Pete Wentz plays bass in Fall out Boy, but his real instrument of choice is a Sidekick smart phone – a device he employs to write lyrics, manage a business empire, argue with girls, check fan sites and take the occasional glamour shot of his dick. He never stops his virtuoso thumb-typing, even when he's rehearsing for a Letterman appearance: As the rest of the band – singer Patrick Stump, lead guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley – fools around with a tricky riff from Steely Dan's "Reeling in the Years" on the Ed Sullivan Theater's fabled stage, Wentz ignores the black-and-red bass guitar hanging at his tiny waist and texts away instead.
But at the moment, as our cab cruises past Manhattan's Union Square around midnight on an arctic Sunday in early February, Wentz is simply using the Sidekick as a phone. And he is pissed. "No, this is Pete," he yells into it. "You called me. And before you said you were going back to your apartment! Where are you? Who the fuck are you with?" With his cushioned lips curling in anger over gleaming teeth, and his glossy black hair rising from his head in exclamation-point spikes, he looks like an anime version of Elvis Presley.
Twenty-four hours from now, Fall Out Boy will release their second major-label album, Infinity on High, the follow-up to one of the decade's biggest rock hits. With its two impeccable pop-punk singles, "Sugar, We're Goin Down" and "Dance, Dance," 2005's From Under the Cork Tree pushed the geeky, suburban foursome from Warped Tour stages to what's left of the MTV mainstream, selling more than 2.5 million copies to kids unaccustomed to paying for music. And with Infinity – which moves into one glossy anthem after another – the band is targeting superstardom. "I want to be the biggest band on the planet," says Wentz, whose overstuffed lyrics pair a maturing verbal gift with an adolescent penchant for self-mythologizing – he hails his "car-crash heart" on Infinity's opening track.
Stump, whose voice is as pretty as Pete's bone structure, writes the high-glucose melodies. But Wentz is the de facto frontman, a MySpace hero to a legion of eyeliner-hoarding emo kids. Wentz, who has a Michael Jackson-like penchant for comparing himself to Peter Pan, is a new, more accessible breed of rock star, keeping in close contact with an Internet tribe of lost boys. (And girls. Lots of girls.) On his band's Web site, he regularly answers their questions: "Pete! My dog died yesterday of cancer. Has this ever happened to you?"
Wentz is twenty-seven years old, but until last year he lived in his parents' house in the upscale Chicago suburb of Wilmette. When not touring, he slept in his childhood bedroom, surrounded by his old Transformers and He-Man toys. While the rest of the band maintains homes in and around Chicago – where they all have roots in the local hardcore scene – Wentz finally moved out six months ago, heading to Los Angeles. Stump has a place out there, too, but it's Wentz who hangs with Teen Vogue cover-girl types: Lindsay Lohan, Ashlee Simpson, Michelle Trachtenberg. "I'm attracted to creative people and train wrecks, and there's no shortage of that in Los Angeles," Wentz says. He hints at some sort of fling with Trachtenberg, but insists the other two relationships are platonic. "Maybe in a different universe, we'd be some hot couple, but not in this one," he says of Simpson. (Wentz may have his universes confused: At a Grammy party, he was filmed walking hand in hand with Simpson.)
Back in the cab, Wentz ends his call and retreats into the hood of his sweat shirt. Before the phone buzzed, he had been in an ebullient mood, recounting an encounter at an ultra-exclusive karaoke night at Cipriani's in SoHo, which we had just left, and which was packed with models at the start of New York's Fashion Week. "This weird blond chick rolls up on me and goes, 'Great to see you again,' " Wentz recalls, laughing. "I was like, "Who are you?' That's all I need in my life, some model."
Wentz has an excuse for hanging out with fashionistas: Biting hip-hop's entrepreneurial spirit, he has two profitable side hustles. His clothing line, Clandestine Industries, has just signed a production and distribution deal with DKNY. His record label, Decaydance, has FOB-influenced teen faves Panic! at the Disco on its roster. So even as that band threatens to match FOB's popularity, it's also making Wentz richer: It's as if Pearl Jam had owned stock in Stone Temple Pilots.
As the taxi speeds uptown, Wentz is silent, lost in bleak thoughts. When he unleashes one of his broad, dimpled smiles, the force of his alpha-male charisma is almost blinding – but his sudden shifts into black moods are just as intense. "I fully admit that I have a manic personality. I'm either on or I'm off," says Wentz, who has spoken at length about a 2005 near-suicide attempt. "I have the ability to make a room go cold."
Director Alan Ferguson – who worked on Fall Out Boy's last few videos, including the self-mocking clip for Infinity's first single, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" – has seen Wentz's volatility up close. "Pete is the nicest, most loyal, most giving dude in the world," he says. "And he's also got a dark side that really makes him charismatic." For the final Cork Tree video, the mini-horror movie "A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More 'Touch Me,' " Ferguson created a vampire character for Wentz based on his black moods. In the opening scene, Vampire Wentz jumps off a cliff to get away from the rest of the band.
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