was really part of something, even if it came out of feeling like I was nothing. Still, as I sat taking in views on my window ledge, I couldn’t help but wonder why a band like NN was hitting me so fucking hard. Why here. Why now.
Could it be that Nothing,Nowhere, and the broad umbrella of emo, has more to offer in 2017 than just rose-colored nostalgia glasses? After all, emo carved out a space to unpack the true horrors of the everyday. In that regard, it appeals to the DSBM fan in me, with DSBM being another genre that invokes darkness through talk of depression, suicide, addiction, and other struggles generally more accessible than appeals to Satan and Swedish snowstorms. Hatred and sadness is internalized rather than projected. Shit, Psalms of Suicide’s new album art could pass for any cul de sac in Anonymous’ home state of Jersey. Some landscapes are bleak in ways we don’t anticipate, and eventually, the toll weighs. Even in the States, we frame the Northern Sky as being home to a profound melancholy that appeals to the magic of nostalgia for the past. But quite often, the everyday doesn’t extend endless mental vacation time. Besides, there’s no want or need to chase a dark fantasy when the world in front of you already does a stand-up job.
That’s not to say that within emo, within DSBM, there isn’t some degree of romanticizing. But it’s the fact that it doesn’t take overblown aesthetic or ideologically-woven lyrics to reach us shows just how much these themes hit close to home. Reflecting on my own state of affairs, I had underestimated just how much these themes are still relevant to me. Deciding to pursue a traditional career or your art, grappling to maintain relationships alongside both external stresses and mental difficulties, and so on. We pride ourselves in growing up and shedding our angst, but as we reach existential breaking points as it proves either impossible or unfulfilling to grow into the Boomer image of the American dream, the ghost of emo past is conjured. The revision that Nothing,Nowhere provides reminds us that cherishing the past doesn’t mean we shouldn’t beat on and continue to grow — we just have to accept the fact that growth may not look like what we were taught that it would.
Or at least the answer I had scribbled in my journal that night. What I could make of it, anyway. If nothing else, it must have been an answer I felt content raising my bottle to the rising sun and drinking to.