Limp Bizkit fans are well-acquainted with the anger frontman Fred Durst has displayed onstage. W.A. "Popcorn" Harris has experienced it firsthand.
Durst, the 29-year-old singer and rapper for thrash-rap band Limp Bizkit, worked as a tattoo artist for Harris, owner of Popcorn's Tattoo Shop in Philadelphia, for five months in 1996. One day Harris, 51, performed what he described as a daily ritual.
He assured a customer whom Durst had just tattooed that if the man was not happy with the work, Harris would give him his money back and fix the tattoo.
"[Durst] construed that to mean that was a criticism of his work. And he exploded," Harris said. "He said, 'How could you do that to me!' It's my shop, so I had to lay down the law. I'm gonna say what I want to say. He was really upset upset enough to write a three-page letter about it."
Harris and two other associates from Durst's previous career in body art, Jacksonville, Fla., natives Mike Geiger, 29, and Dwayne Crafton, 26 all of whom lived with Durst at one point spoke kindly of their friend and ex-roommate. But they said a thin line exists between Durst's onstage and offstage personas.
As his band's profile has grown over the past two years, Durst has gained a spotlight of his own. Anger and frustration are key elements of his performances. The band's recent chart-topping album, Significant Other, includes cathartic odes to rejection, such as the breakup song "Nookie" (RealAudio excerpt), and songs of rage, including the crunching "Break Stuff" (RealAudio excerpt). The LP, released in June, has sold about 3 million copies.
Durst's onstage demeanor is volatile and excitable. He was charged with assault after allegedly kicking a security guard in the head during a July 12 show at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Minn. He's due in court on the misdemeanor charges Sept. 15. On July 24, at Woodstock '99, he urged the crowd of close to 187,000 people to ignore organizers' pleas to calm down; hundreds of fans were hurt in the moshpit during Limp Bizkit's set and performances that followed by Rage Against the Machine and Metallica.
Crafton remembers Durst, known for his red pants and for wearing his baseball cap backward, as being just as spontaneous and ambitious when the two worked together at Inksmith and Rogers, a tattoo parlor in Jacksonville. The same is true, he said, when they were living together in the mid-1990s. Durst often would stay up all night to write lyrics, Crafton said.
Crafton met the goateed singer in 1992 when Durst (born William Fred Durst) was dating Crafton's sister. The two immediately hit it off, Crafton said. Crafton said he did all the tattoo work on Durst's left forearm, including a depiction of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter from "The Empire Strikes Back," as a female.
"When he's offstage, he's a normal, everyday guy," Crafton said. "He's real cool."
Yet Geiger, who worked with Durst at the now-defunct East Coast Tattoo Studio, and who now co-manages Agony A Tattoo Studio, described his friend as an intensely private, devout Christian who rarely socializes in bars and usually keeps his guard up.
Geiger hasn't talked much to Durst since the singer moved to Los Angeles last year, he said. "He's undergone drastic changes [since Limp Bizkit became so popular]," Geiger said. "They're the kind of changes I don't know how many people can have control over. I think a little bit went to his head. Who's to say it wouldn't go to anyone's head. Maybe it's an ego boost. Maybe it's something he'll grow out of."
When Limp Bizkit played Jacksonville earlier this year. Geiger said it marked the first time in five years he did not join Durst on a Jacksonville stage for a rendition of Limp Bizkit's song "Counterfeit" (RealAudio excerpt).
Harris, too, described Durst as private. But he also referred to the singer as a talented tattoo artist who could have become hugely successful had he stayed in the business.
"He came raw, but you could see he had that potential and with some cultivating could be really good," Harris said. Geiger and Crafton said Durst prefers a "new school," graffiti-like style, with wide lettering and funky colors and shapes.
While things have changed drastically for Durst since he hit it big with Limp Bizkit, his anger and rebellious streak led him to rough times even before he became famous, the singer said in an Oct. 1, 1997, interview issued by his then-publicists at the Mitch Schneider Organization.
"I was living in San Francisco [in 1991] and I was married and I found out that my wife cheated on me. I got into a fight with the guy and her and I went to jail over it," he said. "I just spent a lot of time thinking in jail it was the first time I had ever been in jail."
No record documents any jail time for Durst in San Francisco, according to police there.
If Durst's volatility creates trouble, it also deserves partial credit for his success. The singer's angry music apparently has touched a nerve with fans, according to Paul Fischer, an assistant music-history professor at Middle Tennessee State University.
"There are fewer and fewer safe outlets to vent the anger that results from everyday life," Fischer said. "The more visible it gets, the more society reacts to it. Whether or not they are positive messages, the anger is very real, and it's getting an audience."