I admit it. I'm fixated on both Dashboard Confessional and Avril "Sk8er Boi" Lavigne.

Both these interests are fueled by a "what the hell?" wonderment that often makes me burst into fits of laughter whenever they come into my sight via magazines, TV, etc. I read everything written about them, I listen to their CDs, and I still just don't understand them--their music, their popularity... I mean, what the hell?

But along with this inability to understand comes a burning desire to comprehend, so I often submerge myself in anything that could piece together the puzzle. Since I already experienced a live Dashboard show at Graceland about a year ago, when I got word he was coming back through town, I decided I wanted something more personal.

I requested an interview but was denied (Mr. Emo McMoodypants didn't want to strain his voice, apparently). Then I heard about a contest to win access to Mr. Confessional's sound check. The only way in was by winning a pass via End-Mail, 107.7 The End's mailing list (www.1077theend.com), but unfortunately I wasn't one of the lucky few. So as a last resort, I pulled some strings. On October 28 I stood in a cold Northgate Theatre with the handful of contest winners watching Chris Carrabba on stage as he strummed his guitar and complained (endlessly) about the sound.

The small crowd was mesmerized. I was yawning.

After the sound check there was a brief "meet and greet" session where the winners could have their merchandise signed. Chris seemed nice enough, smiling for cameras and such, but I still didn't see what all the hubbub was about. His voice was mediocre at best, and at times he was kind of a jackass, hardly worth swooning over. But I was there to learn, so I asked some experts.

"I've been to every Dashboard Confessional concert here since last November," said Timmy, a cute, curly-haired 20-year-old. "I heard his songs and it was the best thing I had heard in a long time. It's so real. He doesn't care to try, he just belts it out from his heart."

Timmy skipped work and came to the sound check with friends Scott, Mindy, and Nathan--all Dashboard fanatics. Mindy excitedly admits to having a "slight obsession with Dashboard Confessional," and Scott happily shows off his rare first pressing of one of Dashboard's earlier releases. It is clear that these kids are big fans. They get it. But like me, Timmy doesn't understand why Dashboard's suddenly been tagged as an "emo" poster boy.

"He's just playing his music," said Timmy. "I don't know what the deal is, he's just being himself, just like everybody else."

Yup, it just doesn't make sense to me. I guess I'll keep trying, though, picking the brains of the fans who love him, and maybe eventually speaking with Mr. D.C. himself. Until I figure it out, though, I promise not to mention my embarrassing obsessions anymore. Unless Avril comes to town. I'm so there. MEGAN SELING