August 24, 2020

My Chemical Romance fans remain the most devout among emo worshipers, feeling saved by their god

Some bands have such die-hard fans that their music is nearly impossible to find in the second-hand market, and when it does show up, it commands a hefty price relative to everything else for sale.

Belonging to such a group's fandom is like joining a religious community, going to their shows is a form of communal bonding ritual, and the various material items associated with them -- musical media, clothing, etc. -- are given sacred significance. Parting with the group's albums would constitute sacrilege, whether you donated them to a thrift store, sold them for cash to a used media store, or just threw them out in the trash.

Defiling sacred objects in these ways would be grounds for a charge of apostasy -- and you wouldn't want religious norm-enforcers to find out about it, would you? Even if you did grow bored of them for awhile, best to just keep them somewhere around the home without using them. Christians don't throw out their Bibles, give them away, or sell them in a market for cash, just because they experience doubts.

That also raises the costs to entry for initiates of the religion. You can't just stroll into a used media store, buy all their albums for dirt cheap, and then be a decent way along the path toward becoming a true fan. Nope: if you want in, you have to pony up, up front. It puts more skin in the game, keeping away halfhearted would-be members from a very tightly cohesive community. They don't want initiates who could just be "going through a phase".

The best example of this pattern is Iron Maiden within the church of metal. Ten years ago I was curious about them, and noticed how rare it was to find their CDs in the used music stores. When they did show up, they were at least $10 used, vs. half that much for the average album. Having taken a tour of various used media stores and thrift store music sections lately, that is still the case a decade later -- I saw only one CD of theirs (Powerslave), and it was $11 used vs. the store's standard $4 price. Not that I was looking for their stuff around 2000, but I'm sure it was high-priced back then as well, and back in 1990, and ever since the group's fandom came together.

It was far easier to find CDs by other metal gods like Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, AC/DC, and so on and so forth. Iconic albums of these groups were more expensive than usual, but were not nearly impossible to find second-hand. Although widely worshiped, they were not treated as the summit of the metal pantheon like Iron Maiden was and still is.

As part of my general interest in revisiting and reviving the culture of the late 2000s, I looked into getting some CDs by emo / scene / pop-punk bands of that era. I was never into it, but I do remember hearing it a lot at the used record stores -- it was the only contemporary style they played (along with older, canonical styles for record store workers and customers).

One exception was My Chemical Romance: in this post from my late 20s, I named The Black Parade as the last strong rock album of the past several years (the mid-late 2000s). Along with other observers, I noticed the similarities to "Bohemian Rhapsody"-era Queen. Pretty good stuff, I thought, considering that most people dismiss them as just another whiny emo band for angsty teenagers.

I also could not help but notice how widespread their appeal had become, with cute singer-songwriters like YouTuber Mia Rose covering "I Don't Love You" to viral success (6 million views back then is like 60 million today). Around that time a former tutoring student, who was a cultural normie, uploaded a video to her Facebook of her friend lip syncing and dancing to "Teenagers". She was also a normie, and both were from the pretty & popular crowd, not at all scene kids.

Although every normal young person back then knew who the other emo / scene / pop-punk groups were, I don't recall such widespread appreciation for them as for My Chemical Romance. And it's not because MCR was more musically mainstream -- they had a harder edge than Fall Out Boy or Panic! at the Disco, and were not dance-friendly (unlike other bands during the most recent heyday of dance-rock). You'd think that would have made them more marginal, especially among cute girls.

But they had a social and emotional appeal that transcended their strictly musical appeal, and kept them from being confined to sub-cultural status. Their plea to the audience was more intense, direct, raw, and honest, bringing legions more initiates into the church of emo than did the lesser gods of the pantheon. In retrospectives on that era from popular normie YouTube channels (the React crowd, ClevverTV, etc.), you can tell from their responses that MCR still touches more of a nerve than the other groups. Of all emo bands you may have ever been into, you're least likely to "move beyond" them, relegate them to mere "guilty pleasure" status, let alone reject and disavow them.

Sure enough, on my tour through the second-hand music spots, it was impossible to find any of their stuff at all. And not because it was obscure -- their two main albums both went triple-platinum in the US, or over 3 million in sales apiece. There are tons of copies out there somewhere -- just not in the brick-and-mortar second-hand market. Sacred objects are not given away or sold. Again, think of how many Bibles are out there in America, but how few copies there are in any given thrift store or used bookstore.

In fact, it was easier to find CDs by lesser emo deities like All Time Low, Taking Back Sunday, AFI, Paramore, and even the other two members of the trinity, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. As much as you may have resonated with their music, they didn't inspire the same level of reverence as emo Jesus, Gerard Way, so you won't be condemned to scene-kid hell if you sell some of their CDs to the local record store.

Evidently, listeners felt like Gerard Way wasn't just speaking to them, but saving them. Any cool dad or guidance counselor can listen to your problems, hear you out, make you feel seen, and so on. But diagnosing an illness is not as worthwhile to the patient as actually treating and curing them -- all the more miraculously when the healer is someone you've never even met.

I can't emphasize enough how dumbfounded I was by this turn of events. I was expecting to find multiple copies of both main albums littering the thrift store music sections, as cast-offs from when the angsty Millennial teens eventually grew out of their embarrassing MCR phase. Sure, I knew they were mega-popular way back when, and I'd seen some die-hard fans gushing about them recently on YouTube retrospectives. But there still had to be tons of former fans who just wanted to get rid of those reminders of their awkward teenage years, right? Not even close.

Turns out, those ultra-intense social-emotional bonds from the late 2000s, especially the experience of being spiritually healed or saved, elevated them into a summit-of-the-pantheon god like Iron Maiden for metalheads. It doesn't take a genius to predict that, of the various emo reunion acts under way during this return of the restless phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, the one for My Chemical Romance will most take on the character of a religious revival, a renewal of the fellow-feeling bonding the church members together, long after their awkward teenage years.


  1. Iron Maiden never did a "new sound" album (such albums always are divisive), really only shifting their sound slightly to accommodate different singers. They also suck up to their fans a lot. Priest are much more experimental/versatile.

    Metallica was in their own league from 1984-1988, but succumbed to physical, emotional, and creative exhaustion in the 90's (well, so did every 80's metal band, but it was most shocking with Metallica).

    Lyrically, Priest (in the 70's) and Metallica (in the 80's) were better than Maiden.

    Oh, and Maiden's CD releases have been a mess. If memory serves, the 80's editions have good dynamic range, but by by the 3rd re-issue in 1998 were brickwalled. The mid-90's re-issue is somewhere in between, but was released by a smallish/short lived label so these CDs aren't to common + obviously they were replaced just a few year later. Evidently the band did yet another remaster/re-issue a few years ago, and they made it even louder!

    By contrast, Priest had Columbia/Sony printing their normal sounding first issue CDs from the 80's through about 2001.

  2. Those are aesthetic matters, not social ones. Worshiping a band like gods is primarily a social phenomenon, secondarily at best an aesthetic one. Not saying they're opposed, just orthogonal.

    Judas Priest was better than Iron Maiden musically, so I can see the social trumping the aesthetic in that case. But in the emo case, The Black Parade easily trumps any album by Fall Out Boy or Panic! at the Disco. So there, the social and the aesthetic coincided.

    What was it about Maiden that distinguished them from the other metal gods, and made them similar to MCR as compared to the other emo gods?

    First, their works were more narrative / concept albums, instead of discrete lyrical songs with at most a common theme. Religions need sacred texts that are narrative or even epic in scale.

    Storytelling is a communal activity, bonding together all of the otherwise isolated members of the audience. Lyric verse, not so much -- "Wow, it's like he really gets me," which is a more individual response. It doesn't heighten your sense of belonging to a community of others who also relate to the words, because the lyrical mode is more personal than social.

    Narratives make it possible for the audience to feel as though they were a part of the story itself, whereas lyrical verse doesn't make you feel a part of the words themselves, since the lyrical mode doesn't have to have characters, plot, etc. There's no role for you, the listener, to play in a lyrical song.

    Second, the salvation appeal. This is plainly the case for MCR vs. other emo gods, but I think there's something similar with Maiden vs. other metal gods. Giving them more a feeling of hope, eventual triumph over their tormenters, however badly the Children of the Damned may feel in the present. More of a pagan Ragnarok-style reckoning, or a vague feeling of karmic retribution, but still on the theme of some leader pumping the downtrodden up with hopes of ultimately seeing their antagonists defeated.

  3. Children of the Banned (frog twitter metalheads can steal this name for a blog after they exit social media).

  4. There is definitely a growing lustiness and passion for life among some woke, cerebral women:

  5. Judas Priest was better than Iron Maiden musically, so I can see the social trumping the aesthetic in that case.

    Well, when popular taste in music was at its best (the early 80's), Priest was way more popular among normies. But in the late 80's, Iron Maiden T-shirts were inescapable (even though their 1986 and 1988 albums are much less popular than the earlier stuff) among the pot-stinking greasy haired misft crowd . Priest was still popular (popular enough to attract females to their concerts), but definitely not to the degree they were in 1982-1984.

    First, their works were more narrative / concept albums, instead of discrete lyrical songs with at most a common theme. Religions need sacred texts that are narrative or even epic in scale.

    Bruce Dickinson (the second singer) brought most of this. With the first guy, Paul Dianno, Maiden were sort of a sometimes awkward cross between 70's prog and 80's punk (Metallica did the same thing MUCH better). But Bruce brought the hyper-dramatic pseudo-operatic stuff, and the (often self-conscious and turgid) "epic" style became more obvious with Bruce. Bruce is basically a well-adjusted nice guy, which goes a long way towards explaining why Maiden under him never had the edge that Ozzy, Halford, and Hetfield brought to their bands.

    Second, the salvation appeal. This is plainly the case for MCR vs. other emo gods, but I think there's something similar with Maiden vs. other metal gods.

    Occam's razor suggests that Dickinsin and Steve Harris (the band's leader) were really good at marketing Iron Maiden as a band who wouldn't change or insult their fan base after you'd come to love them. The logo, the album covers and T-shirts, refusing to have any Americans in the band, refusing to work with producers who'd over-rule the band, and sticking to the same aesthetic for 40 years. I don't think Priest ever really cared about their image (aside from Halford's biker persona being a novel gimmick that the rest of the band adopted after looking like generic 70's guys), and Hetfield/Ulrich (Metallica) often doing and saying things that suggest arrogance, some degree of frustration with (and elevation above) humanity (including metal fans), and a streak of ornery independence.

    Now, I do think you're onto something about the sort of escapist feel good fantasy vibe of Maiden, but people would've tuned out ages ago if the band had blown their reputation for integrity.

    Lastly, Queensryche is similar to Maiden, but better! Geoff Tate could actually sing opera, Tate is probably the most talented singer of any 80's metal band (well, him or Halford....).

    Take hold of the flame, live in '84:

    Queensryche was on their way to being kind of the American (and melancholy yet pre-grunge Seattleite) Iron Maiden before a stylistic de-tour in the mid 90's derailed them for good. Note to 80's metal bands: you should never have mellowed out/grunged up in the 90's. Maiden and Metallica are the only 80's metal bands to have survived the 90's with their full popularity intact; Maiden never "sold out", and Metallica was so damn good in the 80's that they have inexhaustible equity (plus their 90's stuff at least had 2-3 decent songs per album, whereas other 80's metal bands were completely lost in the artistic wilderness by circa 1993).

  6. Smashing Pumpkins is an interesting case, where only one album is impossible to find (Siamese Dream), but everything else is plentiful in both thrift stores and used media stores.

    They were not a cult band that fans followed devoutly from one album to the next. And it's not a supply thing, since Siamese Dream sold over 3 million, same order of magnitude as Gish and Mellon Collie (1 and 5 million), both of which are easy to find. I ended up getting Gish for 45 cents at a thrift store, after seeing two other copies the same day at a used media store for $4-6. I even scored the Singles soundtrack for 45 cents, which has "Drown" on it.

    I did see the case of Siamese Dream at a thrift store a couple weeks ago, but the disc was missing. Whether the owner kept it, or some bum stole it, either way shows how much that one is valued compared to the others.

    With them, it was their most critically acclaimed album that people refuse to part with. An iconic album rather than a cult band.

  7. Paramore's Riot! not only has a MySpace URL on the cover, every member thanks Jesus first in the acknowledgements. (Yeah I took the emo-pill yesterday and bought the CD at a used media store.)

    That's similar to Katy Perry thanking God in One of the Boys, and Miley Cyrus thanking Yahweh / God in Breakout. Both of those have MySpace URLs, too. All three from 2007-'08.

    It's striking to see how much god-talk there was in the late 2000s, even among youth-oriented rock-based acts who promoted their MySpace. Today these groups are all leaving out Christian references, and if anything acknowledging Black Lives Matter or whatever.

    Certainly that shows how shallow their Christian references were back in the late 2000s, if they can be so easily replaced by woketardism. But it also shows how much the zeitgeist has changed in 10 years, i.e. what pressures they have felt from the broader culture-makers and their own target audience.


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