Play That Punky Music, White Boy

The Offspring vs. the unbearable being of liked-ness

No matter how big the Offspring's international impact, their music still has its roots in Garden Grove, where they attended Pacifica High School and where the streets they struggled to survive on were lined with lawns and governed by 25 mph speed limits and mostly owned by mortgage companies.

Early this year, when Dexter began composing songs for Americana, he went home. "I drove through my old neighborhood and started thinking about all the houses I was passing, and who lived there, and what happened to them. I drove past this one house, and I was like, 'Oh, wow, the last I heard of the kid who lived there, he had a nervous breakdown and went into a mental hospital.' I went a little farther, and it was Jeff Davis' house. I was like: 'Oh, I remember that kid. He got killed in an auto accident.' And then, you know, there was the kid who lived around the corner who got hooked on crack and killed his sister in the middle of the night and set his house on fire. And I thought about how it was when I was growing up, how it was a decent neighborhood, and it seemed like this very bright, sure kind of thing. And how these places are supposed to be nice places to raise your kid, but it just doesn't turn out that way all the time."

Dexter's drive through west Garden Grove became the song "The Kids Aren't All Right." When that song turned out to be one of the Offspring's favorites, there was never a question it was going to be on the new album. During the eight months it took to compose, rehearse, record, mix and deliver Americana, nobody from Columbia had anything to say about that song or any of the others.

"I know we're fortunate in that we had some bargaining power coming in, but the good thing about where we're at right now is, recording-wise, we really call the shots," says Dexter.

"I'm reading this book about Neil Young," says Noodles, "and when he signed to Geffen Records, every time he went to make a record, they rejected the first one he gave them. It was always, 'No, go back and do it over again.' But we've really never had anything like that."

"And we wouldn't deal with anything like that," Dexter asserts. "Our discussion with the record company went like this: we said, we want to record this year. They said, okay. We're gonna do it with the producer we selected, Dave Jerden. Okay. We'll go into the studio in July. Okay. Please don't come. Okay." Dexter laughs. "We recorded all this stuff. We didn't demo anything for them. It was really our deal. We handed over a completed project. We were really able to do exactly what we wanted."

Including a reworking of . . . "Feelings"? The Offspring admit they're a little nervous about that one. Not because of the song's legendary onerous smarm; they dealt with that by changing the words from "feelings of love" to "feelings of hate." But they didn't get permission from singer/ songwriter Morris Albert. "If you don't do the song verbatim, it becomes technically a parody, so I don't know if you have to get permission," says Dexter. "But then, he lives in Brazil, so there's probably international law involved. I just decided I didn't want to check. You know, what's the upside to asking? What if he says no? Then there's this cool thing that falls through at the last minute. Maybe Morris Albert will think it's funny. Maybe he'll be a good sport. Hopefully, he won't sue us."

Whether Albert likes the Offspring's Americana, he'll have plenty of company. "At this point, people have a pretty good idea of who we are as a band-if they like us or don't like us," shrugs Dexter. "And that's all right. I'm pretty comfortable with it."

Noodles nods, his face breaking into a serene little smirk. "I was talking to my daughter yesterday," he says. "She's 8, and she's just starting to learn what fame is. And she says, 'Dad, you're lucky. You're famous. Everyone knows you. Everyone likes you.' And I say, 'Well, I'm famous, yeah. A lot of people know me now. But not everybody likes me. A lot of the people who know me now are people who didn't know me before, and they don't like me. They don't like me at all.' And she goes, 'Well, forget those people.' And I'm thinking to myself, 'That's perfect.'"

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