Cover Story

A Loser Fairy Tale

By J. Freedom du Lac
Sunday, March 18, 2007

THE GIRLS ARE WAITING -- a ritual whenever Benji and Joel Madden are working in rock-star mode.

It's a Saturday afternoon at XM Satellite Radio's headquarters in Northeast Washington, and the identical twin brothers have just finished performing some of the songs they've written together for their band, Good Charlotte. Just two voices and an acoustic guitar, the way it was in the beginning, when they were 16-year-olds from Southern Maryland hellbent on becoming famous. This concert taping is an important promotional date for the brothers, who are hoping to generate interest in a new Good Charlotte album even as they wonder whether their band's moment has already passed.

There are a couple dozen people milling around outside XM's studio theater, and they tend to fit a particular demographic: young and female -- Good Charlotte's base of support. It's a sea of hair dye and heavy mascara.

Hadasse Ryland, a 15-year-old home-schooled student with "Kiss Me" written on top of her left shoe, "Kill Me" on the right, fits right in. There's a swath of fuchsia in her hair, and she's wearing fingerless gloves and a giddy grin. She's huddled with Angie Tiano, a 27-year-old medical claims processor wearing black and so many bangles wrapped around her forearm that it looks as though she's wearing a Slinky.

Ryland and Tiano met in line before a Good Charlotte concert in North Carolina more than two years ago. They became close friends despite their differences in age and geography: Ryland lives in Kingsport, Tenn., Tiano in Beckley, W.Va. What they have in common is a deep, emotional connection to Good Charlotte's anthems about alienation .

"Sometimes, you feel like it's the only thing you have," Ryland says of Benji and Joel's songs, which describe myriad teenage traumas, including their father walking out on them one Christmas Eve. "And if they could make it through all the stuff that they've been through, it gives me hope. They've definitely helped me get through some hard times."

Tiano nods and says Good Charlotte's albums saved her life. "Twice. Honestly, I wouldn't be standing here right now if it wasn't for them. I live in West Virginia and have purple hair. People stare at me and give me a hard time. Joel and Benj know what it's like to be a total outcast and a misfit. They made me proud to be different."

On cue, Joel Madden saunters by, jeans sagging off his hips, a fedora perched atop his head.

"We're talking about you!" Ryland squeals, her eyes bulging.

Joel raises an eyebrow. "Bad things?"

"NOOOOO! All good stuff."

Joel smiles, then continues down the hallway in search of a restroom. Tiano exhales.

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