Think back, if you can, to the nightmarish state of rock and roll in the late '90s. Recall the thudding riffs, the macho posturing, the turntablists. Shudder at the memory of Woodstock '99, the Family Values Tour, and moshpits filled with red-faced, shirtless frat guys all looking to abuse and/or murder you. Recoil from the terror. The dread. The Puddle of Mudd. It was a tough time, indeed.
Now, think even harder ... what's the first image that comes to your with mind?
Chances are, it's a dude. He is probably wearing a blood-red Yankees cap, turned backwards on his skull. He is probably crouched, wildly gesturing, the crotch of his baggy sweats nearly scraping the floor. He is probably angry at seemingly nothing — and everything — all at once. He is almost definitely Fred Durst.
Because, more than anyone (or anything), fairly or unfairly, Durst represented most of the above. He was misogynistic, mean-spirited and egotistical. He picked fights, burned bridges, and stomped on anyone who got in his way. He rhymed "Nookie" with "Cookie," and did it loudly and proudly. Basically, he was "rap-rock" personified, an outwardly lunk-headed, ham-fisted dude who elbowed his way to the top of the mountain. And when the genre that he embodied dropped off, Durst was left in the lurch.
And here's the thing: Fred Durst knows all of this. Or, at least, I think he does. Because when I met him (and his Limp Bizkit mates) Recently, he was none of the things I mentioned above. Instead, he was soft-spoken. Slightly goofy. Strangely Zen. And most of all, incredibly humble. Time and reality seem to have tamed him.
Of course, this is all based on the 45 minutes I spent talking to him, and everything he told me about Limp Bizkit's new album, the rather excellently titled Gold Cobra (which, strangely, still does not have a release date), but I don't think I'm that off-base. It's the first album to feature the band's full lineup in more than a decade, one that Durst calls their "full circle" affair. Making it meant mending the bridges he had so roughly busted up during his heyday, apologizing to his bandmates, and realizing — probably for the first time ever — that the world does not revolve solely around him.
And sure, the first song we've heard off the album — "Why Try," currently streaming on the band's official site — is very much a Limp Bizkit-y affair (one in which Durst refers to himself as "the pirate pimp"), and yes, the presumed first single is called "Douchebag," but those are merely superficial details. Durst admits that the former was born out of in-studio collaborations and the latter is actually a song about bullies. It would seem the shoe is on the other foot.
But that's not all. Durst spoke at length about the "unspoken language" that he and his bandmates share, a "magical" connection that he couldn't have with anyone else. He mentioned the pure intent behind Cobra, a renewed focus the band had lost in their later years ("It's controlled chaos now ... there's an intent behind it"). He heaped praise on guitarist Wes Borland's work on "Douchebag," and beamed about the "melodic stuff" on the album. But most of all, he repeatedly talked about the fun he's having these days, about the energy the band is receiving from the crowds they're playing for. Make no mistake about it, Durst is amazed — and a bit flattered — that his fans have stuck with him through all of this. He is taking nothing for granted.
And, at the end of our interview, he made a point of showing me the (then-unreleased) artwork for Cobra on his iPhone. You've probably seen it by now. It's a painting, done by Borland, of a giant cobra, rearing up in a cave, with a bikini-clad babe nestled in its coils. As Durst was dialing it up, he couldn't help but laugh, mostly because he was so excited by the artwork (and, of course, the sheer WTF-ness of titling an album Gold Cobra). It was an oddly telling moment, not to mention a really genuine one; the kind of thing I'd never expect from a guy with his reputation. But it only further illustrates my point: Fred Durst, the former Enfant terrible of rap rock, is actually a pretty humble guy these days. He laughed. He smiled. He even wore his ballcap forward the whole time.
His image may not be what it was, and perhaps that's beside the point. Fred Durst isn't the monster you probably think he is, at least not anymore. He's been through the ringer, he's heard all the jokes, and he's better for all of it. And while he still may do it all for the nookie, he no longer derives satisfaction in instructing you to stick it up your (yeah).