In Defense of Emo Music

I thought I’d write about good emo music, but perusing the Wikipedia page I realized that maybe I didn’t know what emo was. None of the bands I thought were emo are mentioned. I thought emo was just rock that helps deal with sad thoughts. Sadness, angst, hopelessness, etc. According to Wikipedia, it has to be kinda punk and it has to be all a band does.

I’ve been thinking about one of my dead friends. All overdoses are probably considered “accidental,” but not all are a surprise. Most are expected, a long time coming. Not this guy. His death shocked everybody. He wasn’t a bona fide addict with typical addict problems: in and out of jail, robbing friends and family, varying degrees of welcome at family holidays … none of that. It was just a shock. A truly accidental overdose.

I knew he played with heroin a little. He died around the time fentanyl came to dominate the market and real true heroin seemed to disappear. I always assumed he snorted it, but I was never in the room. He was not just into steroids, he was the steroid dealer, so he was comfortable with needles. But I don’t know. I’ve never done heroin.

Learning why I went so hard drinking and drugging, there are clear psychological issues underneath. But this guy didn’t seem to have any hangups. Handsome and built like a pro wrestler, he had a revolving door of big-titted blondes living with him for a year or so before he decided to trade out for a new one, usually when the incumbent got too clingy. And he had all the side action he could handle. A leader among men, he had the admiration of a million friends, a “natural alpha.”

Given all that, why would he be going so hard? Was there something going on in his head that nobody knew? Why the substance obsession? Why was it the key ingredient for him to be happy?

I wonder if maybe my friend was trying too hard. Maybe the uber-popular natural alpha was on some level an act that even his best friends couldn’t see through. It’s hard to say that because zero people would agree, and I don’t want to tarnish his memory, and maybe I am wrong, but I don’t have any other working theory.

Sometimes people kill themselves directly and sometimes indirectly. Sometimes it looks like an accident but it was more subconscious intent. Something inside wanted out of the act, the masquerade. Anybody who presents themselves as all-powerful alpha, stomping out all the dudes and laying all the ladies, always on never off, you’re a little status-obsessed. You’re going to kill yourself. On accident or on purpose, dead or in jail is just a matter of time.

Because nobody is that way. If somebody’s going hard all the time, always happy, always ready to party, always confident and never scared, the only negative emotion anger, they’re probably lying. Everybody is vulnerable, everybody is anxious, everybody is scared sometimes. You have to grieve. You have to have somebody you can talk to. You have to admit you can’t do it all.

Children of divorce are anywhere from three to eight times as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as men and women who grew up in nuclear families. Not everybody I’ve lost to overdose or alcohol was a product of divorce, but my two best friends were. The Boomer generation mainstreamed divorce, achieving the high-water mark, as divorce rate and average number of spouses has fallen in following generations. We Boomer children are now reaching middle age. It’s a hard time, and it feels like they’re dropping off like flies.

It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to be down. I embrace it when I need to. I’ve had this blog where I bare my mopey shit to the world. You can view images of what was done to Jesus. I also put sad songs on repeat.

I listened to the most awful headbanging metal out there for much of my life. I listened to the most delinquent trafficking rap out there. It’s great for getting amped up for hardcore training, which was a big part of my life. But nobody can be amped up hardcore all the time. If they are, they’re lying. Maybe to themselves.

Singing about sadness and grief was always in country music, the superior American genre, but largely absent from rock … until country got lame starting in the 1980s. Negative feelings other than anger started creeping into rock. I like to think Lou Reed planted the first seeds, but maybe I’m just a Velvet Underground fanboy.

My playlist is more like the roots of emo. I lived for a time with my dead friend who will remain unnamed. He never listened to anything that wasn’t fun, and would make fun of me when I listened to mopey shit. I’d play Edith Piaf to aggravate him. If he were alive I’d subject him to a long diatribe on why he needs to face some demons and listen to stuff like this.

All My Friends Are Dead (2017)

I was surprised to see Lil Uzi Vert on the Wiki page. I hadn’t thought of this as emo, but this song immediately captured me the first time I heard it, and a couple emails have gone out with this improved song title as the subject line.

Note: I was also surprised to see the music establishment considers Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle the high-tide smash hit for emo. Without having seen the video, I always thought that was a positive, inspiring song about resilience.

Lovesong (1989)

The Cure, with tracks like Boys Don’t Cry and Pictures of You, embodies not just the feelings but the look of what emo became more than anybody. Lovesong is one of my favorite songs of all time. They played it at my wedding. Great cover by 311 out there.

Confessions (1983)

Best known for an ode to masturbation, Violent Femmes also did Kiss Off. They couldn’t be anything but emo. That voice, the sound of angst. I don’t understand how Violent Femmes didn’t make the Wikipedia page. You could argue they predated The Cure with emo hits given The Cure took a few albums to find their footing.

Jane Says (1987)

Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell wrote this song about his heroin-addicted roommate of his. They close out every concert with this song.

Hey Jealousy (1989)

The writer of this hit was kicked out of the band before it became a hit. He was kicked out for drinking and later drank himself to death. The band changed a key lyric from “you can trust me not to drink” to “you can trust me not to think.”

Creep (1993)


Let Her Cry (1994)

Hootie and the Blowfish is a joke among rock snobs, but I dig this emo track.

Champagne Supernova (1995)

Oasis has a full catalog, almost an emo band themselves in my opinion, not cited in the Wiki page. Don’t Look Back in Anger, Wonderwall, all of it is emo, and often mentioning substances.

Last Nite (2001)

For years I argued that The Strokes were the roots of 2000s-style emo. They had the look, the indie sound and of course this hit.

I Miss You (2004)

Blink 182 is known as this band of smiling SoCal surfer dudes, with bubble-gum neo-punk ala Green Day, but their best work are emo tracks. This is their most popular and Adam’s Song is about suicide. I’m not a fan of most of their songs, but I like these guys personally. Well-grounded, fun guys.

Engine Driver (2005)

Like Oasis or The Cure, most songs by this band sounds emo. Another I like is The Wanting Comes in Waves.

Maps (2003)

Female singers seem to have an easier time with sadness, and maybe shouldn’t count because the primary novelty of even naming something “emo” seemed to be they were men being said. I had to include one, and singer Karen O is crying real tears in this video. Her boyfriend skipped the shoot.

Hope you enjoyed. Leave your faves in comments.


  1. I was never much into what people called “emo” when I was in middle school but I remember a few “emo” kids from back then and what was popular among them. Not sure if this is technically “emo” music but I guess it might be? Was what was popular in middle school in early 2000s.

    Bring Me to Life by Evanescence:

    Don’t Jump by Tokio Hotel:

    Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance:

    Sugar, We’re Goin Down by Fall Out Boy:

    It Ends Tonight by All American Rejects:

    Was Linkin Park ever emo? I’m not sure because their singers don’t have that stereotypical emo look (all black hair, black makeup, black clothes, black everything).

    Well here’s some songs by them that touch on sad topics.

    In the End by Linkin Park:

    Numb by Linkin Park:

    As far as all of these songs shared though, Linkin Park’s “In the End” is one I actually can enjoy these days. Gives that solid 2000s nostalgia.

    I always thought though that, for a band to be truly emo, they had to have the look. Because I can think of a ton of sad songs by rock bands that I never consider emo. That band called Tokio Hotel perfectly shows what I mean in that music video shared by “that look.”

    Looking back at it now, I guess some of these bands weren’t too bad. I just always cringed a little at all the “emo stuff” because, back then, it basically meant a kid’s whole personality being about being sad and cutting your wrist and stupid shit like that. Nothing wrong with getting shit off your chest or seeking help but making your whole personality based on that is what I never liked. But I know some people will say this type of music helps them and, if it does, cool.


    1. Yes, these are the bands I see on Wiki. You have a better idea of what it was than I do. I was all hip-hop all the time until about 2005 or 2006, well into my 20s. I missed it. But I think there is validity to my idea that the roots lie in some old-school bands like The Cure and Violent Femmes.


      1. Thanks for posting that Hey Jealousy song in this article by the way. I’ve listened to it probably 50 times now this week lol. I definitely wouldn’t call it an emo song but I like it a lot. Strong 90s vibes too.


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