Post Magazine: Good Charlotte
Monday, March 19, 2007; 12:00 PM
Local guys Joel and Benji Madden blasted from a tumultuous childhood to rock-and-roll stardom. But their star has slipped, and their hope now is to keep hold of the angst-ridden teens who are their biggest fans. In this week's issue of the Washington Post Magazine, J. Freedom duLac tells their story.
J. Freedom duLac is The Washington Post's pop music critic.
J. Freedom duLac: Good morning/afternoon, folks. Thanks for coming by to chat about the boys in the band. Let's get rolling.
Rockville, Md: I remember meeting Good Charlotte a good seven or eight
years ago, at the release party for their first album -- in the
Rockville Tower Records, to be exact, and being quite struck
by Joel and Benji's friendly and all-around jovial nature.
After leaving their music behind and then seeing them in the
tabloids and all over MTV, I had just assumed they had
changed with fame, but it was nice to see that fun, normal
side to them in this article. Did that really come across a lot
while you were hanging with them?
J. Freedom duLac: They might be two of the nicest famous people I've ever met. They were so friendly and easy-going and sweet and generous that I started to think that they were full of it.
One sort of funny story: When I was at the show at Sonar, I was standing off to the side of the stage, watching the fans when I noticed a few of them looking at me. I was sort of puzzled, until I looked up and saw Joel standing above me. He'd come over to offer me a bottle of water right in the middle of the show.
I started asking people if they were putting me on. And everybody pretty much insisted that the twins are just like that. Having met Josh and Sarah Madden, who are basically the same as Benji and Joel personality-wise, I'm inclined to believe that it's just a family trait. Which is really interesting given all that they've been through.
Washington, D.C.: This is Janelle, asking if the band members or the brothers in particular felt as if they were getting too old and out of touch to write and sing songs any longer? I am wondering if they haven't lost their touch seeing as how there are so many other loser boy-bands out now, i.e. Avenged Sevenfold, Fallout Boy, Senses Fail, and Corn. I wonder if they haven't just become the average boy band of this time. Would you agree, disagree, and what did the band have to say on this issue?
Thank you in advance.
J. Freedom duLac: The age issue really never came up in our conversations, though it's an interesting point. I don't think Benji and Joel necessarily think they're writing songs for kids anymore -- just so happens that most of their fans are on the younger end of the spectrum.
It's worth noting, by the way, that the twins just turned 28 this month -- and that Pete Wentz, who writes the lyrics for Fall Out Boy, turns 28 in three months. And Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance turns 30 in April. Jonathan Davis from Korn isn't far behind, at 26.
Tenleytown, Washington, DC: Wow, a Washington Post Magazine cover story on a band that will be forgotten in five years (if they're lucky--it's more likely five months). Did Silverchair get a Post Mag cover story in 1996?
J. Freedom duLac: No, but we did do one on Candlebox. Up next: A 27-part online series on Bad Brains.
When I mentioned to some of my music-critic friends that I was doing a piece on Good Charlotte, a few of them asked me what year it was and wondered if they'd missed the memo that the clocks were being turned back five years.
But actually (and, of course, I'm ridiculously biased here because I'm so heavily invested in the piece), I think the timing was perfect for this story precisely because of where the band o' brothers sits on the career curve. All the twins ever wanted was to become the biggest rock band going -- and they got damn close, then started to fall off, and ... now what? There's more built-in tension than had we put them out front when they were blowing up.
And, of course, there remains the possibility that "Good Morning Revival" will be a huge hit. When I was in L.A. for the Grammys, I heard the new single, "The River," pouring out of a tour-bus company's office in Hollywood, and I went in to ask what station they were listening to. It was KROQ, which had just added the tune and is a really important bellweather for rock. The head of label relations for MTV Networks also told me that he'd really liked what he'd heard of the album. I believe his exact words were: "It sounds like a hit." Doesn't mean it will be, but it's better to have those early indicators than a bunch of negative buzz, no?
high school: Is it just me, or is just kind of ridiculous that these 27- or 28-year-olds are still singing about how lousy high school was? I mean...it's been 10 years, get over it already. I realize those are their hit songs and their younger fan base isn't over high school, and that they're going to be performing those songs when they're old and in Vegas, but still - isn't it kinda silly?
J. Freedom duLac: No more ridiculous than hearing Roger Daltrey singing "hope I die before I get old" at the age of 63.
Alexandria, Va: At the risk of sounding like a music snob...in the grand scheme of things, why should your readers care about Good Charlotte any more than any other teeny-bopper "punk" band with a record label? Aren't there hundreds of other more interesting, complex and thought-provoking bands (many of them local) that are more worthy of coverage, especially in a more "prestigious" part of the Post like the Sunday Magazine?
J. Freedom duLac: You really do sound like a music snob. You sure we don't know each other?
While I do think that there's a lot of skill and craft that goes into making a hit record, the complexity here does not necessarily come in the music. It's in the brothers' backstory. Doesn't mean they're necessarily more interesting than Travis Morrison or Emmylou Harris or Chuck Brown or Starland Vocal Band or any other artist with local roots. But there *is* an interesting story there, which is why we told it.
Falls Church, Va.: Please link to article.
washingtonpost.com: A Loser Fairy Tale, (March 18, 2007)
J. Freedom duLac: Here ya go...
Seattle, Wash.: Am I the first to let you know that Jonathan Davis is 36, not 26? He's an old man.
J. Freedom duLac: Damn, he really is. That makes sense, though. Korn has been around forever. Billy Martin, Good Charlotte's guitarist, used to be in a Annapolis band, Overflow, that kind of did the Korn thing -- and, in fact, Martin says he had the drealocked look down pat before he got into the whole prince-of-darkness thing.
Richmond, Va: Can I apprecite these fellas for being nice guys and still want them to never ever play music again? Can I balance both of those thoughts in my head? Is it allowed?
J. Freedom duLac: You're welcome to, yes.
Waldorf, Md: I think you might want to do some research those "outsiders" that you write about that relate so deeply to the pain that their audience feels because they too suffered through high school, they are posers. You can pick up a La Plata High School year book and see that those two "social misfits" were actually jocks themselves (baseball) and Joel frequented the homecoming and prom courts they were not at all socially isolated in high school, it's just what their listeners want to hear. It's easier to sell records when you write about how hard it is to be a teen, winning MVP and being voted Most Popular doesn't sit well in the ears of emo punk teens. I think that their luck is just about up, they've sold out and most of their "used-to-be" fans have figured that out. Their image is just that, an image, and it's becoming less believable plus, they'll be 30 soon, not many tweens fantasize about guys almost as old as their dads...
J. Freedom duLac: Pick up the La Plata yearbook -- a great idea, and I'm not sure why I didn't think of that myself. Oh, wait ... I did!
And I (self-)quote: "In their 1996-1997 senior yearbook, the one whose cover says "We Know a Thing or 2" in glittery lettering, Benji and Joel are wearing tuxedos and Caesar cuts. Joel's hair is dyed blond. He is also included in the junior prom court picture, and both brothers are photographed with the varsity baseball team."
Sorta interestingly (and not noted in the story), Joel's name is misspelled under the baseball team photo in the yearbook.
Joel (or, as the yearbook called him, "Joe") actually says in the story that he "wasn't the freak kid that everybody beat up." Did he overstate things when he told me "I wanted to play sports, but I wasn't good. I wanted chicks, and chicks didn't like me. I wanted to have friends, but I didn't get to go to the parties," etc.? Maybe. But maybe not. Self-perception and reality don't always sync up.
Sue Craig, one of the La Plata teachers I quoted, told me something interesting that didn't make the final cut, but that I'll pass along here because I think it's enlightening. Of Benji and Joel, she said: "They were popular. They were more popular than I think they thought of themselves. I think they felt a little inferior."
And don't discount the "inner roughness" that Craig's colleague Mary Hasemeier mentioned. The twins were going through some pretty difficult things at home at a particularly sensitive time in their adolescence -- just as they were transitioning to high school. As Benji says in the piece, the timing magnified the trauma for them.
So while they may have been sort of popular and appeared pretty happy ("there was nothing existential about their existence here," Hasemeier said), you can't possibly tell me that they didn't have any angst when they were teenagers. I just don't buy it.
Falls Church, Va.: i think the timing of this piece is interesting. b/c the last thing I heard about Hillary Duff's break up with one of the twins (I forget which one) was that she was more goal and career oriented than he and it drove them apart... your thoughts? I could kind of see that - she into the different celebrity fields and he just chilling, writing songs, hanging out with his friends and bandmates in waldorf.
J. Freedom duLac: Honestly, I've no idea what happened with Joel and Hilary. We've talked a couple of times since the breakup, but he won't discuss what happened.
I do think Joel is ambitious, though I'm not sure how inclined he is to follow through on his ideas. I say that only because of some of the stories Benji told me -- about Joel blowing off school assignments, about Joel oversleeping and missing work when he was supposed to open at one of the stores at St. Charles Towne Center (Against the Wall, I think), about Joel taking naps instead of finishing songs, about Benji handling the bills when they lived together and generally being the responsible one. Joel was originally going to be Good Charlotte's bass player but he never got around to learning the instrument. Which, Benji says, is "typical Joel."
On the other hand, they've apparently been working their huevos off doing outside producing work. During the club tour last year, they apparently had a second tour bus for a while and used it to work on tracks until dawn while going to the next city.
Ashburn, Va: Thank you for the article. It was interesting and well written. My almost 14 year old daughter came behind me yesterday while I was looking at post.com and said, "Oh, there's Good Charlotte." It's good to know a little bit more about the music she listens to and to know some of the backstory. I'm always looking for ways to take peaks into her world. Now that I know something about one of "her" bands, maybe it will start some good conversation. (I emailed the article to her, btw!)
J. Freedom duLac: Thanks. The band will be most pleased if your almost 14-year-old daughter and all of her friends buy the new album. You, however, would probably prefer the acoustic version of "The River" that they played at XM Satellite Radio's studio. It was pretty, well ... pretty.
St. Charles Town Centre: It's UP Against The Wall. Duh!
J. Freedom duLac: If you say so. Never been in one of their stores, never will. I'm not in their demographic. Like Jonathan Davis: I'm old.
Arlington, Va.: Thanks for saving me time this weekend. I was able to breeze right past your story in the Magazine. What a waste of your writing skills and Post ink on a marginally talented bunch of poseurs.
J. Freedom duLac: Thanks, I'm here to help. I believe we call that "service journalism." You should look at the photos, though. Mark Peterson did a terrific job. (There's a photo gallery online.) Don't hate the shooter, even if you hate the friends of The Game.
Bethesda, Md: Which one is the most likely to be on drugs? And be remembered on the behind the music special that will be coming out in a few years?
J. Freedom duLac: The twins say that they've already gone through that phase -- and that they sobered up, in large part, they say, because they didn't want to become like their father.
Here's another outtake of one of my interviews with Benji:
"The history of the family, on my dad's side, there's a lot of alcoholism. And when I drink, all of the sudden, I'm 100 percent that dude. I see where that's taking me, so I'm taking that out of my life. If it was TV show that added a really bad element in your life, you'd turn it off. That's a club some people can be in and still do well. But not me me. If I did still drink, I'd definitely be a different dude."
As for the other guys in the band -- can't say we talked much about their own indulgences, though I did chat somewhat extensively with Paul about wine. Turns out that he's an emerging oenophile. Who knew? He lives in Northern California and likes to take advantage of his proximity to the wine country.
Manassas, Va: The back story was interesting in that they were not exactly who they claimed to be, their teachers all thought they were normal guys, they are in the prom court and they played baseball. Does having a seperated parent and a girl dumping you qualify as having a bad backround or issues? Geez, join the club.
J. Freedom duLac: Yeah, but they write catchier songs than you -- and those songs connected with an awful lot of kids. It's a big club, and they were co-presidents.
Silver Spring, Md: The difference between Roger Daltrey and Jodi, Bennie or Donny is that five years after he first sang My Generation he was singing Tommy and beginning work on Who's Next. These guys are still mining the high school outcast thing and apparently, not very well. I think Daltrey and Townshend have earned the right to sing those songs at age 63. I'm sure they're nice guys and you did the best job you could on this article. These guys are a bubble gum band on the way out.
J. Freedom duLac: Thank you for taking my answer out of context. The question was about people singing youth anthems when they're not necessarily young anymore. I'm not arguing that Benji and Joel Madden are Pete Townshend's equal as songwriters. They wouldn't argue that either. As Benji said: "We're never going to be the Clash."
Vienna, Va: So if you were writing the review for their new cd (which I'm assuming you won't be), what would your honest opinion be?
J. Freedom duLac: We're running a review on the 27th. Not authored by me.
"Good Morning Revival" won't be in my year-end Top 10, but the twins don't write songs for critical approval.
Annapolis, Md: Great piece on Good Charlotte, except for a couple things:
1. I don't understand why the Post gave space to a band I don't listen to. Next time, check with me before picking a subject.
2. Even though I don't listen to them, I'm sure they've sold out. I only listen to small bands made up of English majors who have survived cancer, and I can tell you, they have a lock on angst. They would never sell out, because they like suffering for their art. Next time, the Post should feature one of these bands. Check with me, and I'll help you pick a subject.
3. In fact, the Post should just cover me, because I have excellent taste in all things, haven't sold out, and I would love to read all about me. Call me, and we'll set something up.
J. Freedom duLac: You missed the focus-group meeting. Next time.
Funny thing about selling out: That was sort of the band's intention from the get-go. Benji and Joel wanted to be rock stars. They wanted to write hits and play big venues and be on the cover of Rolling Stone. They've never been a band that gets critical kudos, and they don't seem to care.
I think it was the program director from WHFS who told The Post way back when, as Good Charlotte's self-titled debut was coming out, that Benji (or was it Joel?) told him that the concept of the band was something like Minor Threat meets the Backstreet Boys.
Alexandria, Va: Geez, why is everyone hatin' on them because they were maybe more popular in high school than they let on?
I think everyone was more popular in high school than they remember. Part of being a teenager is feeling like an outsider.
And they obviously are able to share those feelings and connect with kids. I personally don't like the band, but I loved the article and the glimpse into their lives. I might even download the song you mentioned.
Good work, J. Freedom!
J. Freedom duLac: Good Charlotte has always generated this kind of reaction. the kids who like them REALLY love 'em, while everybody else chugs haterade by the gallon. There's not much ambivelence when it comes to this band.
Rockville, MD: Even though I've largely moved beyond my pop-punk days, I
still find the first Good Charlotte album to be an amazing
CD. There are hooks in that album that any high-priced
scribe of Kelly Clarkson songs would love to have written
first. Then, though, I feel like in the proceeding albums,
Good Charlotte kind of went away from their melodic roots,
to some degree, in some sort of attempt to give themselves
an edge; mediocrity being the result. Having listened to the
new CD, would you say there are any returns to the pop
genius of their first CD?
J. Freedom duLac:"Good Morning Revival" seems to be more accessible than "The Chronicles of Life and Death" (there are some monster hooks, for sure); but there are also some big stylistic changes, which I noted in the piece. You hear more modern-rock and dance-rock influences as well as a bit of the anthemic U2/Coldplay thing. They call it artistic evolution. Some people who've heard the album call it reactionary. Will this new stylistic packaging work for them, or against them? In the end, the market will decide.
Silver Spring, Md: did you get a chance to ask Dean Butterworth about his time as Morrisey's drummer. That would make an interesting Post Magazine article.
J. Freedom duLac: Yes, we talked quite a bit about that. He's a very good drummer with a lot of range. But no, we're not going to write that story. Dean Butterworth on drumming, 8,000 words? Bzzzzt.
Vienna, Va: I really enjoyed the story. I do wonder if your point was a little too subtle for me to pick up on. What I took away from it was: although talented and wonderful people; the music of Good Charlotte does not come from a legitimate life experience and this may ultimately be the cause of their short lived career. Am I way off? Look, I played in a band in High School as well as on the football team and (oh no!) even had a few girls dump me and my parents split up too, so I can relate. So, all I see are some guys who are talented enough to write some catchy tunes but since they really do not have a much more emotion to pull from to continue writing music people see as important, they are done with their 15 minutes.
J. Freedom duLac: It's interesting that some people think I should have called them frauds for making up their miserable existence, when others actually say that I've actually suggested in print that they're frauds who made up their miserable existence.
I think a lot of people want to *hear* that Benji and Joel are, in fact, frauds becuase they just don't care for the brothers, their band and their music.
Southern Maryland: Hi, I just want to say that I appreciated your piece on GC. I found it more balanced than most articles I've read about them. Having gone to school with them from 6th through 12th grades (in the interest of full disclosure, I had huge crushes on both of them), I know what they were really like; they were happy, popular kids--certainly not losers or outcasts. I have pictures of them with gorgeous Prom dates, playing sports, and serving in the Class Government to prove it. I was the one who designed the yearbook page you mention in the article, the one where they were voted most popular band by the Senior class. That hardly seems like an honor you would win if people thought you were uncool. I didn't know all the crap they were going through with their dad, but I know what was going on in my own home at that time. My father, a somewhat famous DC-area musician named Danny Gatton, killed himself when I was 14. He never achieved even a fraction of the fame these clowns have despite being exponentially more talented, and yet we're expected to feel sorry for their "tumultuous childhood" and that their star power is waning? I'm not buying it and I hope no one else does. I pray that they and their new album quickly fade into obscurity. I know I may sound jealous and bitter, but that's because I am, especially because their father is still alive and mine isn't...
J. Freedom duLac: Thanks for writing in. Your father was a great guitar player whose talents didn't go without notice. I recall Willie Nelson having talked in praise of Danny Gatton's guitar-playing skills in an interview a while back, and others have done so, as well.
Your point is well-taken.
I should say that I don't think Benji and Joel feel sorry for themselves for having slipped off of the pop-music mountaintop. Certainly, they're anxious to see what happens with the new album, which as I said earlier could well be a hit and return them to the top. (Worth noting: All of this chatter is really about the U.S. market. Good Carlotte's numbers are apparently on the rise in many international territories. But the US market is the most important, at least from a psychological standpoint.) Anyway, they're sort of realistic about where they stand.
In the story, Joel says: "There's a minute where you're the new, hot band, and that minute's over for us."
And when Benji and I talked about it, he said: "We've had such an amazing ride. We're comfortable with who we are and what we've done."
Not that any of this will change your opinion of the twins. I'm just sayin..
Arlington, Va: Great article! I'm curious about one aspect you mentioned... how the band deals with the pain and angst their fans experience. In this day of website message boards and IMs, it must be much more obvious to the band what some of their fans are going through - and in some cases potentially serious. Do they feel any responsibility or need to help fans? I realize it's not necessarily their responsibilty to take, but it must be an odd thing for any band to deal with.
J. Freedom duLac: They struggle with this, actually. What I saw in that opening scene at XM, when a fan told Joel that Good Charlotte had saved her life, apparently happens quite a bit -- on the streets, at shows, online. It weighs heavily on the twins.
Joel and I were on the tour bus at one point, and I was asking him why, if he's in a better place personally than he's ever been (as he'd said), there's still a lot of sadness in the new songs, and he talked about feeling other people's pain.
"If I walk off this bus right now, dude, I guarantee you that somebody will tell me something sad."
Like at XM?
"Exactly. That happened to me four times yesterday. I care about that girl. I don't know her, but I think about her. How's she doing? Where is she? What if tomorrow she can't take it anymore? I worry about that. Now multiply that by four years, where I get that every day. There's not a day off, without at least one person or one message on email or MySpace from somebody who's like: 'Please read this, urgent.' And I think to myself: What do I do? If I write back with advice, she could sue me. Seriously. If I don't write back, she might kill herself. And it's every day, dude. You get other people's pain."
He said the heaviness is heartbreaking.
Music Snobs Be Ware...: J. Free- excellent article on a great band. For all the music snobs who think you should have used your talents elsewhere, I reiterate that it takes tremendous talent to craft a great rock song that becomes a hit -- not to mention 3 or 4 like the boys from Good Charlotte have done. And no, I'm not 14. I'm 36.
J. Freedom duLac: Writing hits really isn't as easy as people think it is. Not even close. These guys have a gift. It's not Dylan (not even Jakob Dylan), but the twins have never set out to be like Dylan.
Washington, DC: Are most of the posts you're getting snarky or are you just picking the snarky ones to answer online?
J. Freedom duLac: Most of them are snarky. But that's to be expected since the kids are in school (and don't read newspapers, anyway, as the analysts and consultants keep reminding us). How many career federal employees do you know who like Good Charlotte? You win a prize if you can think of more than one.
Arizona Bay, Ariz: In the old house I used to live in there was a poster of the bad autographed by the entire band. You think this could fetch any significant $$$ on ebay?
J. Freedom duLac: Depends on your definition of significant. It would fetch a lot less than a signed copy of a vintage Who or Clash poster but far more than a copy of The Washington Post's Sunday Magazine signed by yours truly.
Anyway, thanks for stopping by for the chat, folks. Appreciate the questions, crabs and apercus.
I'll be back online at 2pm tomorrow for my regularly scheduled Freedom Rock chat. Do drop in. We'll sing Silverchair songs together.
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