When My Chemical Romance released Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge in 2004, it set the world on fire. It ignited a craze for the New Jersey-born band that many have since compared to that of The Beatles. As of 2017, 3 million copies have been sold, making it a triple platinum record, and undoubtedly one of the most influential of its time.
The dark, chaotic energy and unmatched songwriting of works such as “Thank You for the Venom” and “I Never Told You What I Do for a Living” ensnared a generation. With the advent of YouTube a year later, superfans could obsessively learn more and more about their new gothic heartthrobs. Here are 10 facts about My Chem that only the most passionate fans would know.
1. Three Cheers’ was supposed to be a concept album
Many people think that The Black Parade (2006) was My Chem’s first concept album, and in a way that’s true; it was the band’s first complete concept album. Three Cheers was initially conceived as a concept album, as per the band’s liner notes: “The story of a man, a woman, and the corpses of a thousand evil men…” It was meant to be a continuation of the story of the so-called “Demolition Lovers” sketched by the band’s first release, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002). It was to be a tale of how two murdered lovers, one in heaven and one in hell, could be reunited should the male partner harvest a thousand souls.
While Three Cheers does loosely follow this story, the record turned out to be much more rooted in the real goins-on of the band members’ lives than first planned. That’s because Gerard and Mikey Way’s grandmother passed away during the writing process. The devastating loss somewhat derailed the original blueprint for the record, and it turned out to be half-conceptual, half-confessional instead. Gerard Way told Alternative Press:
Basically everything I apply to this band, I got from her. So when that happened, I was like, “Fuck. Oh, God. How am I going to deal with this story? Does it even matter anymore? Is it just fucking pretentious? Is it bullshit?” And then I came to grips with it and said, “Fuck it. I’m going to write the songs that I want.”
2. “Helena” is an open letter to Gerard Way… from Gerard Way
One of MCR’s most famous songs, “Helena,” is deeply rooted in the passing of the Ways’ grandmother, Elena Lee Rush. The song’s lyrics aren’t just about sadness or saying goodbye, but about something even more destructive — self-loathing.
Their grandmother taught the young boys to sing and paint, and she and her husband even bought the band their first touring van. In essence, she was the reason MCR became the musical giants they did. But their hectic touring schedule kept them away from their family for a long time. She ended up dying just one day after they came home.
Gerard felt tremendous guilt for not being able to spend more time with her leading up to her death, and that guilt manifested itself in “Helena.” (“We are so far from you / Burning on, just like the match you strike to incinerate / The lives of everyone you know.”) Speaking of the song, the singer told Kerrang!, “It’s a really angry open letter to myself.”
My Chemical Romance – ‘Helena’
3. Gerard Way came up with an ending after the record was released
In an interview with Black Velvet, Gerard Way was asked what the ending to Three Cheers would have been if he had continued with the original story as planned. As mentioned, the concept centered around a man so desperate to be reunited with his lost love that he made a deal with the devil to kill a thousand evil men. In the interview, Way divulges that after killing 999 men, the protagonist comes to the conclusion that the final soul he’d take would be his own. Chastising himself for not realizing the end to his own tale sooner, Way says, “Man, why didn’t I think of that before?”
4. Black Flag inspired the concept of revenge
Fans of Gerard’s sweet-yet-twisted brand of melodic singing may be surprised to learn that his first love was Iron Maiden. Next came gothic punk band The Misfits. But the band that got the MCR singer fixated on the concept of revenge was actually, as he reveals in their 2006 documentary Life on the Murder Scene, California punk outfit Black Flag.
Way explains that listening to Black Flag brought up memories of how he felt like an outcast in high school. He also told Alternative Press that he felt anger toward those who had insisted MCR would never succeed. All of these combined influences prompted him and his bandmates to create the masterpiece that is Three Cheers, and the simple act of doing that was the revenge he sorely wanted.
5. “You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison” explores homosexuality
The title hints at the fact that this song has something to do with a lack of traditional masculinity. Maybe you wondered, “Is it because they’re ‘emo’? Or are they really talking about being gay?” Both!
While neither Gerard Way nor Bert McCracken of The Used (featured) identify as homosexual, the lyrics explore that aspect of sexuality in a way other punk bands hadn’t dared. Lyrics like, “how we’re just two men as God had made us,” “I’ll kiss your lips again” and “they make me do push-ups in drag” explore the fluidity of sexuality and the blurry line between conventional depictions of masculinity and femininity.
Traditional manliness came under question with the early 2000s wave of emo music, what with the openness about feelings and the wearing of tight jeans and makeup. That, combined with the amount of time men spend with men cramped in small spaces on tour, Gerard told Alternative Press, brought the subject to the forefront of this song.
Oh, and let’s not forget the two famous frontmen have actually kissed.
6. The comic book ‘Preacher’ influenced the record
Today, Gerard Way is known not just as the vocalist of MCR but as the writer of the highly successful comic series-turned-Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. His love for and skill with comics predates the creation of the band; he used to draw for Cartoon Network. And while the artist cites a handful of different influences that went into making Three Cheers, he has been recorded saying that the comic Preacher was the “biggest influence” on the record.
Gerard and his bandmates always had a love for horror, which is evident from their very first record with songs such as “Vampires Will Never Hurt You.” Featuring a Southern preacher with a vendetta against God, Preacher combines elements of horror and the supernatural with vengeance. It’s a combination that has a lot in common with My Chem’s 2004 album.
7. The cover artwork was inspired by the René Magritte painting, “The Lovers”
The image of two black-haired and bloodied lovers on the cover of the Three Cheers record is burned into everyone’s brains at this point. But do you know where that image comes from? Yes, Gerard drew it, but the inspiration behind it dates back to 1928. That’s the year Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte painted his iconic work, The Lovers, which Gerard has said is his favorite painting.
The original artwork depicts a man and a woman, who both have sheets covering their faces, kissing. This strange, somewhat unsettling portrayal of love directly inspired Way’s album artwork, and the themes on the record, as well.
8. “The Ghost of You” influenced Mikey Way’s ‘Black Parade’ uniform
The emotionally provocative music video for the rock ballad “The Ghost of You” is set during World War II. In it, the band members play army troops who land on a beach on what appears to be D-Day. Bassist Mikey Way’s character is shot dead by enemy fire, leaving Gerard’s character wild with grief.
On MCR’s following record, The Black Parade, superfans will likely have noticed an Easter egg. Mikey Way sports what looks like a military cross on his jacket, yet no one else in the band does. It’s speculated that this unique medal is a reference to his character’s death in the music video for “The Ghost of You.”
9. Producer Howard Benson taught them how to write a chorus
While the genius of My Chemical Romance is undeniable, a significant portion of the credit for the success of Three Cheers goes to the record’s producer, Howard Benson. At the time, the band members had a raw vision of the kind of music they wanted to write, but it was still just that — raw. It was Howard Benson who corralled their ideas and talents into proper song structure.
In Life on the Murder Scene, Gerard Way remembers learning the “golden rules of song structure” during the writing and recording process for the record. A cheeky Frank Iero chimes in, “It’s spelled C-H-O-R-U-S.” Benson challenged the members to be the best they could be, and in turn, they worked tirelessly to implement his teachings and perfect their craft. Even the great My Chemical Romance had help!
10. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ based a scene off the “Helena” music video
Marc Webb directed a number of My Chem music videos, including the one for “Helena.” The video, which features a beautiful, dancing corpse and choreographed umbrellas at a funeral, is one of the most memorable of all-time. So memorable, in fact, that Webb decided to recycle it for another project: The Amazing Spider-Man.
On the steps of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, California, a similar scene is filmed for George Stacy’s funeral. The shot shows an aerial view of the mourners’ umbrellas, just like when MCR carry the coffin down those same steps in their video. According to Screen Rant, Webb jokes during the movie’s commentary that he has a “fondness” for umbrellas.