As a pudgy preteen in working-class Belleville, New Jersey, Gerard Way would awe his little brother (and future My Chem bassist) Mikey – as well as various waitresses – by drawing elaborate sci-fi fantasias on diner place mats. "I don't know what it is," says Mikey. "He's got that thing: He sees it, and he can just do it. It's pretty wild." Practically from birth, Way was almost frighteningly overflowing with ideas – for songs, for movies, for comic books, for costumes – as if some vandal muse had permanently kicked the cap off his hydrant. At the moment, he's working on a pitch for a sci-fi TV show: "It's about the two greatest star-fighter pilots in the galaxy – who mirror the lives of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls," he says excitedly. "That's the only thing I'm going to use to sell the show."
Last year, however, Way's imagination failed him. He found himself having trouble writing lyrics while working on a set of songs that ultimately left him cold. My Chemical Romance recorded an entire album with producer Brendan O'Brien, and the concept was to have no concept: just straight, Stooges-influenced hard rock. At the time, it seemed like the right idea – a move toward a more adult style.
Way was feeling ill at ease with the style that had defined My Chem – which he started to see less as an aesthetic than as a prison. "With Revenge, we set this tone of dark, tortured Gothic imagery, because at the time, I genuinely was angry, tortured, pissed off at God, and the list goes on. I was raised Catholic, so it's like a checklist. I had every angsty thing you could have. I was in my 20s, but basically reacting to the world as a 16-year-old, which is kind of nuts."
His friend Grant Morrison – an acclaimed comic-book writer blessed with a similarly uninhibited imagination – was among the first to tell him that the O'Brien album felt like a creative retreat. "He was putting so much of himself into the Killjoys comic-book project he was working on, and I thought, 'That's the energy you need in the record.' I just said, 'Do the Killjoys! Make that part of the record!' To me, the coolest, shiniest, sexiest, darkest, scariest thing you can be is pop." Way ultimately cast Morrison as the villain in a series of Killjoys music videos, and they're planning a video game connected to the plot.
But it was Lindsey, during the couple's trip to the desert, who finally got through to Way. "I had to end up in artistic paralysis to realize I was an artist," he says. "Lindsey goes, 'You have all the time in the world to get old.' It was like saying to myself, 'Don't go down without a fight, don't be the boring thirtysomething rock band that everybody wants you to be.'" So they scrapped the O'Brien record and started over, reusing (though rerecording) just three of the original songs.
Part of Way's liberation from the past is the fact that he's walking lighter these days, literally. A strict diet has brought the five-foot-ten singer down to 156 pounds, the lowest weight of his adult life. He had been as heavy as 198 pounds at points over the past decade. "It was about feeling freer and moving and being a little more fearless onstage, that's what this was about, so I just had to get in shape," he says. "I grew up with severe body issues, and then basically used our wardrobe to shield those body issues for the entirety of the band's career. It was, 'Let's see how much more we can keep covering and putting this body in a prison, because you feel bad about yourself.'"
In the end, Way did write one song about growing up for Danger Days: a wistful, Smashing Pumpkins-esque ballad called "The Kids From Yesterday." It's My Chem's prettiest tune. "It was the last song written for the record," says Way. "When we finished it, I felt so complete, because to me, it's about accepting, 'Oh, I did grow up, I just did it the way I wanted to.' I did it on my terms, and I felt great about it."
At the moment, Way is wearing a gray sweater over his black jeans, tucked into quilted leather boots that look oddly familiar. On his wrist is a TAG Heuer Monaco watch. "It's the first nice watch I ever bought," he says. "I've never had a nice watch. I never had a nice car, anything like that. I didn't buy into that. But I got to the point where I said, 'You know, I just want a nice watch.'" He looks down at his feet and smiles. "And Han Solo boots. That's a dream attained, to be able to dress like Han Solo for a living."
This story is from the December 23rd, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.
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