The Power of Texts and Images in My Chemical Romance’s The Black Paradeby Jessica Lee on Jan 18, 2020 • 12:05 pm 1 Comment
NB: The metaphors are shown in capital letters as indicated by Barbara Dancygier and Eve Sweetser’s Figurative Language (2014) text.
For every song a musical artist publishes, the artist creates an album cover art to represent the theme and messages conveyed in the music. In The Black Parade (2006) album, written and sung by the American rock band My Chemical Romance, the artwork produced for the vinyl copy of the album captures and communicates the artist’s message through multiple inputs blended together. The message the album is addressing is the mental health obstacles that the lead singer of the band, Gerard Way, was combatting when they were writing the album. Gerard’s ‘battle’ is represented through the character of ‘The Patient.’ The album includes fourteen tracks with each song organized in a specific order to narrate The Patient’s journey as the disease he has leads The Patient closer to the end of his life. The journey that The Patient travels on shares with the listeners The Patient’s fear of death, sadness, and conflicting emotions about death and dying. The songs in the album include a variety of upbeat and melancholic rhythms and melodies to express The Patient’s conflicting emotions with an underlying tone about death and recollection of The Patient’s memories of a past lover in “I Don’t Love You” and living a destructive and self-harming life in “The Sharpest Lives” and “House of Wolves.” The Patient’s journey branches from the primary metaphor, LIFE IS A JOURNEY leading to LIFE IS A STORY and expanding to ‘Cancer is a Journey’ metaphor (Dancygier and Sweetser 46, 198-199). These three metaphors are the core metaphors used to share The Patient’s memories during his last moments fighting his terminal disease.
A double-scope blend is used to connect the message from the cover art and the text, such as the title and lyrics, that consists of three main inputs: the marching band parade, death and darkness, and The Patient dying from a deadly disease. The first input is the parade frame that provides a visual and conceptual structure to the visual art. The purpose of a parade is to unify and create an uplifting spirit towards a group of people with upbeat melodies and rhythms to dance and march to. As indicated by title, ‘The Black Parade,’ the parade frame provides a visual structure for the image by having a group of beings dressed in marching band uniforms banging marching instruments while the Marching Band leader leads at the front. The second input that is the underlying theme in the image is the ‘black’ aspect of ‘The Black Parade.’ The ‘black’ part of the parade in the title and the cover art extends the primary metaphor, SADNESS IS DARKNESS (Dancygier and Sweetser 167). The word and colour ‘black’ connotes to darkness, shadows, death, depression, and dying as representations of sadness. The ‘black,’ darkness, and topic of death is represented by different animals and skeletal beings that possesses connotations of darkness and death. The beings include reptile creatures, skeletons, and animal predators such as vultures and wolves that are often associated with themes of horror, terror and fright. The contrasting metaphor to SADNESS IS DARKNESS is HAPPINESS IS LIGHT OR BRIGHTNESS which leads to being alive is happy and is represented with light and brightness (Dancygier and Sweetser 167). The brightness is seen on The Patient’s pale glow that contrasts to the dull and dark shades of the charcoal-coloured beings and monsters in the image. These two inputs frame the third input of ‘The Patient’ character that is suffering from a disease; which could most likely be cancer given the lack of hair on his head and the song titled “Cancer” in the album.
The third input completes the message of the blend and encompasses the primary metaphors: LIFE IS A JOURNEY; LIFE IS A STORY; MEANS ARE PATHS and leading to ‘Cancer is a Journey’ metaphor to share The Patient’s path towards the end of his life (Dancygier and Sweetser 46, 198-199, 44). The ‘Black Parade’ presents an ironic message about creating an uplifting moment through the input of the marching band parade while addressing the topic of death that connotes sadness, darkness and depression as a result of The Patient’s deadly disease. The blend of the marching band parade includes the first input of the parade and the second input of death. The marching band individuals are represented as skeletons walking left to right showing that PROGRESS IS FORWARD MOTION (Dancygier and Sweetser 44). This metaphor leads to explaining The Patient’s progress is moving forward on a path towards his death as he travels with the dead marching band. The instruments the marching band are holding for the parade also represents the input of death where the brass instruments are composed of a reptile material indicated by the snake-like tail for the last marching band member. In addition, the two female figures dressed in marching band uniforms are posing in mid-air as if they are flying downwards. The downward direction and the absence of eyes presents the female figures like flying monkeys or dark angels. The marching position these female figures appear to represent would be the dancers in a regular parade. In the Black Parade, these female figures appear to represent petite trickster figures as if they are petite tricksters for the devil or Death. Additionally, the marching drummer boy is using drumsticks that has small human skulls at the tip of the sticks to play on the drum.
The marching drum consists of its own blend as well. The first input is the marching drum as part of the marching band input which is blended with the second input of time represented by the analog clock. The analog clock is not defined by a specific time as both the hour and minute hands are equal in length in contrast to the hour and minute hands having different lengths in a normal analog clock. The absence of a specific time communicates the message of having the absence of time for The Patient and his experience in recollecting his memories before he dies. The idea of the drummer playing the ‘time drum’ with human skulls on his drumsticks expresses the time metaphor TIME IS RELATIVE MOTION IN SPACE (Dancygier and Sweetser 62). The analog clock as a representation of time is placed behind The Patient as if Time is personified following behind The Patient as time is continuous and ‘cannot be outrun.’ In the background of the cover art the second main input of death is reflected with the symbols of diseases and war. The disease symbols include the swine and the dead hunched back mutated being in front of the swine. The representations of war is shown through the woman dressed in a Medieval-styled dress laced with barbed wires while she wears a gas mask and holds onto a missile with a Soviet Union red star and the cavalry holding onto a black distorted flag riding a horse in black armor. These examples symbolize real events that pertains to massacres such as the Black Death or ‘The Great Plague’ in Europe, Medieval and Renaissance wars, and the Cold War regarding developments of nuclear weapons as a result of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. The frame of war is further elaborated in the song “Mama” which includes sound effects of bombs exploding in the distance. Considering the analog clock in the image that has an unspecified time and the symbols of massive death tolls to the human race in the past, the time metaphor explains that death and terminal diseases have occurred in the past and cannot be escaped even during the twenty-first century as The Patient faces his own death.
The last aspect of the parade and death inputs is the marching Band captain. The Band captain is the tallest figure in the image who guides The Patient with his large hand. The idea of death is personified by the Marching Band leader being larger in the album cover art which embodies the primary metaphor IMPORTANT IS BIG. The Marching Band leader’s right arm is placed on The Patient’s shoulders to guide The Patient in following the Band leader, a personified figure of Death, and the entire parade to keep moving forward as PROGRESS IS FORWARD MOTION towards The Patient’s death. Although The Patient’s facial expression shows a lack of willingness to continue moving on the path towards his death, the time metaphor provides the explanation that death is inevitable regardless of the amount of time taken to reach death.
The final main input of The Patient and his terminal disease is a visual representation of the ‘Cancer is a Journey’ metaphor. The Patient is depicted without hair which indicates possible chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients. In addition, The Patient’s gaze focuses on the marching band and the parade behind him as he follows Death’s guidance walking forward towards his destination, the end of his life. The Patient’s journey expresses the Location Event Structure metaphor STATES ARE LOCATIONS where The Patient’s destination is death which is not an actual place but a physical and mental state (Dancygier and Sweetser 47). The Patient’s gaze of observing the beings and dead people around him also represents the primary metaphor KNOWING IS SEEING in which the more The Patient ‘sees’ the dead beings around him he ‘learns’ more about the destination he is moving towards (Dancygier and Sweetser 19). Additionally, The Patient’s lifeline is represented by a literal red line which provides a visual form of the primary metaphor, LIFE IS A JOURNEY (Dancygier and Sweetser 46). The colour red symbolizes the blood of the living that is extended from the bright side, life, on the left-hand side toward the dark side, death, on the right-hand side. The Patient serves as a visual representation of the discourse of cancer as The Patient is followed by soldiers dressed from the World Wars as if they are accompanying The Patient in his battle against cancer. The soldiers have two functions in the ‘Cancer is a Journey’ metaphor as the fighters in The Patient’s battle against his cancer and secondly the presence of the soldiers in the image adds to the war frame in the Cold War example for the time metaphor represented by the nuclear bomb held by the woman in background. In the image the number of soldiers and The Patient are outnumbered by the group of dead individuals in the Black Parade to show The Patient is defeated by Death and his Black Parade.
The album cover art is a metaphor for the lead singer of the band, Gerard Way, and his experience with depression and thoughts of death. Gerard’s perspective is reflected in The Patient’s point of view in each song where The Patient recalls his fondest memories of being a teenager in “Teenagers” and the terrors he feels about death in “Cancer” and “Sleep” as The Patient moves closer to his death bed and towards ‘sleeping’ for eternity. The parade input is meant to represent an example of a child’s fondest memory of watching an uplifting event such as a marching band parade while overcoming the idea of death and dying. This message is communicated through the storytelling expressed in the songs especially “Welcome to the Black Parade” which serves as a song representing persistence despite difficult times and circumstances. “Welcome to the Black Parade” is My Chemical Romance’s anthem written for The Black Parade album to contribute to the concept of the album of confronting obstacles with an strong spirit through the use of repetition in the lyrics reflecting as a determined attitude: “We’ll carry on / And though you’re dead and gone, believe me / Your memory will carry on” (Chorus Section from “Welcome to the Black Parade,” My Chemical Romance).
The relationship between the text, title and lyrics, and the various components in the album cover art communicates the message of the album in addition to building the musical portfolio for the artist. In The Black Parade, the songs in the album reflects Gerard Way’s, the lead singer, journey with depression as The Patient fights his terminal illness is the representation of Gerard battling with depression. The character of The Patient fighting his illness also serves as a metonym for other individuals fighting a terminal disease in addition to mental health diseases that include but are not limited to depression and thoughts of suicide. The Black Parade album is intended to provide the listeners and the band’s fans with an anthem to ‘carry on’ with treating the individual’s mental and physical obstacles in life by expressing the primary metaphors: LIFE IS A JOURNEY and PROGRESS IS FORWARD MOTION (Dancygier and Sweetser 46, 44). The album cover art focuses on the destination of death. The characters in the artwork ironically embraces the idea of approaching death and any obstacle with high spirits, singing an anthem similar to “Welcome to the Black Parade,” to encourage listeners to think positively about the challenges he or she may encounter in their own lives. The multiple inputs of The Patient, the marching band parade, and multiple visual representations of death reflects the band’s intention to expresses the frustration that one may feel when enduring the journey of coping with a difficult time in his or her life.
Dancygier, Barbara and Eve Sweetser. Figurative Language.New York: Cambridge University Press. 2014. Print.
My Chemical Romance. “The Sharpest Lives,” “Welcome to the Black Parade,” “I Don’t Love You,” “House of Wolves,” “Cancer,” Sleep,” and “Teenagers.” The Black Parade, Reprise Records, 2006. Spotify, https://open.spotify.com/album/0FZK97MXMm5mUQ8mtudjuK.
My Chemical Romance. The Black Parade, Reprise Records, 23 Oct. 2006, (Vinyl Album Cover Art). https://genius.com/albums/My-chemical-romance/The-black-parade.