- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

“Our first album cover — what were we thinking?” Good Charlotte co-founder and guitarist Benji Madden cringes at
  the sight of his band’s self-titled debut, which sports a perky image of what appears to be an incipient boy band.
  Those same dewy-eyed lads — now looking more suitably like a spiky-haired, multitattooed punk-pop quartet (plus a temporary drummer) — are fresh off the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
  It’s a slightly ironic achievement for a band that in a recent single, “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” pokes fun at celebrities who “piss and moan inside the Rolling Stone.”
  “It just feels kind of like somebody went to the mall and made a fake magazine with your picture on there,” Mr. Madden, 23, says of the vertiginous feeling of landing the coveted cover spread and achieving national fame.
  “But at the same time, we’re on tour, and we live in this little bubble and don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world.
  “You sort of feel like you’ve been away at summer camp for a really long time,” Mr. Madden says, describing a sense memory that betrays how recently removed he and his band mates are from adolescence.
  “It doesn’t really affect you as a person except that you’re away from home. It’s really a weird dynamic, but you get used to it,” says Mr. Madden, who, when he’s not on the road, lives in Alexandria.
  Come tomorrow night, Good Charlotte will be playing before a sold-out hometown crowd at George Mason University’s Patriot Center in Fairfax.
  It was only a few years ago that Mr. Madden and his twin brother, Joel, natives of La Plata, Md., a rural town near Waldorf, were both living in Annapolis, having fled a lousy domestic scene in which their alcoholic father ditched his family and cut off all contact with his young children.
  The twins were 16 when they last spoke to their father. (They eventually would scrap his surname and adopt their mother’s maiden name).
  Around the same time, the Maddens caught the Beastie Boys touring in support of their popular “Ill Communication” album. Stocking shelves at Target and performing other short-lived odd jobs, they became enchanted with the idea of becoming rock stars.
  It was a way out of La Plata and into a life where they could live according to their own lights.
  Mr. Madden unearthed a low-rent guitar from a home closet, and classmate Paul Thomas, a bassist, began teaching him rudimentary guitar chords.
  Thus began the twins’ quest for rock stardom.
  “When we started the band, we were like, this is it — this is what we want to do,” Mr. Madden says. “It was never a question of if, but when — and even if we never made it, it really gave us something to put our energy into.”
  Now Good Charlotte’s sophomore release, “The Young and the Hopeless,” has gone platinum, and the group regularly plays as host on MTV’s “Total Request Live.”
  The band’s rise to fame has done little to earn it punk credibility, however. Mr. Madden, who not too long ago was violently protective of the band’s punk image, could care less now.
  “We’ve always had the attitude that we’re gonna be ourselves and let everyone else sort it out,” he says.
  The twins, who co-write the band’s material, often veer into intensely personal territory, drawing on the experience of their turbulent home life and awkward teen years, subjects that make for prime punk fodder.
  They’re also forthright about matters of religion; Joel Madden, for example, thanks his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in the liner notes accompanying “Hopeless” — not exactly a sentiment shared by the late proto-punkers Sid Vicious and Joe Strummer or neopunk bands such as Green Day and Blink-182.
  Good Charlotte’s openness about faith has fans in New Zealand mistakenly thinking the group is a Christian rock band, Mr. Madden says.
  “Our spirituality is just part of [our] lives,” he explains. “We are who we are, and if it makes us more punk or less punk, we don’t care.”
  Indeed, the most affecting moments of “Hopeless” are the ones in which the twins delve into their tumultuous past and maturely reflect on their father.
  A line from “The Story of My Old Man”: “Last I heard, he was at the bar doing himself in / I know I got that same disease / I guess I got it from him.” Benji Madden is himself a recovering alcoholic.
  From “Emotionless”: “Why weren’t you there all the nights we cried / You broke my mother’s heart / You broke your children for life.”
  How long can such nervy youthfulness carry Good Charlotte? Perhaps more important, how much longer will the punk-pop trend last?
  “We’re never gonna put out songs we don’t like,” Mr. Madden vows. “I don’t ever want to sing something without conviction. I would love to think we’ll be around for a long time, and I don’t see anything that’s gonna stop us from doing that.”
  Mr. Madden would like to see Good Charlotte release 10 albums, and he says that’s a realistic possibility.
  Meanwhile, he leaves this message for the group’s fans:
  “We are four kids from Waldorf. We’re no better than any other band out there, and we know it. Thanks for giving us a chance to do what we love.”
  WHAT: Good Charlotte with New Found Glory
  WHERE: George Mason University’s Patriot Center
  WHEN: Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
  TICKETS: $25
  PHONE: 703/993-3000 for information; 703/573-SEAT or 202/432-SEAT for tickets

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