So here we are. One month. 30 days. 720 hours. 43,200 minutes. 2,592,000 seconds until My Chemical Romance make their widely anticipated return to the live arena at the Shrine in Los Angeles.
Breaking down MCR’s return from the ether into seconds makes it feel like a punishing eternity, doesn’t it? You know what else feels like that? The years since their breakup, where packs of trend mongrels have spent a lot of time parading around, masquerading as, claiming and demanding themselves to be the “real,” “authentic” manifestations of rock music.
Obviously, there is nothing to be gained from this writer naming names and identifying purported enemies of rock. In the time MCR have gone, we—as tribes on various stone formations on the vista of musical culture—have been handing out participation trophies for the most banal stuff.
Our punk rock is all beards, feelings and craft beer enthusiasm. EDM is more coding than genuinely corrosive. Metal is all Boss pedals stomped on by future tendonitis sufferers of the world. The bulk of our singer-songwriters are definitely authentic, all right. Authentically boring.
Maybe it was the stultifying culture of New Jersey. Perhaps it was the weariness of tough-guy hardcore. Maybe it was those goddamn comic books that sparked their imaginations like Dobermans with skulls too small to contain all the subconscious dreams in their brain mass. To launch MCR, Gerard Way, Mikey Way, Frank Iero and Ray Toro knew their rock history as much as they did sci-fi/fantasy/graphic novel escapism. By combining the exuberance they felt from all those quarters, they distilled a highly searing artistic napalm that, when it stuck to you, it wasn’t coming off. Ever.
Through bravery, abject terror or unmitigated arrogance (usually the byproduct of what follows when all semblance of patience toward demanding people has eroded), MCR triumphed. At its absolute best, their reconvening means that things in music are poised to get very exciting again. Because really, if you were there at any stage of their initial run, it always was.
MCR weren’t so much a band as they were a philosophy centered on possibilities. They gave us storylines, characters and visually arresting art. They delivered both hardcore history lessons, stuff that made elderly guitar nerds squeal and babble terms such as “fretboard acrobatics” and insurmountably gave multiple generations of music fans the thing they didn’t know they were looking for in the first place.
Their landmark record, The Black Parade, repackaged classic-rock signifiers with a sense of menace and contemporary energy. And it was sold back to fans identifying as “punks,” the mortal enemies of bands such as Journey, Boston, Styx, Kansas and Foreigner, ad nauseam. Their last album, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys, came with a nod to ’70s Detroit proto-punk (“Party Poison”) and more synthesizers than a Trent Reznor-designed man cave (“Planetary (GO!)”). And it fucking worked.
Admittedly, this writer never saw them lay tracks for any record in a studio. But it’s quite obvious that during the making of any of their albums, there was always the recurring questions of “Why not?” and “How about this?” Since then, so many rock records feel like they were produced by venture capitalists, in comparison.
Noted actor/comic/author Steve Martin once famously said in his early stand-up routine, “We’ve had some fun tonight, considering we’re all gonna die someday.” The Danger Days track “The Kids From Yesterday” is a melancholy treatise about how maybe the ride off into the sunset isn’t going to be as romantic as Hollywood made you think. As the working relationships began to atrophy and My Chem dismantled the California studio that would be the vibe lab for what would be LP5 (The Paper Kingdom), their epitaph was to be the only completed track, “Fake Your Death.”
Like every other media outlet, we’re all trying to get the first story on the Really Big Comeback. “Why now, Gerard?” “Where you been, Ray?” “Mikey, why didn’t you sign my shirt when you played with Waterparks at Warped?” And, of course, “Frank, dude! How’d you let yourself get served by a Jonas brother?” It’s like the slightly hipper version of working for those supermarket tabloids. Because we all know that the story behind My Chemical Romance’s reconvening is far more exciting, uplifting and bracing than why Blake won’t marry Gwen.
Or is it? Because in typical MCR form, the question of “Why now?” feels positively inert. Perhaps the larger, genuine story is why their legend has only grown in their absence. Why does adulation for this band seemingly transgress social strata into the unlikeliest quarters? The elder goth pressed against the barricade alongside the dude rockin’ Supreme and his 14-year-old sister with “KILLJOY” written on her forehead in glitter glue stick. The bitter elderly punk dude in the Naked Raygun T-shirt who started air-guitaring to “Na Na Na” next to the pack of riot grrrls with cats eye sunglasses falling off their pogoing faces. That’s so beyond music. That’s magic.
Gerard famously said all those years ago, “I didn’t come here to be average.”
While everybody else stays home, the revolution needs its heroes. My Chemical Romance know this implicitly. And this is precisely why we care.