In light of all that's happened today, July 23, 2011:
This has been a terrible day for the people of Norway, with a mass killing in a place not especially known for violence. It's also been a sad day for the music industry and those who loved Amy Winehouse, personally and professionally, as she was found dead in her London home at age 27.
But it's also a day when people who love My Chemical Romance celebrate the release of their first album (or it is their first show? I can never remember).
I have to admit, I probably don't fit the profile of a "typical" My Chemical Romance fan. For one thing, I'm quite a lot older (fifty) than most other fans of theirs that I know--my 17-yr-old daughter, my 16-yr-old niece, and some of their friends. You get my drift. But I am first and foremost a music fan, and while I certainly don't love all forms of music, rock-n-roll has been a fortifying presence in my life since I was eleven. It's amazing to me that I was about sixteen myself the year that the two oldest members of MCR were born, and in college when the two youngest came into the world.
But as I'm finding more and more in my life, age isn't always the most important consideration.
My older daughter turned twelve in 2006. It was, to put it mildly, a difficult year for all in our house. She was going through the usual changes: starting middle school, finding new friends, altering her hair, her clothes, and just generally remaking the girl that my husband and I had raised.
I didn't understand much of what she was going through at that time. Sometimes she would be angry or impatient with me, for no good reason I could fathom; sometimes she wouldn't talk to me, no matter how much I asked her to. For someone who wanted my children to rely on me, and feel they could tell me anything, that was almost the hardest part of it all.
Relief for her came in the form of a copied CD of an album called You Brought Me Your Bullets, I Brought You My Love, by a group whose name I'd only heard a few times: My Chemical Romance. I'd hear bits of the CD played in her room at all hours. When she would show me pictures of the band at that time, I had no idea how old they were. (At my advanced age, they might as well have been teenagers themselves.) Since she seemed so into them, I got her a copy of the Life on the Murder Scene DVD, which then seemed to be on the TV screen almost anytime she was nearby.
I didn't totally understand it at first, her love of these young men whose music seemed so sad, so desperate. When I'd hear random bits of that first CD, none of it made sense. It just sounded like raw emotion over a background of shredding guitars, songs that had little structure, but which seemed to mean so much to her. Somewhere in there I'd catch snippets of the interviews on the DVD, and maybe a minute or two of the songs from Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, but I never gave much thought to any of what I'd seen or heard.
My husband and I didn't know what was going on, and I know we over-reacted in several ways. I was afraid I was turning into the kind of parent for whom music would form walls instead of bridges.
Finally, late one night, my daughter and I were both watching the DVD when Gerard Way and Brian Schecter were reflecting on the role of the 9/11 attacks in the formation of the band. Suddenly, inexplicably, I understood. I said to my daughter, "I get why you like them now." She beamed, which was a welcome sight to me after all we'd been through.
In September of that same year, I listened with a mixture of pride and excitement as we heard "Welcome to the Black Parade" for the first time. Not long afterwards, I purchased the tickets for our first MCR show, in March 2007. That event was something else again. My daughter and I, famous for annoying each other in various ways, spent several days alone together, and didn't have a single argument. We listened to Shiny Toy Guns and Regina Spektor while driving to and around the Chicago area; for months afterward, their songs evoked a powerful response in me, of an amazing trip to see an amazing band.
And it was a terrific show. I'd grown up in the 70s in the New York City area, but because I was so young, I never really saw many of the great shows that took place at Madison Square Garden. I missed Yes and Pink Floyd and Springsteen; Kiss, Alice Cooper and Paul McCartney and Wings. The only real theatrical production I ever saw in a rock-n-roll arena was Elton John, and even he had toned things down by 1976. But MCR delivered a classic rock show, starting with Gerard Way being wheeled out on a gurney to sing "The End", and playing the whole of The Black Parade, front to back, the way it was intended to be. I have to admit, I didn't brave the pit during the album set, but I left the safe seat I'd requested at the Rosemont Arena and stayed out on the floor for the Revenge songs. For months, I kept a bag of black and silver confetti that I'd collected off the venue floor, and proudly wore my tour shirt.
Just over a year later, we drove to Chicago again to see another show, and to meet up with a few online friends. We all had a blast, with the exception of my younger daughter, who isn't crazy about loud noise. She also used to get tired and bored after a certain time, so let's just say I don't remember too much about the last couple of songs that night. But we were thrilled to meet our friends in person and to see the band we all loved so much. I particularly remember one of the first songs that night was "Kill All Your Friends," where I stood beside my very good friend and sang along to "You'll never take me alive/you'll never take me alive/Do what you need to survive/And I'm still here."
Fast-foward four years to today. We got to see MCR earlier this year, almost three years to the day after our last show in 2008. We'll be traveling to Milwaukee to see them once more next month, and soon we'll be meeting up in Chicago again, just for fun, with our beloved friend from the 2008 show and her younger daughter.
Due to my fangirl-ish love of MCR, I know others my age may think I'm crazy, but I know my 40-something pal in New York doesn't think so; nor does the stranger I recently stood near at the Aragon Ballroom. Whoever she is, she knows, as I do, that the love of MCR has nothing to do with what they look like (though it never hurts to be easy on the eyes); it has to do with how their music makes us feel.
I know that MCR has always felt that "this band can save lives." After hearing stories from many younger fans, I believe it's true. I can tell you my own story, too: that they provided an important bridge between myself and my older daughter, one that endures till this day. Their music was once a way for some young men to try and make some sense of, and even defy, a tragic event that touched so many lives. It's become something that helped others make sense of their own lives, and carry on when they thought they had no reserves of hope or energy.
Those young men are nearly ten years older now, and their lives, like those of their earliest fans, are totally different now. But they, like all of us, need something to hold on to. Their music has evolved too, into something that they perhaps couldn't have imagined in the face of a terrible tragedy: an anchor for not only themselves, but for all of us who love what they bring into our lives. And in the face of today's awful events, we can certainly use it.