Fall Out Boy, Robert Frost, The Outsiders, and what it really means to sell out.
This incredibly niche scholarly work explores “selling out” through the words of literary giants like Robert Frost, S.E. Hinton, and yes, Pete Wentz of American rock band Fall Out Boy. Drawing from over 50 sources and totaling more than ten single-spaced pages, this monster of an essay will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about niche, cult-classic 2005 emo band drama–– Specifically, the duel between Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz and roadie-turned author “Hey Chris.”
Are you a weird girl that majored in English against your dad’s advice because you were good at it? Are you now a waitress as a result? Are you incredibly bored and have like two friends? Are you itching for the pretentious discussion of Shakespeare class because downing wine and novels in one sitting after work isn’t cutting it anymore? Are you a perpetually single adult woman with shirtless photos of Pete Wentz above your bed? Do you have nothing better to do than overanalyze Warped Tour emo manchild drama from 15 years ago? If you’re the one of the five people that meets those criteria and care about this topic…Well then, this essay is for YOU!
This long-winded essay is about pretty much what it says on the tin, and explores those topics through one literary artifact of one falling-out that, while part of something incredibly niche, has fascinated and mystified a certain subset of girls and gays for fifteen years. To this day, it’s debated on Tumblr among My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy fans. To this day, a Twitter bot tweets random phrases associated with the drama, every hour, on the hour.
This drama would be the infamous and rather homoerotic 2006 bro-love triangle between Pete Wentz (bassist and lyricist of Fall Out Boy), Mikey Way (bassist of My Chemical Romance), and a blogger and roadie nicknamed “Hey Chris” ––the incident that is rumored to have factored into one of the most infamous celebrity nude leaks of all time and the first sighting of a penis for countless adolescent girls across America: Pete Wentz’s dick. For people who actually went to parties as a teen instead of spending all their time on Tumblr and listening to My Chemical Romance feeling not like other girls, here are some primers. If you’re wondering how Mikey Way factors into this, especially in relation to whoever “Hey Chris” is, check out this one, at risk of being a little slashy; Mikey Way doesn’t factor into this essay very much, but it’s nice backstory. Hey Chris described the first one as pretty accurate, so they’ll do for the purposes of brevity as this is already way too long.
The short version is that Pete Wentz, bassist of American rock band Fall Out Boy, allegedly banged the girlfriend of “Hey Chris” a blogger, writer, and well-known roadie for Fall Out Boy. I am pretty sure I read on the internet in middle school that the cheating involved a twenty sided sex die (gag). The fight itself was about more than just the girl, though– it was also about how Wentz’s old friends felt like he was turning into a complete selfish dick and otherwise terrible person, and also over who got to be Mikey Way’s bestie to some extent. Anyway, Wentz and Hey Chris were extremely close friends up until that explosive revelation, after which Hey Chris posted an open letter to Wentz on his LiveJournal.
We will be focusing on one of the most highly publicized aspects of the drama: this open letter. The full text of the letter, and Wentz’s response, is again, in the primers. In short, Hey Chris accuses Wentz of being a fraud, a sellout, and a conman that has vindictively betrayed his previously staunch morals, his best friends, and his own fans in pursuit of the materialistic, instant gratification of money, fame, and sex.
Specifically, though, we are going to focus on five key words in the letter: “Stay gold, dude, stay gold.” “Stay Gold” is also inked onto Wentz’s wrist, and appeared emblazoned on a black-and-gold hoodie sold by Wentz’s fashion line, Clandestine Industries, that would be worn by other emo heartthrobs such as Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship. The meaning of these words, and their relationship to the story and ethos of Wentz, Fall Out Boy, and Decaydance Records, the price of fame, and what “selling out” truly achieves has gone largely unnoticed, despite being as poetic and deliberate as every line in a Fall Out Boy song.
To start, let’s stress how important words and literature are to the homoerotic polycule that made up Decaydance Records and their associated niche celebrities and micro-celebrities. Wentz is widely praised for his lyrical talent, with artists such as Awsten Knight of Waterparks and Taylor Swift citing him as major influences. However, given the fact he is a bassist, singer Patrick Stump’s tendency to slur his words to “make them sound better,” and his overall persona, a casual listener might not immediately realize he and his friends, well, really like books. Wentz was a troubled jock before he was an angsty, sexed-up teen idol, after all; he was forced into a “scared straight” camp for eight weeks as a teen before becoming a soccer star with eyes set on going pro. In the officially unreleased Fall-Out-Boy-slash-Gym-Class-Heroes track “Guilty as Charged (Tell Hip-Hop I’m Literate),” Wentz proclaims (through Stump) how well-read he is, with snide references to Dickens, Bukowski, and Kerouac—and that’s only the beginning. His friends are similarly well-read, with Ryan Ross of Panic! at the Disco’s lyrics (which Wentz assisted in writing) heavily quoting Chuck Palahniuk and Arthur Rimbaud. Hey Chris would later become a published author and run an independent publishing house in Chicago.
It’s only fitting, then, that the open letter would contain a famous literary reference: “Stay gold, dude, stay gold.” Hey Chris is most directly referring to what he calls “the tattoo for your ‘crew’ who now refer to you as a fraud and a con.” These days, “Stay Gold” is most popularly known as a BTS song. “Stay Gold,” however, refers to two majorly influential works: “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” by Robert Frost, and, in a sort of Russian-doll way, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
First, Robert Frost:
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
To summarize Frost’s point: the early, delicate, and golden beauty of nature, like sunrises and flowers, exist only for a fleeting moment before breaking into the inevitable coming day. Flowers and leaves bloom, the sun rises, and the moment is over before things turn bright and green and things are truly born. Just like the betrayal of Eve by eating the apple of knowledge of good and evil led simultaneously to the end of the garden of Eden and the destruction of innocence, but also to birth of humankind, free will, knowledge, and civilization as we know it, separating humans from animals. The point of the poem is that innocence is fleeting, and that innocence must be lost for what is meant to be to pass, and to create something new, like a sunny day, a tree, or humanity itself, which will produce countless innocent babies that become countless horrible adults, and so on.
“Stay Gold,” is, then, a fitting mantra for a “crew” during the fledgling, idealistic stages of a fresh wave of rock and roll, of a cultural moment; an admission from the start that what was at the beginning, the unique, special, and golden feeling of the birth of something new, would last merely a moment before sinking to grief and tragedy for everything to fully bloom.
This is because Wentz always knew what was up, much like fellow emo heartthrob Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. In 2000, before Fall Out Boy was conceived, a 21-year-old Wentz penned a rather alarming and suicidal column on chicagohardcore.com titled, “A Man’s Most Dangerous Moment is When He Pulls the Gun from His Throat and Points It at the World.” This rant alludes to Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk, which has the misery and hollowness of fame, as well as religion, as a central themes. Panic! at the Disco would later quote from the same book on their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. This rant expresses a lot of religious angst, and echoes parts of Wentz’s future, like designer clothes, sports cars, a blonde bombshell (now ex) wife, and a camera-laden trip to Africa for a good cause. Wentz makes a lot of proclamations about being a famous rockstar—despite not yet being famous or even having met bandmate Patrick Stump. “Either you have a good story to tell, or you die like a rockstar,” he preaches, along with, “We look at demigods of… rock n’ roll and if life isn’t good enough for them, then it can’t possibly be good enough for us.”
Sean Muttaqi, (of the Chicago hardcore scene and Uprising Records), would be quoted in the oral history of Fall Out Boy as saying that, from the beginning, Wentz viewed Fall Out Boy as “the thing that would make him famous. He had a clear vision.” You might be wondering what I’m getting at here; it’s almost like Wentz knew what was coming before the seed of Fall Out Boy was planted, hence why “Stay Gold” was the moniker of his “crew,” a bittersweet foreboding of their inevitable demise even during those “golden years,” when the group was tight knit enough to routinely tattoo eternal reminders on their skin.
If you think this sounds a little touched in the head, just ask Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, who formed the band out of a sense of duty and fate, first penning “Skylines and Turnstiles” after seeing bodies fall from the Twin Towers on 9/11. My Chemical Romance released a joint statement on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 which reads, in part: “The world changed that day, and the next day we set about trying to change the world.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Way said: “[Joan of Arc]… was somebody who was willing to die for what they believed in, and they were probably fucking crazy and like, touched by the hand of God, and I believe in that shit. I totally believe in that stuff. I believe that it can happen to anybody.
Like when we started this band, there was a brief amount of time where it felt like you drank gasoline and shit glass, and you were always covered in your own sweat, somebody else’s spit or blood or something. And I felt that, you know what I mean? I would make crazy speeches that made no sense onstage. I would talk about purifying flames being shot out of our cabinets at max volume to destroy evil and shit like that. I was, you know, touched in the head. And really, when you get touched in the head like that, I think your job at that point for the rest of your career is to remember what it was like to be touched in the head, and kind of keep that going. ‘Cause that can’t last forever, you’ll be dead, I think. Like Joan of Arc.”
When a roadie accused My Chemical Romance of insincerity regarding his image of bats and vampires, Way immediately kicked the roadie out of the band. According to the roadie, Way said, “You can’t question our sincerity and still tour with us. You don’t know what it takes. You don’t know how important this is to all of us.”
In the more abbreviated words of Wentz: “Never trust a band that wouldn’t bleed for you.”
The formation of Cobra Starship, of Wentz’s Decaydance record label, also hinged on the alleged pretense of destiny: speaking with Alternative Press in 2008, frontman Gabe Saporta claimed that Cobra Starship was born when he smoked peyote in the desert on a vision quest and hallucinated a snake was telling him to start a synthpop band.
Wentz, too, ostensibly feels some sort of connection between religion and Fall Out Boy, with religious references to God, heaven, and hell permeating countless Fall Out Boy songs. “Touched in the head” religious hallucinations of some kind, as well as constant references to angels, are also present in his allegedly fictional novel Gray, which is arguably a roman-a-clef a la Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Fall Out Boy’s “Thriller,” a love song to their fans, contains the line “Crowds are won and lost and won again, but our hearts beat for the die-hards;” the book is chock full of references to real-life figures only die-hards would understand, and would sound like a lunatic trying to explain to anyone else. In one chapter of the book, the unnamed narrator suffers a manic episode during a point of crisis at a train station in New York, briefly believing that a small child he is seeing is God.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean everything is completely literal—more of a way of exploring through art what it means to feel a pull so strong that you dedicate your life to something as silly, fantastical and one-in-a-million as making it big in a rock band. Speaking to a teenage caller on the radio show Loveline in 2007, after she inquired about “a lot of God references” in Infinity on High, Wentz said: “I think that God and religion can be a really good metaphor, and religious iconography can be a great metaphor for different things and is great to use. As far as God goes, I think it’s just about searching and figuring yourself out. I don’t think it’s anything overtly religious or anything like that.” And indeed, Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship would reveal in 2021 that the “synthpop angels” story had been embellished if not outright made up, part of the ploy to get kids believing and get the band off the ground. Wentz described the launch of Cobra Starship as “like Disney,” because everyone was “a true believer” in the story and “never broke character.”
With the Old-Testament connotations of Frost’s poem, emo band history, and fate nearly covered, let’s move on to The Outsiders; “Stay gold,” though referring to first Robert Frost and now BTS, was widely popularized for the second time by S.E. Hinton’s most famous novel.
For those of you who have not read The Outsiders, it’s about warring, violent teenage gangs of “greasers,” who spend their time as juvenile delinquents getting in fights complete with girls, booze, switchblades, cars, and hair oil. Similar themes are found in Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” which Fall Out Boy covered, as well as in Wentz’s book.
The novel revolves around a character named Ponyboy Curtis who struggles with morality in a society where he doesn’t belong. Ponyboy has a close friend named Johnny, and after a fight with another gang, the pair hide out in a church where Ponyboy reads Gone with the Wind to Johnny and recites “Nothing Gold Can Stay” during a beautiful sunrise. Shortly afterwards, the church catches on fire and Johnny is badly injured while rescuing children and taken to the hospital in critical condition. Later, as Johnny lays dying, his final words are to Ponyboy: “’Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold…’ The pillow seemed to sink a little, and Johnny died.” At the end of the book, Ponyboy opens the copy of Gone with the Wind and finds a final letter from Johnny. In this letter, Johnny tells Ponyboy:
“I know it was worth it. Tell Dally it’s worth it. I’m just going to miss you guys. I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything’s new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything that it’s day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be.”
“Stay gold” refers to that idyllic period in the church, where the pair were able to escape the responsibility of their actions and the pressures of the world around them. However, the boys understand this time period is fleeting, and will shortly end, thus making the sunrise in the church and the reading of the poem bittersweet.
This idyllic period, of course, peaked with the summer of 2005—Warped Tour, the tour angsty teens across America born ten to twenty years too late would curse God for missing. Hey Chris posted on Instagram about this summer and its idyllic, childlike innocence in November 2021:
“None of us could have imagined how significant that tour, those nights, and those friendships would be to everyone involved…Whatever it was felt genuine. And even with the squabbles and drama, we had all allowed ourselves to lose ourselves in that summer.
We were all so busy living in the moment and being overwhelmed with opportunities to have been able to realize what an era we were a part of…We were all a bunch of adults who got to play as kids again in a fairy tale world and we’re too busy blinded by the spectacle of it all to realize the importance of our friendships and adventures. The direction and trajectory of so many lives were changed that summer. And we had no idea.
None of us did.”
The “stay gold” letter from Hey Chris to Pete Wentz would come in February 2006, six months after this perfect summer drew to a close and less than a year after Fall Out Boy released “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” which, according to Rolling Stone, is one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” This was quickly followed by their album From Under the Cork Tree, skyrocketing them to mainstream success. Wentz also has a tattoo picturing an eye in a keyhole, overlapping the “Stay Gold” tattoo. This tattoo represents the album, with the art being pictured on the 1st and 2nd vinyl pressings; the art specifically references the song “XO,” and the lines “Through the keyhole I watched you dress, kiss and tell, loose lips sink ships.” Wentz’s alleged whoring around with Chris’ girlfriend was the nail in the coffin of their relationship, which had been (like Johnny) in critical condition on its deathbed; Wentz was already long considered a “fraud,” a “con,” and a “shitty opportunist businessman” by his former “crew.”
Likewise, the “stay gold, dude, stay gold” is an obvious reference to the bitter end of the time period where the pair were close; still young, sleeping on floors and in heatless vans, barely making enough for donuts, and instead the sudden beginning of fame and money and the pressure of being a mainstream rock band trying to please their label and the masses. Wentz, and Hey Chris, came from a background of hardcore bands with a niche audience and staunch, radical ideals concerning veganism, straightedge philosophy, anarchy, and black nationalism, Racetraitor being one example. The straightedge movement was especially important to Hey Chris, and he vocalizes this in the letter: “So pack up and move to whatever million-dollar house you’ve picked out in California paid for by your lies and hypocrisy and deceit and selfishness and over medicate yourself like you’ve been doing for years…Oh yeah, how’s that straight edge tattoo doing?”.
In a journal entry from 2007, where he explains how being straightedge is a core part of his personality, Hey Chris (perhaps unintentionally) even refers to the movement as “The Outsiders.” “Some of us were fucked from the start…The outsiders. The outcasts. The weirdos. The “faggots”. The last picked. We were the kids who were on fire. The kids who hated you because you had what we wanted. The kids that were accidents. The kids whose parents saw us not as blessings but as burdens.”
Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship, a band Hey Chris despises, was one of Wentz’s new friends and a new signing on Wentz’s Decaydance record label; he held a very different view of the vicious, die-hard idealism of so many young guys in punk bands, specifically straightedge idealism. Speaking with Alt Press magazine in 2008, Saporta said, “The whole point of punk-rock and of straight-edge too is that it’s all a means to an end. They’re all great ideals, and they’re meant to give you a great basis for the future, but they’re not a means to an end within themselves. There is no fucking revolution. Philosophically, the idea of a revolution is dead to me.” Likewise, the track “Growing Up,” off of Fall Out Boy’s first-ever album Evening Out With Your Girlfriend references “putting idealists in a body bag” as you get older, more bitter, and leave your childhood hometown.
This was in stark contrast to Hey Chris, who expressed in the letter the betrayal he felt at Wentz abandoning his ideals and becoming a mainstream rock band, particularly by Wentz no longer being straightedge and instead falling victim to the vices of rock and roll—Wentz began to struggle with pill abuse as his fame grew. And Wentz wasn’t alone. Spencer Smith of Panic! at the Disco ultimately left the band due to a pill addiction, Travie McCoy of Decaydance’s Gym Class Heroes would develop a pharmaceutical drug addiction that led to a heroin addiction, Mikey Way would struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction, Gerard Way would grow racked with cocaine addiction and alcoholism. Ryan Ross, the lyricist of Panic! at the Disco, would struggle with cocaine and alcohol abuse following his involvement with the band. The original bassist of Panic!, Brent Wilson, would be arrested for drug and firearms charges in 2021. Rumors of addiction and alcoholism continue to swirl around many other band members and their associates. Not only were the “boys” no longer young, innocent, and “gold,” but the purity of being straightedge, untainted by alcohol or drugs, had gone out the window, too, along with their previously held ideals.
The parallels with The Outsiders and the meaning of “stay gold,” does not end there, however. Wentz’s “crew” functioned under at least the pretense as being capable of the same violence as the gangs in The Outsiders (and were also marked by their vanity, caked in hair products and eyeliner the way the greasers oiled their hair)rrrrrrr. Fall Out Boy lyrics are riddled with violence—crashed cars, loaded guns, choking deaths, broken jaws, scars, bruises, black eyes, bloody noses, sinking ships, corpses in lakes, burning alive. My Chemical Romance is much of the same, and Wentz’s book is full of gory, Palahniuk-esque fistfights, suicide attempts, and a deadly car accident. So of course, Hey Chris’ letter would be violent, too: “You know the friends I have, and you know how we feel about loyalty. You know who I’m talking about, and you know they’re not happy either. So don’t get caught slipping and you better make damn sure you watch who’s on your guest list, because a plus one might come backstage to punch your fucking teeth out and tear the windpipe from your throat.”
Next, the character of Johnny is one of the oldest and toughest members of the gang, like Hey Chris was older than Pete and the rest of Fall Out Boy; his LiveJournal lists his birthday as 1974, while Wentz was born in 1979 and Stump and Trohman in 1984. Secondly, Johnny comes from an abusive home; Hey Chris, too, has written extensively about how his abusive father impacted him. Johnny devotes himself wholeheartedly to the greasers because they are his only reliable family, like Hey Chris devoted himself wholeheartedly to the world of touring with rock bands.
If you’re somehow still with me, you might be wondering why “Hey Chris” is called “Hey Chris” instead of just “Chris.” The moniker of Hey Chris comes from the Fall Out Boy song “Grenade Jumper,” the band’s love song to Chris and his die-hard belief in the band from the very beginning, even when no one else believed. The nickname comes from the lyrics, “Hey Chris, you were our only friend, and we know this is belated, but we love you back.” The title of “Grenade Jumper” refers to the act of deliberately falling on a grenade, sacrificing your own life for your friends, an obvious reference to Chris’ loyalty towards Fall Out Boy, which, until that point, had never wavered. In The Outsiders, the character of Johnny rushes into the burning church to save children, ultimately sacrificing his own life in the process.
(Rather unfortunately, like many of Wentz’s other lyrics, “Grenade Jumper” is also a sexual double entendre (See: “Pretty Girls Make Graves”…). “Grenade Jumper,” as defined on Urban Dictionary, refers to having sex with an overweight woman (“the grenade”) for the benefit of the rest of the group. Wentz explicitly used this definition of “Grenade Jumper” in The Oral History of Take This To Your Grave. Urban Dictionary defines this benefit as letting the other guys in the group fornicate with more alluring women, but Wentz defines the benefit as granting the band a place to sleep for the night. In Hey Chris’ open letter, he would accuse Wentz of mocking his overweight female fans, a claim Wentz very vaguely denied in his reply.)
ANYWAY, misogyny aside, it’s only Johnny who has character true enough to rush into the burning church to save children. The song “American Made,” off Fall Out Boy’s Pax Am Days, features the lines, “When I was younger, I couldn’t wait for the days to pass / Now I know they’ll never last / And I just want my childhood back / I just want my childhood dead / I just want to take it back / Cargo and despair / All American made / We’ll see who burns the truest in the flame.” These lines depict not only taking the innocence for granted and express bitterness towards the folly of idealistic youth, but also the difficulty of putting your money where your mouth is and maintaining your so-called morals under extreme pressure—like the fires of hell, or perhaps a burning church.
As for Wentz, Ponyboy is the main character of the “story,” like Wentz is the frontman of Fall Out Boy and the subject of the most media fixation. Ponyboy possesses a strong interest in literature, a quality that sets him apart from the other “delinquents.” Specifically, he identifies strongly with Pip from Great Expectations; Ponyboy tells the reader, “I had to read Great Expectations for English, and that kid Pip, he reminded me of us—the way he felt marked lousy because he wasn’t a gentleman or anything, and the way that girl kept looking down on him.” Wentz, too, identifies with Pip—part of the opening pages of his novel Gray read, “I start to think that I’m living in the middle parts of Great Expectations, right before things go really wrong for Pip, and of course I’m Pip, because it’s my tiny violin playing this one, and everything has to be about me.” As for the girl, lyrics on Take This To Your Grave, frequently criticized for its arguable violent misogyny, curse a girl that called Wentz “desperate” and “overrated.” Ponyboy loves to watch movies and read, enjoys learning, and is even a star athlete—all like Wentz. He only fits in with the gang because he doesn’t fit in anywhere else, and dislikes violence.
During the deathbed scene and the Gone with the Wind letter, AKA the “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold” scene, Johnny is not merely urging Ponyboy to remember him and stay pure. He’s begging Ponyboy not to succumb to the violence of the gangs around him and hold on to what makes him better than the rest of the greasers. Ponyboy was always meant for more than just a greaser, and Johnny always knew this. Ponyboy does not fit in anywhere because he is destined for something higher—just as Wentz and Fall Out Boy were destined for superstardom. In the words of Sparknotes.com, “Johnny now senses the uselessness of fighting; he knows that Ponyboy is better than the average hoodlum, and he wants Ponyboy to hold onto the golden qualities that set him apart from his companions.”
The motif of “Stay gold,” from the clothing line to the tattoo to the letter, is a representation of the heavy price you must pay to reach a higher purpose, just as in The Outsiders, it holds the connotation of the heavy price of Johnny’s life. Just like hopefuls sacrifice their careers, friends, education, relationships, privacy, sobriety, and sanity to do something as insane as dedicate their lives to rock and roll, only for their mission to be doubted by people who you once deemed so loyal they’d jump on a grenade for you. In the words of Adam Bishop, a former member of Wentz and Hey Chris’ early hardcore project Arma Angelus:
“For some dumb reason people seem to think that being in a band is something it is not. It’s not always fun and it’s not always glamorous. It’s a catch-22. People won’t pay you any attention until you gain some recognition/notoriety…then they hate you for it. Everything that you work for is attacked and held to a standard that is unfair and unwarranted…
How many thousands of dollars have you pumped into something so people could hate you for it? How many nights can you sacrifice to something no one will ever appreciate?… Yeah, it’s real glamorous.
Try sleeping in a cold van for a week at a time because the heat doesn’t work, never knowing when the death trap will break down or careen off the road. Follow that with two shitty meals a day at gas stations and truck stops costing twice what they are worth (because the band can’t afford to buy you food). You get sick, you can’t sleep, and yet you are expected to act and perform like you just rolled out of your bed at home. “They were sloppy” some will say…”They were boring” others will say. No one seems to care that the band just spent 12 sleepless hours in the cold to play for 20 minutes and make enough money to make it halfway to the next show. And then you go home…tired because you haven’t slept in days, not knowing where your rent payment is going to come from, and missing your girlfriend…Then somehow, in a day, or a week, or a month, you wish you were back out there. Why? Because it’s in your blood and you love it. No more, no less….
Fuck anyone who can’t understand that.”
In The Outsiders, when Johnny says, “It was worth it,” he refers to the sacrifice of his own life to save children in the burning church, children being the ultimate innocence beyond the stupidity of youth or the purity of sobriety. On July 3rd, 2007, at 2:52am, Wentz would pen a brief love letter in his secret online journals to his mostly young fans, before signing off “XO.” In this post, he explains to them that they are what made everything “worth it.”
“You are the best song ever written. My heart matches the beat (of the world) perfectly. I feel at peace with everything, which is rare for me. I’m out of breath but still grinning ear to ear. every time you stumble over your words but you keep smiling. It makes this worth it. Feel the echoes of the stadium flushing through your body. Cry out and raise your fists into the air. This is your anthem. Nothing would ever matter if you weren’t around. This has always been our Fight Club. Dance until your shoes wear away and your legs refuse to work. Sing until your lips are dry and chapped. Jump until the earth shakes with your spirit. Most importantly: shine smiles on me as I walk by. Thank you for being my light. I cannot make it without you. We’re just dressing up what’s always been there. Four boys and the crowd of lunatics who love them. This makes everything worth it.”
Chris and Pete would, ultimately, make up to some extent. Though, throughout their fight, Chris continued to love Fall Out Boy. Six years later, Chris said of Fall Out Boy, “Mid-internet beef, it was difficult for me to appreciate songs written by an enemy, but I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t a fan.” The letter, cloaked under machismo and bitterness and anger, is an acceptance of the inevitable, the turn of gold to green as dawn turns to day, as Fall Out Boy blossomed from a broken down van to multimillion dollar rock legends, as they paid the price of selling themselves out to go supersonic.
Paying such a price wasn’t solely selfish—it was worth it for the children. As their career has progressed, Fall Out Boy has increasingly geared towards children, with llama puppets, songs in children’s movies, Where the Wild Things Are-esque, fanciful visuals during their performances, with a Twilight Zone or perhaps Mr. Rogers-like narrator telling the audience before their shows that, “…You’re about to witness this journey of sight, sound and mind, which tells the tales of a Prince of the Cosmos sailing through the wilds of stars, tempered by hope, fated through light and solitude, our fearless traveler has been sequestered only to his ship and stardust…” before bursting into the opening notes of “The Phoenix,” with Stump shortly commanding, “Put on your war paint.”
Fall Out Boy came to me, risen from the ashes like a phoenix, when I was a lonely adolescent eating lunch alone in the bathroom so I didn’t have to face my classmates and hanging around in the library to take the five P.M. bus so I didn’t have to go home. I was desperate for anything but this. Suddenly Fall Out Boy was all anyone could talk about during marching band; a band I’d never heard of was back. Girls were crying into their clarinets. One day, I walked home with another girl after school and watched The Youngblood Chronicles in her basement through my fingers, hypnotized and horrified by the guts, glory, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, yet drawn in by the lilt of “Young Volcanoes,” softcore enough for a girl like me.
In the words of Joyce Johnson in Minor Characters, about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and her introduction to the Beat movement: “What this all seemed to promise was something I had never tasted in my life as a child— something I told myself was Real Life. This was not the life my parents lived but one that was dramatic, unpredictable, possibly dangerous. Therefore real, infinitely worth having. In trying to trace the derivations of this notion of experience, I come into blind alleys. it was simply there all of the sudden, full-fledged, like a fever I’d come down with. The air carries ideas like germs, infecting some, not others.”
The hypnosis of the blood, the fistfights, the filth, the sex, the guitars, the gore, the danger, the drugs, the booze, the piss, the tears, the snot, the car crashes, the guns, the stitches, the drums, the bass, all in books and journals and illegally downloaded mp3s gave me a sense of desperate purpose, leading me like the pied piper from the prison of religious helicopter parents in the Iowa suburbs to waitressing in Chicago to try to afford to tour with my friends, bleeding for bands that would bleed for me. I’ve transcribed interviews with over nearly 200 bands, and by the far the band people say inspired them most, the band that people’s eyes light up or tear up talking about most, is Fall Out Boy.
During their set at Hella Mega Tour, illuminated by a sole spotlight and surrounded by moths in the black darkness, as I stood on the barrier with pupils as big as silver dollars, Wentz asked, “So, uh, how many of you are in a band, or play an instrument?” before surveying the reaction from the crowd and saying “Okay,” uncertainly, testing to see how many dreamers were watching. The ultimate betrayal of selling out, the sinking of Eden to grief, was necessary for dawn to go down to day, to achieve the band’s mission all along— infecting as many kids as possible and planting the seed for the future of rock and roll. Fall Out Boy needed to “sell out” to get the airplay to become “therapists pumping through your speakers, delivering just what you need, well-read and poised” crooning, “oh darling, I know what you’re going through,” preaching electric into the ear of every teenager across America crying alone in her room, needing someone or something to believe in, needing a Fight Club. And in the end, it was worth it.