The year was 2004, the political climate was confusing at best, and I was just then learning how thoroughly a man could break my heart. I was also halfway through earning a degree in sticking it to the man, also known as a “liberal arts education” or “majoring in pre-barista.” It was around this time I first heard the song “Headfirst for Halos”, dropped surreptitiously in the middle of a lovelorn mix CD. My underaged self was stunned; somewhere there was another person as angry as I was!
But anger is only half the equation. “Headfirst for Halos” is all rises and falls, the sweet up and down, the essential and opposing halves of a greater universal whole. “The red ones make me fly/and the blues ones help me fall/and I think I’ll blow my brains against the ceiling/and as the fragments of my skull begin to fall/fall on your tongue like pixie dust/just think happy thoughts and we’ll fly home.” The welcoming of death, juxtaposed against moments of such fierce happiness, made this song utterly irresistible, a study in contrasts.
Who sings such an earth-rending song, you might ask? This is such a guilty pleasure, I cringe to type it… My Chemical Romance. The very words trigger images of a legion of teenagers with hair dyed as black as their hearts; kids who wear sad-cartoon-character shirts and piles of plastic jewelry. Kids who bear the burden of their eyeliner patiently and without a hint of irony.
But back before there were black-on-black band uniforms and stop-motion music videos, there was a little debut album called I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (IBYMB, YBMYL). Which isn’t to imply that this record isn’t emo. Reflecting on ended romances and how to defend one’s lover from the undead, IBYMB, YBMYL is as skillfully angry as you’d want it from a dark-pop band, layered over a driving drum rhythm and quick, raging guitar lines. My younger self pounded out many hours on the treadmill at the college gym to tracks like “Honey, This Mirror Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us” and “Drowning Lessons”. Subject matter fluctuates between the serious (the band was formed post-9/11, and the song “Skylines and Turnstiles” reflects their feelings on the matter) and the insane (for how to deal with things that go bump in the night, please reference “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”, or “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”, about impending zombie attacks).
So the guilty part is pretty easy to see. But the pleasure? That’s all in the emotion. On this record, MCR shows off their essential qualities, the ones that helped launch their next release to greatness and were later lost along the road to emo-pop fame. The original MCR is full of anger and hurt, genuine garage-band no-one-has-ever-hurt-this-much-before hurt, and this record teems with it, as well as pure, transcendental punk-flavored joy. On “Drowning Lessons”, the band considers the question of mortality: “We’ll laugh as we die/and celebrate the end of things/with cheap champagne.” Lead singer Gerard Way is by turns furious and empathetic on “Our Lady of Sorrows.” “Stand up fucking tall/don’t let them see your back/and take my fucking hand/ and never be afraid again”, he screams into the microphone, just before the guitar bursts into the billion brilliant spirals that make up the opening riff of “Headfirst for Halos”.
So if you’re next to me on the train, alright, maybe I won’t let you see me pull up MCR on my iPod. Regardless of how guilty a pleasure this is, though, I’ll definitely be keeping IBYMB, YBMYL in my rotation. After all, sometimes all a girl wants is someone to save her from the zombies.