The first time I met Gerard Way was February 2003 in Chicago. I was fleeing a blizzard on the East Coast and profiling the Used, an up-and-coming screamo band from Utah whose singer, the maniacally disheveled Bert McCracken, was in the news for dating, then dumping, Kelly Osbourne. Gerard's band, My Chemical Romance, was opening for the Used at the time and he and McCracken were well on their way to forming a chemical-based bromance of their own. One night the two kept me in the room with them until dawn as they drained the minibar, sent the concierge out for smokes, and made increasingly frequent trips to the bathroom. (Gerard later told me that bender was the inspiration for a song called "You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison," which featured the lyric "do you have the keys to the hotel? / 'cause I'm gonna string this motherfucker on fire.") Onstage, assuming they were able to stumble up to it, the pair were complementary as well: two stringy suburban weirdos peddling punk uplift bruised and blackened with mascara and talk of murder.
There were differences, though, too, and these were key to everything that followed. Flicking boogers and cackling like a banshee, Bert wore fame like a leather jacket. He flashed and strutted, naturally assuming the role of dangerous front man whether he had a mic in his hand or not. Gerard — a scared and sensitive wannabe comic-book artist who formed a band out of either depression or desperation in the wake of 9/11 — wore a leather jacket like a suit of armor. When I interviewed him in Brooklyn, a year later, for the release of what would turn out to be My Chem's breakthrough album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, he refused to remove the stinking, sweat-stained garment despite the rising temperatures and the concerned looks of the yuppie clientele surrounding us at the coffee shop. It was what he needed to become a rock star, he said, or at least to not feel like a fraud.