CHICAGO — As far as political fundraisers go, this one was a decidedly nontraditional affair. There was a go-go dancer gyrating behind a pane of glass, free games of "Frogger" and peanut-butter-and-jelly sushi rolls served on Pringles. The music was loud, the cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon plentiful and the only guy to show up in a suit was rather befuddled-looking Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
Yes, when Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz decides to throw an event — even one designed to raise money and awareness for Democratic candidate Barack Obama — he does it his way.
"I have never really gotten involved in politics before. Even in college, everyone just wanted to go out and get drunk and make bad decisions, sort of like we did when we elected George W. Bush eight years ago," he told the crowd from the DJ booth at Chicago's Lakeview Broadcasting Company, the dive bar/ clubhouse he co-owns. "So in the spirit of all that, I just want everyone to pretend this isn't a real fundraiser and go out and have fun."
And everyone did. Wentz spun a few seconds of a brand-new song from Panic at the Disco's upcoming Pretty. Odd. (surely the first time in the long and storied history of American politics that this had occurred at a campaign fundraiser) and hung out in a corner with his parents. Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy strutted around the room, Pittsburgh Pirates hat tilted atop his head. Wentz's bandmate Joe Trohman breezed through, looking more and more like Check Your Head-era Mike D. And Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath watched bemusedly from an alcove near the bathrooms.
They all claimed to be there because they supported Obama, and wanted to lend some small modicum of celebrity to his cause. "We're in a position now to influence young voters, which is both exciting and sort of weird; so even if Pete wasn't throwing this, I'd be here for Obama," Trohman said, and that sentiment was echoed by most of the kids who packed Lakeview's dance floor (though a fair amount admitted they were just there to be in close proximity to Wentz).
Still, Fall Out Boy fanatics, first-time voters and even those younger than 18 (it was an all-ages event) came out, braving the bitter Chicago cold, plunking down $75 — which not only got them entry into the event, but also a Clandestine-designed "Obama: Changing More Than Just His Clothes" T-shirt — and drinking and dancing and yelling with the kind of voluminous aplomb usually reserved for Obama/Clinton debates. It was enough to make even hardened politicos, like Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz, who reps the Lakeview neighborhood, take notice (and don a Clandestine shirt).
"When Pete first came to me with this idea, I thought it was great, and to see it here tonight, with so many young voters so energized to bring about change by supporting Obama, well, it's amazing," she laughed. "But, to be honest, I really only came out here for the T-shirt."
And you can probably fuss about whether or not anyone really learned anything about Obama at the event ("Most people are just going to go home drunk," Trohman said, half-jokingly. "That's what happens when you have an open bar"), but that would be missing the point. This is the brave new world of politics we're talking about, where the PBR flows like water and the "Frogger" is free. Which is why, when asked what he hoped to accomplish by hosting the fundraiser, Wentz paused for a second, then laughed.
"I don't know, I mean, there's a fine line in all of this, like you don't want to be seen as 'the political guy,' because that'll sort of haunt you for the rest of your days," he said. "Basically, we wanted to have this event, open to people of all ages, because we just want to get them all involved. And, you know, we're not Oprah Winfrey, so we can't really throw some insane momentum behind Obama. Basically, this is just me and my friends trying to help."