Teen suicide is regarded with romantic fascination. I read this carefully developed wisdom in a giant newspaper essay on pop music advances in home psychotherapy: In U.S.A. 2004, The Sorrows of Young Werther has been rewritten in the songs of legions of punk self-examiners. Although not quite the intellec-tual caliber of Goethe, teen punks, it is said, now have enhanced emotional range. This is empowering them as never before with the desire to reach out to one another in empathetically vibrating CDs and videos.
Take Good Charlotte. The band has reinvented Kix’s old suicide power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” But this time they splice their hopeful tune, “Hold On,” with a public service announcement asking viewers to abjure killing themselves because it will upset family and acquaintances.
I called an expert, Iam “the Doctor” Ironbeard, who had written a paper, “Suicide—Cause for Concern,” for the Institute of the Mind at Twilli-willi-wit, and asked if “Hold On” was therapeutic. “Yes, no, maybe,” he said. Then I asked him if Fear’s Lee Ving, the nation’s king punk emeritus, would now be boycotted by screamos-n-emos (S&M’s, for short) for singing, “Let’s have a war, so you can go die!” “The Doctor” recalled how Ving had shouted, “We’re non-thera-pew-tic!” in a number about a double bill with the Angry Samoans at a Camarillo home for the mentally decrepit.
In any case, newspapers inform, it can’t be denied that today’s kids are more self-aware. Perhaps the new sensitivity stems from an extra chromosome located in the genetic supercoils, somewhere near the additional DNA coding for superior eye-hand coordination, extra-rapid-twitch video-game nerve-muscle fiber connections, and 10 percent more cerebrum because youngsters understand blogging better than everyone older than them.
Thursday’s War All the Time is alleged to be an example of the super-aware romantic delicacy in flower. This can be felt in the band’s lyric “We’ll douse ourselves in gasoline and hang our bodies from the lampposts so that our shadows turn into bright lights.” This is a line a contemporary Werther theoretically might write as he gets progressively more disturbed and desperate for his Lotte. But there’s a snag: Werther didn’t kill himself until the end of The Sorrows—not at the beginning, the middle, and all through the love-depression-suicide tale, like Thursday. War also suffers from “can’t remember any of the tunes because there aren’t any” disease.
The album has not inspired Werthermania—young men awakening to their plights and shooting themselves, left clutching papers filled with maxims and dressed in the clothing favored by their heroes. If the ancestral youths of Goethe’s time had even more soul-searing awareness, doesn’t that mean modern punks are devolving?
Yet it is a big brotherhood, equal to and indistinguishable from Thursday. Great for your You Provide Me With the Fatal Instruments, Precious Lotte mix CD, rock for a quivering neurasthenic collapse is delivered via Story of the Year’s “Until the Day I Die,” Taking Back Sunday’s “You’re So Last Summer,” Acceptance’s “Permanent,” Finger Eleven’s “One Thing,” and Brand New’s “Good to Know If I Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die.”
Simple Plan are Werther punks, too, but Canadian. Instead of a sole obsession with Lotte, which is served in “Addicted,” their big musical push is in an apology to Daddy. This conflicts with the album cover of leg/foot fetishes and a game of spin-the-champagne-bottle with bridal party girls. While the Daddy song resonates with the distraught teen, too, what these guys are often caught implying is that they wish to be brides because Dad loved Sis more. In fact, their manically-sunny-but-my-heart’s-really-really-breaking-on-the-worst-day-ever and not-being-able-to-study-enough-for-tomorrow’s-test songs could just as well be sung by Katy Rose. With women now allowed on high school wrestling teams (another affront to the young man’s fragile psyche!), No Helmets, No Pads . . . Just Balls is a perfect title. Its fizzing guitar-girl pop shows Werther rock in touch with its silly feminine side and ready for star-time in a sequel to Ladybugs.
Meanwhile, Only Kids of Nothing Star by the two guys in Five Starcle Men has been released on the Net, with the band’s Web history claiming that one of the two killed himself a while ago. Eighty percent of it is cack—cheap software chitter and silicon noises—but the duo’s mythology indicates they were dextromethorphan punks, feeling the need to dull existential pain.
Two Nothing Star numbers are rhythmically compelling. One rips off Beck’s “Loser” riff; another has a harmonica sound and the chant “Pizza Hut families transcend spiritual reality.” However, because Five Starcle Men were downers, honestly horrid, and maybe nuts, they never made a video featuring the glum faces of dysfunctional boozer parents, stealthily corrosive friends, and assorted earnest-looking made-for-TV ringers.
Nope: no big role in feel-good media examinations recommending your stuff as mental Pepto-Bismol for the troubled. No 90 seconds on the Top 10 countdown, just before the hours of reality shows making entertainment of young people visiting a variety of public humiliations and cruel tricks on each other. No nothing. Irritating, isn’t it?
[In next week’s installment: Altie-pop rockers start fighting the plague of obesity raging through high schools with musical messages on eating only wholesome foods and how nationwide fatness is driving up health insurance premiums.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2004