The pop band My Chemical Romance gave an interview to the Guardian recently about their sudden enormous popularity. They attributed it largely to an article in the Daily Mail accusing them of being part of a death cult. The interviewer agreed that the piece was "shrill and barmy".
Allow me a moment of pride. The article was written by me. I know little of pop music or of cults, but I had been struck by the emergence of a teenage tribe called "emos". This is a subset of the goths, sharing black, flattened hair, chalk-white faces and kohl-ringed eyes. The emos have a distinctive interest in suicide, which I thought, on balance, was unlikeable.
These are some phrases from the parodic emo song by the American band Adam and Andrew that is popular on teenage websites:
"Stop my breathing and slit my throat
I must be an emo
I play guitar and write suicide notes
I must be an emo
When I get depressed I cut my wrists in every direction
Hearing songs about getting dumped gives me an erection."
I was also squeamish about some emo conversations on the internet social site Bebo, which discussed how best to exhibit slit wrists. I mentioned in my article that self-harm was a growing phenomenon and that I thought the emo bands and culture were irresponsible for encouraging it. Then I forgot about the subject. As I mentioned, this is not my speciality.
The phone calls started next morning. During 25 years in journalism, as a reporter, executive and newspaper editor, nothing I have written or printed has caused such a backlash as the emo article. Within days, my email inbox was full and the newspaper switchboard was complaining about threats.
A complaint was lodged with the Press Complaints Commission. As the Melanie Phillips of anti-emos, I thought of publishing a book called Emostan. A reporter from the Kerrang! music magazine contacted me to say that My Chemical Romance had ordered about half a million people at the Reading festival to chant, "F**k the Daily Mail." Since I had only just joined the paper as consultant editor, with a brief to broaden the audience, I went a bit quiet at that point.
My Chemical Romance and the Guardian interviewer agreed that I had written total rubbish. They were not even an emo band, though they wore their hair black and flattened, sang songs entitled "Dead!", "Cancer!" and "Welcome to the Black Parade" and had a wide emo fan base. And OK, band members may have suffered "mental health" problems. One said: "Let me put it this way, I went on tour to Japan and I didn't pack anything because I thought I wasn't coming back."
But how dare I chide them for glamorising suicide. My emo experience taught me a lesson about negotiations with the young. I made a band fashionable merely by condemning them. May I add to my blacklist evil Mozart, debauched Shakespeare and indecent Jane Austen.