TW: Suicide and Terrorism
September 11, 2001 was a life-changing day for many people around the globe. For a young Gerard Way in particular, it proved to be a catalyst for him to use music as a way to process the existential terror he felt after witnessing the twin towers fall. Thus, My Chemical Romance was born, becoming a cathartic outlet and symbolic figurehead for a generation of troubled teenagers.
In the two decades since, the band has gone through massive successes and challenges, including in-fighting, addiction troubles and ultimately a prolonged hiatus beginning in 2014. Their surprise reunion in 2020 was met with much fanfare from the emo and punk community. However, this was shortlived as their return to the stage was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic (you can read my take on it back in 2020 examining The Legacy of My Chemical Romance).
This week, the band finally embarks on rescheduled dates. Ahead of their first show last night in Eden, Cornwall, they released an unexpected new single.
“The Foundations of Decay” is a heavy and dark track, more like their earlier material I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love (2002), than their shinier, more radio-friendly material Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2010).
Lyrically, the track explores classic MCR themes of mortality and sorrow, but this time with the added layer of age and retrospection in the mix. With the band members all approaching middle age, they view the world in a much different light than what they did twenty years ago.
“The Foundations of Decay” explores the idea of time marching on and how the band is transitioning in their career and their personal lives. Set against the backdrop of a world becoming more chaotic than ever, the central image of decaying foundations also allows Gerard to explore imagery that once again draws from the terrorist attacks of September 11.
In verse 2, he sings:
He was there, the day the towers fell
And so he wandered down the road
And we would all build towers of our own
Only to watch the roots corrode
The image of towers collapsing and roots/foundations corroding is reminiscent of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The images of the foundation of rubble were symbolic of a world superpower brought to its knees, yet still defiant in characteristically American hope. Images like the one below were broadcast across the globe for all to see, leaving a mark on the collective psyche.
This isn’t the first time Gerard has explicitly referenced the World Trade Center towers collapsing. “Skylines and Turnstiles” (2002) and “The Only Hope For Me Is You” (2010) both featured lyrics about September 11, also explored in a previous post about MCR.
Now as they embark on their comeback, the lyrics come full circle. Written from the perspective of an old man weathered by battles, the rage and angst of MCR’s past now takes on a more melancholic and mournful tone. Using the image of a man surveying a battlefield from atop a hill, Gerard sings:
And so tired with age
He turns the page
Let the flesh
Submit itself to gravity
The concept of ageing, and submitting to gravity ties into the song’s central theme of decay and death, just as one’s flesh begins to sag from bones. However, in line with the 9/11 terror attacks, it also conjures up images of individuals who chose to jump to their deaths rather than face the flames engulfing the towers.
One image in particular became iconic for its striking and haunting quality. It later became known as “The Falling Man”, stirring much criticism as to its appropriateness, but also much praise for being a “masterpiece in photojournalism”.
This morbid tension between despair and hope has always been a strength of My Chemical Romance. It also parallels the narrative of the band’s career and Gerard’s personal life.
The song finishes in a dramatic breakdown with Gerard singing and screaming about how it is much easier to rest in the foundations of decay than to take up arms once more. As the emo faithful flock back to the church of My Chemical Romance, they will be greeted with open arms, and called to get up once more, and fight to face another day.
Yes, it comforts me much more
Yes, it comforts me much more
To lay in the foundations of decay
Get up, coward!
Battling demons both externally and internally has shaped us as a society in a myriad of ways these past few years. In 2022, the foundations of the world have been shaken by divisive social politics, geopolitics, and a once-in-a-century pandemic. It’s no wonder that a band like My Chemical Romance is lurching back to the forefront of the pop culture consciousness, helping us dig through the foundations of decay of our collective lives.