Goodbye then, My Chemical Romance. The melodramatic pop-punkers – Queen Day, you might say – have spent the last three days splitting up with a similar dramatic flourish and attention to new media that David Bowie used to announce his return at the start of the year. A simple, and surprise blog posting emerged on the weekend, followed up Monday morning by a series of tweets and messages from band members. It’s been a split defined by the kind of drama which fuelled and, you suspect, destroyed them.
Drama is what MCR was about. It could hardly not be, formed after comic-book writer Gerard Way witnessed 9/11 and decided to quit drink and drugs and do something different. His solution was to form an at-first clunky rock band in the post-hardcore, pop-punk vein of the early-noughties.
They weren’t all that good at first. But Way, coupled with his brother Mikey plus a few talented friends, turned out to have a knack for both melody and theatre, and those twin talents would go on to outdo the band’s early limitations. By their second record, ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’, they were onto something. And his weakness for wearing his heart on his sleeve (writing a song called ‘I’m Not Okay…I Promise’) brought along a connection with a rudderless generation that not even they could have predicted. And I don’t think they did.
It was around this time that I first got friendly with MCR. We were all rockers with a taste for drama. They reminded me a lot of the Manic Street Preachers, but with an LA machine behind them. Even then, I could not have predicted what was to come. Their third record ‘The Black Parade’ was a ridiculous rock opera, snarked at by plenty of the media because, as Gerard admitted in the band’s suicide note on Monday, “I was most likely dressed as an apocalyptic marching-band leader with a tear-away hospital gown and a face covered in expressionist paint.”
But it housed the band’s most incredible tunes to date, and lead single ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ hit the UK number one. Between this and a bottling at the Reading Festival, Daily Mail journalist Sarah Sands wrote a scaremongering editorial warning parents about the sinister new suicide cult of emo. It was illustrated by a photo of Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan, her character then in the throes of a goth phase. Even Pete Doherty’s worst excesses cannot surpass that moment as the last major incidence of a proper rock generation gap. A pessimist might wonder whether music fans will ever wage war with the papers in quite the same way again.
The band were careful to comment on the scandal only so much. They were quick to denounce a ‘bullshit war’ from the stage, while filling their interviews with messages imploring depressed youth not to kill themselves. It might sound obvious, but nobody else was doing it. In the UK, in May 2008, the MCRmy marched on London. 14-year-old Tabitha Reed told The Guardian: “I love MCR, it saves lives. The Daily Mail are liars and all they want to do is put the youth against the adults; they just hate us and it’s really unnecessary, it’s just wrong.”
With vox pops like that, you don’t really need to say much else yourself.
But like all great moments in time, it ended. The band were no strangers to drama themselves – the behind-the-scenes panics are still well-protected. But they took too long to follow up ‘The Black Parade’. It’s equally high-concept, post-apocalyptic follow-up ‘Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys’ didn’t exactly tank (they headlined Reading off the back of it) it was clear that those teenagers had grown up a little. They didn’t need saving anymore, and the likes of me, who appreciate a nice costume change as much as a killer riff, weren’t in enough supply to keep the band as the force they once were.
So it’s not too much of a surprise that they’ve called it a day. Last I saw Gerard he was more interested in his friendship with fellow writer Grant Morrison than who Pitchfork were buzzing on. They’d just headlined Leeds but we mainly talked about Doctor Who. He for one, already a successful comic-book writer in his own right, thanks to his superhero series The Umbrella Academy, has a bright future as a potential new Stan Lee.
The suicide note hints darkly that the recovering alcoholic slipped back into “old habits”. But the point is, this band was about fiction. Just like Bowie, they created a fantasy so grand that any business about their business was none of ours. And we didn’t need to know. The quality of their songs was probably just an accident. This band were about the list of things Gerard wrote in that suicide note: “Fiction. Friction. Creation. Destruction. Opposition. Aggression. Ambition. Heart. Hate. Courage. Spite. Beauty. Desperation. LOVE. Fear. Glamour. Weakness. Hope.” What else is there?