Monster Of The Week: Conor Oberst

Admittedly, after we heard about those obviously horrible shootings in Omaha last week, our first thoughts — beyond the weird realization that the 19-year old killer, Robert A. Hawkins, looked a lot like a young Lou Barlow — is that it happened in Saddle Creek’s stomping grounds. For better or for worse, for a lot of indie rock fans not from the area, Conor Oberst is the person who comes to mind when someone mentions Omaha (You mention Nebraska, it’s Springsteen). This is shortsighted and whatever, but hey.

Perhaps moving along those lines, over at the Radar blog, journalist Tyler Gray crowns Oberst “the frog prince of the emo movement” then declares him “Monster Of The Week,” linking his lyrics to the Hawkins shootings. This, of course, after setting it all up via Marilyn Manson’s response to Columbine:

I once interviewed Marilyn Manson about being associated with the massacres at Columbine High School and the murderous teens who later inspired Gus Van Sant to do that movie with that Kurt Cobain lookalike who gives older homosexual gentlemen special feelings. What would he say to the kids who survived the Columbine massacre? I asked Manson. “I wouldn’t say anything,” he answered. “I would listen. If we were listening, it would have never happened.” (He recycled the line two years later in Bowling for Columbine).

Then it gets all WTF on us.

In the wake of Wednesday’s massacre that left nine dead (including the 19-year-old shooter himself, Robert A. Hawkins) in Omaha, Nebraska, it’s time to ask that question again. But not of Manson. I’m looking squarely at the frog prince of the emo movement, Conor Oberst.

He and his band Bright Eyes and record label Saddle Creek were conceived in Omaha’s seething, angst-rich Petri dish. He put the burgh on the pop culture map with minor-key mopers and lyrics like:

Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There are bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building

Are we to believe that the man who single-handedly masterminded the hormones-and-Zoloft cocktail that is emo bears no responsibility in this latest example of adolescent anger-turned-deadly? Bad poetry and asymmetric haircuts can only contain an artful young man’s angst for so long. He will escalate. Or, as you so eloquently put it, Conor: “A heart just can’t contain all of that empty space. It breaks. It breaks. It breaks.”

I wanted to ask Oberst how he feels hearing loaded words like “troubled” and “angst”?his calling cards?associated with shooter Hawkins and whether he feels like he’s Nebraska’s version of a Columbine scapegoat. (Also, whether he’s been asked to play Hawkins in Van Sant’s sure-to-be-forthcoming movie about the massacre). But his reps said he wouldn’t be available. So, Conor Oberst, you just earned a spot as our inaugural Monster of the Week. Upshot: Marilyn Manson is totally free for collabs. Call me if you want his digits.

Yeah, he’s no Jonathan Swift. This is pretty weak satire … feels a lot like a Sasha Frere-Jones-style attempt to up readership. Or maybe he’s being serious? Hence the WTF. Why not admire Conor’s recent hair growth while you decide.