It's often hard to judge what kind of tempest something like a band name can cause. How long it incubates, how intense the backlash, how ferocious, from what angles -- these are all impossibly tough variables. Despite this variance, bands tend to weather the storm in one of two ways. They get obstinate or they get dismissive. The Jonbenet, though, did both.
In November, when emo fansite AbsolutePunk.net asked guitarist Dann Miller how they deal with the controversy generated by naming themselves after murdered 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, he got obstinate: "It's a tasteless name, I've dealt with it, everyone else can too," then immediately dismissive: "It's funny because our old bass player suggested it and I hated it, and he's not in the band anymore but we stuck with it." Got 'em with both barrels. Blam.
Both comments are effective as attention-diverting stratagems. Neither, though, constitutes a defense of their position. And since the band isn't defending their name choice, I'd like to. The death of JonBenet Ramsey has all the macabre amplification that much of contemporary rock slavers over. That she was in pageants from the age of 4 -- losing her innocence before she even knew she had it -- marks the beginning of a descent from innocence to depravity through wanton sexualization that haunts just about every emo kid in America. For her to then be murdered marks an equally well-trodden end.
Insofar as the Jonben & eacute;t belong to that class of rock -- and they do; song titles like "Behold, the White Whore" and "Eating Lightning Pt. II" mingling Chiodos' grandiose pretensions as much as Panic! at the Disco's tawdry romanticism -- the name fits its spirit.
It's more focused than just that, though, a more, concrete representation of an aesthetic that many other bands couch in ornate costumage and over-elaborate (wankerish) lyricism as a way of dodging issues. Their lyrics are still impressionistic, but not as worshipful of form. The way hardcore originally took punk's militancy and honed it, turning youth disenfranchisement into a cause nonpareil, the Jonbenet take screamo's sense of baroque absurdism, yearning and dread. The name, then, demonstrates their chosen aesthetic as much as their means of expressing it.
Whereas other bands might frame the brutality of these sentiments in romantic effluvia and other douchebaggery, the Jonbenet have chosen the more direct, [post-]hardcore approach. As such, their name is just about perfect. It's more crass, appalling and scandalous for people that way, and the backlash that resulted seems to have the band's members reeling (albeit as nonchalantly as possible). It makes people nervous, which, by certain definitions, makes it art.
The Jonbenet with American Black Lung, Blues, the Makai, the Franklin Cover-Up, and the Matador Room at Empyrean on Friday, Jan. 19, at 6 pm. Tickets: $8. Call 838-9819.