Play That Punky Music, White Boy

The Offspring vs. the unbearable being of liked-ness

"Well, I definitely wouldn't fault other bands for having hip-hop influences," Dexter says diplomatically. "But I know what you mean. A lot of young white kids are taking that ticket."

"They throw on the paraphernalia of something that is just so completely who they are not," says Noodles, not quite as diplomatically, "and all of a sudden it's: 'Yo, I'm down with the streets, man. I'm hangin' wit' my G's. 'Sup, bitch!!!' You know, you hear these kids just throwing that shit out and you're like: 'Whoa, where'd you come from, man? The hood of Fountain Valley?' Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

But Dexter emphasizes that "Pretty Fly" applies to the punk scene, too-and beyond. The theme of the song, like the album, is a perspective on what the Offspring call the new Americana. "When you think of Americana, it's not so much the traditional American values and status anymore. It's this crazy new thing," says Dexter. "The stuff that used to be on the fringe is more and more the everyday reality. If America was barbecues, big cars and life in the suburbs in the 1950s, it's now totally a freak show-from McDonald's to Jerry Springer to Monica Lewinsky.

"You live in Huntington Beach, and the norm is almost to be covered in tattoos and piercings and what have you. To want to be in a band. You're trying to express your unique and peculiar personality, but it all becomes Orange County Americana. The message of 'Pretty Fly'-which we try to deliver in a humorous way, rather than being preachy or hitting you over the head-is about finding individuality in your own ideas and morals. Hopefully, that means something to you, whether you call it punk or not."

And hopefully, the Offspring realize they are the epitome of the shifting principles-twisted and traditional-that they are gently lecturing about. Their punk rock career has arced like a rainbow. They've been high school wannabes, self-recorded upstarts, indie-label hopefuls and overnight successes. When they left little Epitaph Records in 1996 because its indie-punk reality was getting too sketchy-the company has been in and out of financial crisis and its leader, former Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, has been in and out of drug rehab-some called them traitors. Now, as their second album for Columbia is about to drop, they are corporate-industry mainstays. In the spirit of Horatio Alger and Iggy Pop, the Offspring are Americana, too.

"Totally! It's true!" Dexter says with a laugh. "That's the paradox or irony to complaining or commenting about anything. And, of course, they say you can only write about what you know."

Like so many good businessmen, Noodles and Dexter have dutifully shown up for work at a nondescript Huntington Beach business park. It's the headquarters of Nitro Records, an independent punk label that Dexter and Kriesel founded four years ago. "They never bring it up," says Noodles, "but to me, it says a lot that they both took their first royalty checks from Smash and used them to put out records by other great bands we've played shows with for years."

Nitro has fueled the fortunes of such groups as Guttermouth, AFI, the Vandals, One Hit Wonder, Jughead's Revenge and Sloppy Seconds. The little company's office dcor features a gigantic iguana cage, a long fish tank and four faux-antique wooden-wheelchair lawn mowers equipped with motorcycle-handle throttles and little reading lights. The room's focal points, however, are its meticulously organized desks and cabinets and storeroom. And the next press interview. And a rendezvous with a manager. And an important update . . . about something . . . from somebody.

Not very many other businessmen have shown up today at the other suites in the complex. The parking lot is nearly deserted. It's Sunday. Dexter gamely short-circuits a yawn. It's just past noon, and the morning coffee still hasn't been delivered.

Ah, stardom.

"There are a lot of weird misconceptions about what happens when a band starts doing good," Dexter reflects. "The obvious stuff, like, 'Oh, it's all about hookers and drugs,' or whatever. Or that I can't walk outside my house without being mobbed. It just isn't true. I can go to the post office or the grocery store or whatever."

Noodles suddenly looks up, disappointed. "So, the hookers and drugs are out?"

Dexter presses on. "The other preconception is that suddenly your identity is going to change, and you're going to write music differently. That isn't true, either."

"The only time I felt we had something to prove was with Ixnay," Noodles allows. "We had to prove we weren't one-hit wonders, that we were a band and that it was possible for a punk band from Orange County to put out a good record."

The Offspring are still an Orange County band. All four members own homes in OC. They're still fans of the local bands. "Maybe it's the fact that we came out of this environment," says Dexter, "but there's still something about this music, this scene, that speaks to me." They're frequent visitors at local clubs, from Linda's Doll Hut to the 13th Floor.

"Although what's nice about the Galaxy [Concert Theatre], y'see," Noodles says smart-assedly, "is you can get dinner and a show. It's so comfortable!"

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