…Or, True Lives of the Fabulous UK Killjoys
This is a story of the first two shows of My Chemical Romance that I attended, and my meeting with Gerard Way.
Good stories often start from the end. Perhaps this is so because the end is quite often much easier to pinpoint than the beginning. If I were to look for the beginning of this one, I wouldn’t be able to stop at my clicking on a picture of Gerard Way, who at the time was very little more than just an attractive singer to me, which has led me to an internet radio that shuffled a My Chemical Romance playlist to give me The Sharpest Lives in which my ears caught the word ‘vampire’, causing me to go back and listen carefully. Nor at walking home after a day that clearly showed that the company I had helped build was being torn apart by office politics, with Thankyou For The Venom blaring in my headphones. Nor even at my initial failure to appreciate the Helena music video, which Emma had shared with me when I was deep into my Within Temptation phase and moving onto Evanescence (my original lack-of-enthusiasm reaction came back to haunt me many times later). But if I continued moving back in time, trying to find the real beginning of this story, I wouldn’t ever be able to stop. It would have to trace back to my meeting Emma, and therefore, include Mugglenet FanFiction, Severus Snape, Havshexan of YouTube’s music videos involving the above character, the two jobs I held that involved the colleague who introduced me to Within Temptation whose music was featured in those videos, my university and the story of getting into it, which would, in turn, involve Rosie and my English teacher, and then You see where this is going. This is supposed to be a story of the relationship between myself and My Chemical Romance, not an autobiography, even if at this moment in time it does feel like the majority of my life so far has led me to this moment. Perhaps this is what everyone feels about the brightest, most memorable moments in their lives.
So, let’s get to the end, then, shall we? Quite possibly, this story ends on the 08:17 train from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport, currently approaching Clapham Junction and carrying, among other people, a girl with a heavy backpack, light heart, and both hair and brain frazzled to approximately the same degree. Or maybe it doesn’t. So, it turns out the end of this one isn’t as easily found as I had thought. I guess going some way back in time will be required after all. For the purposes of this story, a year should suffice.
It was about a year ago, in October 2009, that I, still new yet already diehard fan of My Chemical Romance, raised an eyebrow at the dates of the Australian Sound Wave 2010 festival, in which said band was announced to perform. How strange a coincidence would it be, I thought, if a band from New Jersey (even if currently based in California) and a fan from Ukraine met up Down Under of all places? Especially since the fan in question had five-year-old plans to visit Australia and New Zealand specifically in the year 2010. Adjusting travel dates to fit tour dates wasn’t particularly difficult, neither was booking show tickets online and sending pleading messages to ticket sellers to make sure my tickets would be available for pick-up by the time I arrived in Sydney. The more difficult part came two weeks before my journey, when I found a note of cancellation of all Australian appearances of MCR. The reasons stated Gerard’s health were more than valid, but that did little to help. There were tears; and desperate attempts to drown all thought in song, even if it meant making loud noises at four in the morning with very little regard for neighbours; and visiting the venue of the-show-that-never-was for no reasons than to post a picture of self at the MCR facebook page with the note of ‘I was there. You were not. It sucked.’; and finding out about the departure of the band’s drummer from an update read in the middle of nowhere during a bus pit stop in New Zealand; and the start-of-year torrent of interviews about the promised new album decreasing to an occasional mention and then nothing; and mostly silence.
In July of this year, I looked at the British half-year visa in my passport, issued on the first of May and expiring on the thirtieth of October, and reasoned that even if the new album, in which my faith had not yet wavered by that time, was released before I could snap my fingers, there was no way MCR would make it to Europe before 2011. It would’ve been a shame to let a multiple entry visa go to waste, so I packed up and treated myself to a three-week holiday at Emma’s, which I considered completely deserved after a month of very hard work in June. Interestingly enough, my visit to her coincided with the dates of the 2010 Comic Con, at which Gerard made an appearance and, among other things (which included shocking many people, myself included, with a new head of bright yellow hair), announced that the new album was finished, and was, in fact, a second attempt at said album. The news was exciting, of course, but at the time, just that. Anyone who ever waited for a favourite band’s album knows how long can pass between the completion and release, what with promotion, label’s requirements, and so on.
Then there was a largely uneventful August. And then September put a start to what is now often referred to as the Killjoys Mystery, but at the early stages thereof was also known as MCR WTFery or, in more simple terms, the MCR Mindf–k. Those who were there from the start will know what I’m talking about. Those who weren’t can be spared the details and be content with the following summary: there was a big post-apocalyptic story behind the new album, and the band seemed to have spared no effort building the world that story took place in, in intricate detail, now unveiling it with agonising slowness. Making the first few days, which felt more like weeks, even more excruciating was the fact that the whole band’s website was replaced by a puzzle that was not meant to be cracked at the time. Only time had to show. And show it did. The first thing that happened after the website came back was a post from Frank announcing the official completion of the album and more exciting things to come. The second… the second was the first tour date. Edinburgh Corn Exchange, October 25. It made no sense, but it didn’t have to. Not to someone whose UK visa expired on the 30th.
A few days later, some sense did emerge, when two more tour dates appeared 23rd in London and 24th in Manchester, and when some comments from the fans and eventually, from the band themselves, stated that presenting a new album in the UK has become somewhat of a tradition. So it did make sense in the end, but it still didn’t have to.
Then there was elaborate planning of routes, and getting even more closely acquainted with the UK’s domestic transportation, and the wait for the ticket sale, and the moment when the nerves simply gave in, resulting in a purchase of pre-sold tickets from a reseller at double the price, one day before the official sale (which worked out for the best, given that the official sale stopped within minutes, and resale prices jumped to triple the original afterwards), and working on a costume, as encouraged by the band, hunting for every snippet of new information, counting down weeks, and then days, and then hours. And then there was the plane to London.
October 22nd, 2010, was the first time I found myself in the same city as Gerard Way. It was also the day on which I purposefully left the city he was in, because the London show was not included in our program. Emma and I were quite content to spend that day inside, finishing up our costumes, holding a photoshoot, listening to a radio interview and checking the time every now and then to announce how long it was before the start. Going to sleep that night was difficult, to say the least, especially with fresh videos of the concert cropping up like mushrooms. Yet we both knew that we would do well to get some decent sleep, as it wasn’t something we were going to have for the next few days.
Come morning we headed to Manchester. My original travel plans, despite being self-declared as brilliant, involved a moment of panic that caused me to book my return tickets without leaving an extra day it would take to get back to Emma’s, which meant taking all of my stuff with me. To be fair, there would not have been much less stuff to take even if I could leave some of it behind, as the majority of the contents of my backpack had to do with the concert, be they costume and sitting mats or thermoses and a ridiculously warm coat. Those were mostly meant for the Edinburgh event, however, so they got left in the Manchester Piccadilly train station luggage storage. This seemingly irrelevant fact would become a point of interest later.
We knew we had found the right place before the car’s navigator did. It was the tents that gave it away. Contrary to my expectation, however, there were not that many people. I’d estimate no more than a hundred at the time of our arrival, which was late-ish in my book noon, what with the doors opening at seven. The first few hours of the wait were filled with a lot of fun and excitement, observing all new arrivals, in self-made costumes and merchandise alike, catching looks from others as well and getting complimented on my graffiti-ed shoes. Around two or three o’clock, something resembling an organised queue was formed, and we found ourselves, again, somewhere in the first hundred fans. The centre of attention moved away from the queue, however, when a security border was set up around the easily accessible stage door. I had left my place and went to keep watch there, eventually dragging Emma along. The band was in the building already, judging from the unmistakeably their sound check coming from the inside. I still maintain a firm belief that they either arrived long before we did, or used a different door still, as I had been monitoring that entrance ever since any security-related commotion around it started. The hours spent by the stage door fence were detrimental to the initial excitement. I can’t quite place the reason why, but by the time the queue started moving, and we left the fence to resume our place in it somewhere in the second or third hundred by then I felt more nervous than excited, and not in a good way. Whatever it was, the tiredness, the nerves running high for too long, the disappointment at not seeing the band by the stage entrance, I felt a lot of my giddiness simply drained.
The long wait on the inside didn’t help much, and neither did the fact that Emma was obviously uncomfortable in the crowd that was far from thick at that time and at our location. The wait. The opening band. Another wait as the stage was set up for MCR. Time stretched too much for comfort. As the crowd thickened, Emma and I separated voluntarily, her seeking a place with more air and a better view, me staying in place first and inching towards the centre later.
Then, finally, there it was. The show beginning, the explosion of Na Na Na, the mad jumping and waving of hands in the air. I was there, and I jumped, and I sang, and then I realised I was out of strength and breath by the second verse. That did not bode well, but I couldn’t really care less. My eyes were fixed on the band or, to be honest, on Gerard. The experience of seeing him on that stage wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as I had expected, but it was surreal enough. I wanted to get closer, even if it meant going into the middle of the mosh as opposed to staying on its outskirts. For my very first mosh pit, I don’t think I did too badly. My tactics of letting the crowd move me towards the centre and then standing my ground furiously when the wave went back seemed to work. It took me all of Thankyou For The Venom to get to the centre, width-wise. The next step, I decided, looking straight at Gerard’s ear to ear grin on that stage, was getting to a closer row. Around that time, however, I seemed to have lost both my touch and my balance. I went over before I knew it, dragging a few other fans with me. Perhaps it was that fact that made getting up easier, as a few people lent a helping hand rather quickly. But the few seconds with my knees on the floor were somewhat frightening, particularly as they included a brief panic at a leg cramp, and snatching up the camera and goggles (part of my costume) that had slipped off my neck and head respectively. As I got to my feet and shoved the goggles on my nose instead of head, I was briefly confused at the blurriness of the world around me and only then realised that the stuff I had managed to pick up didn’t include my glasses. Looking for a pair of virtually rim-less glasses on the floor of a mosh pit in the middle of Dead!, which always includes a lot of jumping, was among those plans that are doomed from square one. Leaning down briefly was enough to understand that were I to look for my glasses, I would end up joining them.
“Worth it, totally worth it,” I told myself, and made my way to the left side of the audience. Not letting my spirits get dampened was my top priority, along with getting to a safer place. Somewhere close to the edge, I was caught by Emma. That was where I spent the rest of the show. Two songs later and minus a jacket that was part of the costume, yet got too hot by then, I was feeling better actually able to breathe and in less pain. The show picked up for me from there on, even if it did lose a significant part of the visual component. My eyesight’s not that bad, but from where I was standing, the visual part was reduced to following a red blur around the stage with my eyes. The sound didn’t suffer from my loss, of course, so soon enough, I was singing along quite happily, all the more enthusiastically whenever Gerard was on ‘my’ part of the stage. Even then, what with the bad blurry view and some residual sting from the mosh pit failure, I was overcome by a feeling that had nothing to do with logic or reason. That when he stood there looking in the general direction of me, hidden in a huge crowd of people jumping, singing and waving their heads in the air, lit by strobe lights, if any, if only I sang with enough passion… he would somehow notice me. It neither made sense nor had to make any. It was enough for me to sing with all I had.
I’d like to say that that feeling took me through the rest of the show. But it didn’t, not quite. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, or was unhappy with it. It was my first MCR show, after all, and… and that made it sting all the more when some part of me remembered the set list from the London show and thought ‘right, Sleep. That’s the last song before the encore.’ It wasn’t a regretful thought, and not even a simple statement of fact. Some part of me really did want to simply get out and get off my feet. My own reaction was disheartening to myself.
That didn’t stop me from enjoying the remaining two songs, or from hugging Emma while squealing quite genuinely, but it just wasn’t there, that ecstatic, all-encompassing feeling that causes one to bounce and reduces their speech to sounding like an abuse of both capital letters and netspeak… The feeling I had every time I had thought of the concert before wasn’t present at the actual concert itself. Was it a case of building up expectations only to have them unfulfilled? I refused to give in to that line of thinking. Also, it may have been just my own perception, but I didn’t pick up any over-the-top squeeful vibes from Emma, either.
Once outside, the plan was to find water and come back to wait for possible signing. I also found that my phone wasn’t been all too happy about the moshing incident, either, its flip-out screen now very much resembling a BL/ind screen in terms of quality (anyone who had seen MCR’s transmissions or the latest music videos will understand what I meant). The water was procured by means of begging the driver of a car to get us a bottle from a McDrive he was heading for, the only place open at the time and place, and then we headed back. After some initial confusion, we joined the crowd at the borders near the tour bus.
Some time passed, with nothing more exciting than seeing some pizzas delivered to the bus and being repeatedly told to get off the road (by the guards) and that there wouldn’t be any signing (by the band manager). Finally, around midnight, when only an hour or so remained until our planned overnight bus to Edinburgh, we left. There would be another night, after all. Besides, a realisation started nagging on my brain. I kept it to myself for most of the way to the station, until I finally cracked and asked Emma in a rather desperate voice, ‘the luggage storage wouldn’t be closed at this time, now would it?’
We all know what happens when questions of such type are asked. The self-assurance that the storage would of course be open, during the few minutes that it took us to get to the right place, didn’t quite alter the fact that the door was resolutely closed. The sign next to it, which we, naturally, noticed only then, said that they opened at seven and closed at eleven at night. Which meant that we should never have left the bags there in the first place, as we would’ve never picked them up in time without leaving the show early. That reasoning would come later, though. At the time, it was more of a case of my mouth resembling parchment in dryness, while Emma’s face wasn’t far away from the same in terms of colour, and thinking desperately.
The brief idea to try to get on the bus, get to Edinburgh and pick stuff up on the way back was discarded. It could’ve worked, theoretically, since I did have the payment card I had bought the tickets with, but I was unwilling to be separated from my passport, not to mention change travel plans for the rest of the journey or going to the Edinburgh show without any of the things I had brought to ensure we could camp out comfortably.
“Okay, what’s the worst thing that can happen?” I asked Emma in an attempt to get us both to a logical and possibly calm conclusion. She considered the question for far too long to arrive at the above, so I continued myself. “The worst thing that can happen would be us missing the Edinburgh show. And that’s the worst case scenario.”
We were fortunate enough to find a very friendly train station attendant, whom we badgered a total of three times. He told us that it was not possible to get our bags before morning in any way whatsoever, as the storage was a private franchise; told us of the earliest trains heading to Edinburgh tomorrow; and even pointed us to the nearest hotels we could afford.
The first stop made upon exiting the station was a blessedly open eatery of some sort, where we got chips, our second meal of the day, after the McDonald’s breakfast some twelve hours previously. Then the search was on for the hotel. The first place we wandered into looked beyond our budget as soon as we set foot in there, but I went up to the reception anyway. A hundred quid for a night wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, but I was feeling cheeky enough to ask the pleasant receptionist behind a counter with beautiful black candles on it whether there was a cheaper place anywhere nearby. He was nice enough to point one out.
The City Inn hotel looked more than presentable, and we wondered if we’d end up looking further. The rates, however, were more friendly only seventy quid a night, plus a free breakfast, and the train station was nearby. The hitch came when the manager asked us for a payment card and identification. My passport was still in storage, yet it was my card we were using to pay, not quite yet sure whether we would end up telling anyone of this particular part of this adventure. Now, perhaps this would be a good time to describe exactly what the situation would look like to an outside observer.
It is around one in the morning, and two young women wander into a hotel, their entire possessions consisting of a bum bag per person plus a plastic bag reeking of chips. The young women in question are dressed as follows: marker-graffiti-ed trainers, bright pink socks, black tights, short black shorts on top of green cycling shorts, marker-graffiti-ed white shirt underneath a blue sports jacket underneath a black leather jacket, complete with lime green fingerless gloves and a pair of yellow hardware goggles worn as a headband… that was just one of them, by the way. Continuing to specimen number two: bright red trainers, purple tights, black shorts, white shirt bearing a different pattern, but applied in the same way as the first one, and a bright blue cardigan underneath a long black extremely elegant coat, plus bright red fingerless gloves (and it was such a shame Emma’s bat mask lost a strap).
Now, once you got all that, picture the young women asking about the rates and then getting flustered about the idea of an identification, and you have the very interesting picture we were presenting at the time. Fortunately, the mangled explanation of being stranded and only having one ID between us seemed to suffice, even though that ID belonged to the person other than the one holding the card used for payment. Whether we made a sufficiently convincing display of desperation or the manager was feeling nice, we got our room keycards and headed upstairs.
It didn’t take us long to appreciate the unexpected comfort. By the time no-longer-our bus was leaving the station, we sat on the bed munching chips and washing them down with free coffee. Emma, very happy about the prospect of spending the night in a bed and in a dressing gown rather than curled up on a bus seat in her Killjoy costume, declared the situation to be ‘the comfiest fuck-up ever’. I toasted to that with a glass of gin and tonic from the minibar, all too relieved she wasn’t mad at me. It wasn’t until two days later that she confessed to me that she had honestly expected me to suggest we go back to the venue and see if the signing had begun. I still wonder whether I would’ve considered that if I were alone. But, at the time and place, we collapsed and slept, the only disturbance being the return of my mosh-induced leg cramp.
True Lives of the Fabulous UK Killjoys – Day Two and the Aftermath
“This is how we like to do it in the murder scene,” I declared, using my favourite catchphrase for being proud of something, as I shoved my jacket on the top shelf. It was mostly lost on Emma, though. I spent most of the first half of journey telling myself silently and her out loud that tonight was going to be better than the previous night, and I’d agree to anything up to and including missing the show to make sure neither of us is passing out somewhere in the crowd. At that time, we did not yet know that our catching the train seconds before the doors closed had started that day’s lucky streak.
That trend started emerging when we switched trains in Preston. Despite being informed that the train we needed would only be there in an hour’s time, we overheard something resembling ‘Edinburgh’ on the announcement. The screen next to the platform where the suspicious train arrived had nothing of the sort listed, but moments later, the radio announcement told us to ignore the screen. And it was only now that I wrote this down that I realised how incredibly appropriate it was. The screen was misleading, and it was only by following the voice on the radio that we got on the right train in time. If anyone who considers themselves a Killjoy just read this and didn’t get it, your title is not deserved.
Now that I realised the above, the fact that I spotted two people sporting bright red hair and MCR hoodies as we made our way down the carriage comes as very little surprise. Indeed, why would one not meet fellow Killjoys on a train that a voice on the radio encouraged us to get on? I assaulted the girls with questions whether they were from Manchester, and after the initial confusion, they got my meaning and told me that they were originally from Norway, but yes, they had been at the show last night. We made plans to meet at the venue. Sky and Amy, if you’re reading this, it was very awesome meeting you.
The train seemed to be fully booked, with virtually every seat bearing a reservation card. For want of choice, we plopped at the first seats available, prepared to be evicted when the rightful owners came. I moved twice over the duration of the journey, my second location being yet another stroke of luck, as I found an unreserved seat moments before the train filled up to the point of many people standing. So we made it all the way to Edinburgh in more comfort than I had expected (and definitely more than if we had taken the coach), took a cab to the hotel my second black cab ride ever, after the previous night and headed towards the venue, with everything required for camping with relative comfort. Not before having a long chat with a very welcoming and very talkative hotel owner, of course.
The queue outside the Edinburgh Corn Exchange was smaller than the one we had found outside Machester Apollo the other day, but it was definitely better organised. Grabbing the softest bit of pavement we could find, we made ourselves comfortable and watched the new arrivals while having coffee from my thermos, its being brought all the way from Kyiv finally justified, and playing with the rayguns. A brief note about the weapons, by the way our decision not to take them into the Manchester show paid off very well when we were asked if we had any toy guns on us, while entering. I was far too attached to my Hyper Annihilator to risk losing it to security.
In under an hour, the Norwegian Killjoys from the train wandered by, and we shared our place in the queue with them. The following hours passed much more quickly than they did outside Manchester, with shared coffee, blankets, sweets and rumour.
Now, it was the latter part that was dampening my otherwise once-again-happy state. Sky and Amy mentioned being outside the Manchester show until around two in the morning, until the band did finally come out to do some quick signing. The news should have made me happy, in the sense of the last night’s signing indicating there being a chance of one tonight, but one component of their story made my stomach turn just a bit. According to the girls, three out of four band members signed for everyone, and more than once if asked, while the fourth one only signed for about half of the fans before blowing a kiss to the other and leaving, generally ‘acting arrogant’. The fact that I just spoke about it in such a roundabout fashion should probably leave no doubt as to the fact who that fourth band member was.
For a while, I sat there with a small hollow where my chest should be, the logical half of my brain completely agreeing with sensible arguments along the lines of ‘he’s human, and he can be just tired, you know’, while the less logical half curled up further and further into itself, up to and including declaring a wish to miss the show altogether. It didn’t hold the majority vote, naturally, but it did contribute to the irrational state known as ‘sulk’, one that defies reason, dislikes the world and feels sorry for itself.
How ridiculous would it sound to say that I felt the foundations of my world shaking? But that was exactly what I felt like. I’m a passionate person, who loves and obsesses and idealises people, and always needs someone to look up to. It comes as little surprise that I frequently get disappointed in people I idealise. Somewhere in between my trying to explain my emotional state to Emma something I never really have to do to her of all people I quoted a demotivator that said ‘Winners never quit. Quitters never win. But those who never win and never quit are idiots.’ I knew I stood firmly in the last category, and refused to change my ways for anything. I’ve faced disappointment before and knew I would face it again. But not in this, not there and not then. Not in someone whom I was originally prepared to find to be just another typical rockstar, warning myself that I might not like him at all if I found out more about him. Not in someone who turned out to be anything but another typical rockstar based on what I had found. Not in front of my second MCR show, which I had been hoping to be better than my first. Not before possibly meeting him. I could go on and on about the importance of his art and his example in my life, but that would probably involve describing most of my life in the year 2010 and some of 2009, and would be another story altogether. Suffice to say, I knew that I could not be disappointed in Gerard Way. It was one of those things that were simply not allowed to happen. I refused to imagine the impact it would have on me. Devastation would not begin to describe it.
There and then, I picked myself up and abandoned that line of thought. One thing it did leave behind, however, was the decision to not try to get to the front and centre this time, despite announcing to Emma the previous night that the next person pulled up on stage to sing Honey together with Gerard would be me, no matter what. Now, faced with the fear of disappointment, I pre-emptively chickened out, deciding that I’d rather not try than try and be ignored. To anyone who knows me, this should indicate the depth of impact that the mention of Gerard’s name and the word ‘arrogant’ in the same sentence had on me.
The remaining hours until the show passed quickly as well. One disturbance worth a mention was a completely random and unprovoked attack of a somewhat overly goth-looking guy against a passing car. The incident was handled quickly and efficiently, as a group of males led him away while half a dozen people called the police to the site. The offender made off by the time the police car got there, but there was no shortage of people pointing the direction he went in, and the sight of a huge crowd of kids dressed in black, rainbow colours or various delightfully ridiculous combination thereof cheering on a police car made me grin and mentally stick a finger up at The Daily Mail. We don’t know if the guy in question got apprehended, but he did everyone a favour by starting trouble before the show as opposed to after getting inside.
The queue got to its feet soon after we returned after dumping our extra camping stuff and the rayguns at the hotel, which was quite close to the venue once we learned the route without the original numerous double backing. A few ‘peripheral controlled zone’ signs made the way back and forth even more amusing, not to mention a huge field surrounded with a wire mesh fence and marked as ‘children’s recreation zone’. So that was where motorbabies escape from, we figured.
As we queued, and watched more fans arrive, and stumbled over heaps of abandoned blankets on the ground, I felt excitement building, and the right kind of it this time. There was something different about the crowd, something not present outside Manchester Apollo. I reasoned that the Edinburgh show would be most likely attended only by local and particularly diehard fans, being so out of the way geographically. The movement of the queue didn’t let the excitement dissipate into cold air and silence, either. I, for one, can’t remember standing still for more than a few minutes at the time. However it was accomplished, the queue was moving all the time, eliminating the wait as such. We were at the doors in no time at all, and that was the first time I could appreciate the organisation level of the venue. The sight of a metal detector frame and bag inspection tables at the doors could spell out long and stretched-out security check, but everyone was let in in an extremely efficient and orderly way, and allowed to make way into a further corridor without having to race or lose their place in the queue. Moreover, the waiting corridor we stood in had the cloakroom window right there and then, allowing whoever needed to leave bags and coats to do so without sacrificing the hours of wait outside. As we stood in the corridor, frequent sing-alongs would break out, usually carrying for at least one full verse or even most of a whole song at the time, and followed with hearty cheering. Again, the wait wasn’t long at all before movement started, and there we were, in the room.
“We’re not running anywhere, we get whatever place we get,” I told Emma, as we walked. Moments after entering the room we realised we could actually see the barrier separating the audience from the stage. “Or perhaps we are,” I amended myself, and we ran, trying to make sure our speed wasn’t breakneck enough to be stopped by the guards positioned throughout the room and watching everyone to make sure there was no trouble.
I found myself quite petrified as I stood in the second row, on the left-hand side (stage right, also known as the Frank Side), right in front of a speaker, only one person (in an awesome shirt, may I add) between me and the barrier. We twisted our heads back occasionally to see how full the room was. It was filling up at a steady rate, but most would crowd the central part, so Emma and I weren’t crowded at all until the very beginning. This was already an improvement over the previous night. It just kept getting better as a guard approached us from behind the barrier and told us to duck if we see anyone crowd surfing, to make sure we don’t get hurt, and to call him if we feel bad or get worried about the crowd. By this time, I couldn’t help but sing praises to the organisation of the venue out loud. The excitement was running higher now, as I found myself bouncing along even to the background music. The weariness of ‘how much longer left to wait?’ from the previous night was replaced by its flip side, the bounciness of ‘I can’t wait!’. This close, and with my sight back (that was the only trip in my life when I remembered to bring the spare glasses), I could see every detail of the gear on stage, every microphone stand, and my vision painted the band standing there almost as clearly.
There came the opening band, and it might’ve been just me, but I thought they got a more enthusiastic welcome than in Manchester. I danced along and this time, didn’t hear comments like ‘I’m bored, I want My Chem’ from behind. And then the stage got changed, equipped with speakers decorated with radioactive spiders and the word BOOM, Kobra Kid’s ‘Good Luck’ helmet, the lights went down again, and…
Look alive, sunshine…
And we looked alive. And we made noise, as the Killjoys we were. And sang, and screamed, and jumped, and waved hands in the air. And stared. Stared all the way through. At least I did. Taking in every moment of it, trying not to look away from the stage no matter what, only using the brief pauses between songs to ask the guard at the front for some water. That was the only small part of reality I kept in touch with drinking water and making sure I wasn’t elbowed away from my place. As for the rest… My ‘what will save us?’ might have as well been addressed to the opened-up sky. My ‘the only hope for me is you’ might have as well been shouted amidst ruins of a city. And I would dare anyone to disbelieve my ‘I am not afraid to keep on living’.
I will never know whether Gerard’s eyes rested on my face even for a split second, of course. I did catch quite a few looks from the guard in front of the speaker, no doubt wondering whether I was about to collapse, what with my face radiating a bright pink colour and playing host to a number of emotions, among which sanity would not be found, not by a long shot. For my persistent attempts to out-scream the speakers, I also got a few looks of what probably wasn’t hate just yet, but didn’t look like love, either. All of that, of course, mattered very little at the time.
I wasn’t keeping track of the set list either, this time, so Gerard’s announcement of Sleep being the last song came as a shock, but was quickly smoothed over by his saying they were going to come out and sign after the show. That was what I chose to interpret it as, at least, as all I managed to catch were words ‘outside’, ‘sign’ and ‘not bullshitting you’.
Darkness. Relentless chanting of “M! C! R!”. Smoke on the stage. A lone keyboard solo. A spotlight. And Gerard’s beautiful voice filling the house with the starting notes of Cancer. Somehow, I found it was possible to sing while feeling like you’re holding your breath.
Then the full-on encore of Kids From Yesterday, but not before the thankyou speech from Gerard. I would be lying if I said I remembered it word for word from that night, but I remember it all now, thanks to the wonders of fan videos. He said that the crowd saved the show, as there were technical problems at the start, and that his voice wasn’t doing very well until now, so not only did the audience save the show, but it also cured him. He thanked the fans who camped out in front of the venue, and those who came in costumes, and, ‘at the sake of sounding corny’, the parents who brought their kids to the show. ”Cause you gotta be pretty fuckin’ cool to bring your kid here, to watch a bunch of grown men fuckin’ screaming and miming jerking off for, like, two hours’.
The last song. Shouting, cheering, clapping, and a separate, very long goodbye for Mikey. He was last to leave the stage, under the audiences chanting of ‘Mikey! Mikey! Mikey Fuckin’ Way!’. And then we stumbled out in a daze, my hands completely failing to untie the sleeves of my jackets tied around my waist. The aftermath was secondary and, at that time, so was the possible pneumonia. We stumbled around for a bit before finding the tour bus and taking our place at the fence.
Eventually, the pulse and breath came back to normal, the night air started creeping up the back of shirts soaked equally by the sweat and the water poured over myself during the show, and a strange emptiness settled in my mind. I watched the stage door open and close so many times, only to let out various staff members. I watched stuff from inside the venue being carried into storage. I watched a security guard hand out a few set lists and failed to get a hold of one. Soon enough, I was rocking slowly from heel to toe so as to keep the blood moving, closing my eyes now and then, not for feeling sleepy, but for being suspended in the wait. I knew I would not leave that spot until I saw the band walk through that door, even if just to walk to the bus and leave.
After maybe an hour, the band manager came out and told us (funny how his speech I remember word for word), “we’re going to bring out the guys to sign. Pick one thing you want signed. No hugs, and no asking for pictures.” Another half an hour might’ve passed. I watched the supporting band leave. The door swung so many times again. Right now, if I close my eyes, I see it clearly, the dark brown door with no handle on the outside.
How many times in this story have I used the phrase ‘and then’, by now? It’s starting to sound quite contrived, but somehow, that’s the only way I can find to put it. The door opened once again. Gerard walked out. I think Frank was second, wrapped up in a blue coat with fur around the hood. Then Ray and, finally, Mikey, to answer the same summoning chant used for him at the show*. I might’ve messed up the order, for reasons of using up the last remaining camera shots on Gerard at that time.
(*Thanks to Emma for filling into this memory gap!)
He moved forward a bit, closer to where we were standing, and I heard him complain about the cold, twice. I shouted ‘yeah, YOU’re cold!’ and ‘you’re telling US!’ to that. Then he moved to the beginning of the queue, some way away from Emma and myself, who were around the first quarter of it or so, in the second row of people. I think that by the time the band showed up, there was maybe a hundred or hundred and fifty fans left waiting, but just as on the order of the guys’ appearance, I’m ready to be corrected. Emma did supply at the time that Frank looked almost scared by the amount of screaming his walking through the door caused.
Ray and Mikey went to leave their bags in the bus while Gerard and, possibly, Frank as well, moved to the front of the queue. I felt like I was preparing for a leap off a cliff. I needed my Life on the Murder Scene dvd signed, I had a gift I wanted to give to Gerard, and I had to ensure that Emma had her gloves signed. Her being short, shy and in the second row of people made the last part of my mission the most dangerous one.
Finally, Gerard drew level with us. Seeing that Emma wasn’t responding very well to my urging her to move her hand closer, I all but yanked her arm forward, knowing she would forgive me a dislocated shoulder if push came to shove. Gerard looked like he was about to sign my dvd, but I shoved Emma’s hand at him, possibly saying ‘her first!’.
“What do you want me to sign?” he asked, obviously confused at her empty hand.
And sign it he did, and turned to move on, causing me to all but wave my dvd box in his face until he took it from my hands.
Now, being a good fangirl, I know my autographs, and know quite well that Gerard signs his as ‘xoxo, g’. Unfortunately, being also a brain-frazzled fangirl at the time, I mistook the turn of the marker in Gerard’s hand as he made the first ‘o’, for being the autograph-completing ‘g’, and pulled the box back towards myself. In my defence, that wasn’t caused by pure panic. I simply wanted to make sure I get the extra second I needed to give him my gift. But regardless of that, I had never been closer to an epic fail. It fell to Gerard to save me, which he did.
“Wait, I haven’t finished.”
I think I actually screamed ‘SORRY!’ as I gave the box back to him to finish signing it. It was then that I thrust a small paper baggie with a Japanese lucky charm at him with the words ‘that’s for you’. He started signing it before I repeated ‘no, that’s for YOU’, and then handed it over to the manager. I do hope the charm made it to him, as now I know that the ‘100% success rate’ of this charm that I mentioned on the bag proved to be much more than that.
It was quite obvious that I had hogged Gerard for a longer time than one fan should have, even if I was trying for two at the time, so he moved further before I could continue my monopolisation of him by asking for a high-five. Emma and I stumbled away from the barrier, me clutching the dvd box, her staring at her glove. It was then that she told me of something I hadn’t noticed at the time that Gerard actually held her hand as he signed, a fact that was discussed in glorious detail afterwards, of course.
A few moments later, we realised we were walking away from the fence, while there were three more band members on the way. As we waited for them, I kept glancing in the direction Gerard went, knowing I wouldn’t forgive myself for the lack of a high-five, a privilege every fan was entitled to. Along came Ray, who said ‘thank you’ back at my own ‘thank you’ directed at him. And Frank, who complimented Emma on the gloves, took up all of the space on the glove with his signature, and high-fived me, his own hand in a blue fingerless glove. And Mikey, who nearly signed Emma’s wrist instead of the glove she later copped to the barely overcome temptation to let him do just that.
And off I ran after Gerard again, finding a place he was about to approach and a tad apprehensive about being told off by the manager in case I was spotted and (justly) considered an attention hog. Gerard walked, and signed, and high-fived a few people, and there was me calling for a high-five from the back, and he raised his hand, and I missed. I actually missed, so only the bottom of my palm brushed the base of his thumb. But before I could mentally kill myself for that, I saw that he hadn’t moved, still holding his hand up and letting me try again. Which I did, and didn’t miss this time.
I walked a little way away from the fence. Dazed, stunned, happy. I had gotten everything I could’ve possibly wanted and more, given my sky-high failure rate. Emma was nearby, and I asked her to take some pictures with her Blackberry, her actual camera being out of memory, and mine not even with me, originally left in the hotel to let myself enjoy the show instead of taking pictures. As she went around snapping shots, I wandered down the queue for no reason than to look at Gerard and overhear a few brief conversations. He talked to a few girls he had seen at the previous shows, it seemed, calling them the UK Killjoys. He stopped next to a girl who said her brother loved Gerard’s work. And then, motivated by nothing but pure thrill, I called out to him.
“I came here from Ukraine!”
He didn’t hear. I called his name, and when he turned my way, repeated,
“I came here all the way from Ukraine!”
I think he said ‘wow’, but I can’t trust my memory on that one, because I saw him lift his hand again. This time, I was offered a high-five without asking for one. My aim had obviously improved, too, as I didn’t miss. And I would’ve walked away, happier than ever. But before I could do that, Gerard noticed the yellow goggles on my head something I had actually hoped he could maybe remember me by if he ever noticed me in the crowd. I loved wearing them, too, as they gave the world a brighter colour, acting as anti-shades in that respect.
“Cool glasses,” he said, and I think I beamed as I said ‘thanks!’
“Can I try them on?” he continued. I pulled the goggles off my head and handed them to him, possibly saying ‘sure’ as I did. The situation was getting too surreal too quickly, and there was only so much I could process at one time. It felt like a collection of screencaps from a movie. Gerard holding the goggles that were on my head a moment ago. Gerard putting them on his face and looking around in them. Gerard taking them off and saying…
“Hmm, what can I trade you for them…”
There was a small mask on his head, which he pulled off as he put the goggles on top of his hair instead.
“I could take that,” I said, assuming he was taking it off to give it to me. I didn’t catch the entirety of his answer, but got the basic point that he couldn’t give the mask away. Moments later, I noticed it had writing on the inside, and assumed it had been a gift in the first place.
“I have nothing with me I could trade you for them,” he continued, going through his pockets. “Do you smoke?”
If I were in a movie, it probably would’ve been a moment for a freeze frame, in which my character would’ve had the chance to process the situation and come up with an appropriate answer. In all seriousness, given: Gerard Way, holding your goggles and lamenting the fact he has nothing to trade you for them; Gerard Way, going through his pockets, obviously looking for something to trade; Gerard Way asking if you smoke. The next step should be painfully obvious, shouldn’t it? Perhaps to my character in a movie, it would’ve been. But not to me, not at the time. Or perhaps my mouth ran away before my brain could catch up.
“I quit.” At least said brain caught up with the mouth and tackled it to the ground before said mouth could continue with ‘because of you’ (to anyone who wonders why would anyone be inspired to quit smoking by the example of a man who tends to smoke like a chimney without encountering such pesky problems as lung cancer so far, let me just say that watching Life on the Murder Scene inspires a lot of decisions).
Fortunately, it was a good night for being saved from epic fails by Gerard Way.
“Maybe you should try again,” he said, handing over a pack of Marlboro Lights to me. The fact that those were the only cigarettes I ever smoked on the rare occasions that I did before quitting, made it seem even less real. I might’ve said thanks. That part I honestly cannot remember.
What I can remember was my wandering around the queue again, calling Emma in a voice that would soon befit a shipwreck survivor. Once my wailing yielded nothing, I walked some distance away and sat on the ground, cradling the signed dvd in my hands and putting the cigarettes in my jacket pocket. It was there that Emma had found me minutes later. According to her, I was rocking back and forth slightly, and her first thought was that I had been mugged.
She asked me what had happened.
“Notice anything missing?” I asked her back. Ironically, it was the same question I had asked her the night before, when my real glasses got lost in the mosh. “Look higher,” I suggested once she started giving me a head-to-toe look.
“Where are your goggles?”
“Gerard,” was the entirety of my answer.
“Gerard has your goggles?”
I nodded and retold the story of a few minutes ago in tiny fragmented sentences punctuated with ‘and-‘s and ‘and then’-s, and finished by pulling the cigarettes out of my pocket. Even now I find it amusing that even in my shell-shocked state, I told the story in a proper save-best-for-last fashion. I managed to get to my feet, and so we went back to our hotel, carrying away a pair of gloves signed across the back of the hand and along the thumb, for where Frank didn’t leave enough room for Mikey; a dvd box on which the first ‘hug’ of the ‘hugs and kisses’ that ‘xoxo’ stood for ended with a long sideways streak when I pulled the box away; and a pack of Marlboro Lights, with a California excise stamp at the bottom, a mangled right edge, and four smokes left inside.
Then there was morning, and breakfast, and chatting with our lovely host, and the slowest packing I have ever done, and wrapping the cigarettes in every layer of tissue I could find before storing them in a tiny toiletries bag from which its previous contents had been unceremoniously dumped, and going into town to wander about before our rides later in the evening… and going through the pictures on Emma’s Blackberry to find one of Gerard high-fiving a hand in a lime green fingerless glove.
Had anyone tried to take that picture on purpose, one would’ve failed miserably. A high-five lasts all of a second, and anyone trying to take a picture of it would either have to try multiple times or ask the people to hold the pose. But there it was, a picture of Gerard with a tour bus in the background, his right hand raised, palm obscured by a motion-blurred, but unmistakably my gloved hand, continuing into the white sleeve and black leather jacket that I wore.
And this is where one would be inclined to say that the story ends. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t end with me wandering through the Edinburgh Haymarket railway station with a strange smile on my face while almost crying, or with finally finding my way to the St Andrew’s Square bus stop after taking the longest possible route to it double backing remained a time-honoured tradition for this trip, even then. It doesn’t end on the overnight bus from Edinburgh to London, which proved that our staying in Manchester instead of sleeping on the coach was the best decision ever made for us. It ends neither in a Starbucks next to the London Victoria station where I was pumping a little energy into my miraculously-resurrected phone, nor on the previously mentioned 08:17 train, Gatwick airport, the 737 that took me home, the bus that dropped me off or the curtained-off corner of the kitchen that I refer to as my ‘base’, where I am finishing this account now. Nor will it end when I close this window, or turn off the laptop or go to sleep. Because of some things that I realised not two days ago.
I said to Emma that it would feel weird to go back to the normal and boring life after something so amazing had taken place. And moments later, I realised that it was only up to me to see that my life would not be normal and boring. All of the feelings that caused me to very nearly float above the ground during the day spent wandering Edinburgh after the concert, they’re mine to keep hold of and never let go. The feeling of something you had expected for so long not disappointing you, not fulfilling your expectations, but exceeding them time and time again. The feeling of placing your trust in someone for somanieth time against everyone’s well-meaning advice, and not having that trust betrayed, against everyone’s cynical expectations.
All because of one man, who, despite having millions of fans around the world, and at least a hundred waiting meters from him, doesn’t let one girl pull her dvd box away before he finishes signing it, and keeps his hand in the air for a few seconds longer to make sure she gets the high-five she asked for.
So what’s the big deal, you may ask. You’re making such a story out of it, you may say. Maybe you’re one of the well-meaning cynics who had warned me against putting my faith in someone over and over again, despite being disappointed and hurt. But let me tell you this. It doesn’t matter how many times the world fails you. As long as there is at least one time when it does not. And this is why this story will never really end. My dreaming and hoping and believing had finally found the reality, and the reality turned out to be better than I had dreamt it. And there it is, the feeling I had tried to describe above. The feeling of having the pillars of your world, after being shaken briefly, standing reaffirmed and stronger than ever.
The feeling of, putting it simply, having your faith rewarded.