THE GREAT EMO-TEE- CON – How The American Secret Service Invented Emo
Emo was born on a golf course. I was in the United States during a long secondment On Her Britannic Majesty’s Service. I was teaching my new boss how to play golf badly. Apparently it doesn’t come naturally to Americans, but fortunately I’m English, so it’s like breathing in and out to me. A golf course is a great place for secret people to discuss secret things. It’s not easy hiding a microphone in a sand bunker and so as long as you’re confident no-one’s been interfering with your niblicks, it’s ideal.
In case you don’t know what an Emo is, it’s a lazy Goth with no sense of commitment. Imagine if you will someone who has decided to “Go Goth” but then lost interest halfway through. The followers of Emo protest other wise of course, or at least they would if they could somehow summon the energy.
Who am I to say this? Can’t tell you for the sake of International Security. But not long before I retired, my nickname was Captain Emo : International Man of Misery. I know Emo because I invented Emo.
It was the late, late Eighties. The hippy revolution had come to nothing, but it had rattled a few cages high, high up. Ironically, the people who were now in charge had been mud sliding at Woodstock and listening to The Grateful Dead twenty years earlier. This is a different point entirely. But when they saw how many sledgehammers were held in youthful hands as the Berlin Wall came down, “wigs were seriously flipped” -evidently – and they called on me.
Here’s how The Chief pitched the whole thing to me on the ninth hole (par four, dog leg to the right)
“We want you to invent something to subdue the smart kids,” he said casually. “They’re getting wise to the marijuana thing now. We can’t make it much stronger without turning them psycho.”
“Subdue the smart kids?” I replied incredulously. “What, all of them?”
“Don’t be an ass,” he said, his meaty shoulders jiggling with laughter at the suggestion. “We need some to keep on designing weapons. No, just the ones who are likely to get upset and start revolutions. Y’know, the emotional fuckers.”
I pondered this for a minute as The Chief prepared to cheat on his next shot.
“Take while for a plan like that to filter through,” I finally stated. “Could get messy if you don’t get it spot on.”
“Fine”, he said, without even taking his eye off the ball, “we’ll just stick to making the dope stronger for the moment. Fuck ‘em. A psycho’s just a revolutionary with no agenda anyway.”
So, with that briefest of briefs, I set about thinking about the problem. For me, this involves staring at cable television. That was another one of our inventions, cable TV, but it can be useful if you learn how to ride your altered brainwaves.
The comedy channel was still on from the previous night. Some odd looking chap was peering out at me from behind a curtain hair cut. Lanky he was, and all dressed in black
“My name’s Emo Phillips,” he warbled in a falsetto style. “Emo’s short for Emo…..tionally disturbed.”
Click, click, clunk went the old thought pegs as they dropped into the brain holes.
“Aikido!” I yelled as I jumped around my apartment (or flat, as we call them in England).
You might wonder why I yelled “Aikido” rather than “Eureka”. That’s because Aikido was the real solution; Mr Phillips’ comment was merely the catalyst. A Japanese martial art in which one uses the opponent’s strength and size against him, that was where the answer lay. He essentially defeats himself. So if these “emotional fuckers” were the problem, we’d use their emotion against them. The plan was done bar the window dressing.
Now, any venture such as this one has to start with the clothes. Any made-up youth cult has to have a look which the adults find utterly ridiculous. This had to go one step further. It had to look ridiculous to the rest of the kids too. Maximum social isolation is what we were going for here. A complete mismatch with society has to look disjointed on the outside as well as feeling that way on the inside.
So I started out with that perennial favourite, badly dyed Goth hair. It couldn’t have any of the resilience or defiance of Goth hair though. No spiking, it had to droop like the tattered standard of a vanquished army. Then the most diametrically opposed thing I could think of, a sort of chopped up preppy look. This caused a bit if a problem at headquarters to begin with however.
“Jesus H!” the boss had cried. He hadn’t missed out the Christ part there, by the way. H was my code letter. Officially we had numbers, but we wanted to identify with James Bond’s handler “M”, not Agent 99 from that other Sixties milestone “Get Smart”. The boss was “A”, naturally.
So, “Jesus H!” he’d cried, “not tank tops. We want them completely crushed, but you can’t inflict tank tops on them. I’ll have no monsters on my team.”
Eventually he reluctantly agreed it was the only way. He did rail at the idea they be persuaded it was cool to buy their stuff at thrift stores, though.
“Oh come on H,”, and he did a rolling of the eyes at this point. “Not the old thrift store routine. That had whiskers on it when J Edgar Hoover was a rookie”.
“Precisely,” I snapped back at him. “It’s so old it’s new. Like the wire scam Redford and Newman pull off in The Sting.”
Next step, we needed a vehicle to carry this new look. The obvious choice was music. At this point I have to admit we got a bit lazy and went with punk. But as it had done so well for us in the Seventies, it was impossible to resist. I’ll never forget recruiting those fine English purveyors of chamber music (and damn fine actors to boot), the Farqhar-Smythe String Quartet. Or The Ramones as they later became known. They did fine work for us, but sadly, they knew too much.
Setting up and underground music movement’s a lot easier than you think. Just cobble a few bands together, Stiltskin fashion, and bribe a few night club owners to let them play. Stick a suitable number of paid stooges in the audience to spread how great it all is and it takes off like a snowball down an alpine slope. Couldn’t stop it even of you wanted to.
All was confusion at that point. This was only natural, as we had to do many things in order to instil doubt and ignorance. Normal practice when you seek to divide and conquer.
The most confusing part, for The Chief at least, was the vinyl thing.
“We make it cool to have all their music on vinyl,” I’d said.
The Chief’s eyebrows knitted and a puzzled look crossed his face.
“But H,” he said. “Vinyl is cool. It gives a warmer richer sound and allows you closer contact with the feel of the music.”
I just shook my head and laughed.
“It does if you’re playing it through an 8000 dollar valve amp. Not if you have the sort of decrepit hi-fi equipment these boys and girls will have. Then it’s like a subtle hair shirt to the soul. It’ll help with the general air of defeat and despondency.”
But sadly, vinyl or no vinyl, this wasn’t the heady days of the Seventies. The leisurely pace of that decade was long gone. So we needed something to help the whole package travel the world a bit quicker. But how? I had to admit it had me stumped, so I went to “A” seeking his advice. Luckily he had the very thing.
“Why don’t we use that thing where we connect all the computers together?”
This time it was my turn to bridle at the idea and his turn to persuade me.
“What?” I said. “That thing we’ve been using to brainwash monkeys? That’s all it seems to be good for”
“Yeah, I think we may finally have found a use for it. People will swallow it if we get some English guy called Tim or something to say he invented it. After all, the English claim to have invented virtually everything else.”
I was forced to mumble agreement with this, but the important thing was: what to call it? After a few days of observing the poor monkeys, I’d come up with three ideas.
First there was The Interknot, on account of how tangled and fucked up the whole thing was bound to become.
Second, there was the World Wide Swab, on account of the amount of filth and putrescence it would inevitably soak up.
Finally-my favourite- there was Information SupaFlyway. For no other reason than my admiration for Richard Rountree’s excellent performance in the film “Shaft!”
After much thought, the boss went for option three although he did change it a bit. He said he had a ready made joke involving roadkill which would suck the fight out of everyone, Emo or not. He still wrote the other ones down in his little black book though, I noticed.
The whole idea was a runaway success. We were getting a smidge cheeky by this point and even embedded the name of the project into the computer thing. The Emo-Tee-Con. The tee is a reference to its golf course genesis. I’m sure you can work out the rest of the conundrum yourself.
There were refinements over the coming years, of course. Making the Emo’s mortal enemy The Jock is the one I’m most proud of. By Jock I mean the American sporty type, not the archetypal humorous Scotsman. The rejection of The Jock-and by default exercise- became a key feature. It’s much easier to get a healthy mind to atrophy if the body has a head start on it. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that.
And so Emo was complete and our mission nearly done. And many years later, in that same familiar office, we celebrated our victory. The rout of our youthful and emotional foe was accomplished. The Chief had a big jug of Long Island Ice Tea in front of him. I had a cocktail shaker and all the right things to make a string of Vodka Martinis. We both had big fat illegal Havana each. There was much grinning and seated posturing and mugging to the camera in general.
“You deserve an extra treat H” he said, smiling so broadly I was a little scared the top of his head might fall off. “Shall we?”
His hand reached for a hidden button under the desk. The room was filled with the hum of a bank of pricey valves soaking up an obscene amount of electricity. As we sipped our drinks and smoked our smokes, another button was pressed. And we listened to The Grateful Dead. On vinyl.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013