Soap Opera of the Year: Fred Durst Acts Up
2003 was a banner year for Fred Durst for all the wrong reasons: a
2003 was a banner year for Fred Durst for all the wrong reasons: astring of A-list romances that may have existed only in his mind, alackluster new record, and don’t even get us started on thelive shows. He may be oblivious at best and obnoxious at worst, butthe Limp Bizkit frontman has a plan — as well as the celebrityposse and the power — to pull it off, and that’s preciselywhy he’s here to stay.
OnMarch 21, 2003, as the skies over Baghdad blazed like the mother of alllaser shows, Fred Durst, patriotic American, advocate of liberty, andindefatigable self-promoter, posted his thoughts about Operation IraqiFreedom at Limpbizkit.com. “We can’t protest any longer,” he counseled.”We have to support our country now, because we are at the point of noreturn. Go USA! Go freedom for Iraq! And on that note, our new CD isgonna hit you with a similar impact!”
It sounded like typical Durstian chest-puffing, but on September 23, Limp Bizkit’s fourth album, Results May Vary,hit stores, and the impact was just as he had predicted: Buildingscrumbled. Looting erupted in every major American city. Expertswondered whether the man who appeared in the album’s first video, “EatYou Alive,” was the real Fred Durst or one of his many known bodydoubles.
Okay, maybe that’s how it happened in Durst’s heavy-assdreams. In the real world, the infrastructure remained intact. Lootingwas confined to Kazaa and other file-swapping services. And while LimpBizkit’s previous two albums had truly leveled the Billboard Top 10 upon arrival, Results May Vary merely sideswiped it, selling 325,000 copies in its debut week.
Ever since Fred Durst’s emergence as rap rock’s red-cappedking in 1999, the opposition has been calling for regime change: musicjournalists who chafed at his misogyny; hip-hop purists who belittledhis simplistic rhymes; fans of Creed, Slipknot, TapRoot, and everyother band that he’d sparred with. In the past, the singer had answeredsuch challenges with multiplatinum fuck you’s. In 2003, though, he wasstarting to look a little vulnerable. Was it time, finally, to breakout the Haterade and toast the demise of Fred Durst?
“Fred’s always had an interest in polarizing people andprovoking strong reactions,” says Jordan Schur, president of GeffenRecords and Limp Bizkit’s longtime executive producer. Indeed, with hisbombastic stage patter and knack for baiting fellow musicians, Durst, aself-avowed redneck from Jacksonville, Florida, has always seemed moreprofessional wrestler than rock star. Like a WWE grappler, the33-year-old former tattoo artist also understands that a fighter’sentrance into the ring is every bit as important as the main eventitself, and he kept the public focused on Limp Bizkit’s latest albumwith more than a year’s worth of nonstop melodrama.
A quick follow-up to 2000’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Waterbecame impossible after the departure of original Bizkit guitarist WesBorland in late 2001, especially when the band’s 22-city search for areplacement proved fruitless. In the summer of 2002, however, Durstsurprised fans with an announcement: More than 20 new songs had beenrecorded with producer Rick Rubin, and an album would be arriving asearly as December 2002.
By January 2003, though, Durst didn’t seem to be in much ofa hurry. Instead, he was writing and producing tracks for BritneySpears’ new album, and asserting, in a trio of love-struck websitepostings, that the two were romantically involved. When Spears appearedon MTV’s Total Request Live in February, however, she waslip-synching a different tune. “I asked her tongue-in-cheek, ‘Where’syour boyfriend Fred Durst?'” says TRL host Carson Daly. “Andthen she did this whole I-don’t-even-know-him thing, which was not trueat all.” Durst responded to the snub by going on Howard Stern’s radioshow to divulge Spears’ crotch-grooming preferences. The pop star’scamp was not amused. “It’s sad that he’s decided to make up stories,”her people responded, “and the situation feels very junior highschool.” (Their recording sessions have never been released.)
In the wake of such steadfast denials, Durst cooled onBritney (“She’s got a great ass — that’s all”) and focused on AngelinaJolie (“She is one hot motherfucker!”). For several months, Durstpraised the virtues of the Tomb Raider star to reporters, blogreaders, concert audiences — anyone who would listen — but finallyacknowledged the futility of his efforts. “It’s just not going tohappen,” he told the London Sun in August. “We exchanged a few words acouple of times. She was really cool about it.”
Anyone who caught Durst’s appearance at February’s GrammyAwards was already familiar with his unique oratory style. With theU.S. on the verge of invading Iraq and an unofficial gag orderdiscouraging presenters from mentioning the conflict, Durst stepped upto the mic and misspoke straight from his heart. “I just really hope weare in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible,” hedeclared. And with those words, he somehow managed to annoy millions.Was he for the war, or against it? For proper English, or against it?Eventually, an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary explained that agreeance is a real word, but by then, no one cared.
Instead, audiences were too busy arming themselves withprojectiles in preparation for Limp Bizkit’s first series of liveappearances in nearly two years, opening for Metallica on the SummerSanitarium Tour. Of course, Limp Bizkit shows have always been chaoticaffairs: At Woodstock ’99, crowds responded to Durst’s encouragementsto “smash stuff” by tearing up TV camera towers and giving one anotherhead injuries; at a concert in Sydney, Australia, in January 2001, a15-year-old girl died in the crush of a Bizkit mosh pit. On the SummerSanitarium dates, instead of venting their energy at one another,concertgoers aimed it at Durst. During a July concert at suburbanChicago’s Hawthorne Race Course, the crowd greeted Limp Bizkit withchants of “Fuck Fred Durst!” and showered the stage with plasticbottles. In return, Durst screamed homophobic slurs, called theaudience “fucking pussies,” and challenged them to a fight. After justsix songs, the band ended their set.
Then the real fight started. In October, Westchester,Illinois-based attorney Michael J. Young filed a class-action lawsuiton behalf of 172 co-plaintiffs who attended the show, demanding thatDurst and Limp Bizkit refund them $25 each. “These people paid goodmoney to see this performance, and they got ripped off,” says Young. “Idon’t think it’s fair that Fred Durst gets to keep all the proceedsthat he earned, when he didn’t perform like he was supposed toperform.” Their complaint alleges that “Fred Durst insulted all in thecrowd and the city of Chicago repeatedly and without end,” and, to makematters worse, “Limp Bizkit never reappeared to finish theone-and-a-half-hour performance it had advertised and contracted tocomplete.” In other words, they felt the show was extremely offensive,and it ended much too soon.
Judging solely from his stage antics, Fred Durst ought to berecognized as the greatest rock agitator since Johnny Rotten. “If hewas putting out shit stuff and just being over the top, that’d be onething,” says longtime Durst pal Pauly Shore. “But it’s about music andselling albums.” And, as always, the Weas is right: In September, afternumerous title changes (including the apt Bipolar, the cryptic The Search for Teddy Swoes, and the all-time best name for a rock record ever, Panty Sniffer), at least as many missed release dates, and the late-inning addition of ex?Snot guitarist Mike Smith, Results May Varyfinally materialized. “[When] Wes Borland left, Limp Bizkit needed timeto regroup,” says Jordan Schur. “We made one record without a guitarplayer, and those were really Fred’s songs. Then we found a guitarplayer, so we wanted to make another record. Then we ended up takingthe best of both records, and the whole thing just took a minute.”
It took critics much less time to dismiss it. “Limp Bizkit limps another step closer to obsolescence,” declared USA Today’s Edna Gundersen. “Does anybody still care?” asked Caroline Sullivan of London’s Guardian. Actually, Results May Varyisn’t all that horrible — it’s competent, radio-friendly product by aband determined to cover its bases. Beat-heavy tracks like “Gimme theMic” and “Phenomenon” deliver the clean crunch that Limp Bizkit wentplatinum on, while “Underneath the Gun” and “Build a Bridge” aim forthe power-ballad crowd, with new guitarist Smith supplying cornyguitar-hero licks that the less populist Wes Borland would never stoopto. And while Durst’s sad-sack self-absorption is more out of controlthan ever, you still might find yourself singing along to lyrics like”Heartbreak is a headache / Like a toothache / Or an earthquake.” Threeweeks after its release, Results May Vary had sold more than 500,000 copies — a modest number compared to Chocolate Starfish,which went platinum in just seven days. Clearly, Durst was no longerflavor of the month, but he hadn’t been knocked off the menu entirely,either.
Those closest to Durst argue that his detractors are lookingat all the wrong indicators. “Limp Bizkit’s music is very emotional,”says Peter Katsis, the group’s manager and a senior VP at theentertainment company the Firm. “It’s not an intellectual experiencethat some journalist can expound on. This is rock’n’roll straight fromthe fucking gut.”
Because Durst has been angry at Spin ever since anAugust 1999 cover story gently mocked his pickup lines and, in hisopinion, overemphasized his frequent use of the word yo,neither he nor his gut would comment for this piece. But Katsis wasmore forthcoming. “I believe that critics had nothing to do withbreaking any of this new hard music,” he says. “Now, you probably won’tprint this, but I truly believe that a lot of critics hold resentment[toward Fred] because of that.”
Without the support of the music press, Limp Bizkit turnedto MTV for its earliest media exposure at a time when other bands hadrejected the tastemaking music channel. “In the early days, RageAgainst the Machine wouldn’t be associated with MTV,” says Schur. “Toolwouldn’t be associated with MTV. The cutting-edge-rock genre basicallyignored it. But we thought MTV was cool, and we thought we could makeit a little cooler as far as our shit goes.”
Whatever Limp Bizkit did for MTV, MTV certainly returnedthe favor: Beginning with Durst’s self-directed video for “Faith,” theband became a TRL staple, and several million album salesfollowed. Next, Durst began applying his Midas touch to other bandswith misspelled names. Skeptics scoffed when Interscope made him a vicepresident, but then he signed multiplatinum acts Staind and Puddle ofMudd.
Through his video work, Durst also got one Adidas-clad footin the film industry, though his plans to dominate Hollywood areproceeding slowly. Of the five films Durst has been attached to directsince 1999 (including the bully revenge drama Runt and theskateboarding feature Lords of Dogtown), none has yet made itto production, but his associates say it’s too soon to write him off.”People think directing is about getting that initial opportunity, andit’s not,” says Fight Club director David Fincher, who’s beenmentoring Durst in his cinematic pursuits. “It’s about doing somethingwith that opportunity. And Fred is a guy who is going to fucking work.I mean, this is not a guy who wants to be a director so he can get goodtables at restaurants. That’s the thing I like about Fred — he’s aninsanely hard worker.”
Or is it that all his hard work just makes him seem moreinsane? In October, while Durst could be seen sensitively devouringHalle Berry’s face in the video for Bizkit’s cover of the Who’s “BehindBlue Eyes” (a promo clip for Berry’s horror film Gothika), thefrontman was logging overtime trying to insinuate that he and the Oscarwinner-turned-Bond girl had become an item. He bragged about theintensity of their onscreen kiss and then told MTV News, “Someone has come into my life that I really feel like, for once in my life, that I really, really bond with like I’ve never bondedwith anybody.” (Emphasis blatantly added.) But when Berry laterannounced that she and her husband of two years were separating, Durstdropped all talk of his mystery someone and insisted that he and Berrywere just friends.
Though Durst’s knack for being seen with the right celebritypal at the right time seems undeniably Faustian, people who’ve seen himin action chalk it up to something more like pathological confidence.”Fred can walk into a room and establish a rapport with anyone,” saysMTV’s Daly. Rachell Burns, a tattoo artist who gave Durst one of hisearliest breaks in the body-ink business, would agree: “I hooked him upat a shop in Jacksonville, and within 15 minutes, he had insulted everymotherfucker in the shop. He was like, ‘I can tattoo circles aroundyou, you, you.'”
Sometime during the past year or so, Durst found time toget a pair of new tattoos of his own. Now, for all eternity, ElvisPresley and Kurt Cobain reside cheek to cheek, in monochromaticsplendor, just above Durst’s hairy heart. “Kurt Cobain!” says TravisKeller, cofounder of the rock-gossip website Buddyhead.com. “It’s likeHitler getting a Jesus tattoo. I mean, dude, everyone knows what you’rereally like.”
A modestly cynical interpretation may be that by putting twoicons of rock’n’roll emotion on his chest, Durst hopes to obscure hisown calculating soullessness. An even more frightening notion: Durstreally believes that he, Kurt, and Elvis are three of kind. But there’sa charitable explanation, too: Durst is just a fan and either tooclueless or too unconcerned with what others think to worry about theimplications. Instead, he just pays tribute to his heroes and aspiresto their greatness. Is he aiming too high? Sure. But when you believein yourself like that?when you’re a self-described “crazy, crazy manwith a crazy, crazy plan” (and, yes, some talent) there’s no way a single flop, much less a modest hit like Results May Vary, can derail your career.
On his cover of “Behind Blue Eyes,” Durst pays tribute toPete Townshend’s azure orbs, but a more fitting analogue may be anotherswaggering hothead, Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Which isn’t to suggest thatFred Durst has the mellifluous pipes of Frank Sinatra, or even FrankSinatra Jr. But the intense ambition, the survivor’s knack for brandextension and reinvention — those things he’s got. In the early 1950s,after Sinatra’s alleged connections to communists and the Mafia hadcost him his recording deal, his movie contract, and his radio show, hereemerged as an actor in From Here to Eternity and won anOscar. The one-time teen idol then jump-started his music career byperforming songs for swinging adults instead of swooning teenagers, andhis recording career lasted another 40 years. Limp Bizkit may not befacing their final curtain, but when they do, Durst has the backup filmcareer in place, along with lots of loyal and powerful friendsthroughout the entertainment industry ready to lend a hand, you dig? Somark your calendars, haters. Come 2050, Fred Durst is definitely goingto be over.