For years, the members of MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE languished in New Jersey
suburbs, immersing their active imaginations in comic books and punk rock, which
they then refined into a singular post-emo musical vision. Then gradually-almost
in service to their name-things started to fall apart. These days, they’re
driven by the centrifugal force of will to hold it together.

Story: Leslie Simon


Welcome to Odessa, Texas. More specifically, welcome to Dos Amigos Cantina,
an old horse stable turned restaurant/nightclub that boasts beef on the hoof,
the longest continuous bull-riding contest in the United States, and tonight,
surprisingly, the opening date of the Nintendo Fusion Tour starring Story Of
The Year, Letter Kills and New Jersey’s finest, My Chemical Romance. Sure,
the venue’s had its share of rock shows-like a confederate hootenanny
with David Allan Coe and a thunderous set by the Fabulous Thunderbirds-but
these big-city outsiders can’t help wondering whether this gig got booked
by mistake. Despite the backyard-barbecue decor (complete with picnic tables
and bare feet) and the pony-tailed, refrigerator-sized security guards packing
heat, everyone can sit back in their folding chairs and appreciate seeing mullets
and Wrangler Jeans frolic in their natural habitat.

As the sun begins to set, MCR take the stage-er, barn.
The audience throws up the requisite rock-show devil horns, starts jumping up
and down as if their feet were bungeed to a trampoline, and hoots and hollers
loud enough to make Willie Nelson proud. From the opening guitar riff of “Thank
You For The Venom” to the bitch-slap ballad “Ghost Of You,”
My Chemical Romance sound like they’re successfully penetrating middle
America. And for frontman Gerard Way-dapperly clad in a black suit with
a white and black horizontally striped tie smeared with spit, blood and sweat-who
once was kicked out of a rock band because he refused to sing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s
“Sweet Home Alabama,” this overwhelming roar of acceptance makes
the moment all the more sweet.

It’s truly a beautiful mess, much like the happy accidents
and unforeseen obstacles that have aided and threatened the band’s career.
The members of My Chemical Romance-singer Way, guitarist Frank Iero, guitarist
Ray Toro, bassist Mikey Way and drummer Bob Bryar-formed out of necessity
and lived out of urgency. They played in basements, recorded in attics and rode
to shows in the back of an AAA tow truck. They opened shitty shows for shittier
bands, and somewhere along the way made enough allies and enemies to fill the
Pére-Lachaise cemetery. Some drank away their sorrows until they almost
drowned, and others choked under the pressure. They refused to play by the rules,
so they invented their own game. In a scant three years’ time, the members
of MCR lived fast and almost died young.

There aren’t any celebrities in the crowd at the Odessa
gig. There aren’t any industry types piling into the green room, drinking
the band’s beer. There are no after-parties. There aren’t even any
drink tickets-not that the band members need them anymore. (After a trip
to Japan where Gerard got sloshed in translation, the energetic frontman kicked
the bottle, and a couple of other bad habits, cold turkey.) Amid at least algunos
cientos amigos at Dos Amigos, a member of the tour’s crew steps out of
the bathroom and into the makeshift backstage bar. Still buckling his pants,
he shakes his head in amazement, muttering to no one in particular, “It’s
like being trapped in a bad episode of Jerry Springer.” One question:
Was there ever a good episode of Springer?

Rewind 72 hours. Before My Chemical Romance conquered the Lone Star
State, they pillaged the City Of Angels. Thanks to their violent imagery and
horror-movie theatrics, the band have been asked for years about their participation
in the occult. “As much as we shy away from the vampire question, we know
where it’s coming from,” rationalizes Gerard. “It’s
coming from a whole fashion-scene, genre-esque thing that they’re trying
to find out about.”

But tonight, it looks like life is imitating art. After a 14-hour
international flight from London to Los Angeles, MCR are practically walking
zombies-and the fact that they’ve unintentionally stumbled into
an ’80s night at a sushi joint down the street isn’t helping. A
20-something waitress, probably an aspiring actress/model/future American Idol
contestant, shimmies up to the table wearing an almost nonexistent neon-green
ruffled mini and an infinitely deep V-necked hot-pink tank top, and practically
screams the specials to the band while Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”
plays in the background. “You guys over 21?” she barks. “Ya’ll
wanna do some sake bombs?” Everyone at the table looks at one another,
giggles, and politely declines. Gerard simply smiles, uncomfortably.

The band have just returned from a triumphant trip to the U.K.,
where Gerard and his gang of modern-day Charming Men were practically treated
like royalty. “British people really get black humor, and that’s
one of the strongest elements [of our band],” he waxes. “I think
they heard emo and wanted something different. We are kind of the ‘What
else you got?’ of emo.” MCR have traveled the world, seen a million
faces and rocked them all-but nothing compares to Jersey.

“Really, I don’t know anything other than Jersey,”
says Iero, leaning over a plate of soggy steamed vegetables and white rice.
“I like the congestion. I like the dirtiness of it. Now I’m getting
to see the world, and it’s great, but it’s not better than Jersey.”

With the exception of Bryar-who grew up just outside of
Chicago-the members of MCR-including founding member and original
drummer Matt “Otter” Pelissier, who was recently asked to leave
the band-call North New Jersey home. They still live with their parents,
and when they’re home (which isn’t very often), they still hang
out with the same friends and frequent the same haunts that inspired them to
write the songs on their Eyeball Records debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You
Brought Me Your Love.

“Me and Mikey couldn’t really play where we grew
up, which was pretty much the same story with everybody, because it was so fucking
dangerous,” says Gerard, a withdrawn child who was more interested in
drawing and making up stories than playing with other kids. “We had to
construct our own world we lived in constantly.”

The rough-and-tumble streets in and around Essex County, New
Jersey, shaped the band members, from childhood to young adulthood. “My
parents split up when I was pretty young, [and] my mom was kind of left to take
care of everything. There were times when we really couldn’t even afford
milk,” says Iero, who spent most of his younger years in and out of hospitals
because of bronchitis and severe ear infections. “I don’t know if
it’s because I don’t see home anymore or I’ll never change
my opinion on it. I wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world.”

Toro, a quiet kid who wasn’t interested in anything but
guitar, lived on a dead-end street on the border of Kearny and Harrison, New
Jersey. “There was definitely a funny collection of people who would hang
around my block,” he remembers with an awkward grin. “There was
this guy named Bertine who was this drug addict, who, every couple of months,
would OD outside my house. I would see an ambulance come and take him away.”

“Our parents were kind of scared to let us outside of
the house, because where we lived was pretty dangerous,” remembers Mikey,
Gerard’s little brother and partner in crime. Ask Donna Way, the boys’
mother, about Mikey’s first steps, and she’ll tell you he didn’t
start by walking; he’d watch his brother run, try to chase after him and
end up falling on his face. “We didn’t have anyone else to hang
out with. We had friends from the neighborhood, but it was mostly me and Gerard.”

“The way that Jersey is, it’s very sheltering,
and you don’t have to develop,” adds Gerard, perhaps thankful that
the Garden State is now a nice place to visit, but he wouldn’t want to
live there-anymore. “You don’t have to grow. It’s kind
of like this adolescence that lasts forever. I know 34-year-olds that still
live like they were in high school.”

If not for the band, Iero and Mikey would probably be college
graduates, Ray might still be delivering film, and Gerard would still be living
in his mom’s basement, trying to break into comics. It was the drive to
make a difference, the lust for a life less ordinary and a fateful day in September
that would eventually motivate five guys from the wrong side of town to form
what would become My Chemical Romance.

When the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001,
it was a time of self-reflection and reevaluation for the entire United States.
It was like a voice in everyone’s head perked up and said, “What
are you doing with your life? Are you happy? Are you where you want to be?”
At least, those were some of the inner conflicts Gerard Way was dealing with.
He was trying to sell an animated television series to the Cartoon Network called
The Breakfast Monkey. It was about a Scandinavian flying imp who talked like
Björk and harnessed a special power called Breakfast Magic, which meant
he could manipulate and create an assorted menu of breakfast food. Cartoon Network
turned down the pitch because they already had another food-related show in
production-Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Gerard was discouraged and wanted to
move his life in a new direction. “9/11 happened, and, literally, a week
later, the phone calls were made.” One phone call and an impromptu meeting
at Passaic’s rocker bar, the Loop Lounge, would eventually change Gerard’s
life forever.

“I ran into Matt at a bar and said, ‘You know what?
I’ve been writing songs. You’re not doing anything, and I’m
not doing anything, so let’s get together and give it a shot.’”
With a no-pressure commitment, Gerard played Pelissier a rough version of “Skylines
And Turnstiles,” and he liked what he heard. At the time, Gerard couldn’t
play guitar and sing at the same time, so the duo called on Toro, Pelissier’s
old high-school friend and former bandmate. “I talked to him that night
and said the same thing I had said to Matt: No strings attached; you don’t
have to say yes or no. Just come, check it out, and bring your guitar.”

The trio recorded a demo in Pelissier’s attic. “My
attic had no walls,” he says, laughing. “It was a wooden, run-down
piece of crap. I had a really cheap 16-track board, and we had a bunch of crappy
mics. I basically had the drums and guitars playing upstairs and ran mics down
the stairs and had Gerard sing in the bathroom.” What came out of those
sessions were the blueprints for “Our Lady Of Sorrows” (original
title: “Bring More Knives”), “Cubicles” and “Turnstiles.”
“You could hear that it was something really new, and it was kind of a
weird idea, but for some reason, as poorly as it was coming together, it really
worked,” remembers Gerard. “And a lot of people loved the demo.”
Including Mikey, who was so impressed that he decided to learn bass-having
never picked up the instrument-so he could play in the band with his brother.

At the time, Mikey was a fixture on the New Jersey music scene.
If there was a party, Mikey was there. And if there was an Eyeball Records party,
everyone was there. The house of Eyeball’s owner, Alex Saavedra, was a
funhouse decorated with horror-movie memorabilia, toys and comic book collectibles,
and soon became a punk-rock bed and breakfast of sorts, the meeting place for
some of Jersey’s most musically creative minds, including members of Saves
The Day, Midtown and Thursday.

“Sometimes the parties were totally impromptu. It was
just a bunch of guys at the house getting drunk, having fun, getting arrested
and having to go to jail,” remembers Thursday’s Geoff Rickly, who
ended up working closely with Saavedra, his roster of bands and, specifically,
My Chemical Romance. “Then there were these huge parties Alex would throw
that would be a few hundred people at the house. Half the Jersey scene would
be there. It would be everyone from the kids who’d go to the shows to
a lot of the bands to everyone who ran the clubs.”

It was this all-created-equal attitude that inspired a sense
of community within the scene. A band’s singer was no better than the
guy who was checking IDs at the door, who was no better than the 15-year-old
fan waiting after the show to get picked up by his or her parents. Mikey was
interning for Eyeball at the time, carrying equipment, putting up fliers and
basically doing anything to help out the scene he loved. It was out of his relationship
with Saavedra that Gerard was introduced to Rickly and asked to draw some designs
for Thursday’s T-shirts. “I was this hermit artist kid who was Mikey’s
weird older brother,” recalls Gerard, laughing. “I met Geoff outside
of a record store called St. Marks in Kearny, and I remember this really strange-looking
kid who looked like he was in Joy Division. He had a black mop; he looked emaciated
and pale-as-shit sick. But he was so nice, and we hit it off immediately.”

Although they met under the pretense of having a working relationship,
a deep friendship was born. “I remember at these parties Gerard coming
up to me and being really psyched on Thursday, having seen us and telling some
amazing stories about the way it made him feel,” recalls Rickly. “At
the time, I think he was sort of at a low point in his life. He would disappear
and not come out for a month and a half.”

Adds Saavedra, laughing, “[Gerard] would just smoke cigarettes
and draw Spider-Man all night long.”

“When you’d see him, he’d look just terrible,
just bummed out.” Rickly continues. “He told me one night that Thursday
gave him new hope and he was gonna start a band with his little brother. Not
that it was a joke, but I thought, yeah, they’re thinking about starting
a band, but how long does it take you before you actually start doing something
good? He would sit there and play me songs on one of Alex’s guitars that
was so hopelessly out of tune and broken with bad strings that I couldn’t
even tell what he was doing. But I was like, ‘I love you and your brother,
and sure, man; I’ll hang out. I’ll come to practice.’”

It was through a mutual friend that Gerard was introduced to
Iero, who was in the midst of making a name for himself with his band Pencey
Prep, who had already been signed to Eyeball. Pencey needed a band to share
their practice space, and MCR gladly accepted. “Pencey Prep, Thursday
and us would practice in the same room,” says Mikey, “which was
great, because you could just hang out and watch someone else’s practice,
do your own, share ideas [and] show people what was going on. It was awesome.”
Pencey eventually disbanded, and MCR adopted Iero as one of their own.

Back at the Eyeball house, at one of Saavedra’s infamous
ragers, Mikey played Alex the demo, and the label immediately added the band
to its roster. In early 2002, the band, Rickly and Saavedra trekked up to Nada
Studios in New Windsor, New York, to start recording Bullets. The sessions were
plagued by torrential storms and Gerard’s health problems, but somewhere
amid the madness, the band managed to craft 11 songs that would bookmark the
visual aesthetic and musical texture My Chemical Romance aspired to achieve.


“As soon as it came time for Gerard to do vocals for ‘Vampires [Will
Never Hurt You],’ this insane storm hit,” Saavedra remembers. “Gerard
was getting very frustrated because it was his first time recording, decently,
in an actual studio. He was overwhelmed and he was over-thinking it… So
I punched him in the face!” The blow loosened Gerard’s jaw and somehow
gave him the motivation to take to the mic and rip a bite out of the track.

Gerard laughs triumphantly. “I remember it hurting a lot,
and going, ‘All right, I hope I can do this.’ I remember singing,
and something clicked. I remember Alex’s face was just amazed that the
song was finally coming together. I think it was the second take that we ended
up using.”

Ask Gerard the best compliment he’s ever received, and
he’ll tell you what Rickly said after he heard a finished version of I
Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love: “Geoff told me the first
time that he had heard it, he was fucking terrified of what we were capable
of. He asked, ‘You ever heard of Ink & Dagger?’ I was like,
‘Not really. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen them
or heard them.’ He was like, ‘You need to go get some Ink &
Dagger, because it’s what you guys are doing-but you’re doing
it better.’”

Looking out the window of MCR’s room at the Hyatt on Sunset, you can see people pouring out of hotel bars and milling
around like denizens of an ant farm. The smells of car fumes, expensive perfume
and stale cigarettes waft through the air. The House Of Blues sits quietly across
the street, a silent reminder of a job well done. The band should be celebrating
after tearing up the place just three hours earlier. It may’ve been the
last leg of Face To Face’s string of farewell shows, but it was MCR’s
long-overdue welcome to the major league of rock. As members of New Found Glory,
the Bronx and H2O looked on, My Chemical Romance covered every inch of the stage
with their unique concoction of organic musicianship and raw machismo.

But instead, Iero, Toro, Bryar, Mikey and the rest of the crew
gather their duffle bags and guitar cases and load everything back into their
van. Tomorrow they’re playing a radio show in Phoenix, and a long drive
lies ahead of them. Their white, 15-passenger van is making an obnoxiously loud
grinding noise. Good thing a tour bus is meeting them in Arizona, because it’s
only a matter of miles before their beloved vehicle shits the bed.

Gerard passes up the drive and stays behind one more night in
Los Angeles. Sitting Indian-style on one of the room’s double beds, he
surveys his surroundings and sees that his bandmates have left the room a sty.
The floor is stained, littered with empty pizza boxes and ashtrays overflowing
with smashed cigarette butts, while someone’s unclaimed sweaty, dirty
underwear sits balled up in the corner. Gerard takes a deep breath and lights
a cigarette. It’s practically the only vice he’s got left.

For this enigmatic frontman who eats, drinks and sweats rock
’n’ roll, the past six months are a blur. Actually, they’re
more of a pill- and booze-induced haze. Since releasing MCR’s sophomore
album on Warner Bros., Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, nothing’s been
the same. Exceeding anyone’s expectations, the sales were bigger (Revenge
sold in one week what Bullets sold in nearly two years), the shows were bigger-and
the drinking problem that had been plaguing Gerard for years was now officially
out of control. “I can’t believe that they’re even still a
band,” says Rickly, incredulously. “Who can go from zero to 120
like that? I heard stories that Gerard was drinking so much and doing so many
drugs that I thought somebody’s gonna die; the band’s gonna fall
apart, and it’s gonna be awful.”

With an unyielding momentum, My Chemical Romance embarked on
the Vans Warped Tour ’04 and soon started making fans out of their idols,
like Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. “I wandered out into the crowd,
[MCR] started playing, and I got kind of the same feeling that I got going to
Naked Raygun shows,” Skiba remembers fondly. “They were so good
and sounded so great, and the energy exchange with the crowd was something that
I hadn’t seen in a long time. I had no choice. I had to start dancing.
My drink was full when I walked in there, and five seconds later, it was all
over a bunch of kids’ heads.”

Warped was one big traveling circus, and MCR were becoming the
star attraction. But the devastating heat, the overwhelming schedule and Gerard’s
increasing chemical addiction were starting to affect the band and their performance.
Rickly saw the self-destruction firsthand when both bands were on the tour and
he wondered if he should intervene.

“It weird to say, because they’re a band and they
can do what they want”-Rickly pauses-“but those are
our friends. You don’t want to see them get sucked into something you’ve
had your band sucked into.” At the height of the band’s success
on Warped, Gerard was going through $150 worth of illegal pills per month, mostly
Xanax, and drinking a bottle of vodka every day to day and a half.

“I worked out a system,” Gerard says as he takes
a swig from his bottle of VitaminWater, “where if we played at noon, I
was basically just hung over, still drunk probably from the night before. If
we were playing at 1 or 2, I was already drunk.

If [I wasn’t] fully drunk, then I was trying to get drunk
at any signings we had to do. After that, I would continue to get drunk well
until the [day’s tour stop] was done, until bus call. Bus call would come,
or sometimes before it, and I would pop a bunch of Xanax and basically be cracked
out. It was the only thing at that point that would put me to sleep and shut
my brain off.”

The name My Chemical Romance was no longer homage to Irvine
Welsh’s book, Ecstasy: Three Tales Of Chemical Romance; it was now Gerard’s
mantra. The band jumped off Warped’s traveling punk-rock circus in mid-July,
and immediately embarked on a co-headlining tour with Senses Fail. Both bands
were sharing a tour bus and partying it up, but things went too far on a tour
stop somewhere in the Midwest.

“I had gone to see the Killers and got really drunk,”
recalls Gerard. “I found a way to get cocaine, and I bought a whole fucking
eight ball and pretty much did the whole fucking thing. I did so much cocaine
that I was in the middle of the street, throwing up everywhere. My head was
pounding; it felt twice its size. All the veins in my head felt like they were
going to explode. The next day, I woke up, and I was more suicidal that morning
than I had ever been in my entire life-and it was completely amazing to
me.

“Nobody in my band knew,” he adds. “I had a really good way
of hiding stuff.”

Or if they did know, they certainly didn’t acknowledge
it as a problem. “I think I was accepting because I was equally bad as
he was at one point,” explains Mikey. “I was even worse than him
at some points early on in the band’s career. I thought it’d be
really hypocritical to say, ‘Put that vodka down!’”

“Any time you mix drinking with narcotics, something bad
can happen,” adds Iero. “And depression-mixing the three of
them is really bad. Every time you do it, it changes your whole body chemistry.
When we were touring, no one really thought about it, because we were all doing
it together.”

After making a call to his manager, who talked him down for
the next three hours, Gerard managed to snap out of his suicidal stupor in time
to finish the tour and head back to Jersey to regroup-but not for long.
The band were scheduled to leave for Japan, the one place Gerard ever wanted
to visit, and the one place he feared he wouldn’t return from.

“I was terrified,” he remembers. “All I did
was sweat two days before Japan. I sweat buckets, drank and loaded up on my
pills for the trip.” He loaded up on liquor at the airport bar, popped
a whole bar of Xanax and woke up in a completely different country. Doped up
and unsure how he even made it through customs, Gerard was on autopilot. He
overindulged in sake, entertained more thoughts of ending his life and played
two of the largest shows of the band’s career completely wasted.

“My intention was to make it a memorable experience for
everyone, and I did,” he says with a shrug and a sheepish grin. “But
it’s kind of like making a deal with the devil. I sure made it a memorable
experience for everyone-but in the worst possible way.”

“It’s weird, because usually, when we’re playing,
me and Gerard can look at each other and no matter what’s going on, I
can pull back to it and go for it,” says Iero. “When I looked for
him [in Osaka] and he was underneath the stage being drunk, I just wanted to
[put my guitar down] and go.”

“I walked offstage and I threw up for 45 minutes straight
in this garbage can, like I had never thrown up before,” Gerard says as
he lights another cigarette. “I puked everything out. The whole band was
there, and I was sitting on the couch in the corner. Ray turns to Brian [Schechter,
the band’s manager] and says, ‘You need to get him to the doctor.
Listen to him. He’s not doing well. There’s something wrong with
him. He’s really sick.’ Sitting there, I still have vomit all over
myself, and I just thought this has to be the end. I was still really suicidal
and depressed, but I was just like, I have to stop drinking. I don’t know
how, but this has to be the end.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got
back to the U.S.,” Gerard continues. “I got off the plane and was
really upset. I knew what was going to happen to Otter, and I think that’s
another reason why I was really upset. I said goodbye to him and knew that I
probably was not going to see him again. At the same time, I didn’t know
if I was going to be alive the next day. I said goodbye to everybody and I had
tears in my eyes because I wasn’t really sure if I was going to see anyone
in my band again.”

“The last time I saw or heard from Gerard,”
says Pelissier, “it was when I gave him a hug at the airport.” While
Gerard was dealing with getting clean, MCR were struggling with an even larger
challenge-building up the courage to ask their drummer to leave the band
he helped start.

“It was like the moment that you break up with someone
you’ve been dating for three or four years that you used to love in the
beginning of the relationship and things went sour, but for some reason you’re
still together,” explains Toro, who, along with the band’s manager,
went to Pelissier’s house to break the news.

Pelissier, who now works as a mechanic back in Jersey, is still
searching for answers, insisting “I was flat-out told the only reason
I’m being kicked out of the band is because ‘We
don’t feel comfortable with you onstage anymore because one, you don’t
play to the click track, and two, those couple times you messed up, we just
don’t feel comfortable.’ Even though Gerard was drunk every night
and messed up every night-” his voice trails off. “They haven’t
even made a formal announcement, and they keep avoiding the subject.”

“People probably thought it was weird that we didn’t
make any kind of statement beforehand or really talk about what happened,”
Toro responds, carefully. “It must’ve been weird for people to notice,
‘Wow! One of the members who started the band and has been in the band
for three years is now gone, and they haven’t said anything.’ The
main reason why we decided to do that is because we didn’t want to get
into a pissing match, and we didn’t want to have this sort of

he-said, she-said bullshit.

“There are obviously things that went along with that
[decision],” Toro continues, “like a lack of getting along with
him and a lack of being able to play songs the same way every night. But the
main reason was that we weren’t having fun being in the band… He
had to have known in his heart-whether he’ll admit or not-that
he wasn’t performing up to the way we needed to perform. You had to have
been fucking blind to not see the relationship problems between each of us and
him-that we just didn’t get along. When I started getting into the
reasons of why we made the decision, he just walked away. That was the last
time I spoke to him.”

Pelissier, obviously, doesn’t see things the way his
former bandmates do. “I had Ray come up to me once or twice and ask me
to play to a click track [a metronome-type machine that helps a drummer keep
time] live, and I said no. Pretty much no drummer does, because it takes away
the whole live feeling. And that was it. I got back from Japan, and only Ray
came to my house with [manager] Schechter. It’s like your whole world
comes crashing down, after I gave everything I ever did, everything I ever owned
to make sure that band would survive, and that’s the thanks I get.”

While Pelissier dealt with the blow, the rest of the band had
to find a replacement. Enter well-respected soundman and secret MCR wannabe
Bryar. “It was at Irving Plaza, maybe a year and a half ago, and My Chemical
Romance [were playing with] Finch and the Used,” recalls Bryar. “My
Chem finished playing, and I walked into the back and said something to [their
manager] like, ‘I wish I could do that.’&