Day Seventy: A Requiem for a Band That Made One of the Greatest Music Videos of all Time
by Tom Noonan
I don’t love My Chemical Romance. When I saw this weekend that the band had announced they’d split up, I didn’t go and listen to their entire catalog. I didn’t go and read articles about their legacy or what this break-up meant to the emo-alt generation I grew up on the fringes of. Instead, I went and watched my favorite music video of all time:
The first time I ever saw this video, I was in my friend Jake’s basement probably messing around on a guitar and playing one of three songs: “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, “Boys on the Docks” by The Dropkick Murphys, or the riff from “Come As You Are” on repeat. It was right about that time when videos on the internet were a thing my friends who didn’t have dial-up could watch. By virtue of always hanging out at their houses, I too became able to do this. The “I’m Not Ok” video was one of the first videos I can remember watching over and over again even when my friends went on to do other things like go outside or play songs with more than four chords in them*.
Before seeing the video, I wasn’t a huge fan of My Chemical Romance. I’d heard Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, but I didn’t own it, and most of my friends dismissed it as typical emo-alt bullshit. It came out around the time The Used were spitting water in the air and Senses Fail was putting out songs about autopsies. The best thing about the “I’m Not Ok” video is that is was able to transcend the culture it came from to become something much more important.
The video itself is something like a condensed John Hughes movie, but there’s a remarkable darkness that hides below the surface of everything that happens. The misery of this prep school setting isn’t limited to the jet black-haired outcasts, but it extends to the jocks, teachers, and cheerleaders. When the action reaches a climax in the form of a violent showdown, the humor fades as Way’s screams of “I’m really not ok” echo through the halls. It’s all at once a troubling sight and powerful manifestation of the violence hidden underneath adolescent placidity.
At the beginning of the video, Way remarks, “I don’t want to make it… I just want to…” only to be cut off by the ultra-anthemic opening to the song. I’m not sure how he would end that sentence now, but with this video to his name, I’m not really sure it matters.
*The other videos that I remember doing this with are “Without Me” by Eminem and “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, the latter of which is probably my favorite music video of all time, but Kanye West isn’t a band that just broke up.