This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #140: Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.
My Chemical Romance are a band out of New Jersey that had a lot of success during the early 2000s. Rightly or wrongly, they have been dubbed as an “Emo” band which is a label that (a) I will explain in a few moments and, (b) has had an extraordinary amount of influence on the career trajectory of the band, as a whole. “Emo” is short for “emotion” or “emotional” and is a sub-genre of music in which the songs played by bands/artists tend to be angst-driven, in concept and subject matter. Fans of “Emo” bands tend to feel things more acutely than do most other folks; their tragedies are more tragic, their sadness is deeper and darker, their band affiliations tend to be more obsessive and so on. Because of the acute nature of their emotions, “Emo Kids”, as fan members are sometimes called, can exhibit a tendency toward mental health issues, such as Depression and, have been known to engage in acts of self-harm, including, in extreme cases, suicide. “Emo” originally evolved out of the Punk Rock movement and, as such, bands in this genre (and their fans) have tended to have an “outsider’s” perspective on the society in which they find themselves. Some of the “uniform” worn by Punks has transitioned slightly for “Emo Kids” and consisted of skinny black jeans, t-shirts, eyeliner, etc. Needless to say, the relationship between an “Emo band” and an “Emo Kid” plays a very important part in the sub-cultural experience that both attain. For that reason, the story of My Chemical Romance is noteworthy. That story goes a little like this……
Some people in the music industry felt like My Chemical Romance had a chance to be one of the next “big things”. They were often compared to other well known bands such a Green Day, Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boy and so on. My Chemical Romance had released several albums that were moderately successful and that had raised their profile. Then, for their fourth album, they released “Welcome to the Black Parade”; the first single being the song of the same name. “Welcome to the Black Parade” is a banger of a song. I, actually, like the live version of this song quite a bit. There is an element of showmanship given by lead singer, Gerard Way, that reminds me, in a way, of Freddie Mercury. So, as much as My Chemical Romance might be dubbed as an “Emo” band, they played live shows with the same energy as a band like Queen did. But, being true to their “Emo” roots, “Welcome to the Black Parade” is about death. The premise of the song is that when you die, you will be escorted to the next realm by Death, itself, in a manner in keeping with the most visceral and powerful memory you ever had. In the case of this song, the main character’s most powerful memory was, as a child, being taken to a parade by his father who stressed to him the importance of living an honourable life and never giving into his demons, no matter what. So, in death, the main character makes his journey to the next realm in the form of a “Black Parade”. This song is structured in three distinct parts. The first being the childhood trip with Dad to the parade. The second involves meeting his Grandmother “on the other side” and the finale involves his spirit returning to assure the “Emo kids” in the audience that he was no hero in Life but, in the end, Death is not as painful as everyone might think and that it is ok to “carry on” with their lives on Earth. Despite the subject matter, “Welcome to the Black Parade” is a rousing song. It has become the signature song for My Chemical Romance. The “official” video for this song was voted “Video of the Year” by MTV. Finally, “Welcome to the Black Parade” has been routinely voted as one of the very best “Emo” songs of all-time.
But, the story of My Chemical Romance doesn’t end there. As noted earlier, there is a strong, often emotional connection between “Emo bands” and their fans. My Chemical Romance is no different, in that regard. While this has meant that their live shows had a rocking atmosphere, it has also meant that, away from the crowded arenas and clubs, in bedrooms and basements all over the world, many of their fans obsessed, in solitude, on the messages they perceived were in the songs on My Chemical Romance albums. This lonely devotion took a tragic turn in 2008, when a teenage girl named Hannah Bond commited suicide. She had been falling increasingly under the influence of “Emo” groups online and had, according to reports, been pressured into harming herself online as part of an initiation into an “Emo” club. Bond had spent much of the past year listening obsessively to “Welcome to the Black Parade” which, in letters she left behind, gave her the impression that suicide was ok and that the after-life would be a better experience than the one she was having on Earth. My Chemical Romance tried to disassociate themselves from the many on-line groups that followed them and espoused self-harm and suicide based upon their songs but, at a coronoer’s inquest into the death of Hannah Bond, the judicial system came down squarely upon My Chemcial Romance and “Emo” bands like them and officially stated that their songs were a factor in Bonds untimely death.
The fallout from the coroner’s ruling was swift and was felt by all bands that were considered to be “Emo” bands. My Chemical Romance, and bands like them, found themselves excluded from Festivals and tours. Other, more conventional bands, all refused to play on the same bills as them. Lots of anger was vented towards them and, for awhile, they were complete outcasts in the music community. All the while, the band members from My Chemical Romance fought to clear their name. They apologized publicly if their songs had any undo influence on how their fans acted in their own lives but stated, categorically, that they were anti-suicide and believed very strongly in living well and finding happiness and being strong in the face of challenges. They felt their message of resilience in the face of obstacles was being misconstrued. Over time, other musicians began to rally to their defence; among the most forceful was Queen guitarist, Brian May. To prove his faith in the band, May asked the organizers of The Reading Festival to put My Chemical Romance on their schedule and, if they did, that he would make a special guest appearance and would perform with the band. The video that I will share with you below is that very performance. It was a re-birth, as it were, for the members of My Chemical Romance. Throughout the song, you will see a lot of emotion being expressed (some of it through defiant, profane language) but, also, you will see an extraordinary live rock performance by a band that needed redemption and got it that day. They, also, needed an act of compassion and got that in the form of Brian May’s kinship.
Overall, the story of My Chemical Romance is one in which that balance between how much responsibility a band has for the actions of their fans really shines through. Is writing a song about dying a tacit…nudge, nudge, wink, wink….promotion of suicide as a way of solving the perceived problems that a fan may be experiencing in their own life (which can have little to do with the band, other than the fan’s admiration for their music)? It is a debate that remains on-going.
For me, for now, I will leave you with the triumphant return to the world’s stage for My Chemical Romance at Ther Reading Music Festival. *(Please note that because of some language, viewer discretion is advised). So, without further delay, here is My Chemical Romance, featuring Brian May, with “Welcome to the Black Parade”. In spite of it all, it actually is a heckuva performance. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance, can be found here.
The link to the official website for My Chemical Romance, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting important music, regardless of genre or label. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.