Chemistry lesson

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My Chemical Romance
Released: October 2006
Label: Reprise Records
Cover illustration: James Jean

Told by Stewart Schley

The walls in my daughter’s bedroom were a florid green, with purple accents on the trim. Fifteen years in, it was the third color iteration in a room where she’d grown up. The first was pink, the second I don’t recall, and the third, this. I spent a long weekend before school restarted, lathering paint with a roller in “X” patterns then feathering out the green sop until the wall was uniformly covered. It was a teenager’s room now. Against the wall that ran parallel to her bed, there was a teenager’s desk outfitted with a teenager’s desktop computer.

“Dad: You have to hear this,” she said, her back to me, her face pressed up close to the screen. I stood behind her, listening to a singer’s reedy voice against a swirl of electric guitars and swollen drumbeats. “He’s good,” I remember telling her. Partly because he was (pretty good, that is) and partly because it was essential to latch on to her world, to exhibit my youthful bona fides, to hang on to my status as a quality parent while the rest of world dissolved in front of me.

“Sometimes I get the feeling she’s watching over me / And other times I feel like I should go / And through it all, the rise and fall, the bodies in the streets / And when you’re gone, we want you all to know.”

I wasn’t just vamping. It was a legitimate song. Something that suggested mastery and depth. Kind of haunting, even on the first listen.

Divorce eats you up from the inside out. You feel eviscerated from the belt up. I had legs and arms but no guts, only a vacant cave between ribs. Stumbling forward, willing myself to conduct the impossible daily business of work, commerce, deadlines, email messages, I stepped carefully across a shiny wood kitchen floor, nervous that the surface below me would crumble. There was plausible danger of falling straight down to the basement, landing feet-first in the heap of tools and old Legos and dollhouse figurines and the swath of carpet near the resurrected TV set where my son used to play “Donkey Kong.” All of it evidence now of a life being abandoned.

I bought the CD. A maniacal skeleton danced across the cover. The title was etched in comical typographic grandeur over the image. It seemed designed to captivate 12-year-olds. I was way outside the demographic. But still, I listened to it. Mostly in the car, scurrying to a client’s office, to an interview, to meet friends for golf, to go look at apartments. To sob at stoplights.

I was probably an easy target to begin with. You could hear strains of Queen, the Rolling Stones, some Bowie. All my bands. Plus, the artistry: dual guitars slashing in and out, dense waterfalls of sound, the singer Gerard Way pleading desperately.

It was the third song in, “This Is How I Disappear,” that did it. A menacing guitar thread rises to a swell and then Way screams “Go!” and the thing takes off with vengeance whether you’re ready or not. There’s the merest of respites in the third verse (“Can you hear me crying for you?”) where Way balances briefly on calmer footing before careening into a mad uncontrolled frenzy; it’s the moment in the movie when the killer is about to lunge for the victim and you know it, but she doesn’t. Driving south on Interstate 25, screaming along, fist clenched, I grabbed on and held on.

That was the thing: You had to be willing to go there. It’s a dark opera alright, what with the language about funeral jags and chemotherapy, the “bright lights that cast a shadow,” the obsessions with abandonment, cruelty, death. Even “Teenagers,” the silly rave-up squeezed in just before the triumphant “Disenchanted,” evokes a dark threat.

Except: Behind it all, “Parade” yells out for redemption, and somewhere in the murkiness Way, having set up the hopelessness and the inevitability, injects reasons to believe.

“I am not afraid to keep on living / I am not afraid to walk this world alone.”

That chorus, the coda of “Famous Last Words,” which closes the album except for the gimmick bonus “Blood,” pretty much saved me. Those 17 words. You came out of the preceding songs wrecked and battered but infused with a sense of valor; you’d made it through. And here was Way, just bringing it, shout-singing around that most reliable of rock ‘n roll themes, which is defiance, which is the theme of basically every great rock song.  An overt “fuck you” blasted through your car’s black speakers to anyone who would question your resolve.

“The Black Parade” is a marathon, for sure, but it’s one of those marathons where every few miles there’s a crowd of supporters cheering and hooting. Around corners and inside crevices My Chemical Romance hid a few Easter eggs you could latch on to. You just had to listen. I did. For two years that album was my faithful companion. I didn’t go a week without listening to it. And for good reason: It let me know I wasn’t done.

Stewart Schley, creator of 33hifi, writes about topics both sensible and inane from Denver, Colorado. 

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