Christopher Gutierrez is sitting alone on a bed in a room that reeks of dirty cat litter, a lapel mike hooked to the zipper seam of his hoodie, a computer resting on his lap. He reads aloud from a script displayed on the monitor: "So bring on the heartbr--shit!" He starts the line again. "So bring on--shit!" He makes another half-dozen attempts, each ending with a string of obscenities, before a muffled voice comes through the door leading to the living room: "Don't just read it, Chris. You gotta lecture it. Slow down." Gutierrez takes a breath and tries again, this time with prideful flair. "So bring on the heartbreak! Bring on the failure. Bring on the scabbed knees, wrong turns, and sleepless nights, because I'm not broken yet."
Gutierrez is the 31-year-old man behind the the blog Askheychris (askheychris.livejournal.com). Today he's recording 12 of the 25 tracks he plans to release as an audio companion to On the Upswing of Life, Love and Regret, a self-published 90-page memoir culled from his online writing. He and his friend Eric Bee, who works as a commercial sound editor, have put together a makeshift studio using borrowed equipment in a house near Clark and Diversey: the wireless mike is transmitting to a receiver in the living room, which feeds into a digital camera they're using to capture the audio.
For its first couple years Askheychris averaged 5,000 hits a day, mostly from people between the ages of 16 and 21, but its numbers have taken a dramatic uptick since March, when Gutierrez was tied to a scandal involving his former best friend, Pete Wentz, bassist and primary lyricist for the Chicago band Fall Out Boy, whose latest album, From Under the Cork Tree, has sold over two million copies. Gutierrez was suspected of leaking self-portraits of Wentz fondling his own semierect penis in front of a Morrissey poster. The two had been publicly feuding through their blogs, and while neither will go into specifics about their beef, it appears to have had something to do with Wentz inappropriately IMing Gutierrez's ex-girlfriend. Gutierrez claims he had nothing to do with the photos: "I keep saying, if I was gonna do it, I would've made money off it," he says. But he doesn't mind the publicity. After the scandal broke, his blog peaked at nearly 20,000 hits a day. Traffic has since slowed to 15,000. "If I didn't fully know the power of it, I wouldn't have used my journal to respond to what a certain person from a certain band did to me," he says. "I know it sounds crappy. I know it's LiveJournal, and I know how people my age look upon it, but it does carry a certain weight." For the record, though, "if he'd been in front of me, I woulda knocked his teeth out."
If it hadn't been for Wentz, Gutierrez might never have even started blogging in the first place. The two had been close since the mid-90s, having bonded over vandalism and hardcore, and for a couple years they played together in a band called Arma Angelus. Wentz left the group in 2002 to concentrate on Fall Out Boy, and Gutierrez spent the next two years as their roadie. The song "Grenade Launcher" on the band's 2003 full-length, Take This to Your Grave, mentions him by name ("Hey Chris, you were our only friend / And I know this is belated, but we love you back"), and as Fall Out Boy became more well-known, so did Gutierrez. The band posted his e-mail address and IM handle on their Web site in December of 2003 after asking him to judge an essay contest where winners would get into a secret New Year's Eve house show in Boys Town. Fans immediately started to hound Gutierrez with questions about the band and himself. "The first ten were cool, the second ten were annoying," he says. "By the 50th I wanted to stab someone."
Gutierrez started Askheychris a month later as a way to address everyone's questions at once, but it evolved into a personal forum. "I'm not a writer--I'm a storyteller. That's all this is," he says. He did have some previous experience: in 1994 Gutierrez started a zine called deadxstop that he passed out for free at hardcore shows, and in the introduction to his book he recalls telling one of his earliest stories, about his first kiss, to a "captivated audience" of "dudes and skanks" at a party. Much of his blog consists of transcripts of IM chats with friends and details about his job as a hair-stylist at Elizabeth Arden Red Door, long-distance running, and going to shows. Some posts are honest accounts of growing up in a broken home, others of failed romance and hard-won life lessons. For good measure, there's also one about having his pubic hair waxed at work, and another about how Gutierrez likes his blow jobs (enthusiastic, in short). It reads like a mix of Oprah's pragmatic feel-good sermons, James Frey's bloody-knuckles recovery-speak, and Henry Rollins's defiant machismo: "this is my testament to not letting you win. to not letting you get the best of me. because while i dont have much, what i do have i will fight tooth and fucking nail for."
On the Upswing was printed in an initial run of 1,000 copies in December, and features stories about everything from Gutierrez's first time masturbating to a fight he got into on a train on the way to the Shedd Aquarium. "I never really wanted to admit to myself that I wanted to do a book, like, 'who would want to read my crap?'" he says. It was only after regular readers of his blog kept insisting that he decided to give it a shot. "I just kept commenting to them, 'OK, if I'm going to do this, you really have to buy it,'" he says. The first edition, available through askheychris.com, is nearly sold-out, and he's currently trying to secure distribution through Borders. In addition to his first spoken-word CD, which he hopes to release through the Web site later this spring, Gutierrez is already at work writing a follow-up. He's also started making public appearances: last month he spoke to 30 fans of his blog at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado. "It's pretty amazing that any college would ask me to come speak," he says. "I'm just some kid with a beauty school education and a blog. Whether it's 5 or 500--having a captive audience, talking to them about myself for 90 minutes--I'd love to keep doing that." He's hoping to include some of the live reading, recorded by an Adams student on digital video, as a bonus track on his CD.
"It's surprised me that anyone would take interest in my life, outside of my being the guy from the song," Gutierrez says. "There are people that once they get to reading my journal and it's not all 'I hung out with Fall Out Boy today,' they move on. That's fine--I prefer it that way. But some people have stayed for the content--or for the entertainment value. Essentially that's what I am: entertainment. But hopefully, along the way, I've made some kids think, too."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joeff Davis.