Pete Wentz is a compulsive attention seeker in a way that makes him a perfect rock star and completely annoying. That's why, as he was gaining a wife and son, he almost lost his band.
By Josh Eells
It’s not every day you get to watch a rock star pee.
Fall Out Boy are in Philadelphia, the second stop on a back-to-basics club tour to promote their new album. They drove down from Boston this morning in a rented Dodge minivan and are currently lounging in the makeshift dressing room of a North Philly dive bar, across the street from Floyd & Diann’s Tire Service. A camera crew from Fuse is here, and a gaggle of pubescent girls awaits a meet-and-greet just outside the door. And over in the corner, Pete Wentz is unzipping his pants.
Armed with an empty 16-ounce Poland Spring bottle, Wentz—Fall Out Boy’s 29-year-old bassist and mouthpiece—turns to face the wall. While the rest of the room averts their eyes, he hunches his back and takes what is, by all appearances, a brief yet wholly satisfying piss.
“All right,” he says, zipping back up. “We ready?”
Pete Wentz has built his life around making the private public. In an age when all reality is televised and the most intimate of details are broadcast via Facebook Alert, Wentz is the king of the overshare—penning songs that flaunt their autobiographical provenance and blogging obsessively about everything from his 2005 suicide attempt to his favorite skate shoes. Unguarded and unashamed, he’s the quintessential 21st-century rock star—a penis-flashing Twitter stream come to life.
Wentz has been mocked mercilessly for his attention- mongering. He’s been branded an asshole, a sellout, a fucktard, a fame whore, a twat, a dick and a closeted gay douchebag—and those are just the comments on one Perez Hilton post. But as Wentz puts it in the single Fall Out Boy will encore with tonight: I don’t care what you think, as long as it’s about me.
“Being famous is like being in the WWF,” Wentz says. “When we first came out, I was Hulk Hogan. Kids loved me. Now I’m more like the Undertaker. The thing people don’t understand is, the boos are the same as the cheers to me. I just love to wrestle.”
“Aaaaand, action on the carousel!”
Two days later—sunny Los Angeles. Fall Out Boy are shooting a video for their new single “America’s Suitehearts” at a hangar-sized soundstage. The set resembles a ghoulish Hollywood carnival, complete with zombie starlets, a moat of toxic sludge and a giant red merry-go-round where the band will perform before a pack of bloodthirsty paparazzi.
The cameras roll, and the carousel begins to spin. As the fake photographers swarm, the members of Fall Out Boy circle one by one into view. First comes guitarist Joe Trohman—crazy-haired and slightly dazed-looking, in red suede boots and a matching fez. The photographers’ flashbulbs go pop. Next, Andy Hurley, the bearded, tattooed drummer, in a leprechaun-green tuxedo jacket and no shirt. Pop pop. Singer Patrick Stump, wearing a canary-yellow tailcoat and a feathered top hat, looking like a debonair chicken. Pop pop pop. And finally—in knee-high leather boots, gold lamé hot pants and a black lace headpiece so ghastly Cher could have worn it to the Oscars, and once did—comes Wentz, looking like some kind of gay glam gladiator, an evil-skeleton smile plastered on his face in black and white greasepaint. Poppoppoppop.
It’s not hard to find reasons to make fun of Wentz. His swooping bangs and disproportionately large head make him look disturbingly like a grown-up version of a Garbage Pail Kid. He wears girls’ jeans and toils in a genre known more for its interest in cosmetics than for its contributions to the pop-music canon. His lyrics are more self-indulgent than a luxury-spa retreat. Pictures of his penis have wound up on the Internet. He plays the bass—and not very well.
Yet this self-described “dirty, shitty boy” is also, improbably, the world’s biggest rock star under the age of 30. (Try naming one bigger.) He has his hand in a clothing line, an MTV show, a chain of bars and his own record label. Riding the cresting twin waves of emo and MySpace, Fall Out Boy transformed themselves from four Midwestern kids with funny names and bad haircuts to one of rock’s last reliable record-movers, selling a combined 4 million copies of their last two albums. And today, over in the band’s dressing room, curled up on a checkered sofa, sits another keystone of Wentz’s growing celebrity: a very pregnant Ashlee Simpson-Wentz. She and Wentz were married last May; they’re expecting their first child, a boy, literally any minute. “Hey, babe,” Wentz says during a break in shooting. He bends down and kisses her cheek. “Feeling OK?”
Simpson wipes a smudge of Wentz’s makeup off her face. “I hope he comes out soon,” she says, lifting her shirt to expose her colossal belly. “He’s killing my bladder.”
America’s Funniest Home Videos is on, and Wentz plops down on the floor to watch. He scoots backward between Simpson’s legs, resting his chin on her thigh and his head gently against her stomach. She strokes his hair, brushing the bangs from his eyes. On the TV, a fat lady tumbles off a trampoline and into a fence. They both laugh.
Wentz allows that the pregnancy sped things up, but he always knew they’d be married someday. He courted Simpson publicly and relentlessly, babbling about his crush in magazines (both were dating other people) and e-mailing her often. “I hunted her down and shot the dart in her,” he says. “I just had to wait for her to collapse.” Now they live in a Beverly Hills mansion just up the road from Posh and Becks, with his-and-hers bulldogs and a son on the way. “Basically,” Wentz says, “I’m married to the person I’d be jerking off to.”
The band’s new album is called Folie à Deux, French for a madness of two—a psychological condition in which two people suffer from similar delusions, each feeding off the other’s psychosis. (Wentz read about it in Newsweek.) The textbook example is Romeo and Juliet, but Wentz swears the title isn’t about him and Simpson. Instead it’s about fame—the toxic symbiosis between stars and their public.
Wentz has always lived his life in the spotlight, mostly by design. But since he married pop’s most notorious little sis, he’s become a red-hot tabloid magnet, hounded by paparazzi outside Starbucks like any Hollywood celebutard. “Pete would never be on the cover of People if it weren’t for Ashlee,” Perez Hilton says. “Before her, he was just that guy in the band who wore eyeliner and spent a lot of time on his hair.” As Ashlee’s due date nears, the paps have staked out the couple’s home 24/7, hoping to score pics of the mommy-to-be en route to the hospital. The morning after the video shoot, I meet Wentz and Stump for breakfast at The Beverly Hills Hotel. Wentz arrives a half-hour late: The paps pounced before he’d pulled out of the driveway, and he spent the next 30 minutes zigzagging his black Range Rover through the Hollywood Hills trying to lose them. “It’s weird,” he says, sliding into the booth. “Spending your life being followed by people who want a picture of the person sitting next to you.”
Stump snorts: “Welcome to my world.”
Wentz likes eating here because the paparazzi can’t get in. Still, he sits with his back to the wall, his eyes darting nervously toward any peripheral movement. “I’m paranoid pretty much all the time,” he says. A few nights ago, he was in the kitchen when he saw someone on the security monitor: a man, scaling the fence. He ran outside; the intruder hopped in his car and sped off, smashing the Range Rover on the way.
Wentz sets his sunglasses on the table and picks up the menu. Truth be told, he doesn’t look great. Dark bags ring his eyes, and his skin has a waxy, jaundiced pallor. He says he sleeps three hours a night—sometimes less—and pops Ambien like Tropical Skittles. “I can take three Xanax bars and not feel a thing,” he says. “It’s kind of scary.”
We haven’t been seated long when who should walk in the restaurant but Wentz’s buddy John Mayer. “Oh, shit!” Wentz says, jumping up to give him a hug. “What’s up, dude?”
Mayer answers with a hearty clap on the back. “I just sent you an e-mail! How’s the 32-month pregnancy?” He turns to Stump. “I swear to God, they’re making a superhero over there.”
Close friends who—had things turned out differently with Jessica Simpson—might also have been brothers-in-law, Wentz and Mayer set online tongues wagging last spring when they engaged in a breathless bromance on their respective blogs. (Wentz praised Mayer in a post called YES, IT'S A CRUSH; two days later, Mayer responded with a gushing note titled CRUSH REQUEST ACCEPTED.) “Pete has this fabulous meta-awareness,” Mayer says. “Some people mistake it for narcissism, but it’s really just his way of playing with the idea of ‘Pete Wentz.’ His genius is he’s always one step ahead.” Mayer also admires the way Wentz has navigated the perils of tabloid romance: “To have this beautiful relationship with someone who gets attacked so often, and to handle it with such grace and respect—I just find that really impressive.”
While the two pals catch up, Patrick Stump sits in silence, awkwardly picking at his huevos rancheros. Though he’s ostensibly Fall Out Boy’s frontman, Stump inevitably takes a backseat to Wentz both onstage and in real life. Partly it’s good for business: Their well-known division of labor (Pete writes the lyrics, Patrick the melodies) keeps Wentz’s antics front and center, while Stump is largely a blank slate—a golden-throated delivery system for someone else’s emotions, the plain white cracker to Wentz’s cheese. But it’s also a function of personality. A self-described nerd, Stump says he has “terribly low self-esteem” and shuns the spotlight whenever possible. And though he’s a gifted producer who’s been invited to make beats for superstars like Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, he always finds a way to say no. “I’m just a fat white dude from Glenview, Illinois,” he says. “As a hip-hop fan, I don’t want me doing hip-hop.”
According to Wentz, Stump “has this amazing ability to hide in plain sight.” Sometimes, though, it’s unclear whether he’s hiding or just not being seen. Take the night of the presidential election, when both were in New York. Wentz attended a birthday party for Diddy, where he cheered the returns alongside Jay-Z, Ben Stiller and Kenneth from 30 Rock. Stump, meanwhile, watched CNN alone in his hotel room. “Dude, you should have called me!” Wentz says when he hears this news. But it’s clear from Stump’s face that it wouldn’t have mattered.
Still, the two are about as close as friends as can be. Stump was the best man at Wentz’s wedding, as well as the one who “talked him off the cliff” when the penis photos hit the Web. (“Things literally could not have gotten worse,” Wentz says now. “I was just a wingman for my cock.”)
Often, however, the pair’s folie à deux doesn’t leave much room for numbers trois and quatre. The first time I meet Andy Hurley., in his dressing room at the video shoot, he’s feeling suicidal. “If the Packers don’t get this first down I’m going to kill myself,” says the drummer, watching his beloved Packers struggle against the Vikings. When Green Bay’s kicker misses the game-winning field goal, Hurley slams his iPhone onto the table, gets up and, without a word, starts punching the metal door frame, and doesn’t stop for 45 seconds.
Let’s face it: The dude’s a little weird. A self-described “anarcho-savagist,” Hurley believes that civilization is on its way out, and the sooner the better—he opposes conservation, supports ecoterrorism, and plans to use his Fall Out Boy money to buy land in northern Wisconsin and ride out the apocalypse. He shares a house in Milwaukee with four vegan straight-edge buddies, where they play kickball on Thursdays and practice jujitsu every morning. They call it Fuck City. “I don’t really get into that red-carpet stuff,” Hurley says, somewhat unnecessarily. “I like to keep things pretty simple.”
Talking with Hurley, you get the impression that he’s completely content to play the drums and go home to his Boca Burgers and Alan Moore comics. Joe Trohman, on the other hand, wants to do more. “I do feel left out a lot,” the guitarist says. At 24, he’s the youngest of the Fall Out boys, and he plays the role of kid brother well—splurging on old Nintendo games and $500 Storm Trooper figurines, finding funny YouTube videos for the guys to watch (latest favorite: “Chimpanzee Riding a Segway”). If Fall Out Boy were the Ninja Turtles, Wentz would be Leonardo, Stump would be Donatello, Hurley would be Raphael, and Trohman, all agree, would be Michelangelo—the “party dude.” “Joe is a free spirit,” Stump says. “He’s kind of just off in Joe Land, which is an awesome place to be.”
To hear Trohman tell it, though, Joe Land isn’t always so awesome. “It does get frustrating, not being able to contribute,” Trohman says. “I mean, to be labeled a background guy, someone who’s just along for the ride—it’s hard. I started Fall Out Boy, you know?” He wrote a few songs for the new album, but they were all cut at the last minute. “It’s kind of a bummer, to work so hard and have it come to nothing. I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing anyone, or I’m ungrateful,” he stresses. “Because I’m very happy to be a part of all this. I’m afraid the guys are gonna read this and wish I’d talked to them first—which maybe I should have. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m even in the band.”
Pete Wentz doesn’t Google himself anymore. He used to do it once a day, sometimes more. But recently he had to quit: “I was letting the blogs get to me. It’s semi-frustrating when your name actually becomes a synonym for douchebag.”
Wentz is at a corner table in a quiet Italian restaurant in Studio City. The paparazzi followed him here, too, descending as soon as he handed his keys to the valet. “Eh, those guys weren’t so bad,” he later shrugs. “We have a five-man security team for the hospital. I heard the tabloids sneak in pregnant women.”
Wentz talks of wanting to join “the club”—revered, long-lived groups like Green Day and U2—but he knows Fall Out Boy aren’t at the top of anyone’s list. “We’ve definitely made it into, like, the Big in ’05 VH1 special,” he says. “But I don’t think we’re in the hall of fame.” He also realizes that his colorful personal life—the photos, the tabloids, the pop-tart wife—might be why they aren’t taken very seriously. “I know for a fact that some of the stuff I’ve done has hurt my band. I know it’s selfish, and I know it’s self-destructive. But it’s like when you put your foot in the hot tub and go, ‘Fuck, that’s hot as shit’—even though there’s a sign right there saying CAUTION: 1,000 DEGREES. I have to dip my toe in.”
“I can’t imagine he doesn’t get hurt by things,” Mayer says. “But Pete is really brave in that he refuses to put his sensitivity away. You know how in Good Will Hunting Matt Damon’s dad would make him choose between getting beat with a belt, a stick or a wrench, and he’d pick the wrench, ’cause fuck him, that’s why? Pete always picks the wrench.”
Not long ago, during a tour for their last album, Patrick Stump quit Fall Out Boy. They were at an airport in Australia when Stump found out that Wentz had made a decision without consulting the band. “Pete isn’t a control freak, but he is very controlling,” Stump says. “It was just some stupid business thing, but I was fed up. I’d had enough.” He’d been writing songs on his own, stockpiling material for a solo album in case “Pete ever pissed me off,” and he decided it was time. “I said, ‘We’ll finish this tour, and then I’m fucking gone.’”
Eventually, they reconciled, but for Wentz, the incident was an eye-opener. “There are some moments where you go, Dude, I’ve spent the last 28 years of my life as a complete shit pile,” he says. “I’m not empathetic at all. People think I’m some kind of Dr. Phil problem-solver, but most of the time I couldn’t care less. Now, for the first time, I’m trying to look at things from other people’s perspective.”
Part of this newfound selflessness stems from Wentz’s impending fatherhood. He says he’s prepared—he’s read all the books—and he thinks he’ll make a pretty rad dad (or, as he puts it, a DILF): “I love my band, and I love my wife, but this is the first thing I’ve cared about too much to fuck up.” Last night he was up until 4 a.m. putting together a mini piano that he knows won’t get used for years, if at all.
Two weeks later, when 7-pound, 11-ounce Bronx Mowgli is born, he takes a break from diaper duty to check in by e-mail, sounding even more humbled: “It’s incredible. The thought that someone is dependent on me is empowering and also really fucking scary.” (Actually, he writes, “really f**n scary”: He’s “working on the f-bombs.”)
Wentz has this fantasy: “Sometimes I think Ashlee and I should do Newlyweds 2, take that fuck-you money and move to an island somewhere,” he says. “Just disappear.” So why doesn’t he? “Partly, I’d be fucking over a lot of people,” he says. “My band, people who rely on me.” But his second answer is more indicative: “I’d probably miss the lights too much.”
His BlackBerry buzzes: It’s Ashlee, and she’s hungry. “I gotta take off,” he says apologetically. “The wife is freaking out.” He orders her a goat cheese salad—extra walnuts, extra strawberries—and has the waiter box it up. We settle the bill, and Wentz stands and checks his hair in the mirror, smoothing out a few errant wisps. He walks to the door—not fast, but with purpose—and as he pushes it open, he flinches almost imperceptibly, bracing himself for the flashbulbs waiting on the other side.
Aaaaand, action on the carousel!