Hundreds of kids are pressed so tight against the backstage barricades at RFK Stadium that it's hard for some of them to breathe. But they can shout: "Fred!" "Fred--what's up?" "Fred-Fred-Fred!-Fre-e-ed!"
As Fred Durst approaches, the screams intensify. You'd think he's one of the prettily lubricious Backstreet Boys, not the lumpy, heavily tattooed front man of scruffy, metal-rap band Limp Bizkit.
Durst high-fives outstretched hands and signs a few autographs, but the metal barricades are tipping dangerously close to the ground. Security guards scramble to contain the crush as he reluctantly retreats.
"That was intense," says his road manager. "It was like Woodstock."
Durst corrects him. "It was a controlled Woodstock," he says.
Which reminds him: As Durst and manager stroll through the stadium backstage at last weekend's HFStival, Durst begins rhyming. "Check this:
As for Woodstock, you'll learn
Treat people like rats and you'll burn.
"That's from a new song I wrote," he says with evident pride.
Woodstock '99 veered out of control more than two months ago, but the music festival is still on Durst's mind. In several hours, Limp Bizkit will open its blistering set with "Break Stuff," the song that has been accused of priming the masses at Woodstock to riot.
"I want you to tell the whole world to [expletive] off," Durst will instruct the RFK audience. "Put your fingers in the air." Approximately 65,000 raised middle fingers will instantly materialize.
Pop music has come to be dominated by two camps:
There's the saccharine, slick teeny-bopper pap--the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Then there's music with attitude: The in-your-face belligerence of hip-hop, heavy metal and various meldings of the two forms.
The metal/hip-hop hybrids have various tags--rap 'n' roll, hip-hop-rock, hick-hop, etc. But its most visible artists--Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rage Against the Machine and Kid Rock--emphasize more rock than rap, though they do borrow hip-hop's urban swagger, scratching deejays, singsong vocals and, with dismaying regularity, its misogyny.
In the two years since the release of its debut CD, "Three Dollar Bill, Yall$," Limp Bizkit has worked its way to the top of the metal/rap heap. This has been accomplished through smart, aggressive marketing, endless touring and commercialization of the teenage angst and anger that have been mined by pop music acts since before the Bizkits--all in their twenties--were born.
Much of the appeal of slick teeny-pop has to do with fleshly desire. Limp Bizkit's allure is about something else. Has anyone ever gone broke overestimating the alienation of the American teenager?
But there may be another explanation for the Limp Bizkit phenomenon.
A long time ago, rock was about rebellion--subverting the conventions and restrictions of repressive mainstream culture. But in an era of ludicrously violent television and video games, sexually explicit films and an American president whose sexual exploits are the sort we might have expected from a rock star, there's not a whole lot of convention left to subvert.
What we're left with is belligerence.
At last count, Limp Bizkit had sold more than 4.5 million albums in the United States. "Three Dollar Bill" sold 1.8 million, according to Soundscan. The band's latest, "Significant Other," has moved nearly 3 million copies since it debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart in June. Eventually, "Significant Other" was bested by the boy bands, but after all the bad post-Woodstock publicity the album returned to No. 1.
Little wonder, then, that Durst, 29, strives to present Limp Bizkit as music industry outcasts. The band's label, Interscope, appointed him senior vice president in June and has given him his own imprint. He recently raised his hip-hop credentials by appearing as a presenter at the Source magazine's Hip-hop Awards. He has directed two of the band's videos and plans to direct feature films as well. Still, he talks compulsively about the group's bad reputation. "I think this is a good time for Limp Bizkit," he says. "And if there's a good time for anyone, the negative side has to be there."
"People can criticize us, but that doesn't even hurt us," he says. "That's fine with us. Bring it on. We're not gonna go away until our fans get sick of us. Limp Bizkit's not going to go away because of what someone wrote or said."
If Durst made this assertion from a concert stage instead of in an incongruously candlelit room deep in the bowels of RFK Stadium, thousands would cheer.
"Significant Other" is supposed to be the band's "mature" album, but the songs are characterized by hostility and self-loathing, with neither the edgy humor of fellow Interscope bad boy Eminem nor the social conscience of frequent tour partners Rage Against the Machine. "Break Stuff" is about "one of those days when you wake up and you wish you could break something." Durst says the album's hit song "Nookie" was written after he was betrayed by a woman: "I'm just a sucker with a lump in my throat," he declares, before saving face: "I did it all for the nookie/ So you can take that cookie/ And stick it up your . . . yeah!"
During its live shows, the members of Limp Bizkit often portray themselves as underdogs. Or, as something else: For last summer's Ozzfest tour, Limp Bizkit's stage set consisted of an enormous commode. "We were coming out of a gigantic toilet that's on stage like pieces of poop," Durst explains.
Maybe all the bluster is in part a defensive posture. Last spring, newspapers across the country reported that Interscope had paid a Portland, Ore., radio station to play the single "Counterfeit." Though the deal was technically legal, it hurt the band's image. At the time, Durst said that those accounts were the first he had heard of a pay-for-play deal. Now he shrugs off the entire episode. "For us it was just being at the right place at the right time," he says.
Durst grew up in Gastonia, N.C., a textile mill town where his father was a policeman, his mom a secretary for a Lutheran church. He says he was "an emotional kid."
"I got my feelings hurt a lot. I was the quiet one--always wanted to be the leader of the team, never got picked, you know. Not a sob story--just, like, that kid."
Like thousands of American youths--both black and white--Durst first heard rap during the early '80s. "I'm old-school," he says. "I was introduced to hip-hop when the world first got little bits and snippets in 1980. That's credible old-school to me, if you were there and part of that."
As a kid, he listened to Donna Summer, KC & the Sunshine Band, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and Kiss. "I liked everything," he says. "Then hip-hop came into my life, and I liked it too. That was when I was 10 or 11, when music started meaning something to me."
After high school, Durst served a brief stint in the Navy, ran a skate park and eventually moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where he worked as a tattoo artist. By 1994, he had assembled most of Limp Bizkit--guitarist Wes Borland, bassist Sam Rivers and drummer John Otto--by plundering other Jacksonville bands. Later, the group was rounded out by turntablist DJ Lethal, an alumnus of House of Pain.
"I don't think we're just a rap-metal band. I think we have some heavy riffs and there's some hip-hop in it, but there's a lot more to it," Durst says. "There's a lot more personalities to Sybil than two."
Limp Bizkit's first big break came when Korn, whose members Durst had tattooed during a stop in Jacksonville, gave the band an opening slot on last summer's "Family Values" tour. Heavy rotation on MTV came with a single off "Three Dollar Bill," the scorching cover of George Michael's insipid 1987 hit "Faith."
The band has been an MTV staple ever since, but perhaps Limp Bizkit's biggest impact on pop culture has to do with the way that the band has cultivated its female audience. Thrashing, angry metal has traditionally been the province of boys, but during the spring of '98, the band embarked on a promotional tour dubbed "Ladies Night in Cambodia," with women admitted free. (The Cambodia part was inspired by Durst's favorite movie, "Apocalypse Now.")
The gambit worked. "More girls like our band than guys," says Durst. "That's because girls are listening to the lyrics. I'm a heterosexual man that sings about the emotional stress and pain I've had from love and realities of intimacy. The pain and anger that I feel about love that I've experienced is about women. Somebody may hear the word 'bitch' on our songs, but I love women. I will always be ready for my soul mate to fall into my lap. So those people who think it's derogatory towards women are the people that aren't listening to the words."
At the HFStival, Sarah Stacy and Cristina Abello, both 16, have decorated themselves in honor of Durst. "I love Fred" is scrawled in ink just above their chests.
"I just love Limp Bizkit, and Fred is so cute," Stacy explains.
"They have a lot of good lyrics," adds Abello. "Fred's really bitter. He sings about how girls use him and stuff like that."
Limp Bizkit's relationship with its female fans can be confounding. During the band's performances, Durst encourages the girls who bare their breasts, a trend very much in evidence at Woodstock '99 and at last week's HFStival. "So many titties!" he gloats at RFK. "What's up with all these beautiful breasts tonight?"
Durst doesn't think such compliments delivered from the stage result in any kind of peer pressure. "I didn't ask anybody to show me their tits," he insists later. "I commented on the women that were showing their tits. Girls just do it on their own, and the guys egg them on. I'm just acknowledging that. I wouldn't make anybody do anything they don't want to do. Some girls are modest, some girls aren't. The ones that aren't are usually flashing their tits. It doesn't get them anywhere, so I guess they're doing it for fun."
But, when pressed, Durst concedes that topless girls at Limp Bizkit shows might make the "modest" girls uncomfortable. "I'm sure it probably does," he says. "But if you don't believe in that or support it, and no one's making you do it, just ignore it. Try to ignore the things in life that you don't like if at all possible. But everybody who seems to dislike Limp Bizkit seems to not be able to ignore us for some reason."
Many females surf the mosh pits at Limp Bizkit shows, which may not be prudent. Police in Rome, N.Y., said that one of the reported Woodstock rapes allegedly took place in the mosh pit during Limp Bizkit's set.
"That's terrible. That's demonic. It's disgusting," says Durst. "I think that men should always respect women. I'm a Southern man. I believe that."
"I wouldn't suggest any women be in the mosh pit. They get groped and grabbed," he says. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of idiots out there that can't let girls have a good time in the mosh pit without being sexually harassed."
Several weeks ago, MTV premiered the video for "Re-Arranged," the latest single off "Significant Other." In it, the band is tried, convicted and executed for inciting the Woodstock riot. Durst describes the video as the band's response to the way that Limp Bizkit was singled out in the days that followed the burning and looting.
Limp Bizkit, he says, had nothing to do with it. "We went onstage and played and that was it," he says. "We had monitor problems for the first three songs . . . and so we did a pretty mellow Limp Bizkit show. But we were feelin' it. We were feelin' the people, and it seemed amazing to us. It seemed like everybody was having a good time when we played."
During the band's set, fans ripped down a wooden barricade protecting one of the sound towers, then used the lumber to surf the mosh pit. Durst says that he didn't realize what was going on.
"I didn't see anybody getting hurt. You don't see that. When you're looking out on a sea of people and the stage is 20 feet in the air and you're performing, and you're feeling your music, how do they expect us to see something bad going on?"
Durst says the event's promoters need to take responsibility for the Woodstock debacle. "Woodstock was about makin' some money, and gettin' it the quickest, easiest way they could get it on and down and done," he says. "A lot of people were hurt. A lot of people were scarred for life. A lot of people experienced panic in situations and things going on because of them."
After the riots, MTV personality Kurt Loder told Entertainment Weekly that Durst encouraged the mayhem at Woodstock. "There was a hateful, hostile [feeling] coming off the crowd in waves--kids were throwing bottles at each other and at security guards and stagehands. It was just ugly and out of control, and Fred Durst just exploited that and jacked it up."
Durst doesn't accept that. He insists that he and Limp Bizkit are blameless. "They needed someone to point the finger at. They needed a scapegoat," he says. "They're not gonna put it on the dumb-ass who handed out candles to everybody and said, 'Let's capture a moment. I bet everybody's gonna light them and hold them up.' After these living conditions, after everything that happened, are they gonna do that or are they gonna burn it down? They're gonna burn it down.
"Then afterwards, everyone ripped us apart for two weeks straight," he says. "It was everywhere, and I would just be like, 'Shut the [expletive] up.' "