The posts, ambiguous and cryptic at first, started popping up on Facebook early last Friday. Most of them came with a picture of young men in makeup, with dyed spiky hair, dressed in slightly ravaged military-style jackets, like some post-apocalyptic version of Adam & the Ants.
One message showed such a picture, with the text “heavy sigh – we will never forget you” typed beneath it. I started to put it all together, just as the news seemed to explode across the social mediasphere – alternative/emo outfit My Chemical Romance had broken up. No one had died; there didn’t appear to have been some interband squabble; no one appeared to have swallowed the ego pill, suffering beneath the delusion that they were the big star in the band, and needed to drop the dead weight and make a solo album.
No. My Chemical Romance broke up because the band members simply felt the group had reached its sell-by date.
I can’t say I experienced any emotional upheaval over this revelation. I was never very much a fan of the band. The music – a grandiloquent and bombastic commingling of pop-punk tendencies and the sort of vocalizing that might best be described as an incessant whine – never hit home with me. (Though it clearly hit home with a broad listenership, whose members purchased millions of the group’s four studio albums.) I thought MCR was a better band than the similar Fall Out Boy, certainly. But that’s not saying much.
I caught the group, fronted by singer Gerard Way, in concert a number of times, and did note a widening of the musical scope with the 2006 concept album “The Black Parade.” Still, I would not classify myself as a fan.
In fact, my favorite My Chemical Romance song isn’t really a song at all – it’s a tweet. Way penned and posted this tweet, on Monday morning, apparently after reflecting on Friday’s announcement over the weekend. Reading, I felt strongly that this was the finest piece of art Way had yet produced. It’s thoughtful, provocative, a little bit narcissistic. But most significantly, it raises some serious issues regarding the mass consumption of popular music – issues of musical and personal integrity, and the idea of walking away without turning back when the time comes to do so.
“(A)ll of the things that made us great were the very things that were going to end us,” Way writes.
“Fiction. Friction. Creation. Destruction. Opposition. Aggression. Ambition. Heart. Hate. Courage. Spite. Beauty. Desperation. Love. Fear. Glamour. Weakness. Hope. Fatalism.
“That last one is very important. My Chemical Romance had, built within its core, a fail-safe. A doomsday device, should certain events occur or cease occurring, would detonate. I shared knowledge of this ‘flaw’ within weeks of its inception. Personally, I embraced it because ... it made us perfect. A perfect machine, beautiful, yet self aware of its system. Under directive to terminate before it becomes compromised. To protect the idea – at all costs. This probably sounds like something ripped from the pages of a four-color comic book, and that’s the point. No compromise. No surrender. No [expletive]. To me that’s rock and roll. And I believe in rock and roll.”
Whoa, now. So Way is saying that My Chemical Romance was designed to implode when things began to lose their luster? The band had agreed upon “a directive to terminate before (the music became) compromised”? The members would rather kick the whole thing in the head than proceed in a compromised fashion, in the interest of “protect(ing) the idea – at all costs”?
This sounds a bit like the spy who, captured in the field of duty, heroically swallows a cyanide capsule rather than divulging top secret information to the enemy. Or Socrates, choosing death by poison hemlock over permanent exile from the city he loved.
Way’s rambling but clearly inspired tweet/rant never gets into specifics. We don’t know how My Chemical Romance’s vision had become compromised. Beyond recounting an epiphany during a 2012 concert – a moment when the singer realizes that he is “acting” on stage, and that he’s “never acted before” – Way avoids specifics. He just asks the band’s sizable audience to accept that the group’s time is up, that it has run its course, and that it is better to say bye-bye than to hang around while “the idea” became compromised.
This might seem a bit melodramatic to some, and in truth, a tendency toward melodrama was always evident in MCR’s music, and was a major factor in my inability to warm to the band too much.
But it’s a radical idea that Way is espousing here, and it’s one that stands at loggerheads to the prevailing wisdom of contemporary popular music. That prevailing wisdom urges the performer/musician to milk the cow until absolutely nothing comes out. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is not a popular notion in pop.
But Way and his bandmates have done exactly that.
“My Chemical Romance is done,” Way writes. “ But it can never die. It is alive in me, in the guys, and it is alive inside all of you. I always knew that, and I think you did too. Because it is not a band – it is an idea.”
I can’t help but respect Way and his cohorts for having the fortitude to follow through on this “idea,” leaving the stage and essentially ceding the music to the fans who might now take the inspiration they gleaned from the music and carry it forward in their own lives. Way’s got a point – bands come and go, but the spirit of creativity – the “big idea” – is bigger than any one band.
Of course, now that I’ve written this, My Chemical Romance will probably pull an Eagles, and spend the next 20 years offering sporadic “reunion tours.” But then again, maybe not ...