“I hate the ending myself, but it started with an alright scene.”
In many ways, the most difficult thing to grasp about My Chemical Romance’s recent split announcement was the fact that the band had been together for twelve years. Twelve years feels like a lifetime at this age (literally half my life). In pop culture terms, it’s barely a drop in the ocean and yet so much has changed since that grimy five-piece first came together in New Jersey; a reactionary response to the 9/11 attacks and the impact it had on vocalist Gerard Way. It feels like more to me because I grew up with this band. The ‘scene’ in which I discovered them was so unlikely you couldn’t make it up – I was flicking through a Kerrang! magazine I’d found in a pile for recycling in a solicitor’s office. I was 17, fresh out of secondary school, and doing work experience for a year before going to college. Green Day were on the cover and I had been going through a phase, so I opened it in search of their interview and found instead the greatest and most enduring musical love of my life.
My colleague Jacob Tender wrote a wonderful editorial last year about his discovery of Fall Out Boy and the way his life was forever changed by them. For me, that band was My Chemical Romance. News of their disbandment is bittersweet but also, oddly, easy to accept. My Chem defined much of my later teens and early twenties. Their albums effortlessly captured the mood of wherever I was in my life at the time they came out. I first fell into them because I was unhappy, and lonely, and disillusioned – the stereotypical small town girl frustrated by the dead-end parochialism of her surrounds. They gave me hope and comfort and introduced me to a world I’d never really known existed. When I look at my life now, it’s so markedly different from where I was then that it’s difficult to believe I’m the same person. In that sense, the ending of this chapter feels timely and fitting – this was a band that set out with a message and a mission, and for me at least they changed everything.
One of my colleagues challenged me on the notion that the band had left a legacy when I first pitched this editorial. It’s interesting that something that’s a complete no-brainer for me should be so unlikely to someone else. Admittedly, I’m coming from a biased perspective but I do firmly believe that My Chem have left an enduring legacy. For a band that didn’t really do anything groundbreaking with their music, they certainly made a lasting impression. There was nothing particularly innovative about fast-paced punkish rock inspired by influences as diverse as Iron Maiden, Black Flag, Morrissey and the Smiths. Neither was their use of make-up and costuming from the Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge era onward anything new. Yet, the band captivated the hearts and minds of a multitude of incredibly varied fans. Detractors may only think of the grandiose theatricality of The Black Parade when they hear the band’s name now, but in their earliest incarnation My Chem were as dark and rugged as they come. Their debut album I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love is incendiary – a gloomy, raw, consuming affair torn and haunted by bleak, bitter depression. It’s an astonishingly effective and intimate portrait of what it is to be so afflicted, from the agonised desperation of “Vampires Will Never Hurt You” to the gesticulating euphoria of “Headfirst for Halos” to the gnawing, hollow misery of “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville.” The band used metaphors and movie references in their lyrics, surreal characters and stories that brought to life the searing reality of being so utterly lost. Other bands had used make-up and symbolism, but there was something genuinely affecting in Gerard Way’s ghoulish wail. His descriptions of self-loathing and burning anger and festering disillusionment were profoundly and terribly human, and struck an immediate chord.
Humanism is something that lingered throughout the band’s work. I could write entire dissertations on Revenge, my favourite album, which for all its frenzied, explosive pace is at heart a response to the loss of the Ways’ grandmother. The lyrics, music and imagery on that album seared right into my soul as soon as I heard it – it’s like hearing a comic book on record, replete with all the atmospheric intensity and noir sophistication of visceral art. For me, nothing will ever top the guttural, breathtaking verse at the end of my favourite song, “It’s Not A Fashion Statement, It’s A Fucking Deathwish.” It doesn’t matter how far I go or what years have passed; hearing that heartfelt ode still gives me chills and transports me right back to rainy days and hopeful dreams. The Black Parade was lavish and overblown, but laden with the startling confessions of a singer who sought to be “just a man, and not a hero.” Their most candid song of all appears on this album – “Disenchanted”, the heart-rending response to detractors, fans, and their own silhouettes alike. Few among us cannot identify with the savage truth of a line like “I spent my high school career/spit on and shoved to agree/so I could watch all my heroes sell a car on TV.” Equally, the words “It was the roar of the crowd/that gave me heartache to sing/it was a lie when they smiled/and said you won’t feel a thing” summed up the drive and impetus that had started the band, as well as the relentless need to keep searching. My Chem were always looking for something in their music, and it was only with the iridescent neon lights of Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys that they seemed to find it. There’s a confidence, contentment, and sense of resolution to that album that distances it hugely from the others. The band were in another world once more, but it felt more than anything like they were having fun with it, instead of relentlessly pursuing some kind of escape from sorrow. There were lines that felt like triumphant responses to their critics (“this ain’t a room full of suicides”) and others that hinted at the real, comforting sense of purpose they had seemed to find in their personal lives (“if you stay/I would even wait all night…you can run away with me anytime you want”). Truthfully, I knew the end was coming as soon as I heard the opening lines of “The Kids From Yesterday” – “Now this may be the last of all the rides we take/So hold on tight and don’t look back.” That song was always a bittersweet listen, but it’ll be even more painful now for the cold hard honesty of the lyrics and what they say about where we are now compared to where we’ve been. “You only live forever in the lights you make/When we were young we used to say/That you only hear the music when your heart begins to break/Now we are the kids from yesterday.”
The kids from yesterday. It seems equally applicable to both the band and the fans. Many of the fans are still young (and the type of blind, steadfast devotion that goes with youth seems to account for more of the unjustified hatred levelled at the band than anything they actually recorded), but many more of us are a little more grown-up. Not entirely, but far removed from the rooms and lives we inhabited at the time the band came along. We’ve finished school, graduated college, taken our first tentative steps into the scary world beyond. I’ve escaped that dreary town and the cold grey mornings in that dismal office. I’ve been writing about music since college, a direct result of the passion My Chem stirred in me. The band themselves are husbands and fathers now. They’re successful and accomplished musicians, not the frustrated, struggling youths of 2001/2. It seems fair that they might deem the beautiful, emotional, towering adventure that was My Chemical Romance to have run its course. “Oh how wrong we were to think that immortality meant never dying.” For those of us now making our way in the adult world, we’ve learned or are learning to make it on our own. Whenever we need reassurance, the music is there, but the band gave many of us the comfort and confidence we needed to strike out alone.
Sure, you could discuss the break-up from a detached perspective, referencing musical evolution and loss of inspiration or even the various internet theories hatched immediately about escaping record contracts and rights to the band name. But that somehow seems to do the intensely personal aspect of My Chemical Romance disservice. I get business, I get the industry, I get legal issues (especially these). But from a fan’s perspective, as much as it hurts each time I realise I’ll never again have the exhilaration of pressing play on a new record, it does somehow feel like the right time to say so long and goodnight. The band fought endless battles with detractors, critics, and the media alike and for some they’ll never be more than a painted gimmick that outstayed their welcome. But for those of us with them in whole or in part over the past twelve years, they were the reason we made it out. The kids from yesterday, what we were, are, and hope to be. The words that made it all possible. The absolute adventure.
When you go, just know that I will remember you
I’ve lost my fear of falling
I will be with you.
Written by Grace Duffy