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--EMO IS INDEPENDENT (FOR NOW) True to its punk roots, emo has a self-sufficient community that functions outside the mainstream. While dozens of emo bands have signed with major labels, the great majority remain on independents like Deep Elm and Jade Tree. These labels put out CDs and compilations like The Emo Diaries on the cheap, and they don't have major record-store distribution. Kids buy albums directly from the label websites, then huddle online at diaryland.com, makeoutclub.com and the emo postpunk Web ring to bare their souls and trade reviews.
But the emo community can be just as domineering and spiteful as any other. Many bands get filed under emo against their will. "Any group of artists thrown randomly into a bag with a bunch of other ones are going to resent it," says Davey von Bohlen, lead singer of the Promise Ring. Emo fans go ballistic when they think a band is selling out. The Promise Ring released a lovely mature rock album, Wood/Water, last month, but emo fans howled because the band sounded overproduced and it had abandoned tiny, emo-friendly Jade Tree for slightly less tiny Epitaph. "I don't care who pays for your college. Why should you care who pays for our records?" asks guitarist Jason Gnewikow.
--WEEZER, the exception that proves all the other rules On Death and Destruction, a song from Weezer's new album, Maladroit, singer Rivers Cuomo groans, "I can't say that you love me, so I cry and I'm hurting." Now that's emo.
Weezer is on a major label and has sold millions of albums, but despite these sins the band is beloved by emo fans, largely because Cuomo is an emo Everyman. After Weezer sold 3.9 million copies of its first two albums, Cuomo abandoned music, went to Harvard and put himself through an extremely painful surgery to even the lengths of his legs. When he realized that Harvard was not a cure for feelings of social inadequacy, Cuomo returned to Weezer and started banking song after song. What does Weezer's success prove? That emo kids who pride themselves on not being like everybody else don't mind living vicariously through a star, particularly an overwrought one, much as everybody else does. It's tough to avoid the conclusion that the emo faithful, like Red Sox fans, are only happy when they're sad.