Brave New World

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.