The term “emo” meant nothing to me when I bought the album Something To Write Home About by the Get Up Kids. At the time, I was just detached enough from the ever-undulating music fandom community that I didn’t realize the way that music starting to get carved into smaller and smaller categories and subsets. As maligned as the term “alternative music” was back in my college radio days, at least it stood for an admirable breadth and depth of music. It had equal amounts of room allotted for the pile-driving, metallic rock outrageousness of The Cult, the dance floor calisthenics of New Order and the campfire sing-alongs of Indigo Girls. The only vital common denominator, it seemed, was that it be good. When classmates who existed outside of the station’s sphere of influence asked me to define what we played, what we meant by “alternative,” that description was often my admittedly inadequate default. “I don’t know,” I’d shrug. “It’s good.”
A few years later, that wasn’t good enough. Declarations needed to be made about which little sliver of the musical spectrum was preferred: emo rock, twee pop, math rock, sadcore, shoegaze and on and on. A lot of bands with jangly guitars got signed in the wake of R.E.M.’s success in the 1980s, but all of them at least had their own flavor. By the end of the ’90s, signing a band that sounded a little like a different, established group wasn’t enough. If Travis experienced some surprising success, labels went hunting for other bands that sounded exactly like Travis. A remarkable number of fans followed suit. When I started working at a college radio station again in 2001, I was amazed at how many DJs programmed shows that were so uniform in their sound for two straight hours that it may as well have been a nonstop drone, as if the old Emergency Broadcast System tone were left on to infinity.
So I didn’t buy the record because I was collecting emo at the time, heading to the local shop and asking what items among the new releases qualified. I bought it because I heard a couple songs and though it sounded terrific. As I told a friend at the time, “This sounds like the sort of band I feel in love with about every five minutes back in college.” To me, it didn’t matter what anyone else called it. I just called it “good.”
(Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, Something to Write Home About is officially out of print, available for new purchase only in MP3 form. Since making such a purchase puts no money into the registers of local, independently-owned record stores and is probably equally non-lucrative for the original recording artist, I offer this here with the belief that sharing this song only harms music industry fat cats. Should I be wrong, or if anyone with a valid claim on the song wants it removed for any reason, a simple act of outreach asking, even demanding that it vanish from this space will do the trick. I’ll gladly and promptly take it down.)