IT CAN BE CONTRADICTORY TO HEAR 'SUZIE wants her all day sucker' right next to a song that's religiously inspired," concedes Extreme's resident drummer and practicing celibate, Paul Geary. "I think our consistency is our inconsistency. You can't really define us in terms of a nice package because we're not that slick."
Maybe not. But if Geary and his bandmates are hard to define, they are also hard to deny. Home in Boston rehearsing for a European tour, Geary, 31, vocalist-lyricist Gary Cherone, 31, flash guitarist-composer Nuno Bettencourt, 26, and bassist Pat Badger, 25, have finally found a moment to ponder the quick success of their latest album. Released in September, Extreme III Sides to Every Story hit the Top 10 its first week out and has racked up 3 million in worldwide sales so far. Like the band, it too resists easy labeling thanks to an eclectic mix of music stretching from hard-rock political songs (about racism and warmongering) to gauzy orchestral pieces and even grim, introspective ballads. The latter selections "come with a razor blade," jokes Cherone. "We wrote it for the mood we were in at the time."
The time was early 1991, when the group's second album, Extreme II: Pornograffitti, was eight months old and apparently doomed to the retail bargain bins. Then a sweet, acoustic ballad titled "More than Words," reached No. 1 in June and, in the months that followed, pushed its long ignored parent CD to double platinum. Suddenly, says bass player Badger, "the whole rock star-thing fell on us like a ton of bricks."
For the Boston-bred band, it was a welcome load. Cherone, the third of five sons from a broken marriage and blue-collar background, hooked up in local bands with Geary, another hard-rock fan and hard-times veteran whose family of five had even relied on welfare and food stamps at times.
A self-described "guy next door," Geary was almost the guy in the next cell after legal tussles over a credit-card scam. "I walked out of court one day knowing I'd been given the break of my life and a chance to do something with myself," says Geary, who, instead of jail time, was ordered to pay back the victims of the phony credit-card scheme. He worked for a car-rental company, sheared sheep for a hide manufacturer and drove a truck for a company that cleaned parking lots. He also "started playing drums like crazy."
Bettencourt, the youngest of 10 kids, had arrived in Boston from the Azores when he was 4. He still remembers "nights of coming home from school, probably not understanding much back then, wondering why we all sat around in the candlelight. I thought it was just a cool thing. I didn't know it was because we couldn't afford electricity."
Bettencourt joined Cherone and Geary in 1985, and soon afterward Badger, who had one semester at Boston's Berklee College of Music behind him, quit his job making custom guitars to complete the group. A year of club dates and dives followed before the group won an MTV video contest, got the attention of an A&M scout and were signed to a contract.
Despite their success since then, the group hasn't strayed too far from its Boston roots. Badger still lives near his parents, Al and Lily, and Bettencourt has installed his mother in a new three-bedroom suburban home that they now share. "I can't leave my mom," he says. "My father kind of split when we were young, and my mother raised everybody. We've always had this thing where whatever we do is for her. The biggest thing was always to get my mother her own house, just to be in peace for the rest of her life. I finally got to do that."
Cherone, now ensconced in the suburbs himself, remains a homeboy as well. And a vegetarian. (One friend jokes that he eats only "figs, sticks and bark," but Cherone defends his eating habits as simply "a cleansing of myself.")
Only Geary has moved out of town and into a 10-room house in nearby New Hampshire. "I live with my girlfriend now, whom I'm engaged to, and I haven't had sex in six months," he reveals. "We're proving to ourselves that our relationship is based on more than sex because we want to spend our lives together."
But not for a while. In November the band set out on a two-month tour of Europe, to be followed early next year by a trek across the U.S. When that's all over, though, it'll be back to home, Mom and the simple life. "Money, success, sex—these are things people spend their whole lives chasing," says Cherone. "They don't make you happy. Making your life as simple as possible is a right step in that direction."
JEREMY HELLIGAR in Boston
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