My Chemical Romance: The last most important band on the planet
On Friday night, My Chemical Romance called it quits. The ending came neither with a bang nor a whimper—the collective’s exit from this musical mortal coil arrived in the form of a simple statement from their publicist followed by a dreamy ultra-tweet from the mind of frontman Gerard Way.
Considering how many extra-emo mosh pits and teary heart-clutching shout-alongs this band inspired over its 12-year career, there probably should have been a bit more drama at the end. This was a grown-up breakup, one clearly considered after adult conversations and carefully considered repercussions. That’s a sign of growth and maturity, which had no place in the My Chemical Romance mythology. Perhaps that’s why they had to break up.
That’s not a knock—more than almost any other band formed after the millennium, My Chemical Romance presented themselves as a truly important group. Obviously, music was a necessary conduit for the members of the group, especially for Way, who always seemed to be on the verge of a breakdown unless he was able to get on stage and purge himself of his demons night after night. But My Chem also carried the weight of salvation for their fans. Those followers, known affectionately as the MCRmy, placed their favorite band at the center of the universe and revolved all other interests around it.
There’s an awful lot of MCR-related tattoos out there, and the fan sites out there number in the hundreds. They regularly dominated MTV’s annual fan-driven Musical March Madness tournament, even during fallow periods. (It’s poetic that they were eliminated in the first round the same weekend they announced their disbanding.) Just look at the overwhelming reaction that spread across Twitter when the news was announced—you would have thought their followers had lost a beloved family member or one of their own limbs.
Way was an excellently of-his-time rock star; he wasn’t that much older than the kids who worshiped at his face-painted altar, and both he and his audience were suddenly thrust into a brave new world following the 9/11 attacks (Way, a New Jersey native, often cited that event as the catalyst for starting a band). He had an obvious charisma and presence, but he was also a Dungeons & Dragons playing nerd who missed his grandma. He wore his heart on his sleeve and worried about being crushed under the weight of his own feelings—the mark of a true emo kid, not just somebody who was singing extra-passionately about his relationships because that’s what was on the chart that week.
Because of all those extremes colliding at once, My Chemical Romance actually mattered to the people that loved their music. Over the course of my career, countless frontmen have told me stories about meeting fans who claimed that said artist’s music “saved my life.” In MCR’s case, it was easy to believe those stories were absolutely true.
The Twitter tributes to the band over the weekend kept bringing back words like “salvation” — and though that sort of hyperbole gets thrown around about willy-nilly (I’m sure there are people who believe deeply in the power of, I don’t know, Harvey Danger or the Toadies) in the Twitterverse, having spent a great deal of time speaking to the band and hanging around their fans, I have to say that passion feels absolutely genuine.
When MCR were at their peak, I was working at Spin, and we put the band on the cover three times in 20 months (June 2005, March 2006, and February 2007). In between those covers, there were also countless other stories written about them, which led to me interviewing Way approximately 32,000 times during my tenure. I also spent a lot of time talking to kids at My Chem shows. The band—and Way in particular—created a very specific subculture, one that was open-minded, supportive, and cathartic.
Even as the band got huge (and they were massive right around the time The Black Parade dropped—they played “Welcome to the Black Parade” on the roof of Rockefeller Center before the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards and sold 240,000 copies of their sophomore album right out of the gate), they never lost sight of just how intense their fans’ devotion to them was. And though it gave Way pause, he never shied away from it. “Sometimes, honestly, I feel like we’re moderating a support group,” Way told Spin in 2007. “We tap into dark stuff from the high school years, and it’s our responsibility to bring kids to a positive, nonviolent solution.”
And while plenty of first wave emo acts were providing that sort of relief, none did it on the scale of My Chemical Romance, who filled arenas and moved over five million albums over the course of their career. They were a big band playing huge songs about very personal, intimate ideas, and they let everybody in.
Over the past few months, the band has been slowly releasing the songs recorded for a project called Conventional Weapons, which was supposed to be the follow-up to The Black Parade. They scrapped that album in favor of the glammy Dangers Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. And while Danger Days is an awesome (and underrated) album, Conventional Weapons seems like the appropriate exit music for the band. The definitive track is “Ambulance,” whose chorus goes, “If you save my life, I will be the one who drives you home tonight.”
That’s My Chemical Romance in a nutshell: Trouble, salvation, small miracles, and a ride back to safety. They offered up spiritual solutions to real problems, and they did it with huge riffs and big theatrical stage shows, with rarely a hint of irony or detachment. That’s why they mattered, and that’s why it’s unlikely there will ever be a band quite like them again.
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