Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre is nearly empty.
Up a flight of rickety stairs, behind the locked door of a small, dirty dressing room, Jim Adkins desperately searches for a vein. An intense, pug-nosed youth -- and lead singer of Mesa quartet Jimmy Eat World -- he shivers while his body is attacked by waves of cold sweat.
Finding a welcome patch of skin, he winces as a thick hypodermic needle plunges into his waiting arm. With blood and liquid swirling in his system, Adkins' lids grow heavy and he slumps back, letting out a long, deep sigh.
This, of course, is where most rock 'n' roll stories find their ugly, inevitable conclusion. The point at which bright, burgeoning lights are snuffed out, darkened by drink or drugs, or both.
But this is not the typical rock 'n' roll story. And Jimmy Eat World is not the typical rock 'n' roll band.
Adkins' ashen complexion isn't the junk-sick pallor of an addict. The needle piercing his skin is loaded only with B12 and Vitamin E, and the hand administering it belongs to a registered nurse. In the last few hours, Jimmy Eat World has delivered perhaps the two most crucial performances of its career, while Adkins wrestled manfully with flu and fever. Tomorrow he'll check into a hospital and try to get well. Tonight this will have to do.
Despite the innocent trappings, Adkins is a rock star -- if a still developing one. Make no mistake, he's not some costumed extrovert -- no Bono in fly-specs, no leather-clad Lizard King with member in hand. Rather, Adkins is the leader of an uncommonly self-effacing group. Jimmy Eat World's sincerity, and its downright ordinariness, are its greatest assets.
Even if you're not a music fan, it's been hard to miss Jimmy Eat World lately. Glowing, prominently placed praise for the band has turned up in mainstream publications from Time and Newsweek to People and USA Today. Coupled with myriad TV appearances on late-night talk shows and music channels, it's no wonder that the band has quickly become one of the most promising musical phenomena ever to take root in Phoenix.
With their new DreamWorks album Bleed American on the Billboard charts for two months straight and worldwide sales moving rapidly up-ward, Jimmy Eat World is being touted as the guitar group most likely to make it big. In the era of Britney and the Backstreet Boys, it's being heralded among a handful of independently rooted rock bands with a chance of reaching the elusive commercial peaks last scaled by Nirvana.
Such whispers are not mere coincidence. The band's professional brain trust -- the powerhouse management firm G.A.S. Entertainment -- is headed by the same folks who made the whole world smell teen spirit nearly a decade ago.
In all, it's a heady position for a group of resolutely middle-class, suburban twentysomethings to be in. As to how they got here, Adkins will tell you it's the result of sheer, magnificent luck. That their success is something bordering on sleight of hand. His favorite phrase -- one that he utters repeatedly -- is that the band is "getting away with something really big."
But it was an unusual degree of discipline and diligence -- terms not usually associated with young musicians -- that put Jimmy Eat World on the pop-culture map. A stunning resolve -- born out of naiveté as much as anything else -- that helped the quartet defy nearly all convention on their way to "it" band status.
A week spent with the band in L.A. -- a stand where the group cemented its reputation among the show-biz elite -- has revealed much.
Sitting in his sickly stupor, Adkins scrolls through his own memories from the last seven days -- a never-ending circus of performances, press and parties -- before looking down to ponder the needle protruding from his arm.
With that, Adkins musters what little energy he has left, offers a wan smile and cocks an eyebrow.
"This has been a pretty fucked-up week, huh?"
Pomona is a tendril of Los Angeles, located some 30 miles east of the city. In the middle of its downtown arts colony stands the Glass House, an old movie theater converted into a rock club. It's here, for the next five days, that Jimmy Eat World will set up camp.
Outside, a balmy August breeze passes, rifling the pages of the newsweeklies stuffed in rusting metal racks. Gracing the covers of several of them -- adopting karate-kick poses and rock-star grimaces -- are the members of Jimmy Eat World. If there is one place where the group's popularity exceeds that in Arizona, it's Southern California. Their three area shows have sold out in a matter of hours without any advertising, only a brief mention on the band's Web site.
Fresh off a series of East Coast dates on the Vans Warped Tour, this is the farthest west the band has been in nearly a month. The occasion brings out a small entourage of wives, girlfriends and family.
Onstage in the Glass House's main room, Jim Adkins is conferring with road manager Rick Marino. A genial, if slightly intimidating, figure -- an unlikely cross between a mob heavy and Baby Huey -- Marino is a blur as he multitasks: consulting with Adkins, chatting up an equipment rental company and directing a crew of sound and light techs.
Back in the club's lounge, bassist Rick Burch is sunk into a couch next to his girlfriend, a giggly blonde whose Betty Boop voice matches her coquettish demeanor.
Sitting opposite is guitarist Tom Linton, nursing an abscessed tooth that will require a partial root canal the next morning.
And prowling the room, barking orders into a cell phone, is drummer Zach Lind. A burly, blunt man, his thick, freckled forearms tense as he clutches a notebook and pen. A slight gait appears as he paces, while the squawks of booking agents and promoters filter through the line.
Jimmy Eat World's plans are in an unexpected state of flux. The band had been considering canceling its upcoming club tour to join a three-way package headlined by Weezer. The deal quickly falls apart when the group is denied the middle slot and asked to open up for an odious rap-metal outfit called Cold.
As Lind paces and negotiates, he stops only to pat the cheek of his wife Holly, a statuesque beauty in the final weeks of pregnancy.
Though the group is ably represented by the heavy hitters at G.A.S., Lind is still serving as the band's point man and de facto manager, a role he assumed almost two years ago when Jimmy Eat World severed nearly all its business ties and ventured out on its own.
"It seems," he complains while leafing through a stack of the latest sales figures, "like I spend an hour a day playing drums, and the other 23 on the phone doing business."
Of course, it wasn't so long ago that Lind's only concern was wondering if his childhood buddy Jim Adkins would be able to get a ride to come over and jam.
The two met in preschool, maintaining a casual friendship through the years. Their bond grew closer by the time they started at Mesa's Mountain View High School in the late '80s. During their senior year in 1993, they coalesced -- along with neighborhood pals Tom Linton and Mitch Porter -- into a noisy four-piece called Jimmy Eat World. (The name, incidentally, has nothing to do with Adkins, but is a reference to Linton's younger brother.)
Much of the group's appeal was there from the outset, as the band energetically tore through a clutch of three-chord originals. The difference in those early days was that Linton claimed center stage as lead singer, while guitarist Adkins was the spastic, chubby figure flailing away in the shadows -- something that would soon shift as he developed his songwriting and stage presence.
The group recorded a demo, a single and a full-length in quick succession, and appeared to be making the slow rise from sleepy all-ages venues like Mesa's Art Cage to opening gigs for national acts at more prominent East Valley clubs like Boston's.
Around this time -- through a strange and labyrinthine set of circumstances -- the group caught the attention of Loren Israel, a talent scout for Capitol Records. Soon after he tipped his bosses to the band, Capitol execs flew to Arizona, saw the band perform and offered Jimmy Eat World a deal a week later.
While most struggling bands in a similar position would have jumped at such an unlikely offer, the boys were unmoved. It was an understandable reaction, considering that their limited knowledge of the music industry had come from the virulently anti-corporate lyrics of punk bands like Propagandhi and NOFX and 'zines like Maximumrocknroll.
"Getting a label deal was the furthest thing from our minds as a goal," recalls Adkins. "We were pretty anti-label. But it just seemed like too good of an opportunity not to take. You could go to school anytime, but here's this crazy fucker offering us a record deal. It really felt like we were getting away with something."
Another problem was that Porter, a Mormon, was being pressed by his family to go on his mission. He quit just before the label deal was signed, and it was Burch -- a classmate of Linton's and a member of fellow Mesa pop-punks Carrier -- who stepped into his spot.
"It was either go to college or make a record and tour," says Burch. "That's a pretty easy decision when you're 18."
Not knowing any entertainment lawyers, the thoroughly green group hired Lind's family attorney to look over the contracts. By mid-'95, the members of Jimmy Eat World -- still in their teens and barely out of high school -- were part of the Capitol Records roster, home to the Beatles, Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.
At this point the band's style was -- by its own admission -- fairly ragged, far removed from the more polished commercial sound that would develop later. In hindsight, it's hard to see exactly what Capitol thought it was getting when it signed the nascent combo.
"It was part of a period where a lot of young bands were being signed to major labels," says the group's current DreamWorks A&R man Luke Wood. "And it was very difficult to really develop them within that system."
When Capitol gave little attention to Jimmy Eat World's promising 1996 debut, Static Prevails, the young group quickly developed an uneasy sense that it had been orphaned by its label benefactor.
"We soon realized that at that level it's survival of the fittest," says Lind. "It's really hard to get people in a record company to even listen to what you're doing -- especially if you're a young, developing band. 'Cause nobody wants to listen to a young, developing band, they want to listen to the Beastie Boys, Foo Fighters and Frank Sinatra -- and that's who we were vying [with] for attention within the company."
Among the deaf ears the group had fallen on were those of then-label president, and now the band's manager, Gary Gersh. Gersh -- who left Capitol in '98 -- admits he felt the band had been signed prematurely. "Yes, that's true," he says. "But I believed we should and could have helped them develop on their own. As it turned out, that's kind of what happened."
By major-label standards, Jimmy Eat World was a fairly cheap band to keep around, so Capitol handed the group another modest budget and insisted it begin work on a sophomore album. The resulting disc, Clarity, was miles ahead of its predecessor. A lush, thoughtfully crafted affair, this was the album that the band felt confident would finally garner it priority status within the company. But again the Capitol brass -- now headed by the bottom-line-minded Roy Lott -- didn't want to hear it.
"We thought we'd made a good record, and that it had a couple [of] legitimate singles the label could work with," says Lind. "And it was like coming home from college with a good report card and your parents not giving a rip. That's kind of the feeling we had."
Though Clarity was considered D.O.A. within the record company, the band still had a daring gambit left to play. Allowed to issue an independent EP while Capitol held back the release of Clarity, the group leaked a copy of the track "Lucky Denver Mint" to Los Angeles radio station KROQ. The song -- an infectious bit of teen anthemism -- became an instant hit on the tastemaking FM powerhouse.
"It's sad to say, but when 'Lucky Denver Mint' got played on KROQ, it was probably the first time a lot of people at Capitol had heard us," Lind says. "The only time anyone from the label ever came down while we were making the album was the day there was a photo shoot for Billboard."
In the wake of the unexpected success of the song, Capitol was forced to rush-release the album. However, without a solid marketing plan in place, the single soon fizzled and the record died an ignominious death not long after its spring '99 release. Even promotional efforts like getting "Denver" onto the soundtrack of the Drew Barrymore flick Never Been Kissed were too little, too late.
While they might've have started out as wide-eyed innocents, the band members had been given a crash course in the record business, and the painful truth that even good records get ignored. By the end of the year, the group was determined to break from Capitol, even threatening to break up as a last resort.
"We had to get off Capitol," says Lind. "We just had to."
Swathed in harsh blue light, a stern-faced Jim Adkins is onstage at the Glass House contemplating what he's just heard -- and he's not happy.
"We're here to drill it into our heads," he blurts into the microphone. "Let's do it again."
The band has spent the past hour fine-tuning a deceptively complex number called "Table for Glasses." The band's sound is unusually rich, thanks to the efforts of two new utility players, vocalist Rachel Haden -- daughter of jazz legend Charlie Haden -- and multi-instrumentalist Brian McMahan.
Once they finally nail the song's aching three-part harmonies, a blissful euphony engulfs the stage. As the last barmy notes ring out, a poignant hush fills the club.
"I think," says Lind, in a rare moment of salaciousness, "that's the new panty dropper."
"The panty droppa," ripostes Adkins with mock girlish glee.
A solemn-looking Burch fiddles with his bass amp. Meanwhile, Linton is absent for much of the rehearsals, away at the dentist in Beverly Hills.
The full lineup runs through the infectious candyfloss of "Authority Song" a half-dozen times, honing guitar tones, before relentlessly tackling a handful of older tunes from the catalogue. Adkins directs most of the action, with Lind periodically chiming in suggestions, pausing between songs to check his phone for messages.
This workmanlike intensity is leavened by more light moments: Haden doing a spot-on impersonation of shrill Rush singer Geddy Lee; the group serenading Linton with a sour-faced version of "Happy Birthday." Later, Lind and Adkins strike pseudo-metal poses, camping it up as they toss off a torrent of arena-rock riffs and fills.
As the pair collapse amid the humorous cacophony, it becomes clear that it was their unyielding personalities -- Lind's competitive nature and Adkins' obsessive focus -- that diverted the band from the major-label crash-and-burn route it was on just a couple years back.
By late '99, Jimmy Eat World had become completely frustrated with Capitol and wanted out. After a fair amount of maneuvering, the group was finally given its walking papers. Wanting to make a clean break from all its ties, the band's next step was to divorce itself from its management. That decision was made easy after the group's handlers balked when the band -- sensing its international potential -- suggested a tour of Europe.
"They were like, 'How can you even think about Europe when we don't have anything going in the States?'" says Burch. "But we didn't care. We wanted to try it and at least see."
"We had surrounded ourselves with the wrong kind of people," says Lind, shaking his head. "Looking back, they didn't really even understand us, who we were. We needed to be on our own for a while. No label, no management. We needed to do it ourselves."
On paper, the decision to leave their music-biz family was a risky one. They knew their plan -- fueled in equal measure by obstinacy and naiveté -- could've easily backfired, rendered them broke and back in Phoenix, four college dropouts with little to show for their efforts. Undeterred, they pressed forward.
The band reverted to its D.I.Y. roots, buying several hundred copies of its own CDs from Capitol at cost, taking a loss on the shipping and sending them overseas to independent record stores. In effect, they created their own modest distribution network in Europe.
When the band got to Germany for the first date of its tour, the boys expected, at most, a handful of curious onlookers. Instead, what they got was a room packed to the rafters with 600 kids swaying, shouting and singing along to every note -- all this even though Capitol had never released any of the albums in Europe.
The unexpected response that night signaled a rebirth for a band whose fledgling career had nearly been snuffed by an unfeeling industry.
"It was like playing our first show all over again," enthuses Lind. "I had such a nervous feeling in my stomach about the show, and then seeing this huge crowd -- it was like a dream to me."
The grassroots response the band had seen in Europe was a mere inkling of the swell of below-the-radar support carrying it stateside. Months after leaving Capitol, the group was shocked to find that Clarity was shifting a surprisingly respectable 500 units a week.
"It was mostly word of mouth," offers Adkins. "And a lot of things like Napster and the Internet. At that point we didn't really have any kind of official promotion. It was a weird phenomenon."
Galvanized by its dark-horse success, the group decided the next logical step was to record a new album itself.
In contrast to the Capitol-funded platters, the sessions for what would eventually become Bleed American were a long, arduous process. Forced by their budget to complete the project piecemeal, the band members were only able to record basic drum tracks before running out of money. With every bit of band income being set aside for the recording, the group members suffered through a frightfully lean period.
"Oh, man, I was so poor. I was dying," says Linton. "I don't even know how I made it. For like almost two years I was totally broke. I was just barely scraping by."
In between tightly budgeted tours, Linton worked construction, while Adkins sold art supplies, Burch shipped auto parts and Lind shuttled customers at a car dealership.
By the time the band was finished recording Bleed American earlier this year, its bankbook was dangerously thin.
As a nervous Lind wrote out a final check for mixing expenses, he wondered aloud if they hadn't gotten in over their heads.
"I was doing the math and it was really close. I wrote the check but I was just hoping, praying that it wouldn't bounce."
"Hey, man! What's your fucking problem?"
The veins in Rick Burch's neck are bulging. Raising himself from behind the wheel of a van, he sticks his sturdy jaw out the window and screams at a car that's just whipped around to steal a parking spot.
The band has been circling a crowded lot at the Santa Monica Pier for some 15 minutes, and tensions are running high as the group is late for a beachfront photo shoot for Alternative Press magazine.
"Jeez, what the hell was that guy doing?" asks Tom Linton angrily, as the offending driver meekly pulls away.
Despite the outbursts, Linton and Burch -- both Mesa Mormons, and Westwood High grads -- are the quiet, easygoing ones in the Jimmy Eat World camp.
Linton -- a scruffy character with warm, twinkling eyes -- walks to the lip of the ocean, where the AP shutterbug is setting up. Trudging through the sand, he scans the printed pages of the band's daily itinerary. "It won't be too bad today," he says, to no one in particular.
After the photo session, the group winds its way through West L.A., heading for a studio to perform a short set for MTV.com. Later, it's on to a party being held in their honor, an afternoon barbecue at manager Gary Gersh's Brentwood home.
Just up the road from O.J. Simpson's old place, Gersh's palatial hillside manor is the stuff California dreams are made of. As the band passes under vaulted ceilings, necks crane in an effort to take in the opulent digs. Someone nudges Linton, "I think you should give up playing music and get into management."
Outside, the sun is dipping low into the ocean. In Gersh's manicured garden, an orgy of self-promotion and one-upsmanship is taking place as the assembled show-biz cognoscenti indulge themselves on the gourmet catering and free bar.
Band members make their rounds glad-handing guests, dutifully chatting up the party's notables. It might seem that a group of Mesa suburbanites would be ill-suited to schmooze with world-class professionals like these, but caught in a den of music industry vipers, they acquit themselves quite nicely. By evening's end, a tipsy Adkins is behind the bar in Gersh's game room-cum-wine cellar, sipping vintage Beaujolais and engaging a handful of comely record company interns. Well aware that the following morning begins with an 8 a.m. recording session, Adkins goes back to his hotel room alone.
"This is the only rock band I've ever worked with where the crew is wilder than the band," notes tour manager Marino of the group's chaste, disciplined ways.
The fact that the members of Jimmy Eat World aren't glamorous, bacchanalian wild men hasn't hurt them among their growing contingent of fans ("If you want juicy rock debauchery," Adkins says, "we're not the best place to look for it").
Though the band is keenly aware of its lack of a "traditional" rock image, its management seems intent on playing up that very point, fostering the group's boys-next-door persona. But in an era marked by bad-boy confrontationalists like Eminem and Limp Bizkit and makeup-wearing goons like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot, can a band without a gimmick really make it big?
"Their gimmick is good songs," says DreamWorks' Luke Wood. "I look at them in the tradition of a band like R.E.M. [When R.E.M. started] they were like a countryish, alternative-rock band. Over time they developed these larger-than-life personalities. But when you actually sit down and look at that band, they're just like Jimmy Eat World. They're just normal guys."
"I've always believed that great songs, great singing and a great live show will work to a large audience over the long term," observes G.A.S. co-head Gersh. "Not having a shtick could easily be to their benefit in having a career that isn't just [about] a moment in time."
It was with those ideas in mind that Gersh and partner John Silva began courting the band earlier this year. Even though the group was initially wary of working with Gersh -- a man they had demonized as one of the culprits behind their mistreatment at Capitol -- the lure of having the team responsible for some of rock's most important artists was simply too good to pass up.
"[Gersh and Silva] make their bands tons of money," says Lind of the duo responsible for helping shape the fortunes of everyone from Nirvana and the Beastie Boys to Beck and Sonic Youth. "But they also make sure that their bands can have careers beyond one song or one album. That's a really, really hard thing to do and they've done it over and over."
With G.A.S. on board and a strong industry buzz surrounding Bleed American, a minor bidding war for the band's services erupted. The ultimate bit of vindication came when Capitol Records begged for a meeting. The session never happened; the group demanded their old label relinquish the rights to Static and Clarity merely as a price tag to speak with them.
After being wooed by nearly every pony-tailed A&R man in the business, the band ended up with its original suitor, DreamWorks exec Luke Wood.
Wood, a onetime publicist who also worked with Nirvana and signed Elliot Smith, had closely monitored the growth of the band during the 18 months it had been on its own. More important, he seized on the tremendous potential in Bleed American.
"Those songs are looking for a large audience," he says. "When you hear [Bleed American], the record just shouts at you, 'Sign me!'" Which is exactly what DreamWorks did, inking Jimmy Eat World to a multi-album, multimillion-dollar deal in April -- a huge turnaround for a band scraping together pennies to buy studio time a few months earlier.
Ultimately, the decision to sign with DreamWorks was taken with an eye toward the band's long-term career prospects. Unlike most major labels, DreamWorks is a privately owned company -- in this case the proprietors include Steven Spielberg and David Geffen -- that's not slave to the quarterly earnings mentality of a publicly held corporation like Capitol/EMI. It's something that bodes well for Jimmy Eat World, a group that will need the patience of an understanding label parent to grow into its full potential. Aiding in this cause is the band's indie cred and status as critics' darlings -- two elements that should help them outlast faster-selling, but ultimately shtick-driven, contemporaries.
Given the mayhem surrounding the band's Glass House shows, you would think Jimmy Eat World had already achieved superstar status. Outside the venue, scalpers are charging three and four times the face value for tickets; a line of patrons snakes around the block several hours before showtime.
Backstage it's a mob scene as friends, family, well-wishers, industry types and hangers-on all gather to kibitz in cramped quarters.
By the time the band takes the stage just after 9, the packed, un-air-conditioned Glass House is like a sauna. When the band opens with an extended guitar vamp that introduces "Bleed American," the crowd explodes in a heated state of frenzy.
The scantily clad nubiles at the foot of the stage cast hungry gazes at Burch, who teases them with a slow, subtle bass grind. Linton, too, sheds his shy, retiring persona, playing with a self-assured ease that seems to pour from his hands. Atop a riser, Lind holds everything down with a steady brace of percussion.
As a front man, Adkins performs with enough intensity to strip paint -- his vocals hurling like fiery shrapnel from the stage. After a few songs, his neatly held thatch of hair unfurls into a moppish mess of black; his dark shirt is heavy, leadened with sweat.
Still, the largest cheers of the night are reserved for Linton when he takes the mike to sing "Blister" -- another shoulda-been hit off of Clarity. As the crowd shouts along to the punkish romp, one thing becomes abundantly clear: If Burch is the band's face, Adkins its heart and Lind its mind, then Linton is most assuredly its soul.
Mid-set finds the group pulling out acoustic instruments for a clutch of quieter tunes. Adkins' gently articulated tales of confusion, disaffection and unrequited love have the audience in a state of rapt, adoring attention.
Then during the harsh, surging "Get It Faster," the teeming mosh pit seems to engulf the whole floor. By the time the band encores with "Lucky Denver Mint," crowd-surfers begin to shoot up from the audience like geysers.
When it's all over, two blond girls, no more than 15, cling to each other as they emerge from the mass of bodies. The giddy pair -- faces stained with sweat and tears -- look as if they've just come from a teenage tent revival.
They are the heart of Jimmy Eat World's fan base.
"[We're] a rock band," says Lind, "but there's a sensitive side to it, too. Jim's got a sensitive voice. The songs and the content of the lyrics are more of an introspective thing. That comes across really well with female fans or guys that don't care about being on the football team. That's kind of where our audience lies."
Their handlers know it, too. G.A.S. and DreamWorks are hoping to tap the lucrative market consisting primarily of female teens -- girls who've grown out of 'N SYNC, aren't quite ready for Radiohead and are looking for something in between.
"It's kind of esoteric," says Wood, "but there is this wonderful comfort zone in Jimmy Eat World. And I know I get that same feeling when I go up and stand next to the stage and sing along to the words. There is a kind of snowballing effect. It's part of what rock 'n' roll was always about -- it's something you enjoy with your friends. It's about community."
It's Monday, a make-or-break day for the band, and Jim Adkins couldn't be in worse shape. The unrelenting workload of the past few weeks has finally caught up with him and he's struggling with a serious bout of the flu. In a few hours the band is scheduled to play a high-profile gig at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre and make a crucial appearance on CBS' Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn.
The Kilborn gig is doubly important. Not only will it mark the band's national television debut, but it will also be a test to see if it's worthy of earning a spot on David Letterman's program in New York the following month.
With his condition worsening, a sniffling and sore-throated Adkins agrees to do an interview during the 90-minute trek from Pomona to L.A.
During the drive, Adkins tackles a wide variety of topics, from the group's close-knit bond ("If one of us left or decided to quit, I think it would be the end of the band") and its current success ("A combination of being really lucky and having realistic goals about things"), to some of the embarrassing video treatments they've been pitched ("Oh, God. There was one that had us morphing out of clouds in the sky").
The subject he seems least comfortable discussing is the anxiety disorder that's plagued him for the past two years.
"It started toward the end of the Clarity tour," he reveals reluctantly. "It was ultra bizarre 'cause I really couldn't pinpoint what was wrong. I was reading, and out of nowhere I started freaking out, feeling like I was having a heart attack or something. I didn't understand what was going on. I thought it was probably just physical stress."
Ultimately, Adkins was able to control the panic attacks with medication. "It's tough to get rid of it completely," he adds. "Whenever it gets to a point when I feel it building up a little bit, it kind of gets to your head like, 'Is this gonna happen again?'"
Though he's loath to admit it, the attacks were the crucible from which Bleed American was plucked. Much of that unsettling experience finds its way into the lyrics for the new album, infusing the streamlined pop sensibility of the songs with a strong -- and palpably real -- emotional current.
Whatever his demons, the ever-guarded Adkins kept the problem from even his closest companions.
"Jim is a really private person," says preschool chum Lind. "He's the kind of guy you can know for a long time and be really good friends with but you really wouldn't know a whole lot about him. There's a lot more to Jim than just the way he is with us. If he were to have any kind of psychological thing going on, I wouldn't know about it."
As the car pulls up to the El Rey, the only thing going on is Adkins' ailing throat, which threatens to jeopardize the band's pivotal performances. The singer spends much of the day passed out in the van, downing tea and herbal medicines, hoping the worst of his illness will pass before it's time to go on.
After a truncated sound check, he doesn't appear much better as the group's caravan makes its way past Farmer's Market and into CBS' massive Television City complex.
It turns out the bands on Kilborn's show perform before the rest of the program is actually taped, a concession to the studio's cramped confines. Jimmy Eat World runs through its song a couple of times while the crew sets up lighting and checks camera angles. The group crams into the control room to watch a playback. On tape, they look staid, their movements tentative. A gaggle of voices offer advice.
"Don't worry," Adkins says, quieting them confidently. "It'll be okay."
The group spends a few tense hours waiting for the audience to file in. Adkins rests uncomfortably slumped in a dressing room chair. He wakes when Marino tells him the rented amplifier he requested has arrived, adding that U2's The Edge was the last to use it.
"Cool," deadpans Adkins, hardly moving. "He got it all warmed up for me."
Linton's family has come out for the taping, and he spends most of the downtime with them in the show's large green room. Burch, meanwhile, heads off with his girlfriend, nervously changing clothes until he's got the right look.
Surprisingly, Lind is the only one who seems genuinely loose, chiding Kilborn's stage manager, "Is the monologue written yet? 'Cause I have some jokes."
Just before airtime, the band gathers in the dressing room. On his way to the stage, a peaked Adkins pauses, offers a wink and comes to life with a jest: "I'm gonna bring the rock."
The small studio is full of Jimmy Eat World partisans who greet the band with a standing ovation. As an announcer calls the group's name, they crash into the first corrosive notes of "Bleed American." Adkins -- back to the camera -- whips around and begins slashing away dramatically with his black Gibson. Ripping through the three-minute tune, the band plays with an unbridled potency that even has the graying, fiftysomething technicians bobbing their heads in approval.
When the segment airs, the broadcast mix will suck much of the life from the sound -- but failed sonics can't mar the moment or dull the wild energy of the performance.
Even the hypercritical Lind has to admit it was a home run. "Yeah," he tells his smiling wife, "we played great."
About to deliver his monologue, host Craig Kilborn -- an unfathomably lanky figure -- appears from his office in time to congratulate the band as it prepares to exit. He offers a rote, "You guys sounded great."
"Ah, you say that to all the bands," chides Adkins.
"No, no," insists Kilborn. "You guys are from Arizona, right? Yeah, I really dig it."
As the elevator doors close, the band -- glowing from the show and the awkward exchange -- breaks out in conspiratorial giggles.
Back at the El Rey, Adkins is sequestered in an upstairs dressing room. Seemingly spent from the Kilborn appearance, his face is shrouded in a hooded sweatshirt as he curls up on a large couch.
Although he's desperately trying to rally himself for the concert, it appears to be a lost cause. Minutes before showtime, he struggles to get dressed, wobbling and cursing as he pulls his socks on. Seeing this, Linton shakes a worried head and mutters to himself.
The overpacked El Rey is a fire marshal's nightmare, its floor an undulating sea of bodies. The walls, meanwhile, are lined with hordes of G.A.S. and DreamWorks personnel. Loud hoots and piercing whistles puncture the air as the lights finally go down.
In the wings, Marino offers Adkins a final out. "Are you all right? Are you gonna make it?"
"I'll get as far as I can," comes the uncertain reply. With that, Adkins swallows hard and hits the floorboards.
It would be folly to overstate their performance, to cast their effort on this night as some monumental stand -- and yet, that's exactly what it is. With backs against the wall they come out, fists flailing, delivering a truly murderous version of "Bleed American." After that it's on to "A Praise Chorus"; Adkins' lyrical plea to Linton -- "Come on Tommy, sing me something that I know" -- sounding more genuine than ever.
Taking a cue from its leader, the band rallies. Haden and Linton step up to help to mask Adkins' voice on the high notes his shredded larynx cannot reach; Lind and Burch stay sharp, keeping the band's engine humming smoothly.
There is no mention of Adkins' condition and few, if any, notice. The only concession is a purge of a few songs from the set list. They bring the night to a climax with "If You Don't, Don't" -- a wash of ringing guitars and piano glissandos. All things considered, it is the best of the week's three shows.
When it's over -- amid a hail of buoyant cheers -- Adkins radiates a beatific smile, an expression of relief more than anything else. Linton shakes his head again, this time in disbelief at his friend's mettle.
After taking his dressing room shot, Adkins gathers his things and slowly makes his way to the exit. The rest of the band has already bolted. Lind spends the rest of the evening with his wife; the next time he sees her will likely be in the delivery room. Burch and his girlfriend weave out, his arm draped over her shoulder. The ever-conscientious Linton stays behind to help Marino pack up.
The band has an early wake-up call. They leave for Portland in the morning, set to join blink-182 for a stadium tour of Canada. Adkins will stay behind for an extra day -- making a visit to the emergency room and getting some much-needed rest.
Arriving at his hotel, Adkins flops himself onto a bed, just in time to catch the opening of The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn.
The band's appearance is a star-making turn. Throughout, Kilborn pumps the group, comparing it to Nirvana, Black Flag and the Gin Blossoms. He turns the band's genre hybrid into a running gag. "These guys are emo-punks," he deadpans into the camera.
Then comes the band's performance. In the space of a few critical minutes they've exploded onto the pop landscape, playing to their largest audience ever, all but guaranteeing the Letterman spot and generating a healthy spike in album sales to boot.
Watching this unfold, you want to ask Adkins how it feels, what it's like -- but it's too late. The warm soothe of the vitamin cocktail has kicked in, he's already drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
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Moving to turn off the lights and leave, you take a final look back.
Lying there, eyes closed, Adkins' placid face takes on a meaningful expression; a small smile forming at the corners of his mouth.
It's the Cheshire cat grin of guy who knows he's getting away with something really big.
Jimmy Eat World is scheduled to perform as part of That Damn Show on Sunday, September 30, at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria. Showtime is noon.