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On Music Fandom…(Part I)

January 4, 2011

MCR fans at the Chicago House of Blues 12/15

Right now we are standing in the freezing cold air, waiting for our toes to fall off our feet. We’ve been here for ages. Good thing is, there’s other people here now.

Lorie Way  shivers as she chats with me outside the House of Blues in Chicago. It’s just after 9:00 am, and already there are 8 people in line for the evening’s My Chemical Romance show. If concert-going were an Olympic event, Lorie and her friend would have won the gold medal—they were the first to arrive at the venue. And they probably traveled the greatest distance–from Australia! By the time I got to chatting with Lorie, she and her friend had spent 12 hours braving the fierce December cold—all to secure a coveted spot in the front row.

The other folks in line appear cold, but spirited. More (overwhelmingly white and female) fans would join the line as the day went on. And wait. And wait. For hours on end. All in hopes of getting just a few feet closer to Gerard Way & co. There’s eyeliner, boots, and lovingly homemade killjoy outfits. Many prepared well for the wait, with blankets, bottled water, and ipods to pass the time. Most came with friends, or the occasional cool mom.

This is what popular music fandom looks like.

I’ve experienced this scene so many times, it’s become mundane. I typically line up 5-9 hours ahead of doors for major concerts, much to the dismay of my family and friends. They are dumbfounded at my lust for the front row, and appalled by my nonchalance about traveling alone to new cities. (I’m the lone rocker in my posse).

So, what inspires this kind of fandom? It’s a question I ask myself a lot lately. Why do I transform into a giggly fangirl before seeing my favorite bands? Why am I willing to rearrange work and school schedules, squat in friends’ houses, travel alone, and wait hours on end to see them? What makes me (and others) like these bands so damn much? I think MCR fandom can shed some light on this question.

One of the most polarizing bands on the modern rock scene, MCR also boasts some of the most vehement fans around. A quick google search reveals a slew of blogs, message boards, Facebook pages, tumblrs, and twitter accounts dedicated to the band and their supposed life-saving powers. Some fans have seen the band 14 times. I even met a woman who dropped out of college, just shy of graduation, to follow the Black Parade tour around the country.


London MCR Fans (2008)

Many ask “Why?!” And it’s a good question. Why do all of this, why travel across the world and camp out over night for a show? So I posed it to Lorie:

I get that question a lot [since] I just came off tour with Greenday. I do it because I love them, because I want to be close to them. And the only way to be close to them is camp out and put in the effort. A lot of people complain and get into fights in line and stuff, but if you don’t put in the effort [to wait], you don’t deserve it.

Many fans feel understood by MCR’s music in a cosmic way. The blaring individualism and emotional warfare in their songs both pierces and fortifies fans. Gerard Way  even acknowledged this special connection onstage in 2007:

“Some of you feel like the only place you fit in is at a show like this. That’s not the case. Because…we’re all outcasts in our own way; we all belong in this world and we all fit in in this world!”**

That uplifting message is the reason why “MCR saved my life!” has become a slogan among fans. Websites, t-shirts and posters have spread this message to the point of near-cliché. Yet it’s not  to be taken lightly. I asked Lorie what MCR’s music meant to her:

So much. It’s the biggest cliché when everyone says My Chemical Romance saves my life because everyone says that now…but back in the day when they did save my life it wasn’t a cliché.

In many ways, these misfits from New Jersey provide a sense of affirming validation for those who never felt they quite “fit in.” And that validation (or whatever you want to call it) comes from both their music and the story of the band. In a culture that bombards us with messages about “how we should be” these guys show that you can be weird and fucked up, yet perfectly awesome. I think that sense of validation–of seeing your own truth in something else–is what converts casual listeners to diehards. And this notion carries well beyond MCR fandom.

The truth is, we’re all fans of something, whether it’s sports teams, writers or celebrities.


Or shitty music

Stepping back and asking what this fandom does for us can yield insights about how we relate to ourselves and the world around us.

So, step back. What do you see?

(As for me, I’m gonna read some Henry Jenkins…)

*Yes, that’s her real last name.
**quote based off memory and this reference:
Note: Special thank you to Lorie Way for taking the time to chat with me!!
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