There are certain things you never do in Hollywood. Never ask Larry David to smile. Never take a gig as J. Lo's wedding planner. And whatever else you do, never ever get on a small plane with a rock star.
So here I am at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., trying to push the song ''American Pie'' out of my head as Dexter Holland buckles me into the copilot seat of his Cessna Citation, which has an anarchy symbol tattooed on its tail. Although the spiky-haired frontman for veteran punk rockers the Offspring is jammed up these days -- promoting their new disc, ''Splinter'' (which contains the No. 2 modern-rock track ''Hit That''), and overseeing his label, Nitro -- he loves to sneak in a joyride at 30,000 feet. Today, he's offered to share his passion for navigating a hunk of metal through the SoCal skies, which means I'm entrusting my life to a guy who shouts into a mic for a living -- and not even getting frequent flier miles for it.
For the record, Holland, 37, earned his pilot's license in 1996, is instructor-rated, and even volunteers air time by transporting people in need to medical facilities. Plus, he was a Ph.D. candidate in molecular biology. Then again, he's wearing a padlock chain necklace and a black T-shirt that says ''SATANIC.'' As we taxi toward the runway, I ask Holland for any last-minute advice (''Don't touch any red buttons''). He does a rigorous safety check, flipping levers and twisting knobs before we're cleared for takeoff. Full of nervous energy, I yell to him via headset, ''Are you ready to rock?'' Then I add: ''Sorry -- was that awkward?'' Holland shrugs. ''In this plane, you can say whatever you want,'' he responds. ''That's the beauty of it.''
It's usually smooth sailing on this eight-passenger jet (boasting leopard-spotted seats and a galley teeming with Doritos and M&Ms), but one time a bird did fly into the engine. ''Noodles, our guitarist, was like, 'Dude, there's blood and feathers on the wing!''' notes Holland. ''Never felt a thing.''
I say a prayer for the little fella (and myself), and we're soon soaring over layered foothills and congested freeways at 400 mph. (''If you look to your left,'' he cracks over the loudspeaker, ''we'll be cruising over the Inland Empire, the meth capital of America.'') Turns out, Holland often flies his bandmates to gigs, which are about to multiply: After a brief European tour, the Offspring will launch a U.S. assault this spring to support their first record since 2000's ''Conspiracy of One.''
In mapping out a course for ''Splinter,'' Holland decided to return to the band's 1994 ''Smash'' success for inspiration. ''There was a charm to it,'' he says. ''It was simple and straightforward, and I thought, How can I re-create that energy without copying that?'' A more pressing question: Where the hell are we gonna land? Holland is having trouble getting approval to touch down at an airport near Palm Springs. ''Apparently, the military is flying unmanned air vehicles within a five-mile radius,'' he says. ''Never heard that one before.'' He resets our coordinates and guides the plane toward a nearby tumbleweed-infested airstrip.