Screw October

Justin Furstenfeld orders us to hate him. We obey.

For the past five years, I've resisted ragging on Blue October. They were our only local rock success story, and I was glad for the HSPVA grads when they signed with Universal, sad when they were subsequently dropped and happy again when they were picked up again.

And since every other band in town and every last white-belted hipster from the Proletariat to Onion Creek would invariably sneer when they mentioned Blue October, it suited my rebellious tendencies to take up the opposite position. While admittedly I never could work up much enthusiasm about it, I would tell people that the guys weren't that bad, you just had to be in the right frame of mind (read: high) when you heard them, or I would call 'em jealous haters or some such. And the band really was more interesting than most of the shitehawks the major labels were signing around 2001. Which is like saying rectal cancer is more interesting than arteriosclerosis, but still.

And this year, Blue October has started to approach world-domination levels. The band's new album, Foiled, has spawned the huge hit "Hate Me," and its already eager Hater Parade has obliged. I heard the usual hails of derisive laughter around town, and then the Dallas Observer, our sister paper to the north, ran a list of five reasons why Blue October sucked, taking special care to point out that they were a Houston band. (Which they are not, but more on that later.)

Fuck all that, I thought to myself. I resolved to attend a Blue October show, where I hoped the band would furnish me with enough critical ammo to silence some of the naysayers. Surely I would be able to find something about the band to enjoy, and failing that, I could at least ask some people what it was that they liked about them, and maybe, just maybe, some of those people would make sense.

Sadly, that scheme was rendered utterly moot by the band's appearance on Leno the week before. I caught it and was frankly horrified.

What was up with singer Justin Furstenfeld's face? Had someone punched his lights out? No, that was just two enormous dollops of eyeliner he had caked on. As general developments go, this one was ridiculous. Dude is 30 years old, and he wasn't sportin' that crap when I interviewed him four years ago. Unless you're Robert Smith and you started rockin' the heavy makeup when you were 13, 30 is way too late to start, even if you are insanely jealous of My Chemical Romance's sales figures.

And once I got past that, I had to come to terms with his cockeyed, bobble-headed stage manner, which reminded me of a woodpecker trying to dislodge water from its ear.

And then, lo, there was the song he was singing. "Hate Me" is yet another in a line seemingly without end of Buzz-friendly, post-rehab, downtuned mush-guitar wankfests, complete with the requisite too-hastily-arrived-at chorus and 12-steps lingo-ridden lyrics about losing yet another girl after yet another bout with an (unspecified) addiction. And oh, yeah, bleeding brains, cockroaches leaving babies in his bed, porn and ye gods, he even spliced in a phone message from his mom. Evidently, the old dear's worried about his fragile state. (Hmm, maybe the song isn't about a breakup with a lover -- maybe it's about his mom. To which all I can say is "Yuck.") The snippet of classical violin at the end of the song only adds a veneer of cheesy grandeur to the horrific proceedings, sort of like slapping a Greek temple facade on a strip-mall proctologist's office.

To make matters even worse, Furstenfeld is still singing in an array of fake accents, including his default Peter Gabriel-esque setting, and in a new wrinkle, inserting random R's in words like "accomplishment," which comes out as "accormplishment."

The whole thing is so goddamned awful it honestly gives me chills.

So, no, I couldn't conceive of going to see that show. I would enter my normal quasi-sane self, and to survive, I would have to ingest more drugs in two hours than Furstenfeld has shot, snorted, drunk or smoked in his debauched lifetime. And thus I would emerge utterly as icky and whiny as Furstenfeld, perhaps even with two enormous gobs of black goo under my eyes.

Out of the question. Whatever I was gonna write about Blue October was gonna have to be from a safe distance. Which was hardly far enough. I Googled up the band's MySpace page, where I found some of the most deranged publicity I've ever seen. "Hate Me" was not a premeditated welding of My Chemical Romance angst onto Nickleback sludge; no, instead it "recalls such aching rock anthems as Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' or Jane's Addiction's 'Jane Says' for songwriter Justin Furstenfeld's unflinching look at his own illness, which caused him to be committed to a mental hospital back on that fateful Blue October day back in 1997."

Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute! These people are gonna sit there and tell the world with a straight face that "Hate Me" compares favorably to "Jane Says" and "Love Will Tear Us Apart"? And use phrases like "fateful Blue October day" with a straight face, to boot?

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