April 4-10, 2002
A tradition almost as old as recorded music itself: Lovelorn boy (or girl) takes guitar (or pen) in hand and rips off a screed to the bitch (or bastard) who done him (or her) wrong. It’s perhaps the acorn of primal-scream therapy: You’ve got the pain, so shout it out at the top of your lungs (or whisper it quietly atop your acoustic guitar).But it’s also the ol’ double-edged sword of emotional trauma -- the reminder, the release, the equivalent of that morbidly human characteristic of scab-picking, the perverse desire to gawk at one’s own wounds.
Pop music is a compost pile of love gone wrong, rancid. A brief history: Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.” The Rolling Stones’ “Bitch.” Hüsker Dü’s “Don’t Want to Know if You’re Lonely.” Sleater-Kinney’s “One More Hour.” Belle and Sebastian’s “Seeing Other People.” Mazarin’s “Wheats.” The Get Up Kids’ “Red Letter Day.” It’s what set High Fidelity novelist Nick Hornby to ponder if this is the stuff the kids of the world ought to be immersed in all day, every day.
But then there’s the point where songs of brokenheartedness are mere child’s play. The point where you take the next step down the road to emotional obsession. The point that gets PJ Harvey thinking about her hair aflame and Stephin Merritt contemplating slipknots: The breakup concept album. For the broken relationship too grand, too spectacular for mere verse-chorus-verse treatment: Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights. The Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Half the Elvis Costello catalog. PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. Aimee Mann’s I’m With Stupid. The Mountain Goats’ Sweden. The Magnetic Fields’ Get Lost.
To the disc changer of despair add Dashboard Confessional’s 2001 sophomore dour-de-force The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most.
The pain-child of 26-year-old Floridian Chris Carrabba is making its bid as an early contender for Break-Up Platter of the Emo Generation, no small task considering the genre is named for its emotional voyeurism.
“That would be great if it were,” Carrabba says modestly via cell phone from a tour stop, though he’s unsure he’s ready to put it up there in the upper echelon with bands like The Cure and The Smiths.
The throngs of fans who sing along loudly at his concerts, a practice Carrabba wholeheartedly encourages, suggest that his work is indeed earning high ranking in the pantheon.
Listening to Places, a collection of Carrabba’s wildly earnest, diary-like exorcisms set to acoustic guitar strummings, is not unlike toying awkwardly with raw nerves. On “The Best Deceptions” he wails, “So kiss me hard ’cause this will be the last time that I let you.” And from “Saints and Sailors”: “A walking open wound, a trophy display of bruises, and I don’t believe that I’m getting any better.”
With “Screaming Infidelities,” however, which shows up on Places and DC’s debut The Swiss Army Romance, he conjures one of the more patently brilliant images of the proverbial painful reminder with the song’s crowning sentiment: “Your hair, it’s everywhere,” turning on its head the traditional image of women’s hair as an object of beauty.
Laying his soul bare in song started as therapy for Carrabba, who fronted The Vacant Andys when he began penning the songs that would spawn DC. He admits that he does feel a little bad that his healing process has become so public.
“It never really occurred to me to release them,” he explains. “ I was in a long-term relationship that ended badly, and it caused me to lament on all kinds of relationships I’ve had in the past.”
The songs have apparently helped. Feelings of redemption and empowerment crucial to any breakup album (see Exile’s “Shine a Light”, Rid of Me’s “50ft Queenie”) peek through on Places. And on DC’s follow-up EP, So Impossible, he describes the joy of brand-new love, which continues with the band’s new EP Summer Kiss (the next in what he terms a series of “serial” EPs).
In the end, it’s a process. Pain, one hopes, begets joy, and in much the same way that the Stones would go on to record Some Girls and Harvey To Bring You My Love, here’s to hoping that the next Dashboard full-length, for Carrabba’s sake, is less anguished as well.
Dashboard Confessional will perform a sold-out show on Sun., April 7, 7 p.m., with The Anniversary, Seafood and Ben Kweller, The Trocadero, 10th and Arch sts., 215-922-LIVE, www.thetroc.com.