The band’s quick rise to fame had been such a surprise to the lead singer Rob that when he finally had a moment to breathe between interviews, contract-signings, rehearsals, sound checks, meet-and-greets, photo-sessions, radio performances, product endorsements, video shoots and STD scares, he couldn’t believe that the show VH-1 “Behind the Music” was still on the air, nor could he remember ever having done the interview in the first place.
He sat down with the rest of the band members on a leather couch in his hotel room suite. Together they watched themselves on TV pile out of a limousine and walk up the red carpet. ”The band was brilliant, or so we always said.” The voice-over was from Thom Yorke, the lead singer for Radiohead. “We didn’t understand a lick or measure of what they were doing, of course, but that was because it was music way beyond us; it really was.”
“WTF,” this particular episode was called. “Its Trials and Triumphs.”
What Rob most appreciated about the show was the accounting of how they had first developed their sound. He relearned how his twin brother Ray picked up a fly swatter while the four of them were playing video games one afternoon and slapped it against his—Rob’s—face. Rob yelled at him to stop it.
“We were pleased, to say the least,” Ray said. They were all sitting together for this interview on a leather couch much like the one in this hotel room suite. ”We didn’t realize Rob had such a good angry voice, you see?”
“And the lyrics, ‘Hey, stop it,’ surprised us,” said Johnny.
“That’s right,” said the other Rob. “Not like the lyrics were that original, of course, but they were strong; they had meaning. People could interpret them as they wished.”
The others asked him if he could sing “Hey, stop it” in falsetto.
He did, and it was sublime. Ray then asked him to sing so that it didn’t sound like he was singing and put a paper bag over his head.
“What am I supposed to be singing?” Rob said.
“Just make up shit. Comment on the weather.”
And then while Ray continued to slap the paper bag on top of Rob’s head as he yelled at him to stop it and sang about the weather, Johnny zippered up and down his parka as the other Rob began to do that fart thing with his hand in his armpit. Very uncool but also cool for that very reason.
Although somewhat percussive heavy, the band was beginning to sound like a regular band. They were moody, aggressive and yet subtle. But only when they claimed that they were from the Pacific Northwest and changed their name from Adrenaline to WTF, did people begin to truly understand and appreciate their sound.
They released their first single, “Hey, Stop It!” on YouTube with Rob’s falsetto auto-tuned to hell. It went viral. For the video, the band, dressed as gorillas, were jumping in the colored balls at Chuck E. Cheese’s. They shot a lot of the video in Super 8, giving it that grainy, old school feel.
While watching himself, Rob was feeling pretty good about his decision to forego his education at Berkeley to follow his dreams of being the lead singer for WTF, that is, until they hit that part in the show when things started going bad for the band. The other Rob’s armpits had become badly chapped from all the activity, and he had difficulties keeping time. Johnny developed an attitude. Ray renounced his Christian faith and started dabbling with the sitar.
And then the lead singer Rob got a bad case of poison ivy so that when he took off the paper bag at the end of his shows, the poison ivory, hot and irritated, gave his face a strange coppery patination. He was hideous to look at. He wore the paper bag at all times now and became a recluse.
The strange thing, once again, is that though he remembered everything about getting slapped on the face by a fly swatter and singing inside a paper bag about the weather and contacting poison ivy and becoming a recluse, he could still not remember anything at all about this interview.
He didn’t remember that couch where they all sat together in clothes and haircuts and eye-make-up and piercings that made them look not like themselves. He didn’t remember the shot of himself walking the streets of his hometown and the filming of his childhood room, still intact. He did not remember crying about the death of his mother when he was six. He did not remember coming out of the closet. Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? He did not remember asking those questions, ever, especially on the air, while weeping inside his paper bag.
Most disturbing for him, however, was in learning about his drug overdose. It happened, strangely enough, in this very hotel room. The show cut to a clip where Isaac Brock, the lead singer and guitarist for the indie rock band Modest Mouse, said, “If only Rob had waited for two minutes longer, he would have realized that it was all formula. Nobody dies on TV.”
That was when the others realized that Rob wasn’t there. They found him in the bathroom with, as clichéd as it was, a needle sticking out of his vein. They pulled him back into the room with the TV and laid him out in front of the couch, as the commentator announced him alive, then dead, and possibly alive again. For the final outcome, clearly, they would all have to wait until after commercial break.