The story of how Panic! at the Disco was conceived—and how founder Ryan Ross and Decaydance records mogul Pete Wentz first met— has been told in several different ways that allude to the truth. However, this truth is always slightly incomplete, with details shifting between each telling of the tale. To be brief, former founding member and lyricist of Panic! at the Disco, Ryan Ross, somehow made online contact with infamous bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy; this quickly led to Wentz signing Panic! and their overnight superstardom. However, the details behind how they made contact, and what was said, are eternally changing and never told quite the same way twice.
Any avid viewer of Criminal Minds can tell you that suspects often have trouble sticking to the details of a story if what they’re saying isn’t quite true—as is the case with the birth of Panic! at the Disco. But, anybody called into a gym for a scared-straight talk on nudes as a teen can tell you (and as Pete Wentz knows all too well), once something gets on the internet, it doesn’t go away. Ever.
The official version of their union that has gone down in bandom history isn’t quite the full story. Fragments of the truth behind the initial meeting between Ryan Ross and Pete Wentz are still visible online, and, when pieced together, tell a far more intriguing tale. The influence of author Chuck Palahniuk, and the boundless libido of teenage girls, are intrinsic to the birth of the creative relationship between Ross and Wentz, and the formation of Panic! at the Disco’s double-platinum debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out.
This essay seeks to examine the initial contact between Ross and Wentz, stripped of all the PR spin; it also seeks to examine the role of Palahniuk’s work and lustful teenage girls in this budding connection, and the album Panic! would go on to create with the assistance of Wentz. Rather than being an entirely original work that holds much independent analysis, this is intended more to be a body of research, stringing together well over a hundred sources like beads on a necklace. This essay is not intended to be a comprehensive chronicle of Panic! at the Disco, or even complete history of the relationship between Ross and Wentz. Rather, it focuses very closely on, and places into context, one brief moment. Though this moment is far in the past, it was a critical point in the dawn of a truly special subculture—and is also pretty easy to romanticize.
CHAPTER ONE: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE PROUDLY PRESENT…
First, let’s provide some backstory. Fall Out Boy is an American rock band formed in Chicago, Illinois in 2001. The emo-pop-rock group would be formed by guitarist Joe Trohman, vocalist Patrick Stump, and bassist Pete Wentz. (Drummer Andy Hurley would join later.) Wentz, in his early 20s and older than high-school aged bandmates Stump and Trohman, was somewhat of a local celebrity and a staple of the late 90s and very early 00s hardcore scene. Wentz is portrayed in the press as a somewhat polarizing figure; his best friend and bandmate Patrick Stump has described Wentz as “one of the most complicated people I know.” This complexity reflects in Wentz’s appearance— not only in its occasional androgyny, but in the soft edges of his face and warm, laugh-lined eyes contrasting against large, dagger-sharp teeth and dark tattoos.
At times, Wentz appeared to struggle with his mental health; he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and throughout the early-mid 00s, he lost his driver’s license (source two), was arrested punching out car windows following a fight with his girlfriend, attempted suicide, and lived with his parents until age twenty-seven due to “dependency and attachment issues.” Though he is close with both parents, and his childhood has been described as “idyllic and uneventful,” he also had a stint in a troubled-teen camp as an adolescent. However, his mephitic, intoxicating charisma (and, potentially, lawyer father and politically connected extended family) would keep him out of serious trouble.
Though Pete Wentz plays bass in and serves as frontman of Fall Out Boy, he is mostly known for his brilliant lyricism, using poetry as an outlet to channel the “black moods” that “have the ability to make a room go cold.” In Wentz’s own words: “If I don’t get the emotions out somehow, whether it’s punching things or writing, I would probably explode.” Wentz characterizes himself as more of a writer than a rocker; in one 2008 video, he smugly rasps from behind a giant pair of sunglasses, “Andy works out. Joe plays guitar. Patrick plays drums. I’m more of an intellectual type, so I rise and read the paper and have a poached egg and coffee.” Wentz is obviously joking, but through the sarcasm, he is likening himself to a Jazz Age writer and man of letters— via ostensibly referencing Hemingway. Hemingway’s morning routine included coffee and the newspaper; a variation of poached eggs are named after him; and in his most famous novel, The Sun Also Rises, the characters eat way too many eggs, carry newspapers, and drink coffee. Wentz named his dog after the writer.
Panic! at the Disco was created in the spring of 2004 by a Catholic-school-educated teenager from Las Vegas, Nevada named Ryan Ross. This band was created with Ross’ childhood best friend Spencer Smith, and an evolution of their very early Blink-182-inspired project Pet Salamander. Ross played guitar and wrote lyrics, while Smith played drums. The group was then joined by permanent vocalist Brendon Urie, and briefly included their first bass player, Brent Wilson. Panic! at the Disco’s early demos mixed electronic and dance elements with emo rock and poetic, flowery lyrics.
Ryan Ross attended a private Catholic preparatory school; he was a good student, and loved reading, writing, and music— especially bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. Of his upbringing, Ross described his ex-marine and ex-casino-dealer father (who died in 2006) as an alcoholic and “kind of” abusive, though Ross said they reconciled prior to his father’s passing. Ross—who “has the taste of people who are already dead”, such as Broadway plays from the 1930s —seemed like a relic, a poet from the past trapped in the lanky body of a modern teenager. He was also an undeniable romantic—he once gifted ex-girlfriend Keltie Colleen with a “beautiful gold locket from the 1800s…inscribed with the word ‘love’.”
With wide brown eyes, a youthful face, and long, spindly limbs, Ryan Ross resembles Bambi. But despite his boyish appearance, he, like Pete Wentz, was troubled. In the words of Colleen, Ross “appeared innocent, but was capable of deceit” due to how he “spent his entire life sneaking around behind his father’s strict, Catholic back.” Ross agreed he had issues as a result of his upbringing; he told The Guardian, “Sometimes I’m not as open to loving…When my dad got mad, my mum wasn’t there to say, ‘You’re OK, don’t worry about him.'” In the words of Colleen, Ross “existed in the present but didn’t actually live here with the rest of us. He was a starry-eyed dreamer who created an entire world in his head. Instead of dealing with the not-so-magical situations in his life, his mind transformed to a place where he was happy.”
Around the time Panic! at the Disco was taking shape, Wentz began forming his Decaydance record label, an imprint of Fueled By Ramen. The name served to combine “decay” and “dance” into a word a little to the left of “decadence,” calling to mind images of corpses rotting and hedonistic debauchery swirled into one. Decaydance stood apart in that it “[operated] more like a hip-hop collective than an alternative label.” (Wentz is biracial, with Jamaican heritage.) Decaydance “created a family of offbeat, disparate acts that shared an indefinable energy” and “dominated in the mid-00s.” In 2004, Fall Out Boy—and specifically, founder and business mastermind Pete Wentz—was between the successful yet still somewhat underground Take This to Your Grave, and the explosive From Under The Cork Tree; he sensed a “seismic shift in the scene that his band had in part catalyzed,” and would consequently go on to sign unusual acts that didn’t fit in anywhere else, but still held something special. (Quotations and paraphrasing from Marianne Eloise of The Forty-Five.)
Even those who don’t know anything about Fall Out Boy or aren’t familiar with the Decaydance name likely know at least one song that was born, directly or indirectly, from Decaydance. Hits like “Good Girls Go Bad,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “Ass Back Home,” “Cupid’s Chokehold,” “About A Girl,” “You Make Me Feel…”, “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” “The Fighter,” “Stereo Hearts,” “Curse of Curves,” “Love Like Woe,” “Angel With A Shotgun,” and “Nine in the Afternoon” all came from bands who forged careers through Decaydance at some point—and that’s not including the artists signed under the label’s relaunch as DCD2. Even if you think you don’t know any of these names, you’d probably recognize a hook or two.
Almost as soon as Panic! at the Disco was conceived, Wentz noticed something special about the group, and immediately sought to recruit them for his vision. Consequently, the band was a very early signing on Decaydance, and their phenomenal and polarizing success helped the label forge a name for itself. Panic! at the Disco’s first album, titled A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, possessed a unique sound described as “dance-punk” and “baroque pop” alongside more “typical” labels like “emo” and “pop punk.” It was something no one else was doing, and embodied Decaydance’s “mission to create a family of misfits – bands with a certain energy but no obvious home.” Though Panic! at the Disco has had incredible staying power, tore to the top of the charts, and is considered one of the “Holy Trinity” of emo rock, the band (and their debut album) was initially eviscerated by critics. According to Blunt Mag, ”reviewers largely disparaged the album for a lack of “sincerity, creativity, or originality”, with Pitchfork accusing the band of “barrel-scraping,” and Rolling Stone denigrating the record’s “whininess.”
But despite critics turning up their noses, the true extent of the rapid detonation of Panic! at the Disco is difficult to comprehend—the band, composed entirely of suburban teenagers with zero industry experience whatsoever and little to no touring or live performances under their belt—would have their second single “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” top the Heatseekers chart and reach No. 2 on the Mainstream Top 40; their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out would ultimately go triple-platinum.
But the group did more than just sell a lot of rock records—they created a truly astounding and unforgettable artistic experience to coincide with their unique-sounding record, unlike anything anyone was really doing (except maybe Motley Crue and their traveling circus). The group also took on the US with two gorgeous, Cirque du Soleil-inspired tours, complete with iconic imagery such as a Moulin Rouge-esque light-up windmill, “risque dance numbers,” Ryan Ross’ iconic Romantic-era reminiscent “Rosevest”, a traveling circus troupe, and Brendon Urie’s unforgettable marionette costume.
Panic! at the Disco would even go on to score a Rolling Stone cover before Fall Out Boy, who had been touring and releasing music for years before Panic! was even conceived. To sum up Panic’s staggering overnight success in the words of this Rolling Stone story: “They went from a group of teenagers who’d written only three songs and never played a live show to the biggest new rock band in America.” Obviously, the moment Panic!—specifically, founding member Ryan Ross—and Pete Wentz met was a critical one. So, what really happened?
CHAPTER TWO: LYING IS THE MOST FUN A BAND DUDE CAN HAVE WITHOUT TAKING HIS CLOTHES OFF
Let’s run through a handful of the retellings of the alleged origins of Panic! at the Disco. In one iteration of the story, frontman, vocalist, and sole original member left standing, Brendon Urie, claims “We heard [Pete Wentz] was starting a label, and you know, shot in the dark…we tried to send [Wentz] a link on his LiveJournal. We tried to email him…We were really self-deprecating in the e-mail, like, ‘Hey man, this is really cool, don’t even worry about it.’ It was so sad, so sad. He might’ve just felt bad for us, like ‘I’ll sign these losers.’” Ryan Ross half-heartedly repeats this in a podcast from 2019: “I bugged Pete from Fall Out Boy. On some like… he had like an email or something. I don’t know.”
Conversely, Wentz claimed in a video interview, “These little dudes came onto our website, and they were like, “Bleh, bleh, bleh, something about me sucking or something, and they were like ‘Check out [Panic! at the Disco]. And I was like, ‘I’m gonna go check this band out and I’m gonna come back here and tell them how shitty their band is.’ And I went and listened to them and was like, ‘Damn, this thing’s good.’ I was like, ‘I gotta sign them.’ Then I was like, ‘Wait, I don’t have a record label.’” Wentz repeated this story again in an interview with Young Hollywood: “The real story is that Ryan was kind of making fun of me online, and was like, ‘I’m gonna check out this dude’s band, and I’m gonna tell him how bad his band is.’ And they were really good, so I signed them.”
Wentz is a notoriously horrific actor (I mean, seriously)—and his delivery of these lines in the Young Hollywood interview are so stiff it’s painful. But beyond this, phrases similar to “The real story is…” appear frequently in his novel Gray (co-authored with former MTV writer James Montgomery), which utilizes an unreliable narrator. Gray’s mouthpiece and primary character, based off Wentz himself, uses these phrases to create an artificial sense of intimacy between the narrator and the reader, lulling them into a faux feeling of security and trust. Throughout the novel, the narrator simultaneously appears to profess his deepest and most hideous thoughts while also telling deliberate, obvious untruths. You’re so soothed by assurances of “Because the truth is…” or “You know what I mean” or “Who am I kidding?”, along with the narrator’s willingness to confess his sins, that it’s almost easy for him to make you placid enough that you forget what happened just a few pages ago and fall for the narrator’s act as he smudges or glosses over critical details of the novel’s plot. But not quite.
The real-life Pete Wentz, famous for his “considerable powers of persuasion” and “blinding alpha-male charisma” employs similar manipulation tactics while telling the obfuscated story of the birth of Panic! at the Disco—he lets you in on a little secret, just between you and him. And you know what, he’ll be honest with you— he’s not the nicest guy in the world; he was really just planning to cyberbully some high schooler online, but the kid was just so talented he ended up signing this band. So, there you have it—the real story.
Brendon Urie does something similar when he tells the tale. While Wentz pulls the wool over your eyes by casting himself as a bit of a jerk that, despite being famous, has nothing better to do than get in spats with teenagers online, Urie draws attention away from the details and onto his supposed faults by presenting himself as geeky and insecure, stuttering in the presence of a rock ’n’ roll poet sex god.
In Wentz’s novel, the details of the narrator’s stories don’t quite add up, leaving a reader that actually pays attention puzzled. With the real-life story of Panic! at the Disco, the details don’t add up either—leaving a reader that actually pays attention puzzled. Where did Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross first make contact? Was it their website or LiveJournal or an email? Did Wentz already have the label or not? Were the members of Panic! at the Disco snot-nosed teens mouthing off to Wentz in a comment section, or insecure, humble children groveling in his email inbox? But these aren’t the only details that don’t match up—almost every retelling of the story of Panic! at the Disco is slightly different.
James Montgomery wrote in an article for MTV that it was a link pasted to Wentz’s LiveJournal page that brought Panic! to fruition. Wentz told Rocksound that Panic! at the Disco had sent a link to their demos on Fall Out Boy’s MySpace page, and he had only bothered to listen to the group to “tell [Ross] how bad he sucked.” In yet another alternate version, Wentz told Rolling Stone that Ross “sent them to [Wentz] via his blog. Wentz was blown away: ‘I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to sign this band. Other labels have to be all over them.’”
Interestingly, Fall Out Boy have never messed up their origin story of singer Patrick Stump overhearing guitarist Joe Trohman in the CD section of a Borders bookstore and approaching him to nitpick the classification of Neurosis, leading to Trohman introducing Stump to fellow Arma Angelus member Wentz. They don’t change up tiny details like the name of the bookstore or the name of the band that Stump decided to bicker with Trohman over. They don’t even misremember exactly what Stump was wearing when he met Wentz for the first time. (Shorts, socks, and an argyle sweater, if you were wondering). This is probably because that story is true, and whatever story Wentz and Panic! cooked up is not quite, exactly, precisely so. (Source one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Notice how all of these stories are exactly the same.)
CHAPTER THREE: CAN I PROVE THIS? NO.
Before we begin this breakdown, which draws from Livejournal circa 03-04, it’s important to note something about how LiveJournal handles deleted and purged accounts. Wentz’s handle, formerly “peteisacreep,” appears in the linked sources as “ex_peteisacr991.” Ross’ handle, formerly “i_amclandestine” (a reference to Wentz’s clothing line), appears as “ex_i_amcland189.” I have also edited comments and posts for grammar and spelling to make this essay more readable, except in cases where I think it would be funny not to.
First, Ross was an active poster in the Fall Out Boy LiveJournal fan community falloutboylove. As we get into this, I need to stress what a massive Fall Out Boy fan Ryan Ross was. Like I said, he named his online persona after Wentz’s fashion line. Ross wore his collar popped like John Cusack because Wentz wore his collar popped like John Cusack. A Fall Out Boy EP was “the coolest thing” that Ross owned. He bought so many shirts after a show the merch guy threw in a free Jawbreaker album. He was a proud member of the “Secret Order of Fall Out Boy,” the band’s street team. (The “Secret Order” shirt Ross owned included the phrase, “Death Before Betrayal.”) Ross gushed that Fall Out Boy were his favorite band, that they had “awesome lyrics,” and were “super nice guys.” Yada yada. Ross commented very, very frequently in the community, and I haven’t archived every single comment—just enough for you to get the picture.
To set the stage for Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross’ first critical moment, let’s go over how Ross presented himself and his relationship with Fall Out Boy and Wentz in the falloutboylove community. Ross was highly protective over his relationship with Wentz and the band—which, at that point, was largely parasocial. Ross felt threatened by the teen fangirls that encroached on Fall Out Boy and were skyrocketing them into the mainstream. Many of these girls were frothing at the mouth with lust over Wentz specifically, which Ross despised; this would ultimately land Wentz on endless magazine covers targeted towards teen girls, from J-14 to Cosmo Girl to Sugar Lad Mag with page titles like “Boys, beauty, guyliner!” and “Who will make your heart sing this spring?” and “Celeb eye candy!” and “Wentz bares all!”.
In particular, Ross blamed Fall Out Boy’s tour with Mest for the arrival of lovelorn teenyboppers, viewing the girls like an invasive species on his special little band that was born from distinctly “No Girls Allowed” dude-hardcore roots; these girls seemed to prevent them from being taken seriously in the way other bands were. Ross would complain that “very few dudes know that [Fall Out Boy] is hardcore.” Wentz played in many Chicago-based hardcore bands, but his primary project prior to Fall Out Boy was Arma Angelus; it was through Arma Angelus that Wentz cemented his “local god” status that would help pave the way for Fall Out Boy’s success and lay the foundation of their fanbase.
In online spaces dedicated to Arma Angelus—and other bands like them—people who identified themselves as female were subject to online harassment such as being referred to as dogs or being told they should be shot in the face. As a testimony to how few girls made it into these spaces, a very young Wentz (who, in fairness, later defended her from anonymous Internet haters) told one teenage girl in a comment section that she “may well be the first ever female Arma fan.” Arma Angelus, like many other bands of the scene and era, was a definite boys club, spending much of their time teabagging one another (Warning: there is very much a ballsack in that link), conducting a rather titillatingly homoerotic panty raid, and taking a field trip to a Candadian brothel. Even the more softcore, pop-punky emo bands that rose in popularity a few years later were also a wiener-fest; Wentz himself would profess, “I feel like this scene is a giant boys club.”
While I’d love to wax poetic about the multitudes contained within the disgustingly violating yet kind of fruity and alluring Arma Angelus panty raid, we have to stay on topic here. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the ultra-macho hardcore roots of the band, teen girls ate up the more softcore and accessible Fall Out Boy.
In The Oral History of Take This To Your Grave, former Arma Angelus member and Fall Out Boy roadie Chris Gutierrez was quoted, “I started noticing people who weren’t associated with hardcore showing up at their shows. There was a group of two dozen girls from the Chicagoland area that would show up over and over again. I’d be like, ‘Do those 14-year-old girls know you’re a total fucking nutjob, Wentz? That you’re a criminal? That we were playing Hellfest two years ago?’ It’s not something that happens often, when dudes who legitimately love Neurosis, Cannibal Corpse, and Death have 14-year-old girls showing up to see their new band. I remember mocking Wentz when he was signing autographs, but he was like, ‘What am I supposed to do? Bum these kids out?’.”
Now, let’s go over some evidence of how Ross resented female teen Fall Out Boy fans, particularly those of the lovesick variety. In spring 2004, a guy named Brock posted in falloutboylove, “Can someone please explain to me when it became cool to act towards Fall Out Boy the way girls used to act towards the Backstreet Boys? Honestly.” Ross replied, “I noticed it. And it makes me fucking sick.” Ross also commented, “If [Fall Out Boy] weren’t in a band, and that wasn’t a hot thing to do, I doubt that these girls would say that they wanted to have their children.”
Of (largely female) teenage Mest fans, Ross said, “Before FOB plays. They do not know shit about them. After they play, they buy every t-shirt and try to rape Peter. It’s effing ridiculous.” (“Peter” is Wentz’s full first name, and generally used by fans who feel a particularly strong affection.) Wentz would also echo this sentiment about the ferociousness of teenage girls in the audience mauling him in an interview with BBC Switch: “Sometimes I feel like I’m getting thrown to the lions. They want to actually draw and quarter me, I think.”
Anyway, a teenage fanboy Ryan Ross felt like Fall Out Boy—and specifically, Pete Wentz, via his lyrics—were more of a friend to him than a band. In one comment, Ross said, “Amen to driving around listening to ‘Tell that Mick…’. I love long night drives. Alone, thinking. And Fall Out Boy keeping me company.” He felt a closeness with Wentz and understanding his words, something he believed was unique to a select few and couldn’t be achieved by just anyone—especially not girls with cooties that thought Wentz was sexy. Replying to a girl who asked for recommendations of songs she could pirate, Ross said, “Stop worrying about what FOB songs to download because you probably don’t understand the lyrics anyway.” And for all of his scorn towards girls smitten with the band, he too had a bit of a crush, saying: “Yeah, the girls thinking Fall Out Boy look good is pretty obvious. I’m a dude. And I’d probably do them, haha.”
(I’d like to briefly note all this disdain did not stop a teenage, hormonally charged Ross from flirting with some of the girls. In one exchange beneath a post depicting a girl’s Fall Out Boy tattoo, Ross commented, “I hate when a beautiful girl teases me like you do.” In another thread, he replied to a girl with, “Gimme yo digits ; ). I’d also like to note that none of this is intended as a condemnation of Ryan Ross or his character—he was only eighteen years old, roughly. He was just a kid, and this all happened nearly two decades ago.)
Wentz’s lyrical influence on Ross was palpable before Panic! at the Disco was even conceived. Much of the information about Panic! at the Disco’s early projects is extremely convoluted and attempting to parse it out would be more incredibly pointless than this essay already is. However, Pet Salamander, the first iteration of what would become Panic! at the Disco, ultimately changed its name to the The Summer League. This band allegedly had a song called “Hey Matt, The Front of My Car’s Got Your Name on It (Because I Don’t Think My Fist Could Do The Job”). Influence from early Fall Out Boy is quite apparent from the title alone. The title of the FOB song “Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things To Do Today,” bears clear similarities to “Hey Matt…”. Beyond vaguely threatening of another guy by name, Fall Out Boy tracks frequently featured sexual jealousy, long-winded titles, and made use of secondary titles in parentheses. All of these traits are apparent even just in the title of the unreleased “Hey Matt” song.
Now, let’s move to the actual first interactions between Ross and Wentz. On November 13th, 2003, Wentz would post to his tour journal on Fall Out Boy’s website falloutboyrock.com encouraging fans to read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fugitives and Refugees; Ross spent a lot of time poking around the site. Just three days later, on November 16th, 2003, Fall Out Boy would perform at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Nevada. On May 8th, 2004, Ross would post a comment in falloutboylove that he first met Wentz at this November 16th show. Some months later, Ross would post another comment in the community, replying to a post asking for book recommendations that he reads “anything and everything Chuck”—referring, of course, to Chuck Palahniuk.
In the same comment, Ross continues to explain that when Fall Out Boy returned to Las Vegas a few months later, Ross attended, and he spoke with Wentz again. This time, Wentz remembered Ryan Ross’ name, and the name of Ross’ band. Ross posted: “Pete is a rad guy. When they came here in November, I met him, and we talked for a little. Then they came back in February, and he remembered my name, and my bands name.” Other comments made by Ross in falloutboylove revealed these two post-show interactions were not the only conversations between Ross and Wentz, and they had chatted online on previous occasions. On June 14th, 2004, Ross spoke fondly of Fall Out Boy’s Evening Out With Your Girlfriend record cycle, “When Pete would actually have conversations with me on AIM. Those were the days =/”.
[Stump says that the band’s Evening Out record cycle did not exist independently from Take This To Your Grave, as the records were released simultaneously; he refers to those that claim to be fans since Evening Out as creating “revisionist history.”]
Do I think this is a coincidence? No. I think Ross and Wentz likely discussed Palahniuk, even briefly; at the very least, I think Ross began reading Palahniuk due to his penchant for copying Wentz, like with the douchebag-y popped collar both of them sported. Can I technically prove this? Also no.
CHAPTER FOUR: BACKSTREET’S BACK
So, Ross really liked Fall Out Boy. Who cares? The band (plus Pete Wentz) probably just told a little white lie to stop Ryan Ross from being mortified about the extent of his fanboy past being outed to the press. But beyond a smoke screen possibly generated to prevent Ross any embarrassment, there are inaccuracies surrounding the many tales of how Panic! was formed.
I want to establish that Wentz probably did not first discover Panic! because Ross sent him demos via his Myspace, or his LiveJournal, or his blog, or his website, or his email, or anything else they’ve claimed—and that’s why they can’t keep their story straight. But specifically, I want to establish that young female fans of Fall Out Boy brought Panic! at the Disco to Pete Wentz, in part because Ryan Ross heavily advertised his project in the tightpants community on LiveJournal.
As you may have already concluded, the LiveJournal community tightpants was dedicated to “boys in tight pants.” Ross’ introductory post in tightpants read, “um hey doods. im new. im ryan. i just wanted to know where you doods get jeans at. Thankssss…” This post would eventually achieve nearly 250 comments, including “ddaaaamn! you are pure sex!!!” and “Whatttttttt… you’re drop dead gorgeous. Dear god.” While these images are no longer available in the original LiveJournal threads, they have been archived on this Tumblr account, aptly titled “Camera Whore Ryan Ross.” One of these photos includes Ross’ ass in a pair of skinny jeans, and a few of his V-line-slash-abs.
A few weeks later, Ross would post again in tightpants, attaching more photos for girls to ogle over, and saying: “So I’m in this band. Called Panic! at the Disco. And I’m thinking all of you should go listen. Cause if a hundred people can comment on my creepy looks, I’d truly appreciate it if you all would listen to what I love to do. Don’t be too elite. Trust me, it will be ‘lyke TotALly scene’ to like us.” This post would garner over a hundred comments, including “You are very very pretty” and “Your face makes me want to love you with a passion.”
Ross would continue contributing to the community, advertising Panic! each time— alongside his face and body. Posts three and four would continue to be extremely popular, getting 152 and 144 comments each—most of them reading things like, “I think I’m in love,” or “So wow. That was hot,” or “You’re so adorable, in the ‘Awww, I want to keep him in my pocket forever’ kind of way,” or “Wow, you’re really hawt. More pix!”. Ross’ glamour shots weren’t just limited to tightpants, either—he posted a few selfies in falloutboylove, garnering comments like “Awh, you are SO adorable!” and “Seriously… those eyes… *sigh*”.
In short, Ryan Ross noticed the feverish teenage lust that was pushing Fall Out Boy out of the Illinois suburbs and onto MTV. Though he was initially filled with contempt and derision for such passionate displays of libido by Fall Out Boy’s new fans, in an ingenious move, he decided to harness the unstoppable force of teenage girls in heat craving “sensitive” poets in guyliner to propel his own band to new heights. And Pete Wentz noticed the momentum backing Ross and his band—after all, Maxwell Perkins, the editor of Hemingway’s wildly successful debut novel The Sun Also Rises, elected to publish the book with an eroticized cover to capture the attention of “the feminine readers who control the destinies of so many novels.”
In some of his thirst traps, Ryan Ross is wearing a pink shirt that reads “Fall Out Boy Is For…” with “Lovers” crossed out and replaced by “Scenesters.” This shirt was sold by the band on tour in 2004, likely poking fun at their eternal reputation as “sellouts.” Urban Dictionary defines a “scenester” as: “A person who tries very hard to fit the stereotype of a certain scene. Often having to do with a specific genre of music, [such as] emo, indie, punk, [or] rock. Dresses and acts in a prescribed fashion. Image focused. Vain.” Given that Ross was now using his body to pander to the exact variety of Fall Out Boy fans he claimed to despise, this fashion choice could conceivably be a deliberate tongue-in-cheek move to privately thumb his nose at the girls while still enticing them to give his band an ear.
After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And Ryan Ross would succeed, one day finding himself sharing J-14 covers with Pete Wentz… alongside a Sprouse twin and Zac Efron. Panic! took their semi-boyband status in stride; their intro music on their Nothing Rhymes With Circus tour was “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” calling back to Brock’s comment in falloutboylove about “acting towards Fall Out Boy the way girls used to act towards the Backstreet Boys” and Ross replying, “I noticed it. And it makes me fucking sick.”
Panic! at the Disco’s first record—which was being written at the time—reflects some of the resentment and rage Ross was feeling towards the “posers” in falloutboylove. In particular, the track “I Constantly Thank God for Esteban” serves as a preacher pounding against a pulpit, denouncing the supposed frauds and false disciples of the “scene,” with lines like “And I, for one, won’t stand for this / If this scene were a parish, you’d all be condemned.” But I’m getting ahead of myself—back to Ross advertising his band on LiveJournal. This is the part where Wentz enters.
CHAPTER FIVE: NOW INTRODUCING: “DR. JEKYLL AND MR. FAME”
Wentz’s LiveJournal handle, “peteisacreep,” referred to the fact that he was often considered to be eternally lurking and surveilling the boards in silent omniscience (and potentially his cringeworthy behavior around women). In Fuse’s Rock Star Guide to Fall Out Boy, while showing off his painfully 2000s computer, Wentz proclaimed, “This is where I lurk around on the internet… I’m on Fall Out Boy’s messageboard right now. That’s a little bit creepy, kind of.”
On November 28th, 2004, at 12:33pm, a user in falloutboylove created a post reading, “So this Panic! at the Disco band is fucking freaking me out…it has to be Patrick, right?”. People—seemingly, mostly girls— would begin fawning in the comments over Panic!, with one remarking she was “in love.” Multiple commenters would note Ryan Ross’ heavy presence in the community.
It is my belief that Pete Wentz spotted this post, smelled cash, and sunk his giant, capitalist, crypto–bro teeth into Panic! at the Disco. After all, Chicago-based author, former Arma Angelus member, and (debatably former) associate of Wentz’s, Chris Gutierrez, once famously described Wentz as an “opportunist businessman,” albeit a “shitty” one. (See: “Stay Gold, Dude, Stay Gold.”) On November 28th, 2004, at 2:02pm, just 91 minutes later, Wentz created a post in falloutboylove titled “whoompthereitis” reading: “Hey buddy from Panic! at the Disco, what’s your email address?” Ross replied, “Hey Pete, my email is email@example.com.”
The ensuing AIM conversation between Ryan Ross and Pete Wentz was purportedly, allegedly, leaked by former Panic! bassist Brent Wilson following his departure from the group on rather sour terms. (Wilson would subsequently be replaced by new bassist Jon Walker). In this conversation, Wentz does not appear to know he has met Ross before, and Ross does not bring it up either. As we established, Ross was a familiar face to Wentz at that point, so Wentz likely connected the dots later: in an issue of Kerrang, after being asked about the “more elaborate schemes fans have come up with to meet you,” Wentz said, “Some of them started a band called Panic! at the Disco…”
Wentz would go on to arrange a meeting between himself and Panic!. Like some kind of pop-punk mafioso, Wentz would instruct the band (who were all underage— Pete Wentz was twenty-five at the time, while Ryan Ross was eighteen; Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith were both a year younger than Ross) to meet him at a casino hotel, where he was “with some hot girl, just chilling and looking awesome.” Then, they’d all go out for tacos, where Wentz would explain they were going to be signed to his record label. The rest is history— Pete Wentz would go on to describe Ryan Ross as “the most expensive thing he ever bought”—apart from a Chanel brooch he also purchased for Ross.
But maybe I’m wrong. Panic! drummer Spencer Smith said in 2020, “We put [our demos] on PureVolume, the SoundCloud of the era, and then we posted that link in Pete’s LiveJournal, hoping either fans would click on it or that he would ask us to go on tour. He actually listened to it and used AIM to reach out to Ryan.” Maybe that is true. I can’t prove it isn’t. Though partial archives of Wentz’s journal are viewable via the Wayback Machine, I was unable to access the comments section of any posts Wentz made in November of 2004, though he did post on November 26th, 2004.
Even operating under the assumption that Panic! did originally link their PureVolume in the comments of Wentz’s personal journal, why would Wentz make a post in an entirely separate Fall Out Boy fan community, a suspicious 91 minutes after girls started raving over Panic! there and remarked that Ross was an active poster in the community? Why would Wentz not simply respond to Ross’ comment to get his email address? How did Wentz know Ross would even see the post? If Ross had emailed Wentz in the first place, like they also claimed, why did this post even need to be made? It doesn’t make any goddamn sense. The answer is simple—the variations of stories they’ve told over the years aren’t quite factual. But Smith alluded to the truth. Wentz probably did not listen to Ross’ band of his own accord. But the fangirls that religiously read Pete Wentz’s LiveJournal— and scouted the forums for hot guys in tight jeans— did, and Wentz kept his finger on their pulse.
CHAPTER SIX: FAINTING MAIDENS
But anyway, back to the teen girls. In the leaked AIM conversation between him and Ross, Wentz acknowledges the critical importance of looks in building a fanbase, grilling Ross on whether or not “The chicks gonna be swooning?”. But, of course, Ryan Ross, Pete Wentz, Brendon Urie, and the rest of their gang would never give the scene-teen girls from tightpants and falloutboylove credit, probably because their view of those kinds of girls is a bit dim. As we’ve established, Ross loathed their presence in falloutboylove; Wentz, arguably, felt similarly. Before a 2007 performance of “XO,” Wentz dedicated the song to “all the girls that come here for the right reasons— for the music— you guys fucking rule. This song, however, is about the exact opposite girl.”
However, one might argue that Wentz and Ross have an extremely good point—of course musicians of any gender want to be valued for their art rather than how their ass looks in a pair of skinny jeans. When Ryan Ross, Pete Wentz, and William Beckett of The Academy Is… were asked in a joint interview with Kerrang, “Has being good-looking had anything to do with your success?”, Wentz responded, “It would be impossible to say no to that question. I don’t think of myself as good-looking, so it’s weird, but it definitely does factor into it. It’s unfortunate that your bone structure is what people remember, rather than the songs, but those things can open people up to your band, too.”
In short, the picture Ryan Ross painted of Fall Out Boy’s success via his comments in falloutboylove went something like this: Through the arrival of lust-sick teenyboppers from the Mest tour, Fall Out Boy were exponentially increasing in popularity, exponentially decreasing in their punk cred, and it sucked. In 2006, Fall Out Boy was defined on Urban Dictionary as “at the forefront of a new movement of boy bands who try to disguise their true identity by pretending to be emo and/or punk. In reality, they have very little musical talent and are a pop-oriented boy band. They are very popular but thankfully the only people who take them seriously are young teens who watch MTV constantly. Therefore, their opinions are completely worthless.” The arrival of a bunch of screaming fourteen-year-old girls took Fall Out Boy from a “serious” underground success that played small, intimate venues to airbrushed tween magazine covers and MTV. This defined them in the eyes of critics as a boyband just pretending to make real music—an extremely young Ross felt like this sudden shift, and the (mostly) girls themselves, were ruining Fall Out Boy.
CHAPTER SEVEN: BITCHING AND MOANING
And beyond all of this, there’s… Uh… Shall we say, a recurring theme in the literary influences that impacted Ross and Wentz. (See: “Pretty Girls Make Graves.”)
From Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, which contains the line serving as the title of Panic!’s “Build God, Then We’ll Talk:” “We don’t need women. There are plenty of other things in the world to have sex with…To Denny I say, this is me talking, I say, ‘Women don’t want equal rights. They have more power being oppressed. They need men to be the vast enemy conspiracy. Their whole identity is based on it.’” To be fair, this book is satirical and intended to be offensive.
From Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which partially serves as the inspiration for Panic! at the Disco’s “Behind the Sea”: “Woman’s love involves injustice and blindness against everything that she does not love… Woman is not yet capable of friendship: women are still cats and birds. Or at best cows…”
This quote from Arthur Rimbaud, as well as some of Rimbaud’s other works, formed the basis for some of the lyrics on the Panic! at the Disco album Pretty. Odd. This quote specifically inspired some of “Mad as Rabbits”: “I don’t love women. Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else goes out the window. All they have left is cold disdain; that’s what marriages live on nowadays.”
And, of course, Pete Wentz and James Montgomery’s part-fictional, part-roman-a-clef novel Gray: “She’s drunk and shouting about something intellectual—’Aleister Crowley fucking hated women,’ I think it was. I walk into the room and stand by the doorway, watch as she throws Her hands wildly in the air, spilling wine everywhere… mostly I just feel sorry for Her. She’s drunk and embarrassing Herself. She looks ridiculous.”
Wentz’s view of women in general is debatable; some of my personal favorite lines from his alleged, supposed, so-called, purported online secret journals floating around the internet include, “Some girls should get fixed like cats” and “Another bitch to moan in your ear. Another bitch to moan about,” and “I may be just a dime store prophet. but you’re a dollar store whore,” and “Class is only for the sober and, honestly, I’m trashed. ‘Keep quiet, nothing comes as easy as you.’ Easy might be true…Slut.” I also really love when the narrator in his and Montgomery’s book noted a girl’s “downtown legs,” because it makes me gag a little. But that’s a matter of personal preference. Wentz himself claimed of Fall Out Boy, “We don’t hate girls. We hate everybody,” a concept that also worked its way into Gray. Later in life, he would admit that much of what he wrote during his younger years was, in fact, misogynistic.
Anyway, embarrassing, ridiculous bitching and moaning aside, my theory is, it was Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross’ own teenage female fans that handed Panic! at the Disco to Wentz on a silver platter, complete with a nice little bow. Remember, Ross had told Wentz of his musical endeavors much earlier (“[Pete] remembered my name, and my bands name….”). Wentz only perked up and pulled out his checkbook when he saw the chicks were, indeed, swooning. Then, Wentz and Ross, not wanting to give recognition to the horny teen girls leaving hundreds of lust-struck comments on photos of Ross’ denim-clad ass, took the all the credit for this match made in heaven.
CHAPTER EIGHT: WENTZ AND PALAHNIUK
Anyway, with the origins of Ryan Ross and Pete Wentz’s creative relationship out of the way, let’s move on to further pieces of the story. If you think the Palahniuk connection between Ross and Wentz I mentioned earlier, the one from their first few initial meetings, is tenuous at best, don’t worry. There’s more there.
First, I’m going to highlight some of Palahniuk’s influence on Wentz’s writing, as this influence is not as immediately apparent in Wentz’s lyrical work as it is in Ross’. First, during Fall Out Boy’s conception, Wentz was very “into” Chuck Palahniuk, and several of the verbose band names he proposed for the band were inspired by Palahniuk. Secondly, Wentz’s book, Gray, is absolutely filled to the brim with five things that are distinctly early Palahniuk-esque—especially Fight Club. The entire book revolves around planes, nauseating descriptions of bloody fistfights, graphic sex, insanity, and insomnia. Even the fatal car accident in the novel calls to mind Fight Club’s narrator’s job as an automobile recall coordinator. In an entry in one of his alleged secret journals, Wentz would describe the shared experience between Fall Out Boy and their fans as “our Fight Club.”
Second, in an essay penned by Wentz when he was approximately twenty-one years old, prior to the conception of Fall Out Boy, entitled “A Man’s Most Dangerous Moment is When He Pulls the Gun from His Throat and Points it at the World,” Wentz seems to allude heavily to the opening chapters of Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk. Wentz writes: “And the phone is ringing. The voice on the other end says help me. But all you want to do is die. The voice on the phone says save me. Save me from salvation.”
In the second chapter of Survivor, the narrator, Tender Branson, explains how he printed fake suicide hotline labels and stuck them all over town, so desperate people on the brink of taking their own lives would call him: “It’s the same with all these suicide girls calling me up. Most of them are so young. Crying with their hair wet down in the rain at a public telephone, they call me to the rescue. Curled in a ball alone in bed for days, they call me. Messiah. They call me. Savior.” Of course, there’s other echoes of Survivor in this essay—particularly its themes of the hollow emptiness of fame and a sort of grim, resigned religious terror regarding being sentenced to heaven or hell.
Third, in Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, narrator Victor spends much of the novel with his best friend Denny. Denny’s primary traits are being overweight, smelling bad, and being rather simple, and he and Victor are friends because no one else can tolerate being around Victor. Their day-to-day activities include (but are not limited to) hanging out in strip clubs, and Denny listening to Victor rant about his dislike of women and his sex addiction. In Wentz’s novel Gray, the extremely unlikeable and rather licentious narrator spends much of his time with his overweight, simple-minded Southern redneck friend John “The Disaster” Miller; there is a strip club incident in the novel, and an extended scene where the narrator loudly describes his sexual conquests to The Disaster in a family restaurant. Though The Disaster does not explicitly smell in the novel’s text, his real-life inspiration of Fall Out Boy roadie Jon “Dirty” Miller, notoriously stank to high heaven.
Fourth and finally, the phrase “I am” appears a deliberately repetitive 197 times throughout Wentz’s novel, usually followed by nouns like “corpse” or “problem” or “anchor” or other metaphor to convey what the narrator is feeling. This bears a resemblance to a literary device used in Palahniuk’s Fight Club, with the narrator repeating the phrase “I am Jack’s [insert body part]” to convey emotion.
CHAPTER NINE: ROSS AND PALAHNIUK
Now, we’re going to move on to Chuck Palahniuk’s influence on Ryan Ross—specifically, the lyrics of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. Some of this information is widely known, such as “Time to Dance” being based off Invisible Monsters, and “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage,” being a quote from Palahniuk as well (specifically, the novel Survivor), and “Build God, Then We’ll Talk” taking its title from Choke. But there’s a lot more to it.
But first, we should note that it’s been said that Pete Wentz may have lent a few words to the heavily-Palahniuk influenced lyrical body of the record. Brendon Urie told Billboard: “Pete is such a smart lyricist, so he was always there to help out with a line here, a line there. We’d ask his opinion, and he would tell us. That really helped a lot.”
Speaking with Absolutepunk.net in 2006, however, Wentz offered an alternate perspective: “I did not assist them in writing their record. I consider Ryan to be a contemporary of mine when it comes to lyrics, and we have traded lines back and forth. Some of mine ended up on theirs as will some of his appear in the new FOB; in both cases like less than [one] percent of total lyrics.” Later in the interview, he added, “I heard Panic! and my immediate reaction was jealousy.”
I am now going to quote almost the entirety of a blog post from Tumblr user jaykunrawrs, entitled, “Panic! at the Disco Loves Chuck Palahniuk.” To quote this excellent analysis, “’London Beckons…,’” borrows a literary device [Palahniuk] uses in the novel Diary… [Palahniuk] uses recurring phrases in his novels, a unique technique of his… he repeats the lines, ‘Just for the record’ (used for irony) and ‘The weather today,’ (used to denote emotion). Panic! uses both of these lines together: ‘Just for the record, the weather today is slightly sarcastic with a good chance of A: indifference and B: Disinterest at what the critics say…’”
Again from jaykunrawrs, “’Time To Dance’ is totally based off [Invisible Monsters]. From the verses involving blood on the floor, to…’Boys will be boys, hiding in estrogen and wearing Aubergine Dreams,’ [a] reference [to] a central plot point for the book. The second reference is another one of Chuck’s signature recurring phrases: ‘Give me’… Similar to Diary, it foretold emotion, and is used as such: ‘Give me envy, give me malice, give me your attention.’”
There is more, however, to Panic! at the Disco referencing Chuck Palahniuk. The track “Build God, Then We’ll Talk,” as I said, takes its title from Choke. But Palahniuk is referenced in another way. This song depicts a tangle of seedy characters in the unsavory motels in a more disreputable area of Las Vegas: “the cheating attorney,” “the virgin,” and “the constable.” The song describes the virgin sleeping with the cheating attorney to get a job as she desperately needs cash; as she is leaving the motel, she runs into a police officer and spills her purse, which contains what is presumably a bag of cocaine. The song as it appears on the album leaves what happens next ambivalent, referring only to “the constable, and his proposition for that virgin.” However, the song originally contained a much darker final verse that was later removed, but remained in the album’s liner notes. This verse is as follows:
“And here is where he entertains that proposition
Arrested on possession,
Or (now if this were you)
Think of what you wouldn’t want to happen.
They ended up… well, making love isn’t exactly what I’m looking for.
But you get the picture.
Oh, what a wonderful caricature of intimacy.”
Obviously, the implication of this is that the “constable” threatens drug possession charges in order to coerce the “virgin” into sex, leading to an encounter that is not truly consensual. In Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, the character of Brandy/Shane was sexually abused by a police officer as a teenager. Affairs and drug usage are also prominent themes in Invisible Monsters, providing another connection between “Build God” and Palahniuk’s literary work.
CHAPTER TEN: “FIGHT CLUB IS NOT ABOUT FIGHTING, YOU SIMPLE FUCK.”
Now that I’ve established the influence Chuck Palahniuk has had on both Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross, it’s time to note that in late September 2003, mere weeks before Wentz’s journal entry mentioning Palahniuk and the November 2003 Las Vegas concert where Ross and Wentz first met in person, Chuck Palahniuk came out as gay via an audioblog on his website, The Cult. Many of Palahniuk’s characters and stories resonate with and reflect the experiences of the LGBT+ community. Invisible Monsters is the most explicit, with its convoluted and complex plot that centers around drag queens, trans women, gay men, and the AIDS epidemic.
Though many readers fail to notice the obvious, Fight Club, the most famous work of Palahniuk’s, is also distinctly homoerotic. To name a few examples in Fight Club, Tyler brands the narrator with a chemical burn “kiss,” and the narrator and Tyler first meet on a nude beach as Tyler is pushing wooden logs into holes. The narrator explicitly states in the first few pages that, “We have sort of a love triangle thing going on here. I want Tyler. Tyler wants Marla. Marla wants me.” In the words of aforementioned debatably former (and also debatably fruity) associate of Wentz’s, Chris Gutierrez, “Fight Club is not about fighting, you simple fuck.”
Many of Palahniuk’s works (including Fight Club) depict a heterosexual relationship central to the plot, but also contain themes that can resonate with members of the LGBT+ community. To choose just one example, in Survivor, the main character, Tender Branson, struggles to function and find his place in society following his intensely religious upbringing, and particularly struggles with finding love or having sex because of the trauma he suffered as a child brought up in a cult. At one point in the novel, there is a lengthy description of a “glory hole:”
“In almost every public men’s room, there’s a hole chipped in the wall between one toilet stall and the next. This is chipped through solid wood an inch thick by somebody with just their fingernails. This is done over days or months at a time. You see these holes scratched through marble, through steel. As if someone in prison is trying to escape. The hole is only big enough to look though, or talk. Or put a finger through or a tongue or a penis, and escape just that little bit at a time. What people call these openings is ‘glory holes.’ It’s the same as where you’d find a vein of gold. Where you’d find glory.”
The depiction is poignant, especially within the context of the broader themes of Survivor. It evokes images of men that are only able to find “glory” in completely anonymous sex with other men, devoid of touch and intimacy, desperately clawing with bare fingernails through marble and steel for just a taste of what they truly desire. Yet they are presumably unable to find this in an actual relationship with another man, possibly for the same reasons the narrator is unable to enter a sexual relationship with his love interest, Fertility Hollis. People who are raised with toxic or extremist religious upbringings sometimes struggle to have and enjoy sex—especially with people of the same gender. After all, they’ve spent their whole lives being taught it was horrible and wrong. Instead of being able to enter loving relationships with one another, these men settle to “escape just that little bit at a time” secretly, next to toilets—presumably while leading “straight” lives.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: PETE WENTZ’S GAY CIRCUS ACT
Now, back to Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross. Wentz made many ambivalent statements about his sexuality, repeatedly describing himself as “half gay” or “gay above the waist” or “gay above the belt” in interviews. His cover of Out Magazine read, “’Yeah, I am a Fag*’: Pete Wentz’s Gay Circus Act.” In the words of Childish Gambino, “It’s Pete Wentz, goes both ways.” Some of Pete Wentz’s ambivalent statements about his sexuality involved Ryan Ross. In an issue of Alt Press Magazine, Wentz was quoted as saying, “A lot of people say I’m gay. In general, I’m an above-the-waist kind of guy… If I had an affair with anybody, it would be Ryan Ross. He’s very good looking for a guy and pretty good looking for a girl, too.” In a TMZ video depicting Ross, Wentz, and Wentz’s then-wife Ashlee Simpson entangled, intoxicated, and stumbling to a vehicle, an extremely drunk and obnoxious Pete Wentz can be seen grabbing at Ryan Ross, and Ross then says, “Hey man, that’s my leg, not hers, you know.” J-14 Magazine also alluded to speculation the pair dated in an article titled “Is Pete A Player?”, depicting Ross alongside photos of Wentz’s rumored female lovers. In 2006, Wentz would refer to himself and Ross as “sleepover princes” in a journal entry that mentioned “robbing lips, and kissing banks under the moon.”
The broad subject of alluding to themes surrounding possible sexual ambiguity has worked its way into Wentz’s lyrical work. “Bang the Doldrums,” off Fall Out Boy’s 2007 record Infinity on High, which details the relationship between “best friends, ex-friends til the end, better off as lovers,” contains the lines “happily ever after below the waist,” often viewed as a potential reference to how Wentz described his sexuality throughout the 00s. The album’s liner notes depict Wentz in a closet. Similarly, “Bishop’s Knife Trick,” off the band’s 2018 record Mania, contains the lyric “spiritual revolt from the waist down.”
“Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” famously, contains the charged lines “watching you two from the closet,” and “sleeping for the wrong team;” the song’s lyrics as written in the liner notes are “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m watching you two from the closet, wishing to be the friction in his jeans” rather than “your jeans,” as they are sung. Wentz also described the song as a “’guy-girl-guy-guy kind of thing.”
In 2004, Pete Wentz would (quite eloquently and sensibly) say of his lyrics, “Everyone always thinks I am writing about girls, but I don’t really know. Maybe some people will see on our next record, there’s a homoerotic feel. Listen, nobody’s like fucking each other, making out with each other or even attracted to each other. But when you are around five dudes all the time, it’s kinda like there. But no one wants to talk about it, but it’s there. Sometimes I think I’m writing to guys. I don’t know, never mind.”
CHAPTER TWELVE: PANIC!’S VAUDEVILLE COUNTERPART
Though Panic! at the Disco’s first tour was circus-themed, Ryan Ross did not participate in any theatrics surrounding his sexuality. However, he occasionally hinted at possible chemistry between Wentz and himself. In an interview with Hit List, Ross was asked if he hooked up with Wentz; he replied, “Not true…”, and former Panic! drummer Spencer Smith chimed in, “Close though, there were drunken nights and escapades that…maybe. But no.” To which Ross replied, “Maybe, in another sense of it.” In the aforementioned alleged AIM conversation, Wentz inquired about Urie’s appearance, to which Ross replied, “Dead sexy. No Pete Wentz, but still.” And as we already mentioned, prior to being signed to Wentz’s label, Ross commented in falloutboylove, “…Girls thinking [Fall Out Boy] look good is pretty obvious. I’m a dude, and I’d probably do them, haha.”
Though this essay has focused on the relationship between Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross, Brendon Urie came out as pansexual in a 2019 interview with Paper Mag, adding another layer to Panic!’s lyrical references to Palahniuk (and, as we will cover in the next chapter, Arthur Rimbaud.) Urie said, “I guess you could qualify me as pansexual because I really don’t care. If a person is great, then a person is great. I just like good people, if your heart’s in the right place. I’m definitely attracted to men. It’s just people that I am attracted to.” In the same interview, Urie mentioned that the first time he ever went to a bar, he snuck into a gay bar with Ross.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: A SEASON IN HELL
Though the following information extends years beyond Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross’ initial meeting, it harkens back to Ross’ past, which is critical context for the early moments of Panic! at the Disco. Anyway, Palahniuk is not the only author heavily referenced in Panic!’s early work. Much of Panic!’s sophomore album, Pretty. Odd. is built around the work of 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. There are a handful of examples (including lines from “She’s a Handsome Woman” and “Behind the Sea”) but we’ll pick one example. The refrain “Reinvent love,” from the track “Mad As Rabbits,” reference’s Rimbaud’s words: ““I don’t love women. Love has to be reinvented, we know that. The only thing women can ultimately imagine is security. Once they get that, love, beauty, everything else goes out the window. All they have left is cold disdain; that’s what marriages live on nowadays.” Rimbaud, famously, was invited to live with older poet Paul Verlaine, and the pair began a tumultuous, drug-fueled 18-month affair.
However, not everyone realized that Ross was borrowing his words from Rimbaud. Ross’ ex-girlfriend, Keltie Colleen, wrote a book entitled Rockstars, Rockettes, and Rockbottom. This book was published by Chris Gutierrez via the Deadxstop Publishing Company; Ryan Ross is referred to only as “The Dreamer” in the novel, but it is intended to be easy to put the pieces together. Of Ross’ “Reinvent love” lyric, Colleen wrote, “I encouraged [Ryan] to reinvent himself with his new record into someone who had the power to change the world…. I knew [Ryan] was terrified. I’m sure saving the world seemed difficult when he couldn’t even save himself, but from that fear came one of the most important things he ever created. It was a personal mantra and eventually a song lyric: ‘Reinvent love.’” I guess no one bothered to tell Colleen this phrase originated from Rimbaud, not Ross, nor did they inform her of the full context of the quote that she believed “was something bigger than the band or the music, something with a social conscience.”
There are many notable similarities between Ryan Ross and Arthur Rimbaud. Ross and Wentz (a lyricist seven years Ross’ senior) lived together briefly during the recording of an unspecified Panic! record. Rimbaud was “an ardent Catholic;” Ross attended a private Roman Catholic high school. Rimbaud was the product of divorced parents; so was Ross. As for Rimbaud’s hashish, opium, and absinthe fueled creative endeavors, Wentz said that Panic! wrote some of Pretty. Odd. “while being kind of chemically imbalanced,” and Urie said the band was “on mushrooms the whole time.” Though both of Rimbaud’s parents remained living, his father abandoned them so completely his mother described herself as a widow. The same may be said for Ross’ “free-spirited” mother—his parents separated when Ross was young and she appears to have had not much involvement in Ross’ upbringing. A 2006 Kerrang article reported that Ross “hardly ever speaks to his mother and rarely sees his two half-brothers.” In the words of Wentz, ”This dude was like, twenty years old when he got famous, and his dad passed away, and he doesn’t have any family. He’s so loved, but he’s so unloved.”
Rimbaud faced a difficult upbringing at the hands of his mother and ultimately ran away from home; of his relationship with his father, Ross said, “His problems with alcohol magnified and skewed things even further. I was not staying at home for weeks at a time. I was staying with my girlfriend, staying with the other guys in the band. There were times when I almost had to sleep at our rehearsal space, ‘cause I didn’t have anywhere to go. Obviously, I loved him and I cared about him, but when you’re getting kind of abused by that person, at the same time it’s really hard to try to help them.” Ryan Ross’ father died in 2006. In the words of Keltie Colleen, “[Ryan] said his father drank himself to death… [He] doubted his father ended up in heaven.” Ross has alluded that some tracks on A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out are about his father. Ross revealed “Camisado” is one of these songs in an interview with Rolling Stone; “Nails For Breakfast, Tacks For Snacks” is speculated to be the other.
“Camisado,” in particular, mentions “the bruises and contusions will remind you what you did when you wake,” and the original lyrics as printed in the liner notes of the record included “2nd all time number of curses, swears, and punches.” The song’s name is a military term that means an attack after dark; Ross’ father was an ex-marine and served in the Vietnam war. Finally, the song refers to the subject as a “regular decorated emergency;” “decorated” can refer to medals received by a member of the armed forces. “Nails For Breakfast, Tacks For Snacks,” tells the story of a hospitalized alcoholic and contains the line “every word gets you a step closer to hell,” calling back to Ross’ comment to Keltie Colleen about doubting his father would end up in heaven.
Rimbaud ceased writing at the age of twenty; following his departure from Panic! and the decline of his next project, The Young Veins, Ryan Ross largely retreated from the public eye at the age of approximately twenty-four.
Arthur Rimbaud was not the only figure with a difficult upbringing Ryan Ross potentially related to. In 2006, Panic! at the Disco’s website hosted a book club. Though it would quickly become fan-run, the first book on the list, selected by the band, was The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by J.T. Leroy (the penname of Laura Albert). Though the entirety of the club is long gone from the internet, there is a glimpse available on the Wayback Machine. Internet rumors from fans who recall the book club say that Wentz recommended this book to Ross because it reminded Wentz of Ross. Regardless of the questionable veracity of that statement, Wentz also recommended the book to fans in 2004. The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things tells the story of a boy named Jeremiah who suffers an extremely physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive and tumultuous upbringing at the hands of both his biological mother and eventual religious foster parents; at the end of the novel, Jeremiah is, “last seen as a 15-year-old street hustler in San Francisco, paying for a gay S&M session where he relives the beatings he had submitted to as a child.”
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: “DREAMER’S STAR WAS FALLING”
That is probably more context, history, and backstory than anyone could have ever wanted regarding the events that led to the signing of Panic! at the Disco to Pete Wentz’s Decaydance record label. But… You’re probably still wondering what became of our sleepover princes.
To indelicately and indecorously rush the rest of history, Ryan Ross quickly outgrew his adoration of Pete Wentz; in 2008, during the press cycle for Panic!’s sophomore album, Pretty. Odd. A particularly sardonic Ross would tell an interviewer that Wentz had “zero” influence on what Panic! did artistically. When asked if he still looked up to Wentz, Ross drily replied, “No. I’m taller than him now. So I don’t anymore.” When pressed on the matter, (as Urie snorted with laughter) Ross said, rather irritated, “Yeah, sure. Is that what you want me to say?”. Keltie Colleen also wrote that, around this time, “[Ryan’s] star was falling,” the record was a “semi-flop,” and that “magazines weren’t calling [Ryan] anymore.”
The band—and Ryan Ross’ relationship with Pete Wentz—would not make it to the end of 2009. At first, all seemed well. In February of that year, Ross conducted a phone interview where he stated that Panic! was working on a new album; he and Wentz would have a “sleepover” that same month. (Via cross-referencing questionable clothing decisions, paparazzi photos, and Wentz’s Twitter account, we can determine this sleepover would coincide with the aforementioned video of Ross, Wentz, and Simpson drunkenly stumbling to a vehicle). During this sleepover, Ross was—according to Wentz—quoting Oscar Wilde.
But by March, Wentz was meeting with Urie and Smith sans Ross and bassist Jon Walker, while Ross partied with his other friends. That summer, Ross would, famously, depart Panic! alongside Walker, which was quickly followed by rumors Ross was headed off the rails, fast—shortly thereafter (according to James Montgomery), a photo of Ross “with three very young girls… and one very prominently placed bowl of what appears to be cocaine” began to circulate, though Ross would deny even knowing the coke existed in the article itself. What appears to be the audio from this interview was mysteriously leaked. Panic! at the Disco would release their single, “New Perspective” that same month. Apparently, “Ross and Walker had no involvement in the track.”
A MTV article also written by James Montgomery immediately post-split would proclaim, “Ross…considers [Urie and Smith] to be his friends …The same cannot be said, however, about his former boss — Decaydance Records honcho / Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz — who seems to have clearly aligned himself with the Urie/Smith camp following the split.” Despite the fact that Wentz supposedly did not respond to requests for comment, and Ross was quoted as saying he wasn’t sure if his new band would be on Decaydance, Montgomery would go on to assert that “[Ross’] relationship with Wentz might be finished.”
In short, the young, romantic, daydreamer Ryan Ross was floundering as he struggled to find his footing, get along with his bandmates, stay faithful to his girlfriend, and write hits following the abrupt loss of his “kind of” abusive alcoholic father, the aftermath of the flashover of Panic! at the Disco’s success combined with the “semi-flop” of their second record, and their subsequent split.
Following Panic! at the Disco’s breakup, Ross would go on to start short-lived project The Young Veins; he was interviewed by MTV regarding the project approximately around 2010. In this interview, Ross appears more doe-eyed, spindly, and unsure than ever; the caustic facade he sported during Pretty. Odd. era interviews is gone, replaced by accommodating, mild-mannered precariousness. In his curious affectation that is the “phlegmatic drawl he must have acquired reciting countless Our Fathers in Catholic parochial school”— its desperate smoothness, pretension, and faux-poise doing little to hide the anxiety revealed by his constant twisting— Ross would profess that, “Some of the differences between major and indie labels is that when I call the indie label, they answer the phone….When you can’t really trust people in this business, it’s nice to have that.” Obviously, the major label Ryan Ross was on belonged to Pete Wentz.
The Young Veins did not do well commercially, either—they peaked at position 40 on the US Indie chart. In 2019, Ryan Ross said that The Young Veins was “The first thing in [his] career that didn’t go right” and having the band “fall through so quickly” caused him to struggle. Ross, who stayed away from substances until he was nearly 21, had begun drinking, was rumored to be using drugs, and was frequently losing money playing blackjack.
Ross was not only struggling to succeed commercially; he was struggling to take care of himself, too. Prior to the dissolution of her relationship with Ross, Keltie Colleen wrote that she did everything for him, such as laundry, bills, and sending his family birthday cards. A 2008 Kerrang! interview would also highlight Ross’ inability to manage his own life to the point of his hot water and electricity being shut off for several weeks (and his cell phone being regularly cut off) due to forgetting to pay his bills. Colleen also wrote that Ross struggled to properly care for his dog, Hobo. Ross seemed aware of, yet largely indifferent to this; in one interview, he carelessly drawled from behind a giant pair of sunglasses, “[Hobo] sometimes doesn’t get fed. Or she smells bad.” Ross and Colleen’s relationship, as depicted in her novel, ended due to Ross’ unfaithfulness. Colleen wrote, “…The history of rock music is littered with bodies of incredibly talented people who thought they could deal with the alcohol, drugs, and everything else the lifestyle offered without it changing them…. [Ryan Ross], who despised everything about the music industry, let it eat him alive…”.
An incredibly brutal review of a Young Veins show written by James Montgomery would summarize the overall vibes of that period in Ross’ life. Montgomery wrote that he “couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for [the band]” and “[he] had such high hopes for [Ross]… [but he] had squandered all that potential” and that “it was, for all intents and purposes, [over for Ryan Ross].” Though the piece did speak quite favorably of The Young Veins’ record, and did hold out a bit of hope for the band, it would end with, “[Ryan Ross is] fumbling and stumbling to the beat of his own drummer now. Who cares about the future when you’ve got the past?”. The Young Veins would announce an indefinite hiatus in December 2010; their Wikipedia page states that, “The Young Veins was a rock band…”.
As Ryan Ross’ flame sputtered, Pete Wentz was suffering from his own issues. Wentz told Rolling Stone that by the time of Fall Out Boy’s 2009 hiatus announcement (not-so-coincidentally the same year Ross departed Panic! alongside guitarist Jon Walker), “I was in such a haze of selfishness and pills it was hard to believe I could feel anything.” Later, FOB would cite mental health strain as one of the factors leading up to the decision. Wentz would reveal to Rolling Stone that, following Fall Out Boy’s hiatus, he suffered from paranoia and anxiety so extreme he had his house searched for cameras, and fell back on his old habits of abusing Xanax and Klonopin.
In February 2011, just three months after The Young Veins announced their indefinite hiatus, Pete Wentz and his wife, Ashlee Simpson, would divorce; tabloids reported that Simpson was the one that filed, due to Wentz’s “erratic behavior,” and that Wentz begged her not to leave; Wentz would later state in an interview in 2015 that he and Simpson ultimately came to an amicable arrangement and successfully co-parent together. Like Ross, Wentz continued to struggle; he told Howard Stern in 2015 he dealt with serious depression during the years surrounding the Fall Out Boy hiatus and the dissolution of his marriage to the point of dropping to only 95 pounds and getting so drunk at a Jingle Ball event he smashed his face up and needed stitches. Potentially, this incident was the cause of the cuts and bruises he sported in late December 2009, though this remains speculation; at the time, Wentz’s publicist said “he tripped” while doing post-Christmas shopping. James Montgomery spoke with Cobra Starship’s Gabe Saporta regarding the incident in early 2010, though Saporta did not give any details regarding the cause of the bruises.
However, Fall Out Boy rose from the ashes and back to the charts in 2013, with Pete Wentz telling Rolling Stone he was in a much better place emotionally; he cited therapy and his desire to be present for his child as giving him the desire to manage his mental health.
Meanwhile, after the dissolution of The Young Veins and a few brief, half-hearted stabs at a solo career, Ross would, ultimately, feel that “[The attention and the fame] was overwhelming” and “[have] a little bit of a mental breakdown.” This was triggered by the commercial and interpersonal failure of The Young Veins and Ross realizing that, “Oh, not everything [I] do turns to gold.” Eventually, this would send Ross on a spiral that would temporarily land him in AA meetings.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: “THE END OF ALL THINGS”
Ryan Ross was not the only original member of Panic! at the Disco who went on to struggle following their involvement with the band. Original drummer Spencer Smith would leave Panic! in 2013 due to a pill addiction (though he ultimately teamed up with Wentz again to relaunch Decaydance records as DCD2 in 2014). Original bassist Brent Wilson (who was kicked out of the band in 2005) was arrested in 2021 for drug and firearms charges. Following the departure of the band’s third bassist Dallon Weekes, Brendon Urie is currently the only official member of Panic! at the Disco. He released his latest single (as of the publishing of this dissertation), “Viva Las Vengeance,” on June 1st, 2022.
In 2018, Ryan Ross collaborated with Z Berg on a Christmas song titled, “The Bad List” and teased upcoming new music. In 2019, Ross appeared alongside Z Berg on the Dead End Kids Tour (which appears to have been orchestrated by Gabe Saporta, formerly of Cobra Starship). That same year, when Ross did his first on-screen interview after staying out of the public eye for nearly a decade, he trended on Twitter—demonstrating the lasting widespread impact of Ross’ poetry. As of 2022, this interview has been taken down (though it has been reuploaded by a fan); in this video, Ross stated he planned to release music in 2020. This did not occur.
However, perhaps it hasn’t occurred simply because Ryan Ross doesn’t want it to occur. When asked in 2019 if he had “music trauma,” Ross said, “Yeah, I mean, probably. It wasn’t intentional. I wouldn’t have said that five years ago, but now looking back on it… I think I was having a little bit of a mental breakdown.” When an interviewer inquired that same year if he ever saw himself as having a music career, Ross said, “I definitely hadn’t thought of it as a career. To me, making it would have been to tour in a van and leave my hometown. So that was the big goal.” Ross’ goal of the band as a means to get away from his hometown—and potentially, his father—was far exceeded, and at a staggering, breakneck pace to boot. Ross also says he has no regrets about leaving Panic! at the Disco, and never felt like he was making the wrong decision at any point in the process. He may have simply decided it was time to give up the ghost, and maintain a little poise.
Meanwhile, in the four years since the release of Fall Out Boy’s 2018 record Mania, Pete Wentz appears to be focusing on his family (long-term girlfriend Meagan Camper and three children Bronx, Saint, and Marvel) and finishing up the pandemic-delayed Hella Mega Tour with Weezer and Green Day. Overall, Wentz appears to be doing better than his younger years; in 2022, he posted to his Instagram account citing the benefits of psilocybin in aiding his mental health. As of the posting of this dissertation, rumors of an upcoming Fall Out Boy album apparently have been leaked via guitarist Joe Trohman’s soon-to-be-published memoir.
Additionally, it appears Pete Wentz and Ryan Ross reconciled at some point; in 2016, Wentz took to Twitter, saying he still talked to and “hearted” Ross. When a fan asked if this was sarcasm, Wentz said, “I wouldn’t be sarcastic about that. I like Ryan a lot. Cool to see who he grew into. Glad I still know him.”
Following the dissolution of The Young Veins, Jon Walker has gone on to release solo music for free via Bandcamp. Keltie Colleen went on to pursue a career in television, serving as a host, interviewer, and presenter; she also hosts the LadyGang podcast alongside Jac Vanek, another of Ross’ ex-lovers. Chris Gutierrez appears to have left behind his prolific journals and publishing company to found the Catcade, an arcade-themed cat rescue based out of Chicago. James Montgomery ceased writing for MTV and Rolling Stone in the mid-2010s.
None of this even begins to touch the events of the years that lay between 2004 and 2009, and barely touches the years between 2009 and the present; it also doesn’t cover the creative disagreements between Brendon Urie and Ryan Ross, or the path the band has taken since Ross’ departure, and so, so much other history; but again, this essay is just a moment. Though the moment is nearly twenty years in the past, and so much has changed, the spark that ignited when Ryan Ross and Pete Wentz first made contact in November of 2004 did more than just start a blaze; just as the narrator in Fight Club did when be blew out the pilot light on his stove, Ross and Wentz’s initial union triggered a detonation, the aftershocks of which are still felt today.
EPILOGUE: FANFICTION STYLE.
The concept. I mean, the sheer concept. Set the scene—Las Vegas, 2004. Neon, drugs, debauchery, casinos, coins clinking, corruption. Glittering showgirls right out of Moulin Rouge and glassy eyed filles de joie strung out on the street. Every vice imaginable, in a million colors and flavors like candy. Something unsettling under the surface, perhaps more than a little despair. You know, something wicked this way comes. “Just a hint of asbestos and maybe a dash of formaldehyde.”
Enter the devotee of a troubled androgynous rock star with “tough-guy tattoos and a hollow snarl”. He’s only eighteen, mad as a hatter, thin as a dime, motherless, semi-shielded from the vices of Vegas in Roman Catholic preparatory school. He drives around listening to the rock star’s record all alone feeling like no one understood it like he could, sneaking into gay bars with his bandmate, fuming with jealousy on message boards about how the feminine variety of lovelorn groupies just didn’t get it—get him— like he did. Sitting in his basement in front of the family computer, dark-rimmed doe-eyes illuminated by the blue headlights of the box monitor flickering to life, while his ex-marine, ex-casino-dealer father is drinking upstairs. Chewing his thumb, his hands shaking, trying to play it cool, booting up AOL Instant Messenger.
And the rock star? Also with kohl-lined eyes, screen-lit, in the business center of a Holiday Inn in Iowa probably, On the Road like Kerouac. Or at home in Chicago, in his father’s office (Peter Pan in his parents’ house in the suburbs at twenty-five), lounging in a black leather chair, where he enjoys the pleasures of torrenting Bright Eyes songs off LimeWire, internet porn, sexting groupies, and plaguing his girlfriends via emotionally manipulative e-mails. Sometimes he would talk to some high-schooler from Vegas. The two of them read the same Palahniuk books, they really understood them, too. They’d talk until his band broke the sound barrier, and then he forgot all about that kid.
Cut to the band’s arrival in Sin City, their devotee loyally waiting beneath the king-sized flaming heart outside the House of Blues for just a chance to see him. He’d done the homework he’d been assigned in the rocker’s blue tour journal, read Fugitives and Refugees with its Shanghai tunnels and swinger sex clubs, so they’d have something to talk about. Besides his band. Besides his dreams. Besides what they used to talk about. And when the rock star’s band came back around, the kid would do it again.
Then a switch flipped. The boardies heard about the devotee’s band—baroque pop, poetry, the kind of thing nobody was doing. It was enough to make the rock star’s stomach twist with jealousy at how much better some teenager wrote the words, enough to make him drive across the Nevada desert from Los Angeles to meet the kid again. Cut to the rock star with arm candy in a Vegas casino, silently watching two shaky teenagers with greasy bowl cuts perform on an acoustic guitar.
He’d pass his “brilliant boy-child” a pen and sign him to his record club named after death and decadence, give him a cool ten grand for the album about sanctity and debauchery, throw in a Vaudeville circus and a windmill, so they could go supersonic into the peach-and-lime-daiquiri-light. And he’d top it off with a Chanel brooch too—not for the band, for the kid.
Things were wonderful at first. Really. Afterparties, sleepovers together, pink cocaine cut with Strawberry Quik, triple-platinum records, arena tours, magic mushrooms, French poetry, pretty dancers, a veritable Cirque de Soleil. But it would all bitterly disintegrate in a few years; the kid’s father would drink himself to death, and, well—sometimes, stars fall. There would be one last sleepover—this time with the rockstar’s new wife along for the ride, listening to the kid read Oscar Wilde to his former rock ’n’ roll idol.
It was all over after that. He would end up with a (rumored) cocaine addiction instead of a career by twenty-seven.
I’m over-romanticizing. It’s exploitative. It’s corny. None of it was that cool. But it’s made for the silver screen if you think about it, and we’re barely touching the tragedies. It’s beyond fascinating—it’s enrapturing, and it’s no wonder it created an explosion of micro-stars and changed the face of rock and roll forever.
Well, 2000s emo rock anyway.
“You can never leave without leaving a piece of youth. Our lives are forever changed…The more you change, the less you feel.”
*May be speculative in nature.