I was first exposed to My Chemical Romance whilst sitting in the back of a very hot, stuffy car in the middle of Morocco. My sister and I were sharing earphones and listening to her old iPod video in a desperate attempt to make a long car journey more endurable.
I experienced my first love that summer.
From their emotional lyrics to the catchy guitar riffs, and the amazing theme that was The Black Parade, I couldn’t believe my ears. It was the first time since Avril Lavigne’s Let Go and Busted’s self-titled album that I just couldn’t stop listening to one album. Needless to say my sister didn’t see much of her iPod for the rest of that holiday.
To this day The Black Parade remains one of my ultimate favourite CDs for many reasons. The first is that there is not one weak song on the album – all are fully rounded, carefully polished in terms of lyrics and instrumentals, and range completely in the emotions they evoke. Secondly, it is quite rare for a band to have a themed album and be that devoted to it, staying in character during their concerts and sporting marching band attire at all times.
After that summer I made my dad buy me their other two albums at the time and though I wasn’t a huge fan of I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, I loved Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge again, mainly for the album theme and aesthetic. This was important to me as it brought two of my greatest passions together: music and dressing up. I thought this was innovative, and made me feel like the hobby that I had been made fun of for enjoying was actually something to be proud of.
The more I listened to their music the more I became interested in the people who created it. As much as I looked up to all the members (and still do), Gerard Way stood out. He was just the coolest human being ever by being paradoxically the geekiest. After being kicked out of high school bands as a guitarist for not being good enough, he turned to art instead. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, being particularly interested in comic books. He was in fact working at Cartoon Network when 9/11 happened, which is what prompted him to get back into music and start a band. His passion for art was why, when he started My Chemical Romance, he drew their artwork and was so dedicated to the themes he assigned to his albums. To an awkward and talentless pre-teen like me, this already made him the bee’s knees.
One of the greatest reasons I admire Gerard Way however, is because of what he has overcome and his relentless positive attitude towards life despite many obstacles. As a teenager, he was overweight and made fun of by his peers, which is clearly reflected in the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I promise)”. Then when he went to art school, he struggled with his gender identity and even dressed up in drag for some of his classes. When asked about his gender identity on a reddit AMA he said “I have always identified a fair amount with the female gender, and began at a certain point in MCR to express this through my look and performance style. So it’s no surprise that all of my inspirations and style influences were pushing gender boundaries. Freddy Mercury, Bowie, Iggy, early glam, T-Rex. Masculinity to me has always made me feel like it wasn’t right for me.”
Later on in his career, he admitted to suffering from depression and alcoholism as well as addiction to narcotic and prescription drugs. There were even shows where his trousers fell down without him noticing. In one his famous interviews with NME, he said that around the time MCR toured Japan, he had been “addicted to self-destruction” and that he “didn’t think I was coming back”. Not only did he overcome all these issues, but he was very open about them and, in doing so, helped his fans. He was known for giving powerful speeches at concerts: “We’ve always told you, if things feel so desperate, and you’re so hurt, you’re so depressed, you find some person you trust to talk…even though we’re all outcasts in our own way, we all do belong in this world” It has even been reported that he stopped a show because he noticed a girl in the audience self-harmed and asked her to never hurt herself again. Repeatedly in his shows, he has asked his audience to “never resort to violence” no matter what situation they’re in; one of his most famous quotes includes: “no kid should ever feel like they deserve the cuts on their wrists”. It was no surprise when fans claimed that “MCR saved my life”, because for some, they did – through their lyrics, through their alternative style, or simply because it gave them something to be passionate about.
A significant reason why Gerard Way still remains one of my idols, and was such an inspiration to many teenagers, is because of his humbleness. Unlike many other rock stars and frontmen, he never took himself too seriously, undermined other artists, or tried to be something he wasn’t. He has said in the past: “I looked in the mirror and I was like ‘You’re still uncool’ and I was really happy with that revelation and you’re never going to be cool so stop trying.” As a teenager, that quote really stuck with me because I was neither popular nor unpopular, just sort of there, and it made me realise that didn’t matter. As long as I was happy with who I was, I didn’t need other people’s approval.
With their release of Danger days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, the band had a complete make-over. No longer dressed head to toe in black and eyeliner, they now sported colourful bandanas, leather jackets, and masks. Despite a lot of backlash from their fans, they stuck to their (ray)guns and not only changed their look, but their musical style to a more positive and defiant one. In doing this they taught me something else: it’s okay to change and evolve as a person, and you should not apologise for it. Since The Black Parade, they all ended up having girlfriends or families and generally seemed a lot happier. As a child of divorce, this gave me hope and so, despite the musical change, I found myself being happy for them. When they later broke up in 2013, I eventually accepted it because I knew they were happy. I had grown up with them, and they had been a big part of my teenage years, but in a Toy Story 3-esque fashion, I said goodbye.
A year later when Gerard then announced he was releasing his solo album, “Hesitant Alien” I was both confused but thrilled. This meant he had not only not given up, but was also in a better place. Though I do not like his solo work as much as I did My Chemical Romance, his resilience, bizarre tweets, and talent continue to amaze me.
For all these reasons, Gerard Way was and will always be one of my heroes.