Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Say Anything…, the 1989 teen-love movie directed by Cameron Crowe, and starring John Cusack, as well as the release of Say Anything, the fourth studio album by L.A. emo rockers Say Anything.
While the band’s publicist claims that the coinciding release of the two cultural artifacts is “total kismet” and was “not planned,” Say Anything (the movie), which chronicles the quest of one underachieving Lloyd Dobler (Cusack) to win the affections of the brainy Diane Court (Ione Skye), just happens to be the most emo movie ever.
Its 20th anniversary matching up with the release of the self-titled album by the band it inspired, well, that’s totally fucking kismet.
After the jump, John Cusack’s branch of the emo family tree explained.
The most important exchange in Say Anything…(the movie) takes place between Dobler and love interest Court:
Diane Court: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this? Lloyd Dobler: ‘Cause I’m a guy. I have pride. Corey Flood: You’re not a guy. Lloyd Dobler: I am. Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.
This exchange is “most important” because it captures the central conflict in Say Anything (the movie): Who will possess Court, a woman intelligent enough to land a scholarship to a fine British university, but who is somehow incapable of navigating life without some dude leading her around by the hand? That this question is at all pivotal in a movie about high-school kids is why Say Anything (the movie) is a fun, romantic, witty shitfest of lies.
If you are 18 and you have just graduated high school, you are either terrified of having to move out of the house and working/going to college, or excited for moving out of the house and working/going to college, but you have no idea how either works and you (should) have zero interest in shouldering someone else’s (i.e., a significant other’s) growth in addition to your own. You have no sense of what autonomy is, how much it costs (a lot); that it is not fun, but hard as fuck. This is why the movie’s ending, in which Dobler escorts Court (who can’t even ride in a fucking airplane by herself) to England, presumably to live with her while she studies on a scholarship and he practices not sucking at kickboxing, is so incredibly stupid. Essentially, Say Anything is an adult-male nerd fantasy, in which being in charge of a really intelligent woman is just as significant as having a job and/or a college education. (“Intelligent” is interchangeable with “intelligent-seeming,” as it the case with M. Bluth and Mr. F.)
Max Bemis, lead singer of Say Anything, is a lot like Cameron Crowe, in that his band writes decent songs about how hard it is to be a young man with less than noble ambitions, but a good head and a good heart and a penchant for going against the grain; essentially, what it’s like to be little Lloyd Doblers. This is both emo, and not emo. It is emo because it is in-touch and me-centric; it is not emo because it is scrappy as hell. In fact, for all its “woe is me” stuff, Say Anything may be the scrappiest, most “go fuck yourself” band out there right now, in any genre. And while not all of Say Anything’s songs cover L.D. grounds—some of them are about the Holocaust, listening to strangers masturbate over the phone, and cats fighting— like Say Anything (the movie), Say Anything (the band) has made its money by choreographing fantasies for functioning dysfunctionals.
But here’s the thing: Since Bemis went insane, rehab’d, and married Sherri Kay DuPree-Bemis of Eisley—all between the years of 2005 and 2009—his music has undergone a weird evolution: it’s matured, but not across the board. Take the best track from Say Anything (the album), “Do Better.” The chorus goes like this:
You could do better, you could do better/ You could be the greatest man in the world/ You could do better, you could do better/ You could be the greatest man in the world.
Gender exclusivity aside, this is a great chorus. It is a) positive and b) catchy and c) sincere. Pop music is really good at being all three of those things, but not all pop songs are good at being all three of those things at the same time and still being good songs. And, gender exclusivity aside (again), this song has nothing to do with being a man in the context of a romantic relationship. It’s about living so fully that it doesn’t matter if you are the best at something, because you feel like “the greatest man in the world” for the magnitude of your efforts.
Lots of people fit that description: People who are mentally challenged; amputees; people who go to college later in life; people who split their time between teaching social studies and coaching the junior varsity football team; also, Lloyd Dobler.
The second most important exchange in Say Anything (the movie) is this:
Corey Flood: I’m sorry, it’s just that you’re a really nice guy and we don’t want to see you get hurt. Lloyd Dobler: I want to get hurt!
Dobler’s line in the above scene is the root of 2000-now emo, which has come to fetishize feeling bad. Bemis takes that sentiment to the furthest branch of the tree with the track “Death for my Birthday”:
I want death, death for my birthday./ I want death, death in the worst way./ I want death, death for my birthday/ Don’t get me wrong cause/ I love life, but life has a boyfriend/ Bless my soul, I’m to destroy them/ I want death, death for my birthday/ For my birthday
This is Dobler’s desire taken to an illogical extreme. Love doesn’t really make us want to die. This is all totally emo.
I blame/thank Cameron Crowe.