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The Extremely Online Humor of Heart Attack Man

Heart Attack Man’s humor is extremely insular. Fans have tuned into the band through their comedic tweets, videos, and viral stunts, like the time Egan put his beanie up for sale on eBay and racked up $100k in bids. Veering between self-effacing and self-aggrandizing, sometimes in the span of a single tweet, and often with a self-conscious mean streak (memorably, they once accused the band Hot Mulligan of getting their name from deliberately locking a puppy named Mulligan inside of a hot car), it’s pure internet comedy.

Imagining it stretched from screen to stage sounds like a risky proposition at best, yet it happens nightly, as the comic witticisms of Egan’s lyrics are screamed back into his face by an audience of teenagers and barely-post-adolescents who intrinsically get it. Heart Attack Man is for them.

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Egan’s goofy internet personality stretches far beyond Heart Attack Man’s beginnings. Although Heart Attack Man is a crunchy, cleverly hooky power pop act, the band’s roots lie in the Cleveland hardcore scene, tracing back to Ages, a band that straddled the same pop-punk and hardcore lines as early Title Fight. Back when Bridge 9’s legendary hardcore forum the B9 was still online, Egan would promote his bands while pretending that the “O” key on his keyboard was permanently stuck in caps lock, sO he spOke using Only capital O’s while he was prOmOting his band’s demO. One day he was shitposting in the B9, and the next he was claiming that Heart Attack Man’s debut LP The Manson Family had been lost in a park in 2016 (it resurfaced the next year). 

While it’s tempting to compartmentalize Heart Attack Man’s unique personality as absurdist and detached, that would do a great disservice to the earnestness that bleeds into everything they do. For example, the song “Cut My Losses” from this year’s Fake Blood is a heartfelt documentation of leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. When the record was first released, there was an outcry among forums like chorus.fm that the song was too unsympathetic, too unforgiving, or otherwise problematic, and Heart Attack Man themselves would later say that many publicists didn’t even want to touch the song, or Fake Blood as a whole, due to its thorny themes.

It’s easy to see where those people are coming from, given that the song is about someone threatening suicide, and Egan preempts the chorus with the line “I don’t hope you’re doing better.” Yet, a feature of many unhealthy relationships is using the threat of self-harm to keep the codependent party in check. Of course, Heart Attack Man responded to the semi-controversy by recording an intimate acoustic rendition of the song. “This is super-problematic and we’re definitely going to be canceled for it,” read the subtext of every tweet the band made to promote it.

That’s the crux of Heart Attack Man: their blend of the silly and mundane with a sense of anger towards inauthenticity. In his lyrics, Egan goes out of his way to reference the “uncool” bands of yesteryear. Compare the refrain in “Asking for It” (“I’m not that dude you knew back in high school”) with Sum 41’s “Fat Lip,” for example; or look at how the chorus of the Falling Down-inspired revenge fantasy “Out for Blood” nakedly references Linkin Park’s “Numb.” It speaks to a generation of kids who grew up on music that you aren’t necessarily “supposed” to like once you delve into the wild world of DIY, but in 2019, those distinctions are becoming increasingly arbitrary.

For as much as Heart Attack Man seem to go against the grain, it’s unsurprising that their attitude, in addition to their cheerily flippant Twitter presence, has contributed to an ongoing online community that has rallied around the band. Egan’s specificity lends his tweets an extreme inside-joke quality, which translates well to memes. His signature orange beanie became an iconic piece of merch, which led to the band’s followers being christened “the baby carrot gang.” Other idiosyncrasieshis recent penchant for cyberbullying Hot Mulligan because Heart Attack Man is verified on Twitter and Hot Mulligan isn’t, for examplehave become sitewide memes that bleed into the feeds of other bands, like Senses Fail. Almost daily, Egan will tweet “Good morning, everyone, it’s me, Eric from Heart Attack Man,” triggering a mass response of tweets and selfies from fans mirroring him. If it weren’t so innocuous, it would be cultish.

While in large part this fervent devotion is due to the band’s internet antics, it’s impossible to deny the way Heart Attack Man’s lyrics cultivate identity within their fanbase. While the band has been steadily growing since the release of their demo in 2013 (a solo venture from Egan), their biggest coup yet came in the form of a split with fellow Ohioans McCafferty, which included their most popular song to date, “100mg (Millennial).” 

The lyrics of “100mg” are wry and knowing. The speaker self-identifies as a millennial who’s conscious of his status as the scapegoat for failing industries, for being known as directionless and hopeless, and for having to maintain his emotional stability with an everyday diet of pills. Rather than rejecting this classification, Heart Attack Man has run toward it, and the song’s reckless embrace of generational cliches spoke to an audience of people⸺some millennials, some the teenagers of Generation Z⸺who recognize the signposts of their generation and sing them back to the band.

It’s self-affirmation at a distance; while bands in the past have embraced the “fuck-up” label, few have had the foresight and tenacity of Heart Attack Man to forge a collective identity out of it, nor have they had the energy to make the listener feel like being a fuck-up doesn’t mean that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

However, just because there is that light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean that the journey isn’t exhausting and miserable. Instrumental to Heart Attack Man’s smart-ass attitude and, correlatively, their extremely strong niche appeal, is⸺like most good comedy⸺an underlying and overwhelming sense of palpable darkness. It’s impossible to overlook how left-behind, bleak, and hopeless our generation feels, and Heart Attack Man taps into that collective angst and anxiety in a way that cuts straight past the melodrama of past emo-pop acts⸺Fall Out Boy’s tongue-twisting wordplay, My Chemical Romance’s Liza Minelli-indebted theatrics⸺and perfectly synthesizes the comedy and tragedy of youth culture’s current moment.

The thing that separates Heart Attack Man’s ouvre from a lot of their peers is their unceasing commitment to analyzing themselves and others. In a recent interview with The Alternative, Egan asserted that he was “a very self-aware person,” and this is readily apparent in all of his lyrics⸺the 2018 single “Boring” spends its sub-minute runtime listing all the ways that Egan fits neither into the narrative surrounding his band, nor the snide hipsterism that views the world at cool remove: “I’m not ironically detached enough… it is imperative that I pretend to be self-loathing.” Meanwhile, the raucous “Out for Blood” is less a straightforward revenge fantasy and more of an introspective look at the type of person who could end up snapping and going on a rampage. “Am I the anti-hero turned a supervillain?” deadpans Egan over a deceptively bouncy bass line and an eerie, creeping guitar tone. “A violent crime statistic, one amongst the millions.”

That darkness is inherent to a band that called its debut album The Manson Family is no surprise, but that it’s been able to make that darkness communal is. Whenever Egan lashes out at others, it’s clear that he’s only a small step away from pointing the finger right back at himself. “Surrounded By Morons” is a mostly spoken-word dirge that critiques people who think moving away to the big city will solve all of their problems, but it’s clear that Egan has been in that headspace himself. Amid the witty one-liners like “I want to get car-doored in bike lanes” lies an odd sense of empathy.

One of the more recent Heart Attack Man Twitter bits involves Egan sarcastically bemoaning how the scene has changed since 2009, even going so far as to upload teary confessional videos where he echoes the same beats as that now-cliche Twitter genre. Inherent to the bit is the knowledge that Egan clearly knows today is better than yesterday⸺there’s more accountability for violent and dispassionate behavior at shows, and that’s a good thing.

Implicit in exaggerated diatribes about how he wishes he could storm into a mosh pit with a chainsaw and be the only one left standing just like “the good old days” is a critique of both mosh-bros in the hardcore scene who wish that they could still knock people out with impunity, as well as MAGA-hatted dipshits who wish to co-opt punk and DIY into a conservative narrative that just doesn’t apply. Egan doesn’t need to outright say this; his outsized satire speaks for itself.

Musically, Heart Attack Man lies within the realm of the modern DIY scene, sitting at a cross-section of new-school, crunchy pop-punk with bloodied vocals and constant hooks (Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Hot Mulligan) and the introspective, slightly intricate wistfulness of newer emo-derived acts (awakebutstillinbed, Michael Cera Palin). There’s a dash of their hardcore past thrown in here and there (“Low Hanging Fruit,” “Asking for It,” “Sugar Coated”) but for the most part, Heart Attack Man’s music is catchy and easy to swallow. The lyrics are where they differentiate themselves, often reading like Blake Schwarzenbach’s would if he had grown up on My Chemical Romance and Panic! at the Disco.

While their mood varies⸺the 2014 Acid Rain EP is a bit more peppy than either the despondent The Manson Family or the rage-filled Fake Blood⸺the one thing holding it all together is the band’s signature blend of earnestness, absurdism, black comedy, and satire. It’s what’s made them one of the most consistently enjoyable touring bands working today, and it’s what’s attracted their significant online following, and it will be their legacy. Long live Heart Attack Man.