It’s the end of 2017 and I’m angry. I’m angry about Brand New and I’m angry about Jesse Lacey. I’m angry the frontman of one of my favorite bands has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, of soliciting nude images from his dedicated fans in one of the ultimate misuses of power. I’m angry that it feels personal: Brand New were once a refuge for their teenage fans. Fans who, myself included, were outcasts, losers with uncool haircuts who learned to play guitar just so we could find some way to work through our angst and carry on. Brand New understood me, us. They bound us together. The scariest and proudest moments of our lives were soundtracked by the Long Island emo band. When we were young, it all sounded so significant.
Today, my attachment to Brand New is largely one of nostalgia. I went to see them on their 2017 tour promoting their fifth and final album, Science Fiction—in attendance were all the same people I’d seen on their Daisy album tour in 2009, now wise enough to stick earplugs into their ears and responsible enough to abstain from moshing—there’s work in the morning. The show had the same celebratory energy it did in 2009 because, when it comes to Brand New, you’re all in or you don’t bother at all.
When a band operates as a facet of identity, a heart placed loosely on your sleeve, there’s a lot to lose. Brand New fans have a lot at stake, so when the news of Jesse Lacey’s misconduct and illicit sexual advances hit, it hit with force. We were all in with this band. We celebrated Science Fiction as the final note on a long career that had sustained them, all of us, together. We noticed how certain refrains were like old friends, how the record concluded their career with a gentle maturity no one expected, or knew was needed, from them. When the final song, “Batter Up,” played as I was getting ready for work one day, I cried, because I realized it was the last time I’d hear Brand New for the first time. It, just like in high school, sounded so significant.
And yet...how dare he. How dare he. When Brand New was a refuge, when we were teenagers—over those same years, Lacey was abusive. Lyrics once obtusely violent are viewed through a distinct sheen of child abuse, the same words we screamed at every concert. We were, in some unknown fashion, complicit.
For non-emo fans of a certain age, this probably sounds dramatic. Brand New is just a band and Lacey is just an artist, after all. But it’s so much more: In light of all the sexual assault allegations coming out against public figures we’ve once admired post-Harvey Weinstein, I re-read Pearl Cleage’s “Mad at Miles.” The classic essay asks the same question I’m asking now, directed at famed trumpeter Miles Davis: “How can these people hurt us and still be our heroes?” she writes, “And the question is: How can they hit us and still be our leaders? Our husbands? Our lovers? Our geniuses? Our friends? And the answer is...they can’t. Can they?”
Cleage’s essay, originally published in 1990, is fiercely resonant today, as we are force to confront our “heroes.” History has proven it is easy to listen without considering the person behind the sound. Put on a Miles Davis record, absorb his creative mind, not his history of assaulting women. It’s certainly difficult to listen to Miles Davis when you think of his wife, Cicely Tyson, shivering in the basement after calling the police on him. But Mile Davis did not write lyrics about beating Cicely Tyson. Jesse Lacey, it seems increasingly evident, did pen lyrics about the underage girls he took advantage of—take “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis” from the 2003 album Deja Entendu for example:
“Barely conscious in the door where you stand / Your eyes are fighting sleep while your mouth makes your demands / You laugh at every word trying too hard to be cute / I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do / And your hair smells of smoke/ Who will cast the first stone?/ You can sin or spend the night all alone.”
One of the most defining facets of emo is that one-sided transparency, its creator releasing all their thoughts and feelings with dam-breaking immediacy and little to no regard towards the object of their frustration. These songs still manage to connect because they transfer our angst into something artful. In that way, Lacey spoke for us. He doesn’t anymore.
So I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m confused. But I’m not going to stop listening to Brand New.
Putting on side B of their 2006 record The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me was difficult the other day, but I ultimately felt pretty powerful doing it, and here’s why:
Jesse Lacey has nothing to do with my connection to this music.
My connection to Brand New has everything to do with the memories I made while listening to their music and the friends I made because of their records. When the allegations were publicized, I messaged my fellow Brand New–loving friends to make sure they were okay. They weren’t. None of us were, but there’s no other band I would do that for—because this band bound a lot of us together in ways that reach far beyond them: home, clarity, comfort, a voice. They can’t lay claim to those aspects of their music anymore.
To me, Brand New is singing the weirder tracks on Daisy in my best friend’s car. It’s listening to all of Deja while I was seriously traveling for the first time, and incredibly homesick. It’s blasting “Sowing Season” as I drove home after a bad breakup. It’s squeezing my friend’s hand as I was slammed into my first mosh pit, terrified I’d be hospitalized. It’s crying at a Chicago bar, trying to explain to my boyfriend what Science Fiction means to me. It’s squeezing a stranger’s hand as we stood in the back of the Aragon Ballroom, because we’d made it to some form of adulthood. We screamed the lyrics that night, as we had every other night, because the words meant something to us in the context of our lives, not his.
Jesse Lacey cannot and should not and will not have the power to alter my relationship with this music, because that relationship is based on my experience and not him. Giving Lacey the power to ruin what Brand New’s music means to you only allows his depravity to win. I am more powerful than that—we all are. Our memories with this band are what matter.
Fuck Jesse Lacey. This music still moves me and shapes my life.
That being said, even though their touring days are surely done, they are not getting another penny from me.
Ed. Note: An orginial version of this personal essay used “is guilty” instead of “has been accused” in the following sentence: “I’m angry the frontman of one of my favorite bands has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, of soliciting nude images from his dedicated fans in one of the ultimate misuses of power.” It has been changed for clarity.