Why Did My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way Write ‘Cancer’?
With a title like The Black Parade, you can guess that there are some darker moments in My Chemical Romance's highly celebrated concept album, and when it comes to dark moments, they don't get much darker than "Cancer." So why did Gerard Way go down such a dark path in creating this standout cut from The Black Parade?
How Does "Cancer" Fit Into The Black Parade?
To understand why a song like "Cancer" was necessary, we need to pull back and look at the idea that went into The Black Parade. The album itself is viewed as a conceptual piece, a rock opera so to speak, centering on a main character known as "The Patient." Within the story, "The Patient" eventually dies, and the overall story deals with themes of death. In one of the album's biggest songs, "Welcome to the Black Parade," death comes in the form of one of "The Patient's" fondest memories, watching a marching band during his childhood.
As "The Patient" eventually dies, it's revealed that "Cancer" is the cause, with the lyrics detailing "The Patient's" views on their deteriorating physical state, coming to terms with their chapped lips and how the hair has left their body as they count down to the period of their demise and thinking of leaving a loved one behind.
Why Did Gerard Way Write "Cancer"?
In speaking to NME ahead of the album's release, Gerard Way made no bones about his intent for the track. He explained that he wanted to write "the darkest song ever."
“It’s not a poetic track,” he said. “It’s very direct, very brutal, but that’s the way disease is. Obviously cancer is being used as a metaphor."
“But I also wanted the song to be directly about the disease, because it’s something that The Patient has gone through, and it’s a very powerful thing. For me it was almost like an attempt to write the darkest song ever, and I think we achieved that.”
How Did Others in My Chemical Romance View Gerard Way's Writing "Cancer"?
Admittedly, "Cancer" is a rough track, and it's not difficult perceiving that the author of the song went to a pretty dark place to write it. So how did those in the My Chemical Romance camp view the song and Way's creative process during it? Guitarist Frank Iero told author Tom Bryant for his "Not the Life It Seems: The True Lives of My Chemical Romance" book (as shared by SongFacts), "I remember going into G's room and he had all these signs up on the wall that he had drawn and painted. They were the song titles, and there was this one big piece of paper that said 'Cancer' on it. He was so submerged in it. I remember thinking to myself, 'shit, man. I hope he's not too deep.'"
Iero recalled, "There were multiple times in the band's career that I would say to G, 'Hey, you know that you can just write a song? You don't have to kill yourself.' He was always like, 'Yeah, yeah, maybe I will. You're right.' But I knew what he really meant was, 'All right, whatever. Shut the fuck up.' Ultimately, you need to do what you need to do to get the best out of yourself. But I wanted him to know he had an out. I wanted him to know he was allowed to have a little bit of fun.'"
Producer Rob Cavallo also spoke with Bryant, recalling, "[Gerard] said, 'Quick, come with me to the piano, sit down. He just started singing and it was really crazy. This has never happened to me before but it took maybe eight minutes to write that song. He sang, I played the piano and it was written. That was it. It just came right out. He directed me, told me what sort of chords to play and, all of a sudden, my fingers were doing the talking. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing and 'Cancer' came out eight minutes later. The engineer showed up half an hour later and we recorded it. Done."
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What Is the Legacy of "Cancer" Within The Black Parade Cycle?
Though not released as a single and coming midway through the epic record, "Cancer" definitely was a key track that made a huge imprint on the band and within the story that was told with The Black Parade. During the promotion of the album, My Chemical Romance chose "Cancer" as one of the two tracks they performed during an appearance on Saturday Night Live. It has also gone on to receive a gold certification in the U.S. despite not having the single push that many songs reaching this mark get.
In addition, Twenty One Pilots later recorded a cover of the song for Rock Sound's 2016 compilation album with a variety of acts taking on songs from The Black Parade album.
Revisit My Chemical Romance's "Cancer" below.
My Chemical Romance, "Cancer"
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Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner