On The Record: Fall Out Boy 1, Mötley Crüe 0
The first time I ever spoke to Pete Wentz, it was over the telephone, and he was in a parking garage leaving an appointment with his therapist. I know this because he told me. And when his cell phone cut out, he called me back and told me again. As I would learn over the next three years, this scenario was not all that uncommon (the openness, not the lousy cell reception).
This was sometime in 2005, before he and his bandmates released From Under the Cork Tree and before he became an international celebrity, a spokesperson for a generation, half of a paparazzi-hounded power couple or a multimillionaire label boss/ clothing-line impresario. Back then, he was just another kid in a band, still unknown enough to drive himself to therapy sessions, and still trusting enough to tell a reporter about it.
In the three years since that initial conversation, I have written something in the neighborhood of 50 stories about Wentz and Fall Out Boy. I have flown cross-country with them on a private jet, eaten lunch with them on film sets in Florida and watched them play triumphant hometown gigs, Video Music Awards preshows and late-night sets atop an office building in Los Angeles. But in a lot of ways, I've always been closest to Wentz. I've been to his childhood home in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette (I've even been in the bathroom where he took those infamous Sidekick pics), met his parents, been tackled by his two massive black dogs and seen his baby pictures. I've witnessed backstage fights between him and ex-girlfriends, near-brawls between him and overzealous security guards at shows, and full-blown creep-out sessions between him and his fans.
And I'm not telling you all of this to gain scene points or to come across as some sort of Pete Wentz obsessive (though, rereading the previous paragraph, done and done.) Rather, I bring it all up because I want you to realize that I know what I'm talking about when I say that Wentz isn't just another dude in a band; he's the biggest rock star of the MySpace Generation, the one you'll be telling your kids about some day. And by extension, Fall Out Boy aren't just another bunch of nerdy, hirsute emo kids (I'm not even sure they're emo at this point). They're some of the biggest rock stars on the planet — or, at least, they're learning to act that way.
I am in no way comparing Wentz and company to Jimmy Page or Robert Plant (or Vince Neil or Tommy Lee, for that matter). To the best of my knowledge, no one in the band has purchased a home owned by Aleister Crowley, and no one has been videotaped steering a boat with his manhood. There have been no incidents involving groupies and fish, no Jack Daniels-fueled debauchery. No one has died of a heroin overdose, been revived, checked themselves out of the hospital, gone home, recorded an answering machine greeting saying they couldn't come to the phone because they were dead, then cooked up another massive shot of heroin, nearly died again, then checked themselves into rehab (that's called the Nikki Sixx special).
No, basically, they're Rock Stars, Version 2.0: a bizarre mix of Kurt Cobain, Rick Ocasek and some kid you've got in your top eight on MySpace. They're well aware of the exploits of their forefathers, but they choose not to follow in their boozy, bloody footsteps (in fact, most, if not all, the members of Fall Out Boy barely even drink alcohol). They are exceedingly normal, entirely approachable and very much a product of both the punk scene that birthed them and the online scene they currently lord over. Their tour busses are stocked with Diet Coke and Xbox 360s, and after a show, you're more likely to find Wentz and frontman Patrick Stump working on a Garage Band track than throwing cold cuts at groupies. Their unwillingness to indulge in any of the trappings of fame makes them unlike any breed of rock star before them (or probably after). In fact, one might say they're not even rock stars at all. And one might be correct.
But here's a dirty little secret: Unlike their contemporaries My Chemical Romance, Paramore and Panic at the Disco (who are all very nice guys and gals, but aren't the sort to trash hotel rooms or urinate on the Alamo), you can tell that Fall Out Boy are actually starting to enjoy this whole rock-star thing. And they're finding creative, completely uncrass ways to exploit it. It probably started when they dreamed up the idea for Infinity Flight 206, a stunt where they played three shows in three cities in less than 24 hours to promote the release of their Infinity on High album last year. Then there was the humanitarian trip to Uganda, where they also happened to shoot a music video. And who can forget their boycotting of this year's Grammy Awards, which Wentz, upset that his band didn't land a single nomination, later reviewed for MTV News from his couch.
There is Wentz's famous girlfriend (Ashlee Simpson); Stump sharing the stage with Seal at the Roots' pre-Grammy party; Joe Trohman's signature line of guitars; drummer Andy Hurley's clothing line (the demurely titled "F--- City"). It's pretty clear that Fall Out Boy have been verging on full-blown rock-star status for a while now, but their latest stunt is what could really put them in the company of giants. Basically, on a whim, they decided to set a world record. Just because they can.
Weather permitting, FOB is playing show at the Frei Montalva research facility in Antarctica this week, thereby landing themselves in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for being the first band to play all seven continents in less than nine months. To make sure everything is legit, they're also flying down a Guinness representative to document the entire process. Also along for the ride: their management, a member of the documentary film crew that's been following them all year and yours truly. And they're doing this all at great personal expense — tickets from Chile to Antarctica alone cost $2,500 per person — all because they thought it would be funny to do so.
"Basically, we did this because we thought it would be hilarious, and quite frankly, we don't know why more bands don't do stuff like this," Wentz told me on the eve of the Antarctic trip. "I mean, we were just sitting around thinking of awesome, funny, totally crazy things to do, things that you'd think up when you were 14. And all of a sudden, we were like, 'Hey, high-fiving a penguin? That's about as 14 and dumb as you can get!' "
"We want to go anywhere, play anywhere, just because no one else is doing it," Hurley added. "I mean, I will fly anywhere. I want us to play in places where we can get seriously hurt. I want to play places where we can shoot guns and maybe even die."
And in my book, that's the truest example of rock stardom: taking full advantage of everything life makes available, doing things we mere mortals can't and never forgetting to listen to their inner 14-year-old. To be a rock star means to be, in some way, superhuman. As this Antarctic has trip proved, Fall Out Boy might look like a bunch of Clark Kents, but they've got red tights underneath their girl jeans. You can snicker at the way they dress, their blogs or the way they chose to live their lives, but don't forget that they're also some of the biggest rock stars on the planet. They could probably sleep with your girlfriends if they wanted to.
Because really, you don't have to funnel booze or objectify women or run afoul of the law to be a rock star, you just have to be ready and willing to live the life we all dream about. You have to be willing to get stupid, go anywhere and do anything, even if that means playing a show at a science lab on the southernmost continent on Earth. Shoot, Mötley Crüe never did that. Bunch of wusses.