Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm Who I've Got to Be

My Chemical Romance at the House of Blues Boston, May 5, 2011

Last Friday was my thesis defense, my last hurdle of college and arguably the day that I had spent the past two years working towards. This meant that I spent most of last Thursday panicked, chest tight and heart racing. So I went out to a concert.

The Architects and Thursday were first and they were good but I was still trying to calm down here and find my place in the crowd. My brain was not in that club. Springfest, the annual University concert, had been the weekend before and some friends and I had been pretty close to the stage when the crowd started to press in before the final band. Surrounded by bodies and jumping and movement I was ready for music, but my friends were uncomfortable and dragged us out of the crush. Out in the open, the music didn’t feel right.

So on Thursday, I slowly pressed my way into the crowd before My Chemical Romance took the stage. I moved up slowly, politely, but wound up surrounded by people who were screaming along and jumping and moving and not caring about looking like fools. Some of them were teenage girls, but the chunk I wound up in was mostly kids in their 20s. It makes sense, I guess, that all of us who started off listening to this stuff as teenagers are growing up.

They started the set with music from the new album, and I forgot everything outside the venue. Sure, it tried to sneak its way in, but the music and the crowd were overwhelming. These are songs that the entire audience had screamed along to in cars and bedrooms, and now they were pouring their hearts out together. It was the kids upstairs, the ones leaning over the balcony with open mouths and pounding fists, clutching onto the railing with their hands and the music with their hearts who got my attention, whose faces were scattered with happiness, release, and anger.

Down on the floor, it was as though we were of one collective mind. Conducted by Gerard, we simultaneously jumped and waved and pounded our fists, sang and danced and moved. But even without his direction, there were points in the songs where our fists would all rise, where our hands would open on cymbal crashes, or entire sections of the crowd would just start jumping. This sounds a little crazy, but it’s no exaggeration that we had sacrificed our minds to the music.

And up on stage, the first band I have seen that might actually deserve the title “rockstars.” I know they used to dress in black, in uniforms and makeup and bulletproof vests, but this was the first time I’ve seen them live and their outfits will probably be stuck in my head as a violent mix of punk glam forever. Gerard practically pranced about the stage, growling and smiling and conducting, while the other three focused on pure rocking out. Gerard seemed a little meaner than I’d seen in interviews, though his mid show blown kisses to a family member and heart hands make me think it’s for the benefit of an intense show experience.

His words to us throughout the show were interesting too. He asked who in the crowd had never been to an MCR show before, and there was a huge emphasis on the “old kids” always helping out the “new kids.” It’s a great point to make, especially at shows where fans have been sticking around forever, to avoid the stupid hipster bullshit of “well, I liked them before you did.”

There was also one great line thrown at the crowd. “Belief in Rock and Roll is a smell, and I can smell it on you.”

Sure, a lot of their songs are about vampires and death and wreaking havoc, but there are also a lot of songs about not giving a fuck and believing in yourself. Stupid as it may sound, a crowd of one thousand people singing about holding on and fighting back renewed my confidence in my thesis presentation. “Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs.”

They played old and new songs, and they were fantastic. The crowd screamed just as much for “Vampire Money” as “Helena.” And of course, they played my favorite, and I started laughing.

Because three years ago, I had decided to quit science. Frustrated and angry, I even skipped a physics lab to go to a “funeral.” That funeral was Warped Tour, a celebration of the death of my science career. I spent a lot of that summer listening My Chemical Romance, but it wasn’t until about August that I bought physical copies of the CDs. When I finally did, I was not expecting the uncensored version of “I’m Not Okay.” I have a vivid memory of having headphones on in the heat of summer and dissolving into laughter, feeling like I was falling into the mattress when “I’m not o-fucking-kay” hit me out of nowhere. It was, at the time, so true that it shocked me. So last Thursday, steeped in genetics and neuroscience and confidence in my strength as a researcher, I couldn’t help but laugh at how far I’ve come in two years. “I’m Not Okay” felt like some sort of weird closure to this portion of my science career. Grad school will need a new anthem.

"Your dreams and your hopeless hair."

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