Who is A.M.S?
By Joe Smith / New York Times
February 1st 2011
His songs have been hailed as classics, many believing these chart-toppers to be among the best ever recorded, but Rhythm Guitarist and lead vocalist of the globally-recognized American rock band, Better Than Decent, disagrees. To Alex Wolf, he could be doing better. A lot better.
Wolf joined the band - then Chronic Rage - in the early 2000s, the group ultimately hitting it big in 2006 when their first album released at the top of the charts. Known for their iconic indie-punk blend, Better Than Descent has become a part of our culture, and it's all due to one single on their first album.
"Her," gained overnight popularity. The acoustic sensation became an instant number one, bringing the little-known band to light, and with it, Wolf's iconic ballads. While the group mostly leans in the punk direction, the solos and singles contributed by the Rhythm Guitarist have skyrocketed the versatile band to celebrity status. But it's not just the music that has everyone talking - it's the question.
Who is A.M.S.?
With every album, Wolf includes a special single (and in some cases, multiple) which he dedicates simply to: A.M.S. Hits like "Still Here," "Waiting," "You," and "Perfect," have become romantic icons, each earning Wolf - and the band - multiple Grammys. It's the guitarist's soulful voice mixed with his unrequited, often heart-broken lyrics that have many speculating on A.M.S.'s existence. Some argue she is an imaginative figure while others believe her to be real. Theory after theory has been exchanged by the millions of Better Than Decent fans, but with the musician refusing every question on the subject, no one knows the truth.
Five years later and we're still asking:
Who is A.M.S.?
Part 1: Before
October 6th 2000
I hate Leo Warskowski.
Last week he poured a Sprite into Amber's back-pack. The entire bus watched, and no one stopped him. No one said a word. The week before, he made up a song about Carrie and sang it at the top of his lungs, over and over again until we got to school. We listened to chants of fatty, fatty, can't you see/cookies and donuts are not fat-free for twenty minutes. Carrie cried the entire day.
Leo Warskowski is an asshole.
A huge asshole. Like, the biggest asshole on the planet, and if it wasn't enough being stuck in the same middle-school, I have to share the bus with him too.
I frown at my overalls. Today could be the day he comes for me. He's picked on almost everyone else; it has to be my turn soon. Pinching the end of my hair, I wonder if having it in two braids is a good idea. Maybe it looks dorky. It probably looks dorky. But Leo might skip the sandy frizz and focus on my freckles - a bridge of brown spots across my nose and cheeks. They were cute when I was little, but now I look ridiculous.
"Show it to me."
I barely hear him over the commotion in the back. A group tries to rap while two kids argue about something someone's dad said. Conversations buzz from each row, laughter rippling from one end of the bus to the other - but Leo's words cut through it all.
"Show it to me. You're always drawing in this thing. There's got to be something good in it."
"Get out of my face."
I peek over my shoulder. Normally, Leo slings insults while some poor kid takes it, but no one ever responds.
And it's that quiet kid, Alex.
I can only make out his dark hair; the rest of him is hidden behind the green bus seat. But he's pressed against the window while Leo hangs over him.
"What's wrong, Wolf? Afraid to show me?"
"Get out of my face."
"I'm not in your face." The rapping has stopped and so has the argument over the dad. A few conversations linger, but not many. "I'm just being friendly. So...why don't you show me what you've been drawing?"
"Oh, come on. You've got to have naked pictures in here, because - " Leo jumps back with a black sketchbook, flipping it open.
Alex lunges forward. "GIVE IT BACK!"
Leo shoves him and the two struggle for a moment, and suddenly, I have this feeling. This really awful feeling like I'm going to be sick. I don't know where it's coming from, but my heart starts to race, coils tightening in my stomach.
"GIVE IT - "
Leo punches Alex in the shoulder, knocking him into the window. Then he does it again just to be an asshole. Taking the opportunity, he scans the pages, his eyes growing wide. Something he didn't expect. Then he looks at me. Right at me. I stop breathing at the realization that I was right - something awful is coming.
"Her?" He says it in a way that makes me feel three inches tall. He points at me, and I want to curl up and die. "It's all her?"
The bus falls silent. No one is talking anymore; even the quiet conversations have dissolved into the background. Half of the riders are staring at me. The other half are staring at Alex.
"Did you know?" Leo asks, and it takes a moment to realize he's talking to me. "Did you know he's got, like, a thousand pictures of you?"
I bite my lip, not sure what to say. Not sure what to do.
Leo looks from Alex to me, an evil grin growing. He's about to make this a whole hell of a lot worse, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. "It's time we get this all out in the open."
My stomach drops - everything inside telling me to hide. I know this is so much worse for Alex, but I don't want to be here either. I don't want to know about the sketchbook. I don't want to know about any of it.
Leo jumps from his seat. "Here, look - "
The second Alex realizes what's about to happen, he leaps onto Leo's back. Everyone kind of gasps because this has never happened. No one has ever fought back. Not unless they had a death wish. And here's Alex Wolf, smaller than his bully by at least a foot, fighting like he's got everything to lose. Maybe he does.
The boys struggle again, but it's not enough. Leo slams Alex into the seat for the second time, and then into the window. "STAY DOWN!"
When he finally succumbs, Leo takes his time and leisurely flips through the pages. The entire bus is silent, everyone watching him, waiting to see what he says. Waiting to see what he does. Finally, he snorts out a laugh. "Stalk much, Wolf? Jesus. The bus. At lunch. What is this - you have her painting?" He turns page after page and with each one, I want to die a little more. "Reading? Christ, dude. You even said two words to the girl?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Alex slump in his seat. Leo keeps flipping. "You're obviously obsessed with her."
I throw my hand to my forehead, covering my eyes.
"Did you know he was obsessed with you? Hey," Leo snaps, drawing me out of my shelter. "Did you know about all this?" He holds the sketchbook open. But I don't look. I purposely don't look because it's none of my business, because I don't want to see someone else's inner thoughts, especially if they're about me.
"Come on - look at it." He forces the sketchbook in front of my nose. My eyes catch a dark corner. I do my best not to invade Alex's privacy, but I can't help it. His charcoal work is so intricate, so detailed in its layering that it's hard not to notice it. It's a technique I'm trying to learn with painting, so seeing it mastered like this in a different medium, it takes me a moment to realize I'm staring at the side of a face. My face.
"Do you know him? Hey," Leo snaps again. "I'm talking to you. Do you know him?"
"Do you want to meet him?"
I shrink in my seat.
His smile grows wider; he's really enjoying himself. "Come on - don't you want to meet the guy who is... yup," he turns another page, "definitely obsessed with you?"
God, this is awful. If I thought I hated Leo Warskowski before, somehow, I loathe him even more now. I'm staring at the seat in front of me, waiting for this to be over, just waiting for the bus to pull into the school and for all of us to get out of here.
"Hey - You want to look at me when I talk to you? I asked if you wanted to meet him."
I bite my lip, refusing to answer.
"Come on." He slides into the small space next to me, my skin suddenly crawling. I scoot closer to the window, putting as much space between us as I can. But it doesn't dissuade him. "I could arrange a little... one-on-one time for you two. Would you like that? A little Seven-Minutes-in- Heaven action? I know Alex would. He's probably been j*********f to the idea all year."
I wrap my arms around myself, focusing on the green bus seat. We'll be at school any minute. Any minute and all of this will be over.
"No?" he finally asks. With a shrug, he backs out of the seat and tears a page from the book. Crumpling it up, he tosses the paper ball at me with more speed than I expect. It hits my shoulder with a zing and lands next to me. Leo turns and throws the sketchbook at Alex. Hard. "I tried, man. She's not interested."
The bus comes to a stop, and the engine turns off.
The driver opens the doors, but no one moves. I think they're still waiting for something to happen - but what left is there? I'm more embarrassed than I've ever been and Alex Wolf has me topped.
"Let's go," the driver calls and suddenly, bodies flood the walkway, conversations snapping back into place. Except they're all about us this time. About Alex and me. About what just happened.
My face burns as I reach for my bag. The crumpled-up paper falls to the ground and I stare at it, wondering what to do. The sketch doesn't belong to me, but it doesn't belong to anyone else either, except Alex, and who knows if he even wants it at this point. Scooping up the paper, I deposit it in my bag. I can decide what to do with it later. People are still getting off the bus and Leo, who has pushed his way to the front, is already cackling about some haircut the new kid has.
Heart drumming, I move for the aisle.
I look up.
Red-faced, Alex throws a hood over his head and shuffles past, glaring at the floor. I don't know what to say. I don't know if there is anything to say.
I get in line behind him and wordlessly, we get off the bus.
October 6th 2000
By seventh grade standards, it's official.
Alex Wolf is in love with me.