Not The Life It Seems: The True Lives of My Chemical Romance
by Tom Bryant
Publisher: DeCapo Press
The moment I turn the last page in author Tom Bryant's biographical account of the life and times of alternative rock icons My Chemical Romance, I'm filled with a plethora of emotions. Happiness, despair, hopefulness. But there is no confusion in my mind.
You see, My Chemical Romance are one of my favorite bands. They will always remain one of my favorite artists, and the book is clear example, from page one until the very end, why they will remain with me forever. When they announced their breakup in 2013, I had just stepped off of an irritating flight to New York City. I checked my phone and there was the first headline, waiting for the moment I turned my phone on and ready to stare me down. I was, for lack of a better word, confused. These guys were at the top of the world...so it had seemed. No, their final album didn't fare as well as its predecessor, but every band has an album like that (and I still love Danger Days, no matter what anyone says about it). It's extremely difficult to follow a record like The Black Parade, the band's third, multi-platinum, arena-packing, theatrical hell-of-a-ride that dominated the country and the collective world of rock music for nearly three years. I was confused because the people that I had looked up to for years as musicians decided to call it quits right there. No last tour, no last record (other than a Greatest Hits compilation). Their ending didn't feel real to me because, well...it simply didn't feel like them.
Bryant's incredibly thorough research and writing of Not The Life It Seems brings many answers to the forefront, and is truly the greatest piece of closure any My Chemical Romance fan could ask for (apart from vocalist Gerard Way's Twitlonger statement posted three days after the initial announcement). From the moment you start reading it, you are given an enticingly clear picture into the band's lives, more so than any other article or scrap of newspaper I've read about the band. I was a bit skeptical at first about reading this book, as it wasn't deemed an "official" biography and a great deal of it was compiled through various interviews that had been done during the band's career, rather than after the band had broke up, but it flows extremely well. Key producers and people that were essential to the band's success, including producers Rob Cavallo (The Black Parade, Danger Days), Howard Benson (Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge) and the late Craig Aaronson (the band's A&R representative at Reprise/Warner Brothers during their career) help enhance the story, introducing tales and points of view that weren't previously there before.
Beginning as a humble punk band in New Jersey with a lead singer intent on making a change in the world, My Chemical Romance stood out above the rest, even in the earliest of years. Their hard work, tumultuous struggles and inner turbulence at times would only make them stronger, leading them to a deal with a major label that wouldn't convert them into a corporate mechanism of modern top 40 radio, but rather leave them to their creative advancements, allow them to take their time, and put out something monumental. I can only imagine what the marketing teams thought every time the band said, 'Hey, here's the album,' having no idea what could possibly be on there.
They were small, but they eventually grew larger and larger with every step forward, every note, and every record they released on to the world. They toured arenas and stadiums with grandiose, over-the-top performances laden with inky blackness, pyrotechnics, and dark thematic elements. Their touring in support of Danger Days traded that darkness for dazzling technicolor. Their success would swallow them whole at times, and over-touring would take a serious toll on their mental and physical well-being. It's one of the factors that clearly led to the conclusion of the band, but upon reading the book, there are many more elements at play that led to the band's dissolve. The answers bring plenty of closure, yet a good deal of emotions, along with them.
At the end of the statement Way posted in March 2013, he closed it with the following statement: "Since I am bad with goodbyes, I refuse to let this be one. But I will leave you with one last thing: My Chemical Romance is done. But it can never die. It is alive in me, in the guys, and it is alive inside all of you. I always knew that and I think you did too. Because it is not a band - it is an idea." Reflecting on this, the statement rings true.
Many bands dare to be different with their music. Some succeed, others fail greatly, and then others break through and transcend boundaries laid out by genre, culture, label, and scene. It makes them truly chaotic, entertaining, visceral, brave, and dangerous. My Chemical Romance were that band. It's easy to hear this on any of the four albums they released throughout their career. You can hear every insecurity, opinion and feeling laced with fire-charged soliloquy and metaphor not just in Way's lyrics, but through the clashing guitar styles of Ray Toro and Frank Iero that should work but do, Mikey Way's rhythm-and-punk infused bass lines, and the numerous styles of drumming from the several drummers the band had worked with over the years (Matt Pelissier and Bob Bryar being the most notable). These guys put literally everything they had on the line, including their own mental and physical well-being, with every record they had, pushing it to be the greatest it could possibly be, for the sake of creating art, challenging musical norms, and leaving behind an impactful discography that would be remembered for years to come.
In the simplest terms that I can possibly conjure, Not the Life It Seems: The True Lives of My Chemical Romance is a complex look at the world's most dangerous rock band.
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