Finding Love in Mall Goth Purgatory

"I will ride for My Chemical Romance to the grave, because, from 2002 to 2012, they rode for both you and me."

On October 16, 2005, my sister and I put on our eyeliner, slid into our mall-goth armor, and drove an hour north to Hartford, Connecticut to see My Chemical Romance for what would be our first time of many. It was still a year before their magnum opus, The Black Parade, was to be released. When the lights came down and the show began, a spotlight emerged at the center of the stage, illuminating only a microphone stand ornamented with a bouquet of dead roses. Gerard Way, the band’s flamboyantly morbid ringleader, stepped out of the stage’s dark abyss looking like a corpse priest, adorned in heavy white makeup and full-on church robes. The band opened with “Interlude,” going right into “Thank You For The Venom.” If you’re an MCR fan, you know how fucking sick of an opener this is. My life changed forever after this concert.

Do you have any idea how satisfying it feels to look a DIY-hipster-judge in the eyes and tell them, in all honesty, that in 2018 your favorite band is still My Chemical Romance? You can learn a lot about someone by their reaction to such an admission. Perhaps such a statement makes me an obnoxious judge in my own right, but the truth is, I will ride for MCR to the grave, because, from 2002 to 2012, they rode for both you and me.

MCR, in all their macabre glory, were unwaveringly dedicated to an ethos of inclusivity and honesty, love and compassion, death and rebirth—the kind of virtuosity that was frowned upon in the popular music of 2005, yet now celebrated in 2018. They flew their freak flag high and encouraged others to do the same, all at a time when that breed of non-judgmental sincerity was viewed as sin by every taste-making music critic in an Animal Collective t-shirt. Now, in 2018, I find myself a 26-year-old musician who has been deeply influenced by their music and message, getting into one intoxicated conversation after another, hoping to spread the gothic gospel of MCR to the remaining non-believers.

When MCR played live, their dedication to the audience was palpable. Like an explosion of wicked cats jumping out of a witch’s cauldron, each band member would erupt with raw energy to give an over-the-top performance of catchy goth punk songs. I believe one of the reasons MCR has retained such a loyal and dedicated fan base is because their wildly emotional performances never felt like a façade; they were keenly aware that it was a privilege to be on stage, and this cognizance of respect manifested itself through the messages of love encoded in their songs and live performances.

This respect for their audience was also evident in Way’s interviews and onstage monologues regarding mental health, accepting other people for who they are, and the hypocrisies of masculinity. Throughout the press surrounding both their major label debut Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge and The Black Parade, Way candidly discussed his struggles with depression and addiction, and his hope that their music could help save other people’s lives as it did his. MCR were always vocal that they wanted their music to save people, which admittedly sounds cheesy at first, but it’s a pretty admirable statement when you know that the majority of the band’s fan base were depressed kids experiencing the world from suburban mall goth purgatory.  

The band has earned such respect from their diehard fans that even they don’t want a reunion, unless the band feels that it’s right. As seen in the article recently published by Noisey about MCR’s still very active fan base, some even go so far to say that the band reuniting would be antithetical to their message of death and rebirth, and the positivity of change therein. Literally, how many international superstar bands have fans that are this aware and respectful of the complex relationship band members can have to their music and the message it projects? Most fans of world famous rock bands will sound off in the YouTube comments section with blustery statements of aggravation and entitlement, demanding a reunion show or a new album. But MCR fans? They prefer the band stay broken up because they want to respect the band as much as the band respected them.

Very few of MCR’s peers from the mid-‘00s gave or earned the kind of respect from their fans that MCR did. Rather, many bands that tried to align with MCR’s message and image were essentially selling counterfeit emotion in the form of trendy Hot Topic t-shirt designs, insincere stage antics, and utterly benign, and frequently misogynistic, pop music. In 2018, it is sheer fact that many of those bands were full of shit and exploited the vulnerability that their scene implied to enact gross and predatory behavior.

This is one reason why taste-making machines like Pitchfork and BrooklynVegan were justified in ignoring and condescending the mid-’00s emo cesspool as it germinated throughout malls and low-capacity venues across the country. However, that’s not to say the overly-abstracted, pseudo-intellectual ramblings of mid-’00s Pitchfork hype bands weren’t totally absurd and problematic in their own right. Both music scenes postured a kind of moral code through songs, images, and fashion that signified a certain perspective towards culture and its problems at the moment. But, the reality is that bands from both scenes hardly ever posited their morals or virtues unless the sign of the times directly requested it from them.

This was not the case for MCR. They were just a band of five dudes from New Jersey, but they vehemently promoted equal rights on- and off-stage. Their pop-gothic world of vampires and ghosts, octave slides, and tri-tonal harmony always served a greater message at hand. Their comic book and horror movie-influenced narratives always represented a power in owning the trauma of the past and moving forward towards hope. In being themselves and helping others be themselves, MCR transcended both the hip arena of art-rock coolness and the sewage of Warped Tour residue, flying high in the black sky as one of the greatest rock bands of our time.

Now, it’s 2018. The lot of mid-‘00s hipsters and scenesters has mostly evaporated and come back as other representations. Most of the members of MCR are parents and focus on their own projects: Gerard Way is about to launch a Netflix show based on his comic book series The Umbrella Academy; Mikey Way has been performing as a voice actor; Frank Iero has a punk band that records and tours; and Ray Toro is helping other musicians shred to hell and back as a producer and engineer in his New Jersey studio.

For me, and many fans like me, I am no longer just a fawning teen, but a 26-year-old musician. I use the passion, conviction, and love I learned from MCR as fuel for my own project, Horror Movie Marathon. Very few of the people I collaborate with or know are big fans of My Chemical Romance. Sometimes, people will tell me one of my songs reminds them of this pop group or that folk artist, which is usually very accurate—I essentially make pop-folk music. My admission of MCR’s influence on my music will either be met with a resounding “Hell yeah, ‘Helena’ is tight,” or a recoil and a facial expression that says, “I wish I didn’t just give you the honor of comparing your music to Jon Brion.”

I can’t hide my love for the band, and why would I? Their songs meditate on the horrific beauty of tragedy, and in the tradition of true tragic storytelling, there’s always a viscerally moving message gleaming through the metaphoric language. MCR worked their asses off to make those messages as potent as possible; it was an energy you could hear in their songs and see in their live performances. Through all the morbid metaphors, spooky stories, and dazzling stylizations was an indestructible foundation of love and gratitude for the life-saving spirit of music. Even though the externalities of my music don’t resemble MCR’s very much, their message of love and respect will forever influence the core of what I create.

William Rutledge is an overly emotional insomniac living in Brooklyn. He writes, records, and performs as Horror Movie Marathon. He goes to therapy and thinks you probably should too.