Various Artists: Too Young to Die: Preventing Youth Suicide through Education and Music
Recently, buried in the news amongst accounts of Bush's snafus in Iraq, White House leaks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's love of Hitler and tits, was an item about a band called Hell on Earth playing a concert in Florida that would feature a live suicide of a terminally ill fan. Though the group claim that they are trying to draw attention to right-to-die issues, the panoply of infinitely more tasteful, respectful, and effective options to carry out such a mission suggests that this is just another in the long line of supposedly shocking publicity stunts cooked up by a band too unimpressive to ever make it on musical merits. The results have been mixed. No less a person than Jeb Bush has come forward to denounce these buffoons ("Takes one to know one", they could reply), and Florida's legal mechanisms have been whirring to shut the concert down. Though that effort was at least temporarily successful, the band's website has received so many hits that it paralyzed its server. Hell on Earth, it seems, has ensured its fifteen minutes of fame.
But though mapping out the remaining territory that will shock the bourgeoisie is almost as profitable as it is predictable, artists still exist who are struggling to transmit messages of more importance than their willingness to succeed in the crassest ways possible. At the other end of the spectrum from the wretches of Hell on Earth are the folks at Deep Elm Records, emo specialists and all-around nice guys. For a label dedicated to a genre that's almost inherently pretentious, Deep Elm comes off as surprisingly grounded. For evidence of this, look no further than its sampler, Too Young to Die: Preventing Youth Suicide through Education and Music, a self-explanatory collaboration with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In an age in which the Hell on Earths will snare the headlines every time, such an earnest gesture is commendable as can be.
And it's not just the thought that counts. Emo is a fitting style to address the subject. Whereas the fantasizing and mythologizing that's been a part of rock since the beginning can lead to the idealization of things as horrible as suicide (e.g., "Don't Fear the Reaper"), emo is the cinema verite of rock. With its lyrics hedging famously close to diary entries, emo speaks to the unvarnished realities of being an angsty teenager in a way that "Under the Boardwalk", for all its other charms, simply can't. The twenty tracks on Too Young to Die, performed by emo stars big and small, all enter the fray of hope versus despair with an emphasis on the former and an intimate familiarity with the latter. The sampler confronts its topic with grit and heart, and that's enough to earn the effort a gold star.
As a listening experience, however, Too Young to Die has its shortcomings, foremost among them, the feeling that this is a mix CD put together by a depressed teen for a suicidal one. None of the songs on their own would communicate the "Don't give up!" message nearly as blatantly as the album as a whole does, perhaps an inescapable problem for a project like this. The regrettable result of this is that the earnestness winds up getting in the way as often as not. After all, who could watch Live Aid without being constantly aware of starving Ethiopians, or without being constantly aware of the performers' awareness of their own saintliness? Issues like these should be more out of bounds, but they're not, and it hamstrings Too Young to Die. Hearing the two contributions of Red Animal War, "Hope" and the title-challenged "Right Now, Today, I Don't Believe in Hell" would be undesirable in any context, but lines like, "With nicotine nails and coke-red eyes / She said, 'Believe you me, I don't want to die' / He softly touched her cheek / 'Girl, it's gonna be alright' / And they embraced in the lie" and "We're by your side / Have faith / Remember the good times When you're feeling somewhat conquered / There is hope" become downright excruciating on Too Young to Die.
The compilation does score some victories in spite of its handicap, and two of the biggest come from the Appleseed Cast's pair of contributions. Their adventurousness may have placed them on the blurry edges of emo, but great music is great music, and it's more than welcome here. Most of the other acts fall somewhere between the extremes, and emo fans who don't already own these songs should be happy to have them all in one place. And lastly, when the music fails, the consolation that it's for a good cause is always waiting in the wings, ready to spring forth at the slightest hint of another Red Animal War song.