By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Across the Hudson, Rome was burning. Their new album, due out in just three weeks, suddenly sounded prescient: it was called Atomic.
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There's a wonderful quote about rock & roll stardom, usually attributed to Deborah Harry of Blondie, but which actually came from the mouth of her near-anonymous husband, Blondie guitarist, Chris Stein:
"Here's the band. They starve. You have no money. You sign bad deals, sign your life away. You spend all your time and unearned money getting out of the bad deals. Then all the people you respect turn around and say, 'You sold out. You suck.' Well, fuck you."
The Lit variant goes like this: while the members of Lit worked in small clubs that smelled of barf, spilled beer and sweat for a decade, they were hometown heroes. They weren't playing ska (like No Doubt, with whom they'd later tour) or punk (like the Offspring, with whom ditto), but a kind of clean, pure pop driven by riffs like something out of the Stones' "Satisfaction"—when you heard it, their biological father, DJ Alan Popoff, told them, you knew they were working on their own sound.
But when "My Own Worst Enemy" erupted—when the band was on a major label, touring every major city in America, their single lodged at No. 1 for 90 days, and young women were trying to set up camp in A.Jay's trousers—Jeremy says the Orange County press turned on Lit. "We were out there representing OC all over the world"—never mind a merely national tour, RCA flew Lit to Japan, Europe and Canada—"really waving the OC flag, heroes everywhere but our hometown," he says. Back home, "they were saying we sold out. But let me tell you, man: behind that platinum album, we worked our asses off. We probably signed every one of those records."
Here's the labor history: in 1990, still students at Savannah High School in Anaheim, the future members of Lit formed Razzle, a hair-metal band that played LA clubs—Gazarri's (now the Key Club), the Whiskey, the Troubador and the Roxy.
"We almost got signed," says Jeremy. "Fortunately, we didn't."
"Success would have destroyed us," he says. "We were too young. We didn't know what we were doing."
Older, wiser—still only in their mid-20s—they became Stain, their "musical bridge," they call it, between big-hair Razzle and power-pop Lit. And then the work began, work no different, certainly no easier, than the work of the neighbors in their Fullerton neighborhood—"electricians and contractors," for example—"just different," says Jeremy. He remembers nights, post-show, sitting in the Lit tour bus, raucous fans pounding on the windows, 20th-century sirens calling him to party, his hand flying over paychecks, maps, hotel reservations, contracts. Work: a 4 a.m. bedtime followed too quickly by 7 a.m. radio interviews characterized by a mind-numbing familiarity ("People always ask us how the songs come—the lyrics first or the music?—and I tell them sometimes music first, sometimes lyrics."), afternoon in-store performances, signing band photos for an hour or more—J-squiggle-P-squiggle-LIT and the year ('99, '00, '01, '02, '03, '04)—and dogging the record label to make sure that it's handling every arcane factor in the production, distribution, promotion and sale of music.
"Being a rock star leaves little time for partying like one," my colleague Alison Rosen observed when she traveled to Vegas with Lit for the Weekly in 1999.
Whether you like Lit's music—or the product (and it is a product) of any other famous or even semi-famous musician—you must admire their business acumen. Lit has mastered an industrial technique every bit as rigorous as the production of computer parts, homes, toys or televisions. It's about profit and loss. Anyone who escapes gravity to succeed in music has confronted the ruthless logic of capitalism, has surfed the intersecting waves of supply and demand.
Lit won with "My Own Worst Enemy" and then struggled. Weeks after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks of Sept. 11, the band's label, RCA, (I almost feel the need to say, "in an unrelated move") cleaned house.
"We used to come into their offices in New York City high-fiving people and just enjoying the energy of the place," says Jeremy. After the October 2001 release of Atomic, RCA changed. In the face of the Internet challenge, the mammoth company shed staffers like old skin. Lit says Atomicnever had a chance; you could see that inside company headquarters: "You'd see these cubicles, all the posters off the walls, all their office stuff stacked in boxes, and all the offices where our friends had worked—people who knew us and who we knew—closed and locked."
"It was like starting over," says A.Jay.
* * *
In order to avoid surplus production, the head-on collision of weak consumer demand and rising product supply—of music, televisions, computers, butter or whatever—capitalism is always at war with itself, destroying old industries to create new ones, to reshape the seemingly fixed and frozen tastes of entire markets into new tastes, new desires, new appetites. Lit survived the decline of hair metal, entered power pop during the reign of rap, rode to platinum glory, and fell into a deep hole covered with leaves and branches: the Internet revolution and the re-creation of the music industry.