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Whether or not you would consider yourself a musician, the distinct and arguably iconic opening bar of My Chemical Romance’s ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ is the definition of zeitgeist, originating from the rock music revolution of 2006. 10 years on, looking back on The Black Parade shows the band’s perseverance and a musical craft that is often overlooked in the name of tarring My Chem with the ‘emo’ brush.
My Chemical Romance were, beyond any shadow of a doubt, an artistically genius rock band that sadly disbanded back in 2013. There is a very good reason why their name is still popular today. There is a very good reason why every year the date of their departure is celebrated and mourned across the world.
Best known for consisting of Gerard Way, Mikey Way, Bob Bryar, Frank Iero and Ray Toro, My Chemical Romance were a concept from beginning to the end of their reign. Each studio album was a carefully designed theme, from I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought me Your Love to Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. In 2006, the band saw their success take a positive turning point. The aforementioned zeitgeist came with the release of third studio album The Black Parade, which vocalist Gerard Way described as being the ‘pageantry’ rock music was devoid of at the time.
‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ is, in essence, a rock opera. Centered around ‘The Patient’, the album documents the life and times of the terminally ill character as he says goodbye to memories. The record was described by Way as being “a meditation on mortality”. A decade on, it has paradoxically proven itself to be immortal.
Second only to ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ in terms of popularity was ‘Teenagers’, a song which dominated popular Irish radio shows aimed at young people through 2006 and 2007, proving itself to be a far cry from the ‘emo’ label the band had been slapped with – and blamed for. A chronic misunderstanding of the rock sub-genre ran rampant following the death of a My Chemical Romance fan in 2008, though the ‘emo’ subculture has been criticised since the mid-1980s when it developed. Bands such as Good Charlotte (no, really), Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance were repeatedly charged by the court of the media as being a dangerous influence on teenagers.
A meditation on life is not akin to encouraging suicide or self-harm. There’s nothing dangerous about a music scene that encourages thought, introspection, friendship, individuality and creativity, or about a band that can prove themselves as timeless 10 years on in an ever-changing industry.
A few months ago, a promotional trailer was posted on the My Chemical Romance Twitter account that sent the world into a tizzy, as it seemed to be teasing a reuinion of some kind. These assumptions were incorrect, and it was announced that a 10th Anniversary special edition of The Black Parade would be released to celebrate MCR X, containing 11 previously unreleased demos and early versions of much-loved tracks. Listening back now, introductory track, ‘The End.’ seems to signify a foreshadowed finality the band would eventually reach – though Way has since confirmed that MCR were supposed to bow out on a high and hand over the emo crown at the end of the Black Parade tour cycle.
Listening to the lyrics of ‘The End.’, one can probably establish the basis for the scaremongering ‘emo’ fears that were part and parcel of MCR’s career, though delving past the surface, one can make alternative interpretations. A lyric like “When you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see / you can find out first hand what it’s like to be me” is superficially morbid, but considering the rock-opera character-driven context, the sentiment is basic developmental theory psychology. When a person reaches the end of their life, they are either satisfied with what they have achieved, or they are not. Similarly, the act of looking into a mirror forces the self to engage in introspection.
Lyrically, it is hugely apparent that MCR were careful and clever in their composition. Conceptually, there is no denying distinct Queen influences that permeate the entire record, particularly evident on ‘Kill All Your Friends’ and ‘The Five of Us Are Dying’ – which was an early version of ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ and indicates that the album was originally pointed in a very different direction.
Cycling through the remaining tracks, it’s a wonder that this album was never adapted for stage given how iconic it was for its time. The band temporarily shirked the MCR name and donned The Black Parade, with Way opting to crop his hair and dye it blonde. Black eyeshadow, eyeliner and military fashion influences defined this era and continue to define it for so many fans, past and present. There is no denying the heavy existence of a fanbase that vowed to carry on long after the death of The Black Parade, and of My Chemical Romance.