Brave New World

Page 7 of 9

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.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr