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The untimely death of emo.

Just when you've discovered the exact blend of axle grease and carpenter's glue for consummate bedhead, completed your collection of Sunny Day Real Estate vinyl and customized your hand-me-down VW to sublime scruffiness, news comes from the head cool-people-in-charge at a rival weekly that the word emo is dead (along with scenester and indie).

The problem is: How does something die when it never really lived in the first place? In other words, most people are probably saying, "What the hell is emo anyway?"

The first time I heard the word was over glasses of Bushmills in 1998 (though it can be traced as far back as the mid-'80s emocore band Rites of Spring), when the bassist of a now-defunct local band, the Victoria Principle, used it to describe their instrumental rock. Emo, he explained, was short for emotion, which his band's music had a lot of. Didn't all music? I thought, but kept the unwelcome comments to myself.

Later, I heard it meant overly emotional, to the point of shamefulness. But that makes me think of Air Supply, which is not quite right. So maybe overly emotional rock music. And if your definition is rock music made by punk-influenced bands specializing in grossly overrated albums of dark, yet wimpy balladry interrupted by the occasional embarrassing attempt at experimentalism, then emo = Radiohead, or emo = Death Cab for Cutie, or whatever music you weep over a breakup to. Finally, something definitive.

But emo is now more of a fashion statement, really. When a colleague recently laid the "what the hell is emo anyway?" question on me, I was a little speechless. "Well," I struggled, "uh, it's kind of like, um ..." and I referred her to one of the girls who answers phones at the front desk. As far as the look, she's got the BCGs (birth-control glasses, characterized by their chunky frames and ability to turn off non-emo members of the opposite sex), the mussed and darkly dyed hair, the tight, collarless jacket and other ill-fitting clothing without much color deviation. I know that sounds like Edward Scissorhands, but it's not really that bad.

Perhaps it is unfair that a word should come and go under your very nose without a hi or a bye, but don't fret. News of the decree made by the other local alternative weekly will take at least a little while to reach the big cities and the offices of rags like Spin and Rolling Stone, who still use emo often.

In the meantime, if you're worried that you might be one and not even know it, question No. 8 from a recent questionnaire in Spin is a good emo litmus test: "The following word has the least meaning for me: a. Emo b. Hygiene c. Chomsky." Good luck.

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