Like “Stay Gold, Dude, Stay Gold,” this essay offers in-depth literary analysis of a single weighted line from emo-rock history, “Take This To Your Grave.” This line drew inspiration from both The Smiths and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, weaving a web between three narratives that swirl disdainfully around the feminine sex and rather suggestively around the masculine.
One student from a Pennsylvania college radio station wrote of Fall Out Boy’s Take This To Your Grave, “There are so many reasons to hate Fall Out Boy; they’re misogynistic, whiny, self-referential and physically misshapen” and questions what she “could have possibly found attractive in the nihilistic, women-hating narratives” of the record. The album’s title comes from the lyrics of the final track, “The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes.” The full line— which is difficult to hear as it comes in the form of secondary vocals and due to Stump’s tendency to slur Wentz’s lyrics to make them sound better— is “Take this to your grave and I’ll take this to mine.” Wentz drew inspiration from The Smiths and Jack Kerouac when penning this line; this trio of narratives contain similar themes of both misogyny and homoeroticism.
The lyric bears a striking resemblance to “pretty girls make graves,” a line from “Death to the Last Romantic,” from Wentz’s early hardcore project Arma Angelus: “I watched it all end when she said, ‘Pretty girls make graves.’” This lyric was posted in 2001, when Fall Out Boy were just starting to get their wings. Similar imagery is present in other lyrics and writing posted to the Arma Angelus LiveJournal page, including, “The phone is lying on the ground twisted and dead- off the hook. I look at it adoringly wishing it was you” and “She looks like suicide.”
This line is a quote from “Pretty Girls Make Graves” by The Smiths— Wentz loves Morrissey, with one of Morrissey’s records even being featured in his infamous nude photo leak. Additionally, Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman can be seen wearing a shirt that says “Pretty Girls Make Graves” in the first (surviving) taped interview FOB ever did, with JBTV in 2003.
“Pretty Girls Make Graves” follows Morrissey’s relationship with a girl who really wants to consummate their relationship. He refuses to copulate with her, so she leaves him and has intercourse with someone else, which infuriates Morrissey and causes him to lose faith in women in general. The song is broadly interpreted as about Morrissey’s sexuality which, in modern terminology, can probably be loosely described as on the bi-ace spectrum; Morrissey himself stated, “Unfortunately, I am not homosexual. In technical fact, I am humasexual. I am attracted to humans. But, of course … not many.”
Many parallels can be drawn between overarching themes in Wentz’s work and “Pretty Girls Make Graves.” The song contains the refrain “I am not the man you think I am,” which is a huge theme in Wentz’s writing. The narrator of Wentz’s novel Gray describes himself as “a phony, a liar, a coward,” and “a gigantic phony, perhaps the phoniest person alive;” the Fall Out Boy track “The Music or the Misery,” contains the line “I went to sleep a poet, and I woke up a fraud.” While the title of track that “Take This To Your Grave” comes from, “The Patron Saint of Liars and Fakes,” could refer to the female subject, it could also refer to the narrator.
“Pretty Girls Make Graves” also contains the lines, “And sorrows native son, he will not rise for anyone / he will not smile for anyone” which very much fits with Wentz’s poor-me characterization of himself as a “rainy day kid,” “Mr. Misery,” and with a “tiny violin playing” in his other literary works. Take This To Your Grave creates a veritable display of misery and pain. The narrator’s smile is “an open wound;” he is bruised, battered, wishing to be buried, “[dragging his] guts a block,” with a loaded gun to his head, all over a girl; he proclaims “I wish I could hate [her] half as much as I hate myself” and that he is “a failure at everything.”
Another verse in “Pretty Girls Make Graves” is “Another man, he takes her hand, a smile lights up her stupid face— and well, it would— I lost my faith in womanhood.” Thematically, Take This To Your Grave concerns the feelings of the narrator towards a girl who cheated on him with another guy, wishing she’d “wrap [her] car around a tree,” or hoping she’d choke; the album is a quintessential bildungsroman, depicting the loss of innocence after being scorned by a first love and the narrator’s journey from what he believed was puppy love to wishing with every breath that her “body will be broken” and that if she catches fire, he “wouldn’t piss to put [her] out”
The final line in “Pretty Girls Make Graves” references “Hand In Glove,” a later song on the same album, which is widely considered to be about a gay relationship; Wentz has frequently described himself to the press as “half gay” or “gay above the waist” or “gay above the belt”. This also worked his way into his lyrical work, with lines like “revolution from the waist down,” “sleeping for the wrong team,” “wishing to be the friction in his jeans,” “happily ever after below the waist,” and “watching you two from the closet.”
Those lines, however, appear in Wentz’s later work. Specifically, Fall Out Boy’s debut features a track (“Grenade Jumper”) about Wentz’s (debatably former) friend, former member of Arma Angelus, and Chicago-based author Chris Gutierrez; Wentz and Gutierrez have matching heart-shaped pubic and ass tattoos corresponding with who they determined would top/bottom if the pair hypothetically had anal intercourse; Gutierrez occasionally referred to himself (in ostensible jest) as Wentz’s “boyfriend.” The lyrical content of Take This To Your Grave also contains the line, “He is well hung and I am hanging up,” which is frequently misheard as “hanging on,” implying manual erotic stimulation rather than ending a phone call. (This line was technically written by vocalist Patrick Stump). Additionally, the title of the first track, “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today,” is a reference to the 1998 Wes Anderson movie Rushmore rather than the narrator saying he wants to “do” another guy. However, both lines can be taken as rather homoerotic Freudian slips, especially given Wentz’s love of the double entendre— put a pin in that.
But I digress. Anyway, Morrissey also did not initially pen the line “Pretty girls make graves,” he borrowed it from Jack Kerouac, specifically from The Dharma Bums, one of Kerouac’s roman-a-clef esque works like On The Road. Wentz references Kerouac frequently, with Kerouac serving as a palpable influence on Wentz’s work; he is directly named in the unreleased Fall Out Boy track “Tell Hip-Hop I’m Literate.” The Dharma Bums is a lot of things, but one of the books’ notable traits is that the narrator depicts women as hysterical, obsessed with sex, and intellectually inferior to men.
Beyond the negative depiction of women as “sex mad and man mad” present in The Dharma Bums, “Pretty Girls Make Graves” and Take This To Your Grave, there is also a dash of homoeroticism in Kerouac’s novel. This comes in the form of very slight conflict over the main character and Jack Kerouac’s self-insert Ray being bi or gay, though there is not a lot of textual evidence to support this beyond the book constantly harping on his raging boner for and undying obsession over his friend Japhy (based off Gary Snyder), the ultimate macho Buddhist coochie-slayer. Ray describes Japhy as “strong and wiry and fast and muscular… his eyes twinkled like the eyes of old giggling sages of China, over that little goatee, to offset the rough look of his handsome face.” Ray is supposed to be Kerouac, after all, who is sometimes considered to have probably experimented with dudes but is tough for history to categorize, much like Wentz; though Morrissey does publicly identify as “humasexual,” his orientation was the “subject of much speculation and coverage in the British press during his career.”
Additionally, like Wentz and Morrissey, Ray is kind of an emo sad boy; his initial fascination with Buddhism (central to the novel) hinges on the “first of Sakyamuni’s four noble truths, All life is suffering.” Ray “[doesn’t] quite believe” Buddhism’s third noble truth, that “The suppression of suffering can be achieved,” is even possible. This suffering, is, of course, entirely due to women. The full “Pretty girls make graves” quotation from The Dharma Bums is: “But on top of all that, the feelings about Princess, I’d also gone through an entire year of celibacy based on my feeling that lust was the direct cause of birth which was the direct cause of suffering and death and I had really no lie come to a point where I regarded lust as offensive and even cruel. ‘Pretty girls make graves,’ was my saying, whenever I’d had to turn my head around involuntarily to stare at the incomparable pretties of Indian Mexico.”
However, unlike the asexuality in the track “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” there is a fervent lust for women in The Dharma Bums, which compares with the nympholepsy in Wentz’s novel. In it, the majority of female characters—oft referred to as “chicks”— are the narrator’s sexual conquests. The narrator denigrates virtually all of them despite his fervent lust for each, and they are largely distinguished from one another by the various traits the narrator finds arousing, ranging from their “downtown legs,” to their clothing “missing essential parts,” or various piercings the narrator finds erotically stimulating. Of course, they are also separated from one another by their behavior during intercourse, such as whether she tells the narrator to finish inside her, screams out “Oh, God,” or crawls across the floor naked to beg on her knees for him to stay in bed.
While Wentz makes it clear in his book that the main character is drowning in pussy from both gorgeous women he can barely stand and his fawning girlfriend, Morrissey chooses not to partake in scoring pu-tang; Kerouac’s self-insert character of Ray in The Dharma Bums does occasionally fuck and desperately wants to fuck, but he is also temporarily celibate and less successful at pursuing punani than his hero, Japhy. He whines, “In all this welter of women I still hadn’t got one for myself, not that I was trying too hard, but sometimes I felt lonely to see everybody paired off and having a good time and all I did was curl up in my sleeping bag in the rosebushes and sigh and say bah.” In contrast, “Everybody loved Japhy, the girls Polly and Princess and even married Christine were all madly in love with him and they were all secretly jealous of Japhy’s favorite doll Psyche.”
The Dharma Bums’ narrator looks down on women entirely; so egregiously so that that the real-life inspiration for Japhy “criticized Kerouac for his misogynistic interpretation of Buddhism.” However, the view of women in The Smiths’ track “Pretty Girls Make Graves” is more complex; it can also be taken as an exploration of a Madonna-whore complex rather than merely portraying a lack of interest in passions of the flesh, with the song’s female subject starting as an unfuckable Madonna that falls to being a whore.
Wentz’s book falls somewhere in the middle of the two works. We’ve covered the narrator’s wanton behavior already, but also, the narrator’s younger girlfriend is known only as “Her,” elevating Her to Biblical standards of purity in his eyes. Throughout the novel, the narrator repeatedly compares Her to his mother or an angel. (The much younger object of Ray’s sexual desire in The Dharma Bums, Princess, believes that she is a “Bodhisattva,” capable of achieving nirvana and the mother of all three primary male characters.) This, however, is marred by continued anxiety surrounding Her unfaithfulness, with the narrator’s view of her oscillating wildly between a Madonna and a whore. Unlike Morrissey, Wentz’s character does fuck his girlfriend. However, he also cheats on her constantly with the women he feels an overpowering combination of contempt and carnal desire towards (even remarking of one, “I hate her”), viewing these women like Kerouac views the “sex mad and man mad” women he encounters in The Dharma Bums.
The Dharma Bums is also directly referenced by name in Wentz’s book, and used in a decidedly negative context. In the eleventh chapter of Gray, the narrator smashes his girlfriend’s phone after baselessly accusing her of being unfaithful. Shortly after, he attends a party he’s decidedly unwelcome at, and is immediately infuriated by her discussing feminist opinions on literature in front of a “gang of wannabe rockabilly Dharma Bums,” including “The Philosopher,” her new love interest. The narrator is then jumped by The Philosopher outside, as The Philosopher is white-knighting and trying to obtain payback for the narrator “abusing” the girl. The narrator, with the help of his band’s drummer, beats The Philosopher to a bloody pulp in front of The Philosopher’s mother.
You might remember I said earlier to put a pin in Wentz’s love of the double entendre. We’re back to that now. In one scene of The Dharma Bums, the male characters humor Princess by entertaining her philosophies on Buddhism, listening and pretending to care what she thinks solely because she’ll have sex with all three of them at the same time, because she feels she is “the mother of all things and [she has] to take care of her little children.” Upon her saying this, Kerouac’s self-insert character Ray realizes, “She wanted to be a big Buddhist like Japhy and being a girl the only way she could express it was this way.” “This way” meaning sleeping with them so they’ll at least hollowly go through the motions of including her in their world. This mirrors Gray, when Wentz describes The Philosopher and his friends as “Dharma Bums;” they raptly listen to Her drunkenly rambling about feminism and Anti-Semitism while she’s puddled in the lap of The Philosopher. The narrator finds her ranting to be sad and embarrassing, but The Philosopher and his friends seem to think she’s brilliant—at least in the moment, when one is running his hand up her back.
Such sexual double entendres are a signature in Wentz’s work. In “27,” Wentz writes, “My body is an orphanage, we take everyone in” referring to both fans flocking to him as a savior as well as sleeping with anyone who lies down for long enough; “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner” contains “Keep quiet, nothing comes as easy as you” referring to possibly a clandestine, yet uncomplicated relationship or the other half of a sexual liaison moaning too loud when they climax. The title of “I’m Like a Lawyer with The Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off” refers to either talking someone out of trouble or seeking to make the object of your fixation orgasm. Continuing with the legal theme, “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued,” has “we’re friends when you’re on your knees,” referring to the narrator only using his power and influence to help the subject out when submitting to anything the narrator asks, or performing fellatio on him.
Thus, the “gang of wannabe rockabilly Dharma Bums” line refers to The Philosopher and his friends playing dress-up as Beat poets with their “black-rimmed glasses and neck tattoos and cuffed jeans” and loud, pretentious conversations about Aleister Crowley at a house party. However, the line is also referencing the three main male characters of The Dharma Bums— Ray, Japhy, and Alvah, based off writers Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg— only including Princess in their conversations about manly topics like theology and spirituality because she will have sex with all three of them at once, just as The Philosopher and his friends are letting Her rant about feminism as they make advances. This part of The Dharma Bums, of course, is where the line “Pretty girls make graves” originates.
The narrator of Wentz’s book, however, depicts himself as a good-for-nothing Dharma Bum too. In the preceding chapter, his band’s drummer white-knights like The Philosopher, picking a fight with a “date-rapist/frat-guy type” in between the band’s constant seeking to bed bitches. The narrator waxes poetic about “feeling alive on the road…that’s all life, the bad, dirty, savage kind,” using the phrase “on the road” again and again throughout the book (obviously referencing Kerouac’s novel by the same name); his best friend The Disaster is “free, like the hoboes of Kerouac.”
Finally, just like The Philosopher, the narrator only pretends to listen to his girlfriend’s thoughts to get in her pants; he gropes her while she tries to run through psychology exercises from her Columbia classes with him, refers to her talking about what she is studying as “psychobabble” and “conversations I entertained only out of politeness but never made an attempt to comprehend.” He is enraged by her having dreams of her own, ones that exist outside of his rock career and playing mommy by washing his underwear after he cheats on her and ignores her on tour; he rails against her for not believing in his dreams of being a rock star, but he doesn’t believe in her dreams of furthering her education, either. He condescendingly thinks, “Smart girls always want to go to Berkeley. Most of them never make it there,” while lying that he will support her by following her to Berkeley to placate Her so she’ll stay in a relationship with him while he jets off to go screw as many groupies as possible and hang out in strip clubs.
The ambiguity of Wentz’s book and what exactly he is trying to portray, and how, has puzzled me for nearly a decade and will continue to live rent free in my head until I die. But that’s another conversation. Anyway, it’s all sort of like a wretched little web, with Wentz referencing Morrissey referencing Kerouac in various narratives that swirl disdainfully around female sexuality. As insufferable and sometimes dazzlingly sexist as the trio are, I love it all, and I especially love Take This To Your Grave.
Even the vitriolic essay I quoted in the first paragraph begrudgingly admits to adoring Take This To Your Grave despite its alleged “woman-hating narratives,” saying, “there’s just something incredibly intoxicating about pure, unadulterated, childish hatred.” Though the essay berates Fall Out Boy for their depictions of women, in a stunning display of internalized misogyny, it solely blames Wentz’s then-wife Ashlee Simpson for making the band sonically suck. Similarly, an obnoxious article for The Guardian criticized how the Beat movement “had no place for women” and implies Kerouac would be “indifferent to [the] writing [of a woman]” while degrading all—yes, all—work by female Beat authors as inferior to that of men like Kerouac and Ginsberg.
Female Beat author Joyce Johnson, however, offers a more nuanced perspective; while she believes male Beat authors like Kerouac “simply saw women as material for their writing, and as sexual objects, not as individuals,” she also stated, “I have to say that one of the rare men who very actively encouraged me in my writing was Jack Kerouac.” Similarly, in Sarah J. McCarthy’s Chicago Tribune article “Never Too Old To Boogie,” she recalls women being kicked out of 1970s feminist activist groups for refusing to renounce The Rolling Stones, and details her own struggle to reconcile her criticism of the Stones’ portrayal of violence against women with her undying adoration of the band. McCarthy writes, “I love ‘Under My Thumb’ and consider it a work of art. It’s the authentic voice of the Honest Male (or maybe, more accurately, the authentic voice of the Honest Human). I loved it when the Stones opened with “Under My Thumb” in Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland in the ’70s. It was the first time that I saw, live, the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.” Such are my feelings about Fall Out Boy, and specifically, Wentz.
5 thoughts on ““Pretty Girls Make Graves:” Behind the Title of Fall Out Boy’s Debut Record”
This was interesting to read. Thank you for sharing. Also, not sure if you’re aware but the Pretty Girls Make Graves shirt he is wearing is from an indie band that was very popular in the early to mid 2000s. I bought that same shirt but in red when I saw them in 2003.
I did not know that when I wrote this but a couple people have told me haha!