Louise Wetherbee Phelps Upper Division Award Winner

by Tom Breihan

From the writer: This piece is my attempt to bite the style of my favorite creative nonfiction writer, David Foster Wallace, especially his experiential postcards. I wanted to aimlessly explore this phenomenon going on in Syracuse that I think is just endlessly fascinating. I did my best not to include a thesis or any sort of structure, but Iím afraid that stuff may have emerged anyway.

From the teacher, Anne Fitzsimmons: "Bluuuuurgh" is Tom Breihanís final project in a WRT 422 Studies in Creative Nonfiction course entitled "Writing with Peripheral Vision." As he interrogates the phenomenon of straight-edge hardcore, Tom deftly weaves together on-site observation, personal experience, and musical history. He also experiments with some of the conventions of creative nonfiction we had identified in class: shifts in time frame, stylistic innovation, and idiosyncratic perspective.

From the editor, Amy Dickinson: Tomís is more than a personal essay. He weaves history, anecdote, and actual experiential research into a piece that reads like a story and, at the same time, investigates something of a sociological phenomenon, the formation of collective identities. And, once or twice (okay, or more), I laughed my ass off.

  Four white guys stand on stage in jeans and T-shirts playing a song called "When Joy Kills Sorrow." Itís a loud, brutal song played with intense precision and no apparent structure. A few kids near the front of the stage are dancing. They windmill their arms, frantically punching air. It all seems bizarrely choreographed, like these kids have spent hours in their rooms practicing. It looks hard. They wheel around frantically, a blurry simulacrum of physical chaos, spinning out into some sort of karate jump-kick, then stopping for a few seconds, then doing it again. They throw their backs into the surrounding crowd, clearing an open space in the middle of the floor to dance, but after that, they almost never make contact with each other. When they do connect, it seems purely accidental. Iíve been to a few hardcore shows in Syracuse, and kids have done this sort of dance at all of them. Itís not something I can really describe; it must be seen to be appreciated. Iíve taken to calling it berserk ninja gymnastics. For a second, I see a girl in the pit of dancers up front, and Iím momentarily cheered as I always am when I see a girl in the pit, like maybe some boundary is being transcended. But wait, no, thatís just a guy with long hair.

  Itís 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon in Armory High, a dingy dive bar in downtown Syracuse. The bar is packed with about 300 people, most of whom look to be high school or college age. Iíve just walked in, and itís a fairly underwhelming spectacle. Some of the shows Iíve been to have been complete pandemonium ó bodies flying everywhere. This one is placid. The band is nondescript, and the crowd seems unimpressed. But then the music stops, and the guitar feeds back for a few seconds. The nondescript bandís nondescript singer runs across the stage and yells something that sounds like, "Can you deal with that, motherfuckers!" The band starts playing again, a fiery, intense martial stomp. The entire floor opens up; now, every kid in the club is doing their own practiced ninja dance. This huge physical reaction seems to have come from nowhere, the club transformed to absolute chaos. Itís like everyoneís responding to some coded signal that I just couldnít catch, like theyíre following a script for mass catharsis. Itís amazing.

  I was a punk rocker in high school. I can vividly remember climbing on-stage at shows to sing into the mic, spending 20 minutes every morning getting my hair to spike right, drinking malt liquor late at night on train tracks with a bunch of other punks in a weirdly self-conscious imitation of The Lost Boys. In some ways, it was dumb, ridiculous, my friends and me all following a script on how to rebel, how to be rebellious. None of us were being ourselves, exactly; we were all instead aspiring to some Platonic ideal of punkness, trying to be the best punks we possibly could be. It didnít leave a lot of room for us to progress as people, to learn things and grow and become a part of the outside world. But it was a great way to get through the high school angst period, which was probably inevitable for us all. A lot of people I knew outside punk rock directed such existential turmoil inwardly, reveling in how morose they could be and how far they could get from the dominant high school caste system; it seemed to me that this was what the goth subculture centered around. Punk rock was something different. We moved away from one system and started another, our own. It gave us a sense of power, togetherness, strength, something that other high school outsiders never feel, something that at least a few kids have killed for. Instead of howling by ourselves in the wilderness, we were a huge, unified ball of undirected anger and self-righteousness.

  We werenít the only subculture, of course. There were the goths, the hippies, the ravers; we were friends with all of these guys, but we still made fun of them, especially when they werenĎt around. The basic differences between their subcultures and ours didnít sit too well with us. We fancied ourselves political radicals, though none of us were entirely sure what that meant; most of the other cultures seemed based on messy things like drugs and feelings, and we felt harder, faster, younger. They just didnít have much to do with us. There were a few subcultures that were tenuously related to us, though, that merited more attention. There were the skinheads. They were scary. They dressed sharply, drank heavily, and most of them seemed to weigh about 400 pounds. I can count on one hand the number of Nazi/racist skinheads Iíve ever seen, but that didnít stop stories of huge, epic battles between racist and anti-racist skinheads from making the rounds in our social circles. And even the anti-racist skins, many of whom were our friends, seemed constantly on edge and ready to fight for any reason. Around them, we treaded lightly.

  But even scarier than the skinheads was the specter of hardcore, specifically straight-edge hardcore. None of us knew anyone who was straight-edge, but we knew there was a huge hardcore subculture out in the world, and we were perversely fascinated by it. straight-edge was based on a militant asceticism. Straight-edge kids didnít eat meat, drink, smoke, or have sex, and they violently objected if you did. They slapped drinks out of peopleís hands and punched cigarettes out of their mouths at shows; weíd heard stories. Instead of our spikes and chains and boots, they wore sweatshirts and sneakers. They had crew cuts and tattoos. We knew all this; weíd seen pictures in magazines. They looked militaristic, always ready to explode. At us.

  And their music sounded almost alien to us. Punk rock had scarcely changed musically in the 25 years or so since its inception. It was jerky, hyper pop music on overdrive; there was (and is) something catchy and innocent and fun about it. But straight-edge hardcore was an entirely different beast. Out of sheer curiosity, I bought a tape by Earth Crisis, the Syracuse band that had become infamous for being the most ardent disciples of the straight-edge ideal. My friends and I listened to it over and over; it was terrifying, and compelling. Supposedly, the music had evolved from punk rock, but it bore no traces of what we knew. It had rigor, drama, emotion. It fairly dripped commitment. They didnít sing in the snotty whine we were used to; they screamed and bellowed in a Cookie-Monster roar that sounded practically inhuman. "No mercy! No exceptions! A declaration of total war!" they screamed. For a bunch of punk kids from Baltimore, nothing could have sounded more alien or unsettling. These guys were actually out there, somewhere, and the idea made us very, very uneasy.

  By the time I started my freshman year at Syracuse, Iíd almost entirely grown out of punk rock. I was still fascinated with the idea of this straight-edge underground that I knew existed here, but something kept me from checking it out for myself. When I started going to shows a couple of years later, it wasnít because I was fascinated with this subculture that was alien but still familiar; it was because Iíd gradually drifted into the periphery of the hardcore sceneís social circles. I had friends in bands and friends of friends in bands, and Iíd go to hang out, for something to do. It didnít feel quite so alien. But the fascination remained.

  Armory High is an unlikely center for a youth subculture. About six days a week, itís just another bar, albeit one with live music. Thereís a coat room that never seems to be open and a reasonably well-stocked bar with prices that arenít exactly outrageous but are far from fair. A couple of meaty bouncers always stand outside and look threatening before shows, but Iíve never seen them manhandle anyone; generally, theyíre getting drunk with the bartenders before the night is very old. Thereís a dartboard and a pool table and an outdoor courtyard that doesnít see any use nine months out of the year, this being Syracuse. Thereís a mural on the far wall bearing the legend, "Graduating Class of Armory High," surrounded by caricature-style portraits of a bunch of local bands with names like Electric Chick Magnets and Janus Breed. A permanent haze floats in the bar, like maybe the air is thicker than outside. Even in the middle of the day with all the windows open, itís dark. Most of the bands that play at Armory High are of the local bar-rock variety. Every town has bands like these, bands that play an indistinguishable form of riff-rock that you canít imagine being played anywhere but a bar. The bands rarely get much of an audience; on a given night, there will be maybe fifty customers at the bar, people there to see their friendís band play or regulars there to drink with the bartenders. Theyíll spend most of the night clutching a beer at the bar while ten or twenty people watch whatever band is on.

  One of my housemates used to date one of the bartenders. When they were together, heíd give me free drinks. Now, heís in the bar every night, even when heís not working. Every time I see him, heís completely plastered. So are the twenty-or-so other regulars I see every time Iím there at night. Most of these regulars are in local bar-rock bands that appear to play Armory High about once a week. Nights in Armory High have a depressing sameness, broken up by the odd event like the Jell-O wrestling nights or the band that only plays covers of Aerosmith or Dave Matthews. Every once in a long while, an actual touring act, with maybe a song or two on the radio, will come through town and fill the place. Most nights, itís the same faces, turning redder and redder as the hours pass.

  All of those faces are noticeably absent this Sunday afternoon, though. Instead, the club is jammed, mostly with a dangerous-looking breed of hardcore kid. Lots of shaved heads are in the house. Lots of baggy jeans, sweatshirts, and tattoos as well. There are plenty of berserk ninja gymnasts here, but even more prevalent is a type of mosher I remember from punk shows back home, a violent nutcase who climbs onstage to stage-dive even if people arenít really ready to catch him, even if nobodyís standing where heís jumping. This is whatís known as a tough-guy hardcore show. The music doesnít sound too far removed from the punk rock from whence it came, but it really only serves as a soundtrack to the crowdís frat-style football combat mayhem. Almost every band has a beefy singer with a crew cut and tattoos.

  A band from Boston called Reach the Sky is onstage. "Look around you," says the beefy singer between songs. "Look at what youíve created. Everybody here is from a different walk of life, and weíre all coming together. This is where it starts." Where what starts? More to the point, is he at the same show as I am? I look around, and what I see is about 300 white boys dressed the same. Boys outnumber girls by a ratio of maybe six to one, an overwhelming majority even by usual guy-centric hardcore standards. I donít see any nonwhite people.

  There are five or six bands playing today, but all of them pretty much sound the same: hyperactive tempos (much faster than most hardcore Iíve heard), incoherently screamed vocals, and crunchy guitar. The songs donít have identifiable choruses or verses, and they all pretty much blur into monochromatic bluuuurgh. The quickened tempo means the songs donít even have the focused intensity of most hardcore; itís like hardcore with ADD. Itís terrible music, and I get bored fast.

  The crowd is eating it up, though. A band from Brooklyn called Most Precious Blood is up next, and the place turns into complete pandemonium as soon as they play a note. I get knocked to the side by all the people running into the pit at the front of the stage. The beefy singer leans out into the crowd, and a mob forms around him, singing along, screaming into the microphone. How they learned the lyrics well enough to sing along is beyond me; the only lyrics I manage to decipher from all the screaming are "I will not surrender! I will not surrender!" repeated a bunch of times, and even that Iím not sure about. Most Precious Blood has a female bass player, and she may be the first girl Iíve ever seen in a hardcore band. As the set drags on, I develop a pretty powerful crush on her. Itís not because sheís amazingly attractive; she isnít especially. Itís the same thing that happens to me on Greyhound Buses, when the only girl on the bus without any visible deformities looks gorgeous. Sheís just about the only person to walk the stage all day whoís not a beefy white guy, and I canít look away.

  This is probably the least fun hardcore show Iíve ever been to. The members of the crowd all look the same, the bands all sound the same, and the music is bad. Iím wondering if this is the violent straight-edge crowd Iíve heard about so much, so, as a social experiment, I smoke a cigarette to see if anyone will take offense and beat me up. No one does, so I smoke more and more cigarettes out of pure boredom. There are a few bright spots; when Most Precious Blood dedicates their last song to "all the firefighters, the EMTs, the police officers, the civilians" who died in the World Trade Center attacks, all the unfocused rage and paranoia suddenly has some context, some relevance. It doesnít sound so much like screaming for the sake of screaming, it feels like an expression of real, powerful emotion. The crowd erupts when they hear it. But the feeling doesnít last long; a few songs later, and it just feels like chest-beating bluster again. The only reason I stick around is to see Bane, the Boston band headlining the show and, from what I understand, one of the most beloved and respected hardcore bands in the country.

  Iím not sure if Bane is worth the wait, but theyíre pretty good, certainly a lot better than any of the other bands today. The music, shockingly enough, actually has some quiet parts, some dynamics of tension and release rather than just an unchanging rush of noise. Physically, they show fire and conviction, leaping around the stage like they mean it. But what really makes their set special, what sets it far above any other band today, is the crowd. As soon as they step onstage, the crowd blurs into constant motion and unbridled enthusiasm. The band has just released a new album, but they only play a couple of songs from it (and apologize when they do so) because practically the entire crowd sings along with every line of the old songs. Rarely at any show have I seen this total empathy between band and audience, a connection that almost seems telepathic. Itís quite a spectacle. Even though I really donít much like the music, it cheers me to see music, any music, whip a crowd of kids into this frenzy.

  "Hey man, I like your thug costume," says the blonde guy with the stretched earlobes and the tattoos.

  Itís about four in the morning at my house, and the Halloween party is just beginning to wind down. Most of the guests have had their fill and are staggering out; only a few remain. Iím quite drunk, and so, it appears, are most of the other people here. And I am not dressed as just any thug.

  "Dude, Iím Tupac," I say. Iíve tried to make my Halloween costume as respectful a tribute to the late Tupac Shakur as I can possibly make it. Iíve found a website listing all of his tattoos, and Iíve had my friends draw them all on. Iím wearing his trademark blue doo-rag. I havenít worn my glasses all night. Iím pretty proud of my costume.

  "Why donít you have any KFC?" asks the blonde guy.

  "KFC?" I ask, genuinely mystified. "What?"

  "Yeah, and some watermelon," the blonde guy goes on.

  I can feel a drunken rage rising, as well as the sort of panic that accompanies a drunken rage. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

  "What?" says the guy, feigning innocence. "Whatís the problem?"

  "Well, you know, because thatís, like, the stereotype," says my friend Vanessa, whoís listening in on the conversation and whoís about as drunk as both of us.

  "Yeah!" I say, getting more angry by the second. "Why donít I just wear fucking blackface?"

  "Aw, dude," the blonde guy giggles. "That woulda been pretty funny!"

  "Who is this guy?" I sputter. "Who are you?"

  "What, man?" says the blonde guy, already dejectedly stalking away. "You canít take a joke?"

  It turns out this guy is the drummer for one of the most popular hardcore bands in Syracuse, and one of the most brutal. Some of the members of this band were in Another Victim, the band that, along with Earth Crisis, gave the mid-to-late 90ís Syracuse hardcore scene, a reputation for the sort of intense mass violence usually associated with British soccer fans. Heís also a friend of my friend Jim; when I tell Jim the story of our meeting, he replies, "Now you know why I donít introduce him to many people."

  Sometimes itís tough being an academic at hardcore shows. I want to like it; I want to fall in love with this powerfully connected community of independent music lovers making a space for themselves and thriving up here in the middle of nowhere, with no real precedents or whatever. But, as soon as my enthusiasm starts to bubble over, something inevitably happens to make me wince. At the Bane show, a band called Every Time I Die is selling T-shirts that say "Terrorize This" with an arrow pointing to the wearerís crotch. Kids are passing out fliers for future shows with naked women on them. The bands onstage keep congratulating each other and the promoter for putting together such a great, diverse bill, even though a good hard look will reveal a whole lot of beefy white guys and not much diversity. If Iím looking for a community of forward thinkers, clearly I havenít found it yet.

  But Bane makes me reconsider. From the stage, the beefy singer delivers an impassioned rant between songs about how the hardcore scene is supposed to be, at root, a group of "progressive thinkers." He mentions the naked women on the flier, and he talks about how he got into "punk rock" (and it makes me very happy to hear that term; it doesnít really get heard much at hardcore shows) to get away from these standards of beauty and these ideals of society that he thought were wrong. He says how worried he is when he sees the same ideas that hardcore is supposed to be rejecting, appearing within the scene. Iím basically an outsider here, but his words are stirring. The crowd eats up every word, cheering at the end of each sentence. When the band launches into the next song, the crowd is even more behind them and even more whipped into a frenzy than before. Itís a powerful sight, the band communicating with the kids on a direct level and warning them not to go certain ways, and the kids vocal and physical in their agreement. As the kids leap from the stage and whip around and smash into each other, it feels like emotions are being vented, in a healthy (if perhaps not the healthiest) way.

  A brief history from a non-expert: hardcore basically began in about 1980, as a new generation of kids was getting into punk rock and making it their own. Punk, in both its American and British incarnations, had been around for a few years (roughly three or four; the exact point where punk rock began is the subject of much debate). It had been shocking and jarring, a group of young people lashing out at a static, decaying world, fighting against prevailing norms, trying to establish their own aesthetic. But by 1980, the aesthetic had been established and the shock had worn off. Mohawks, leather, and spikes had become a uniform for punks; it became less challenging once the look was codified. It became a form of social identification instead of a revolutionary statement. (It should be noted that punk rock in this form basically persists unchanged today; this was the conception of punk with which I always allied myself.)

  For young American kids in suburbia, the arty outlash of the first punks and the social subsystem of the later ones held little appeal. What they liked was the pure, boundless anger and aggression in punk rock. Bands formed, and they stripped the punk sound down to its absolute basics: hyperactive tempos, rudimentary instrumentation, and screaming-at-a-wall vocals. A countrywide network of hardcore bands, record labels, venues, and fanzines quickly developed; if kids tried hard enough, they could rant their directionless rage in any city of the country and find other kids willing to listen or pitch in.

  The first straight-edge band, Minor Threat, came out of this first wave of American hardcore. They were one of the best-known and little≠respected bands in the country; their music upheld the minimalist hardcore paradigm perhaps better than any other existing band. They wore their youth as a badge of honor, and prided themselves on not being able to drink or smoke. They wrote songs, manifestos really, about their decisions not to drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex. They never intended their own personal ideals to become a movement, but these ideals were expressed so powerfully and stringently that they could scarcely become anything but.

  Minor Threat broke up in 1983, but their ideas lingered. More and more young fans and bands began to identify themselves with straight-edge (it soon became a noun and an adjective), and even more identified themselves against it. It became an unresolvable point of contention within hardcore. The tension between the straight-edge and non-straight-edge continues in punk and hardcore to this day; my friends and I certainly felt it. As time went on, straight-edge hardcore began moving further and further from its punk-rock roots. Punk bands were finding new ways to make noise, and they were drifting from hardcore and taking many hardcore fans with them. Somewhere around this time, "hardcore" became synonymous with "straight-edge" and completely split with "punk rock." Perhaps the split began with the late-80s to early 90s Connecticut hardcore band Youth of Today; the band and their fans dressed in baggy shorts and baseball caps, making absolutely no concessions to punk rock style, as most of the earlier hardcore bands had done. (After Youth of Today broke up, some of its members became Hare Krishnas and formed a Hare Krishna hardcore band called Shelter. I suppose Hare Krishna hardcore isnít any more improbable that straight-edge, but it never really took off.)

  Also somewhere around this time, veganism became one of the tenants of straight-edge, and animal rights, along with personal purity, became one of its main ideals. This probably had something to do with Earth Crisis, a Syracuse band that became wildly popular in the mid-90s by seeming as militantly straight-edge and environmentalist as any group of people could possibly be. The music of Earth Crisis and many of their contemporaries was different from even the purist, stripped-down hardcore of the 1980s. It had absorbed elements of heavy metal, slowing the tempos and adding a sort of bone-crunching guitar thump that hit much more deeply and viscerally than the fast, tinny guitars of the earlier bands. The earlier hardcore singers were shouters: they sounded trapped and angry, but their voices were, for the most part, comprehensible and recognizably human. The newer bands, however, perfected a new animal blurt, a scream so angry and defiant and impassioned that you couldnít understand a damn thing they were saying. All you got was that they were angry and they meant it. This was the hardcore that scared the hell out of Baltimoreís teenage punks in the mid-90s.

  Hardcore mostly stayed off of commercial radio and away from major record companies, even as many punk bands were gravitating toward these mainstream installations and becoming immensely popular doing so. Instead, hardcore bands recorded for small, independent labels run by one or two people, tiny companies that did whatever they could to get their records into the hands of the subculture but barely existed outside of it. The biggest hardcore label in the mid-90s was Victory Records. Victory had most of the big names from hardcoreís new school: Earth Crisis, Snapcase, Strife, Integrity, Deadguy, and Hatebreed. They had a couple of the few surviving hardcore bands from the 80s: Cause for Alarm and Warzone. They were beginning to branch out into other, more mainstream styles of music. But the labelís most popular band was, predictably enough, Earth Crisis. But this past summer Earth Crisis played their last show at an annual hardcore festival in Syracuse called Hellfest. They were considered pretty much played out by then; the ranting and raving hadnít changed or varied much over the course of their existence. Right now, Victoryís biggest band is Thursday. An emo band.

  Emo, or emotional hardcore, has for years been stalking the periphery of the national hardcore scene, and itís always been considered hardcoreís redheaded stepchild. The first emo band is widely considered to be the Rites of Spring, a band from Washington, DC, that formed in the mid-80s and only existed for about a year. The bandís members had raised themselves on Minor Threat and 80s hardcore, but they looked for new ways to express themselves when hardcoreís limited potential for expression became apparent. They turned inward instead of outward, favoring long, intense, exploratory songs instead of short blasts of angry energy. A number of bands followed their lead, and, once again, a movement was born. Most hardcore fans, predictably enough, dismissed emo kids as crybabies and wussies, but the music remained until, quite recently, it improbably became quite popular, overwhelming the new school metal-based hardcore of the mid-90s. Emo bands like the Promise Ring, Jets to Brazil, the Get Up Kids, and Sunny Day Real Estate found themselves packing large clubs across the country, and a few, like Jimmy Eat World, look to be approaching mainstream stardom. Emo has become so popular that it only seems tenuously connected to mid-90ís tough-guy/straight-edge hardcore, just as hardcore seemed only tenuously connected to punk rock before finally splitting away.

  Two nights after the Bane show, Thursday is playing a show with Piebald, another rising emo band, at the Syracuse club Planet 505. The atmosphere is markedly different. For one thing, I can drink! This hasnít been the case at any of the hardcore matinee shows Iíve been to in researching this piece. I quickly take advantage; $4 for a plastic cup of Corona might seem a but excessive, but, hey! This is progress! There are also a whole lot of girls here, which most certainly was not the case at the Bane show. They donít yet outnumber the guys, but they also donít hover uncertainly by the walls as the girls at the Bane show had done. Itís not hard to see how sensitive, vulnerable music might hold more appeal to girls than the violent flailing of hardcore, and I heartily approve. At hardcore shows, itís a hugely pleasing rarity to see girls holding their own in the middle of the floor, but here, itís the rule and not the exception.

  As I walk in, a local band is onstage. Theyíre playing a particularly pop brand of emo, which ultimately is indistinguishable from most of the mainstream pop-rock on modern rock radio. Itís really pretty awful. This band would get eaten alive at a hardcore show, but the kids here are, for the most part, listening politely. There seems to be a tacit agreement in the air that this band sucks but we wonít hurt their feelings by letting them know. Or maybe all these kids really like this crap; hell if I know.

  There are quite a few people here I know, but a fairly huge percentage of the crowd seems to be about high-school age. Between bands, they engage in charmingly high-schoolish activities like playing pinball and gossiping. As I sit at the bar to take notes, a pair of girls, both of whom look about 15, discuss what drastic measures they should take if the ex-boyfriend of one happens to turn up. A couple of kids in Bane sweatshirts stick out their chins, as if trying to prove that they really are tough guys despite their presence here. Itís all so wholesome that I almost feel guilty for smoking.

  When Thursday steps onstage, the crowd greets them with a small-scale Beatlemania. Girls actually scream, sort of. The guys in the band are what I would call emphatically not-beefy. The music is slow and sad at times; then it breaks into fast, screamy bits that sound a bit like mid-90s hardcore. But there are no berserk ninja gymnasts here; most of the kids actually appear to be smiling. Judging by the number of kids singing along, Thursday must be very well-liked indeed. And the kids who arenít singing along actually seem to be dancing, as in not in a violent way. A few songs in, the singer politely asks the crowd to take a couple of steps back so the kids up front wonít be crushed up against the front of the stage. This request is de rigeur at big rock shows, but here the crowd actually complies! Holy shit! Further into the set, the singer, by way of introducing a song, tells a story about how his grandmother died just as he fell in love with a girl, saying something about how (Iím paraphrasing here) "it just got me thinking about how life is so short, but, at the same time, weíre all so young, and things are really just beginning for us." He goes on to tell that he and the girl have recently broken up. He finally finishes up by saying (Iím still paraphrasing), "I donít really know where Iím going with this, but I guess we all donít know where weíre going." And the crowd cheers! Iím totally won over. And it doesnít hurt that Thursdayís music is actually great; only a hardass cynic would deny the power of the real, messy emotions coming off the stage.

  Much of the crowd has left by the time Piebald takes the stage, but the remaining audience just uses the extra room to dance more. Piebald doesnít have Thursdayís raw power, but they make up for it with a sort of goofy, tuneful fun. The members look to be in the mid-20s, but they radiate the joy and enthusiasm of 12-year-olds. The songs are catchy and energetic, and the members of the band seem to be having more fun onstage than pretty much any hardcore band Iíve ever seen. They joke between themselves and with the audience; topics of stage banter include the feng shui in their hotel and the new Dr. Dre video. Thereís nothing remotely strident or beefy or even angry about the whole spectacle. Since I donít feel at all uncomfortable being in the crowd at shows, and since I like the music a lot more, itís tempting for me to look at emo as hardcoreís replacement, as a new form of music forged out of hardcore but capable of expressing a hugely expanded range of emotions. But thatís not how subcultures work. When I was a punk, I wasnít trying to express emotions; I was simply trying to forge an identity and survive high school. What made the experience meaningful was the sense of power and community it instilled in me. And despite the slight crossover I see between the Bane and Thursday shows, these seem to be two different groups of kids finding their own subcultures for the same reason. That these two tenuously related but diametrically opposite youth cultures can both survive, can both thrive in a desolate middle-of-nowhere ice pit like Syracuse seems to me to be a tribute to the indomitable spirit of humanity, of youth. I wish these kids well.

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