By: Andy Greenwald
Eightor nine years ago, mild-mannered comic-shop clerk Gerard Way couldn’ttell you much about rock’n’roll. Deathly pale, introverted, and adriftin the working-class suburb of Belleville, New Jersey (about ten mileswest of Manhattan), he could, however, speak at length aboutrole-playing games, horror flicks, and numbing monotony. Oh, andsuperheroes, of course. You see, Way has always known that the mostessential element of any good superhero is a killer origin story.
Thoughnot quite as cinematic as getting bitten by a radioactive spider, thetransformation of Gerard Way, 28, into a snarling, self-proclaimedrock’n’roll savior is still remarkable. Like many life changing storiesof the 21st century, it all began on September 11, 2001. On thatclear-blue-sky day, Way-who had graduated from New York’s School ofVisual Arts to a sunlight-free existence drawing in his mom’sbasement-was coming into Manhattan, unaware of the tragedy. “Somethingjust clicked in my head that morning,” he says. “I literally said tomyself, ‘Fuck art. I’ve gotta get out of the basement. I’ve gotta seethe world. I’ve gotta make a difference!'”
Inspired by theuplifting screamo anthems of fellow Garden Staters Thursday, Way hadbeen playing guitar and trying to write songs in his room; he haddreams of starting a band named My Chemical Romance (after IrvineWelsh’s book Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance). But unlikeThursday’s Geoff Rickly-who would help sign My Chem to indie labelEyeball Records-Way had no desire to sing about his mundanecircumstances or surroundings. He wanted to inspire a movement andrecast his fortress of solitude as a teeming, limitless Metropolis. Hissongs wrapped the anthemic community spirit of emo in the personalmythology of ’70s art rock and ’90s Britpop. The world may have seenWay as a shy, failed comic artist, but in his head and in his songs, hewas a vampire, a death-dealing badass, a lover, a fighter. He was asuperhero. All he needed was a superteam.
He recruitedguitarist Ray Toro, 27, a film student from the neighborhood who grewup perfecting Joe Satriani and Led Zeppelin riffs on nights when hismother wouldn’t let him out of the house. Then came Way’s youngerbrother, Mikey, 24, a waifish Anglophile rock scenester and part-timecollege student who worked in a bookstore and could barely play hisbass. Guitarist Frank Iero, 23, a tattooed punk who had sufferedthrough a sickly childhood, was adopted by My Chem after his own group,Pencey Prep, dissolved. And last year, drummer Bob Bryar, a formersoundman for the Used, joined after the band parted ways with originalmember Matt Pelissier.
On paper no one would mistake thesemotley Jersey kids with thick accents and scattered interests for rockstars-and no one would ever confuse them with sexy X-Men-like worldconquerors, either. They flailed at the beginning. For their very firstshow, Gerard lathered his face with greasepaint and screamed curses atthe crowd, Mikey drank heavily to mask his stage fright, and Torosoloed like he was in a Metallica tribute act. But Gerard sawpotential-after all, his favorite comic-book team had always been theDoom Patrol, those bickering, suicidal misfits who succeeded despitebeing shunned by the outside world.
“We always had a vision,but we weren’t sure if it would translate or just come off aspretentious,” says Mikey. “We were playing basements, and Gerard wouldbe like straight-up Ziggy Stardust. Kids would be horrified.”
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