I spent 24 hours on the road with Good Charlotte recently. Most of what I saw I already knew from TV reports on tour-bus life, probably from episodes of "Diary": You can't do much in the bathroom, it's eight grown men living in the space of a large bedroom, running water is a luxury and the food sucks. That's not, however, what I went to report on.
Good Charlotte are a band with punk values — they look it, they grew up on the music and they believe in the punk ethos. At the same time, though, their video has already been retired from "TRL," their new album, The Young and the Hopeless, will most likely go platinum in the next few months, and they're selling out venues that actually have nosebleed sections. And they've got some incredibly rabid fans. That's why I went with the group — to see who these fans are (Click for photos).
The band's fans are not your average punk-rock, "hate-the-Man" fans, they're the kind that use color markers to write "I love Joel" across their chests. The kind of fans that camp out in their cars to be the first to the venue, the fans that huddle around the tour bus in hopes of catching a glimpse of the band's guitarist Benji waking up.
It's the kind of fervor and swooning reserved for boy bands. There were girls slathered in glitter with gifts for the boys: jelly bracelets that had been carefully beaded with the girls' names ("Kelly, "Michelle," "Donna"). And invariably, there were the ones who stood for hours to see their favorite Charlotte, trembling and crying, too scared to even attempt a conversation once they got to the front of the autograph line. This is not what most punk rockers sign on for.
I asked Benji how this feels, to have such emotion pouring out of these fans. He said it was flattering, of course, but it's also something he doesn't quite know what to do with. To have a complete stranger stand in front of you, with tears pouring down her face, would make anyone uncomfortable. If he didn't really care that most of these kids have been looking forward to the show for months, or if he didn't know how lucky they were to have fans that actually follow the bus from city to city, it would be just another part of the job. But any band will say that they'd be nothing without the fans. And Good Charlotte will tell you that they're the most important people in the equation. Very few people know what it's like being onstage, looking out at a sea of bodies. And every single person that I saw in the crowd knew every single word of every song Good Charlotte played. It's hard not to be moved by this kind of devotion.
I got up the next morning, in the middle of New Jersey somewhere, just itching to get off of this bus where you couldn't stretch your legs without kicking someone or knocking over cans of soda. I hadn't eaten anything that resembled a food group since breakfast the day before, so imagine my frustration at not being able to actually get off the bus. There were groups of people outside, staring at the front door, armed with cameras, all waiting for the slightest movement, a sign that someone, anyone was coming out. The guys had figured out a simple system: Call a cab, have security direct the car as close to the bus as possible and hurry out.
Is this a new variation of "pop"? After years of shuttling in vans, motivated not by the money but by the music, after making small, gradual steps in building a homegrown fanbase, like any underground band, Good Charlotte have finally found a home. It's a place where you can love the Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne with the same passion you can love Justin Timberlake's new solo career.
It's a question of maintaining a delicate balance between staying true to who you are, where you came from, not selling out and knowing that a couple of teary "TRL" fans don't change what the music is about.