A Better Son

You can disdain the band’s high-school-goth lyricism or snicker at their emo-extremist wardrobe but you can’t deny that My Chemical Romance had a flair for the (often needlessly) dramatic. With Father’s Day just having passed and with parentage on my brain, let’s take a moment to enjoy one of the best instances of that dramatic impulse.

A little over halfway through The Black Parade, the album takes a turn from its bizarrely humorless anthems and goes full weirdo. I’m talking, of course, about “Mama.”

The entire song—best known for a guest spot from Lucille 2 herself, Liza Minelli—is a deranged march through a fatalistic bout of retrospective self-actualization. There’s a vaudevillian intro, a big chorus and a demented, wailing outro but I’d argue that the song’s greatest moment is actually the emphatic conclusion to its twisted second verse (beginning at 1:38). As the narrator laments the personal failings that have doomed his life, he addresses his mother and says, “You should’ve raised a baby girl, I should’ve been a better son.” The line functions on its own but it’s what follows that’s so powerful.

After the narrator suggests—through the metaphor of amputation, no less—that his death, his complete severance from those around him, would be the best way to handle the monster he has become, he delivers the song’s (and the album’s) most impactful moment. Turning his judgment towards his mother, if only for half a line, he sings “You should have been—” with venom in his voice. But the conclusion of what his mother should have been is left unsaid. Instead, out of fear or love or acceptance, he turns inward once again and condemns himself once more, this time with finality, each syllable painfully articulated, Gerard Way’s shouted delivery perfectly miserable and dejected. “I could have been a better son!”

It’s a harsh and visceral moment, full of pain and grief, and, honestly, it’s incredible.

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