It’s funny to me, that as I start this piece, that when I mentioned I was listening to My Chemical Romance on my Facebook, that someone would make a comment about self-harm in regards to the band and it’s music. Not only is this a very myopic reading of the band, and it’s lyrics, it’s something that warranted me writing this in the first place.
When it comes to bands, MCR, is a band I have no problem defending. I can understand, always, when someone just isn’t into the music the band is making. I get it. That happens to me, more often than not. Personally, I felt the same way in regards to MCR back when I was a younger fellow. It took something personal for me to really connect with the band. It was the summer of 2006, and while I had spent the few years before this giving my best friend grief for his love for the band (we don’t speak about it at all, but the friend is Justin who makes an appearance on Episode 3 of the podcast), all because I had the perspective that they were a lame “EMO” band. I really had nothing to base my opinion on, as I had never given the group a fair shake.
Then I found out my grandmother had cancer.
And for some reason, I popped in the band’s latest album The Black Parade. I can’t even recall what my motivation was for giving the album a try. But it connected with me in the strongest way. So, much so, that it is still a record I listen to, to this day. I don’t often call albums near-perfect, but this album is near-perfection. It’s a band musically, and lyrically, firing on all cylinders. Everything comes together. Whether it’s the tongue-in-cheek opener The End, followed quickly, by the even more satirical Dead! Gerard Way, and crew, are taking you on a journey of human emotion. And that journey is the exploration of death.
Gerard Way has stated that the image that stuck with him, while exploring the lyrical themes, was this concept of everyone seeing something different when they died. Usually a memory from childhood. And thus, our protagonist sees a parade that his father took him to. The black parade comes to greet him into death. This could be hindsight, especially in regards to the band, but Gerard Way has proven himself to me as a capable storyteller. His work in comics has been some of the most unique to make its way into the medium. It’s also a compliment to have Grant Morrison sight the album as impactful on the work he was doing at the time.
I see you lying next to me/With words I thought I’d never speak/Awake and unafraid/Asleep or dead
And my grandmother beat cancer. But I remember, while she struggled, listen to Famous Last Words and my heart-breaking at the thought of my grandfather, waking up, and seeing the women he loved asleep, and possibly dead. These words, this music, hit on a personal level I was anticipating. And I wish this story had a more happy ending.
When you go/Would you even turn to say/I don’t love you/Like I did/Yesterday
The album would once again help me when my grandmother, out of the blue, died on March 3rd 2014. I was lucky enough to get 8 more years to spend with her but to have it hit us, the way it did, is something I can’t describe, but I know that anyone reading this, would understand. And the day I got back home after saying goodbye to her, I put on The Black Parade. Music helps. It comforts. It makes us understand. Sometimes it’s just the words themselves.
When I was a young boy/My father/Took me into the city/To see a marching band/He said son when you grow up/Would you be/The savior of the broken/The beaten and the damned?
I never knew my father. I’m baring my soul even given you that info, but I feel it’s important to the conversation. Anyone who knows me, understands that I get my empathy and compassion from my mother. I give a shit about people because something wired in my brain can’t stand to see people make lesser out of our fellow human beings. It’s become a joke to myself. I’m an anarchist who gives a shit about other people. But more importantly I care about the beaten and the damned. Those who are looked down upon who didn’t have the fortune of being born in my circumstances.
This is what connects me to The Black Parade, on an even deeper personal level. My dad liked people, he just wasn’t good at anything. He wasn’t a good father, or husband. But that didn’t mean he didn’t give a shit about other people. He just failed at it. As someone who has been compared (in attitude, and looks) to this father, that he never knew, I (at 25) imagined this scenario between myself and my dad. He wanted me to look out for the misfortunate, and he wanted me to be a better man than him until my death.
Turn away/If you could get me a drink/Of water ’cause my lips are chapped and faded/Call my Aunt Marie/Help me gather all my things/And bury me in all my favorite colors/My sisters and my brothers still/I will not kiss you/ ‘Cause the hardest part of this is leaving you
Hopefully, I won’t get in trouble for sharing this story, but I feel that context helps. My wife (who you can hear on multiple shows, and even has her own podcast All Booked Up), relayed playing the song Cancer for her mom. “But the hardest part of this, is leaving you” was almost verbatim, what my wife’s dad had said to her mom while he layed in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. Hearing those words struck her. Someone was relating an experience she understood, even if the music wasn’t something she immediately connected with. She knew those words, and they touched her heart. You’ll have to ask her for better context, but everytime we listen to The Black Parade, Shoe will mention how Disenchanted is her parents relationship in song form. Obviously, Gerard Way doesn’t know her parents. But good lyricists, and musicians, are able to tap into that collective consciousness and relay something back to us.
Well I was there on the day they sold the cause for the queen/and when the lights all went out/we watched our lives on the screen
And that’s exactly was My Chemical Romance does with The Black Parade, hell, I’ll say they did it over the entirety of their existence as a group. Whether it was through the pop-rock lens of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, or the dystopian pop of Danger Days, the band has always tried to comment on the human condition. After all this was a band that was birthed out of Gerard Way personally watching the World Trade Center go down on 9/11 while on the commute to his internship at DC/Vertigo Comics. So while it’s easy to dismiss the band as some sort of ugly emo personification (and I get it, their fans sometimes don’t help this), I came to believe in what Gerard, Ray, Mikey, and Frank were trying to convey in their art. It’s all about us having the same experience as humans, something we are desperately in need of if the current administration is any indication. We need to be able to talk about shared emotions, grief, happiness, and music is definitely one of the stepping stones that allows us to do that. So, go out, pick up My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, sit in a room by yourself, think of your story, read the lyrics, and let the band speak to you.