Before Fall Out Boy became unlikely megastars—before they showed up on Punk'd and dominated TRL and provided the background music to a hundred million black and neon MySpace pages—all they wanted to do was headline The Metro in Chicago. And when they booked a show at the 1100-capacity venue in late 2002, they decided that they'd have to perform something new to mark the occasion.
"It was just the biggest moment for us," Pete Wentz tells Noisey via email. "We wanted to do something for the people who would be in the crowd." The show was set for December 22, so a foray into holiday jams made sense. Towards the end of a session at Rosebud Studios in Evanston, the band cobble something together. The result was "Yule Shoot Your Eye Out," a sardonic and disgruntled acoustic track that would live far longer than they ever could have expected.
It's about as close as you can get to quintessential Fall Out Boy. The title is a pop culture reference (lifted Bob Clark's 1983 comedy A Christmas Story) with a pun thrown in. It's written directly to a lover, the type of character who had complete control over the narrator of every song on the band's first two LPs, 2003's Take This To Your Grave and 2005's From Under the Cork Tree. Our protagonist feels sorry for himself—"you never wanted the nice boys anyway"—then spends the rest of the song writing the person who (supposedly) spurned him into the worst possible situations. The only gifts she'll get this year are mean and metaphysical: "One awkward silence / And two hopes you cry yourself to sleep / Staying up, waiting by the phone." Plus, of course, death: "All I want this year is for you to dedicate your last breath to me / Before you bury yourself alive."
Still, like a lot of Fall Out Boy's best, the song's so emotionally overblown that it works. There's even an ambitious key-change at the end, another opportunity for Patrick Stump to push his curiously soulful voice to its limits. Blink-182's "I Won't Be Home For Christmas" might be the better-known holiday pop-punk song, but "Yule Shoot Your Eye Out" is catchier. And at least the protagonist is only hoping for someone to bury themself alive, rather than attacking a hoard of people with a baseball bat.
Wentz says that they didn't overthink the lyrics, that it was "mostly just a goofy song that we took and burned on a cd and gift wrapped in holiday paper and gave out to kids at the show." Listening back now, I see no reason to doubt that—it's not packed with details or memories or self-reflection. But it does seem to go against something that Wentz told the crowd at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles back in 2005, at the KROQ Acoustic Christmas. The start of Wentz's introduction to "Yule Shoot…" has been cut off now, but he was clearly in the middle of an anti-Christmas diatribe: "I realized how fucking whack Christmas was," he said back then. "I'd just pray for it to be cancelled every year so I wouldn't have to put up with my dad. That's kind of what this song's about."
"Maybe that was a bit overdramatic," he says now. "I don't think it was awful. I think monotonous would be a better word. I think when you are a punk rock kid in the suburbs, the holidays represent the biggest version of the monoculture. How could you not take a shot at it? When we were recording From Under The Cork Tree we would make a band Christmas card that said 'Christmas is Cancelled.' What is more funny than saying that?"
He doesn't completely dismiss the darkness of the season. He says that "holidays like Christmas tend to magnify how you are feeling in your head… if you feel lonely, it feels bigger and darker than on other days." And he remembers feeling left out of things when he was younger, "not feeling like I was on the inside of whatever was happening in the lit houses as I walked by them, not feeling like I was a part of a thing."
It's no surprise, then, that "Yule Shoot Your Eye Out," like most pop-punk holiday songs, treats the season with disdain. Christmas is designed to be special for young children, but the magic fades the older you get. Eventually someone tells you that Santa is a fraud, and it's all downhill from there. By the time you're a teenager, it's sickly; by the end of high school, it's all capitalism and exploitation; in your mid-20s, it's just one more thing forcing you to endure traffic, crowded airports, and difficult conversations with family. Fall Out Boy wrote this song in a hurry when they were in their early-20s, rolling their eyes at the "monoculture," still pissed off by their teenage Decembers.
But Pete Wentz isn't really that guy anymore. He's got three kids and, I'm told, Christmas only really gets good again if you have young ones of your own. It's an opportunity to create the magic you either faintly remember, or never experienced in the first place. "Now I get to be Santa, which gives you a whole other perspective," he says. "I think trying to make sure it's fun and you are creating traditions for your kids without going full Elf on the Shelf dad has been the mission for me."
Alex Robert Ross is the last thing you want to see underneath the tree. Follow him on Twitter.