They say that a truly good work of art – any art – is one you can come back to, again and again, finding more and more new aspects to it every time. Sometimes such return reveals small, previously unnoticed details. Sometimes, it helps you appreciate the extra layers you hadn’t been able to appreciate before. And sometimes, comes a moment when you notice something that had been staring you in the face the whole time, something so monumentally obvious that the only explanation for your never noticing it before was just that – it was right in the very front of your eyes.
I consider myself to be a bit of a scholar when it comes to my (severe understatement) favourite band, My Chemical Romance. As a writer, I cannot begin to describe the degree of my love for the lyrics written by Gerard Way, whose self-declared aim in songwriting has always been storytelling. And moving beyond the scope of each specific song, I have enjoyed tracing the parallel progress of the band's art and their lives, of the themes of their records and their own personal development. One day, I may write about it in detail. But this piece isn't about My Chemical Romance in general, but rather, about a very recent realisation experienced by me in respect of their first record, titled I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love. My sudden epiphany had to do with the record cover.
Here you can see cover in question, in which a somewhat obscure figure of a hanging man can be seen, and the CD art, where it is much more prominent. I had known for a long time that the hanging man was Harry Houdini, but somehow, never ascribed this detail much significance. As I said, we often miss things right in front of our eyes. I have no idea how long my realisation would’ve taken me, had I not come across a take on the cover done by Billiedog of deviantArt. In this work, we can see the hanging man much more clearly. It isn’t Houdini any more, but Gerard Way himself, depicted attempting one of Houdini’s greatest tricks, the suspended straightjacket escape. Houdini would be strapped into a straightjacket and suspended from a tall building or a crane, hanging by his ankles, and make his escape in full view of the crowds below.
What is the significance of the presence of Houdini on the cover, and of this trick in particular? To someone who appreciates the music of My Chemical Romance one song at a time, the meaning of this detail may be lost entirely. But were someone to view each album as a whole, not just a collection of songs that happened to be written at the same time and in the same general style, but rather, as a theme piece, the view becomes much clearer. Each album has a very distinct theme. In case of The Black Parade, it’s survival and the courage to carry on. In case of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, it is, indeed, revenge and battle against life’s variety of ammunition. And Danger Days, the latest, brightest and most openly optimistic record of MCR, closes the circle, tying back into Bullets, the earliest, darkest and definitely most angst-filled album. Because the theme of Danger Days, as stated by the band themselves, is freedom, while the theme of Bullets was escape. Escape by any means possible, sometimes even the most radical way you can think of.
We live our lives strapped into straightjackets, and once we realise it and try to break free, we open our eyes to find ourselves hanging over a precipice without a safety net. Some choose to close their eyes again and place their faith in the strength of the harness on their ankles. It isn’t even too misplaced, this brand of faith. The harness is strong, and the straightjacket will feel comfortable over time.
What of those who keep their eyes open, and try to free themselves? The crowds will watch, as hungry for a glorious escape as they are for your harness to slip – because strong though it is, there is no guarantee it will still hold if you keep twisting and turning over the hundred-foot drop. But it is a risk you agreed to when you chose to keep your eyes open.
This is what life is all about. This is what art is all about. It’s an escape. The most ultimate form of freedom that life can offer.
…And what of the man who was strapped into Houdini’s straightjacket? What became of someone who was brave enough to attempt the great escapologist’s trick? His story would make for a much longer piece, and isn’t mine to tell. All I can say is, he succeeded. I haven’t let him out of my sight ever since I started swinging my own harness. I can even applaud him – now that I can already move my hands a little.
UPDATE: Shortly following the announcement of MCR disbanding, in March, 2013, Gerard Way posted this to his twitter. I guess I got some things right.
Beyond any sadness, what I feel the most is pride. pic.twitter.com/IB0A3kNiqV
— Gerard Way (@gerardway) March 23, 2013