Every night, after LFO’s Brad Fischetti walks off stage on the “Pop2000 Tour,” he weeps. The ecstatic cheers of fans are drowned out by the haunting absence of his late bandmates, Rich Cronin and Devin Lima, and as he watches O-Town share hugs and handshakes, he misses similar rituals with his own band.
“I leave that stage and lose it — it’s like reliving losing them all over again,” Fischetti, 46, tells Variety. “It’s an unfortunate honor to nurture the LFO legacy and there are times I think, ‘There’s too much pain. This LFO story’s a tragedy. Put it away, bro – there’s too much heartache.’ But I believe in making something good from something bad, and fans want this. They thank me for keeping Rich and Devin’s memories alive, so it’s my mission to honor them and LFO’s legacy and bring people back to a simpler time.”
That drive to honor Cronin, who died of leukemia in 2010, and Lima, who passed away of cancer in 2018, is why Fischetti will continue celebrating the group and their 1999 smash, “Summer Girls,” despite the current controversy around Abercrombie & Fitch — the brand at the center of the track’s iconic lyric, “I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch.”
The Netflix documentary “White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch” explores past discriminatory practices, which favored slim, white employees for the brand’s “All-American” image. A&F has since stated such practices wouldn’t be tolerated today; however, Fischetti’s been questioned about whether it’s appropriate to continue singing the lyric.
“The song’s not about Abercrombie & Fitch, it’s about 1999 summertime, good memories and two talented men who were gone too soon. We had no relationship with Abercrombie and, as three kids, we had no idea about ‘hiring practices’ in 1999. I would hope over the last 23 years, Abercrombie’s workplace environment has improved.
“It meant the same as when the Beach Boys sang, ‘I wish they all could be California girls,’” Fischetti adds about what the lyric represented. “The entire song was inspired by a girl Rich met in the summer and he mentioned lots about her besides the brand she wore.”
Yet that brand become synonymous with the song, which broke out “by accident” thanks to a Washington, D.C. program director stumbling upon the track and playing it. A Z100 host heard and then played the song on the influential station. “Then it was like wildfire,” Fischetti says.
“Summer Girls” topped the charts, but A&F wanted nothing to do with LFO.
“Lou Pearlman and Rich flew to Abercrombie headquarters and an executive said, ‘Your audience isn’t our audience,’” he says. “We explained we have 5,000 girls aged 18-plus at our shows every night wearing Abercrombie, but I don’t think they understood their audience.”
“Our audience was 100% diverse. We had fans from every ethnicity, and guys,” continues Fischetti, who’s unsure whether that diversity drove A&F’s reluctance to collaborate and says he wouldn’t consider working with A&F today.
Fischetti believes Lima would be “shaking his head” knowing one lyric has come under controversy. “There’s a plethora of songs with more controversial lyrics,” he says, adding that a cab driver once misheard the line as “I like girls with African fish”.
“Corporate America’s more accountable to people than 20 years ago, before people dug deeper into where their clothes are being made or food’s being sourced,” he adds. “But this song’s about keeping my friends’ memory alive, not honoring Abercrombie & Fitch.”
The track became pivotal for the band, who followed up with “Girl on TV,” released their debut album “LFO” and toured with Britney Spears. Fischetti says “Summer Girls” earned their label’s trust to continue writing their own music rather than recording “prototypical boy band songs.”
Resurrecting LFO following Cronin’s passing never occurred to Fischetti until 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons mentioned they were covering “Summer Girls” during their 2016 “My2K Tour.”
When Fischetti jokingly suggested a cameo, Timmons responded, “Pick a city.” Fischetti and Lima soon appeared at a Coney Island show, sending the crowd wild and prompting a booking agent to get the two touring together in 2017. While planning further dates, Lima was diagnosed with adrenal cancer.
“A year later, he was gone,” Fischetti says, pausing. “I went into a black hole… Through counseling, medical professionals, spiritual work, exercise and thinking about what Devin would want, I crawled out of that hole.”
Fischetti was soon invited to join the “Pop2000 Tour,” a nostalgia-fueled concert headlined by O-Town. Having “put LFO to bed,” he was hesitant, but the lineup felt natural given LFO’s tight bonds with O-Town (Jacob Underwood, Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick and Dan Miller) throughout the years.
“They feel the pain I feel,” says Fischetti. “O-Town are the closest I’ll ever be to having bandmates again. I’ve watched them with their routines, handshakes and hugs and sometimes it makes me cry because I miss that, but I also have that with them.”
Fischetti hangs shell-toe Adidas sneakers on the mic stand in honor of Cronin and Lima during the tour, which has new dates being announced in the coming days. He’s found healing in hearing LFO fans share what the group means to them, their memories of Cronin and Lima or how cancer has touched their lives.
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“Sometimes, I think, ‘How did this happen? Did these two, beautiful, young souls really die?’” Fischetti says. “There’s times I just want to call them. Devin and I talked about being old men drinking beer on the porch together. Certain losses, you never get over. You learn to live through it.”