Don’t Be Afraid to Get Burned: High Art vs. Passionate Authenticity

In late 2006, the rock band My Chemical Romance and director Samuel Bayer set out to record two music videos back-to-back. By the end of the shoot drummer Bob Bryar would have second degree burns on his body, lead singer Gerard Way would be hospitalized with torn muscles in his legs, and one of the greatest music videos in history had been created.

The first video shot that day was “Welcome to the Black Parade”, the centerpiece of the band’s new concept album, and a massive production. Drawing from the aesthetics of German expressionist cinema of the 1920’s, the video tells the story of a man who dies from cancer and is escorted to the afterlife via a parade of death.

The pedigree that director Samuel Bayer brought to the production, having worked with the likes of Nirvana and Green Day, was undeniable, and costumes for the shoot were produced by Academy Award winning designer Colleen Atwood.

By all accounts the resulting big budget high concept music video was a total success, with over 40 million YouTube views. Front-man Gerard Way described it as a perfect visual representation of The Black Parade album as a whole.

The second video of the shoot was for the song “Famous Last Words”. The concept – meant to maximize the double shoot’s budget by re-purposing sets and costumes from the “Black Parade” – was simple: the band would perform the song while surrounded by flames.

“Famous Last Words”, in essence, is a performance video, with little more than the flames and costumes to augment the musicians. And yet the “Famous Last Words” video surpasses “Black Parade” on virtually all levels, and has now reached over 75 millions views on Youtube.

The band begins the video already in a state of frenzied passion, and, throughout the course of the song, the energy and intensity continually grows until it seems as though total annihilation of the performers is inevitable. There are moments when the viewer witnesses the performers’ shoulders heaving up and down as they gasp to bring the burning air into their lungs.

The passion of the lyrics and music, combined with the evident anger, desperation, exhaustion, and deterioration of the band over the course of the song merge to produce an utterly unforgettable and emotionally visceral viewing experience.

When I learned Way and Bayer were seriously injured while making the video, I was not the least bit surprised. The video screams danger at every turn.

There is an authenticity to the performance, the lyrics, and the music. It’s that raw and passionate authenticity that makes “Famous Last Words” one of the greatest music videos ever made.

Too many writers strive to create the “Welcome to the Black Parade” video with the words. They want perfect prose. They want massive production value. They want award-winning collaborators and an aesthetic that demonstrates how smart they are by paying homage to well-respected niche high art productions of the past.

Fuck that.

Forget perfection. Reject the past. Give up on proving to everyone how clever you are.

What I want you to do is create YOUR version of “Famous Last Words”.

When I read your writing, I don’t want high production value.

What I want authenticity. I want PASSION and I want DANGER.

I want writers who are willing to get burned while creating their art.

My Chemical Romance were up for the challenge. Are you?

grey backKevin T. Johns is an author, writing coach, and ghostwriter. He has helped hundreds of writers from around the world get ideas out of their heads, onto the page, and into readers' hands. Get your free copy of his short guide for authors below.

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