Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Stay Together for the Kids" / Blink 182

I guess I knew Blink 182 had broken up. I mean, I knew one of the guys split to form Angels & Airwaves, while the other two had become +44. And then there was the news of drummer Travis Barker in that awful plane crash, with horrible burns covering his much-tattooed body. I figured that was it for Blink 182. Not exactly the end of civilization as we know it.

When the news of Blink 182’s re-forming hit the airwaves, I barely noticed. But you see, my daughter is 14 and can’t go to rock concerts by herself – and the opening acts for Blink’s reunion tour were Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy. So there I was, a week ago, jammed into the ComCast Center outside of Boston, six rows back from the mosh pit. Panic! was adorable as usual (though they’re in the midst of a schism themselves), and even Fall Out Boy was surprisingly engaging. I’d have been happy if we’d left the concert after FOB.

But who knew Blink 182 would be so fantastic? I was completely mesmerized. This is a band of only three guys – count ‘em, three – but thanks mostly to Barker’s truly insane drumming, their sound is so big, so brash, so hopped up, it felt like a whole punk orchestra. While he thrashes around on the drums, bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom DeLonge peel off a few riffs and trade off whiny, neurotic vocals – the perfect expression of teen angst. They rip into their songs – hits like “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things” and “Adam’s Song” – twice as fast and thirteen times louder than they are on the albums, with goofy non sequiturs for stage banter.

The thing is, despite that headbanging sound these guys really are good songwriters. Their lyrics absolutely nail what it feels like to be 14 and insecure, while the jerking rhythms and yowling refrains tap into the pent-up frustrations of adolescence. Being the kings of punk pop, of course, they can’t stray too far from toilet humor and inarticulate rage, but they do get “serious” every once in a while – like this song from 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Tom DeLonge – who seems to be their chief songwriter – wrote this one, about (no kidding) his parents’ divorce, seen from the point of view of (naturally) the kids.

It starts off with the apt metaphor of a house: “It's hard to wake up / When the shades have been pulled shut / This house is haunted / It's so pathetic.” This is a family in emotional lockdown; no wonder the kid’s depressed. I love how Hoppus sings the verse, breathless and earnest, over a tentative, almost folky guitar riff. But no one’s asking him how he feels, and his voice begins to sound strangled as he says, “I'm ripe with things to say / The words rot and fall away” – a deft bit of image development there, eh? “If a stupid poem could fix this home,” he adds bitterly, “I'd read it every day.”

Then DeLonge explodes into singing the chorus, sneering “So here's your holiday / Hope you enjoy it this time” – hitting those aspirate h’s with real venom. “You gave it all away,” he lashes out at his parents, adding “It was mine / So when you're dead and gone /Will you remember this night, twenty years now lost?”

Back to Hoppus, notching it down for verse two, like the kid’s repressing his emotions for fear of combusting the situation further. “Their anger hurts my ears,” he complains – you can almost see him bury his head in his arms to shut it out. “Been running strong for seven years / Rather than fix the problems, they never solve them.” Seven years is a long time in a kid’s life, plenty long enough to see the patterns of a relationship. “If this is what he wants and this is what she wants,” he wonders, the melodic phrases circling warily, “Then why is there so much pain?”

And the answer? DeLonge blasts into that chorus again, pouring out all his fury. This is how it feels, he remembers; this is how it feels. And it’s still raw.

Well, I for one am curious to see what these guys will do next – how they’ll solve the question of growing up and still remaining true to their punked-up roots. I suspect that they split to search for new musical directions, but Barker’s accident shocked them back to their foundations. (They looked deliriously happy to be playing together that night.) But there’s enormous talent there, and they’d better do something with it. The Clash never got a chance to; Kurt Cobain never gave Nirvana a second chapter; look at what Paul Weller’s been doing since the Jam. Blink 182 may be the guys to finally solve this equation. I’m rooting for them.

Stay Together For the Kids video


Hal Johnson said...

I'm rooting for them too.

wwolfe said...

Dave Marsh wrote in "The Heart of Rock and Soul" that the search for reconciliation is at the center of rock history every bit as much as rebellion is. All the band's you cite were in some way all about trying to find a way from rebellion to reconciliation. For one reason or another, none made it. Even the Who couldn't quite pull it off, despite giving it their best shot. Maybe Blink can do it. I'd advise making sure things feel light and off-hand - or at least, making it it appear as though they do - rather than investing an air of ponderous deep meaning to whatever music they make in the future. As a rule, serious work disguised as American popular genre entertainment requires that approach to have a chance at success.

Holly A Hughes said...

Which is why I put "serious" in quotes -- this song is still pretty much a headbanger. I just wonder how long these three married guys can go on pretending to fret over whether a girl is gonna reject them on their first date. The genius of "What's My Age Again?" is that it allows them to remain snide trivial prankster even though they admit they're in their 20s. We'll see how long they can keep that Peter Pan thing going!