What’s My Age Again? On a two-decade relationship with blink-182

My tenth grade girlfriend burnt my blink-182 t-shirt.

This, of course, sounds patently ridiculous. Not only is the idea of a broken-hearted 16-year-old setting an ex’s clothing aflame beyond cliché, it’s also just hard to imagine anyone deciding on a goofy-rabbitted blink-182 shirt, of all merchandise, to set fire to, even in effigy. Of all the angsty bands I have and continue to listen to, blink – particularly pre-self-titled blink – seems an ill-advised avatar. After all, who takes blink-182, a band that became unthinkably popular while refusing to take themselves as such, that seriously?

As it turns out, I do.

You still owe me a shirt.

You still owe me a shirt.

On Sunday, I’ll see blink-182 live for the second time, having shelled out far too much for seats at Molson Amphitheatre to watch the band that I hold a deep connection to, even as they replace Tom Delonge with well-suited stand-in (and personal favorite) Matt Skiba. I’m not the only one paying more than I would have thought to ride the post-California wave of renewed blink enthusiasm, and the release of their seventh studio album has been cause for re-exploration of the relationship between blink and people roughly my age who listen to roughly my kind of music.

blink-182 hasn’t demanded or even requested to be taken seriously at any point in their career arc or discography (Sekret Machines aside), but their permanence over the last two decades makes them an inextricable part of who I am. They are, quite simply, my favorite band ever (admitting this is like the 127th most embarrassing thing I’m willing to put in publication – I am what I am, regardless of any What’s My Age Again jokes that could be lobbed my way). blink-182 is a weird choice as something to burn from an ex, sure, but that high-school girlfriend recognized it as a fitting symbol to take out her own adolescent heartbreak on.

That’s not the first time blink’s woven into my relationships, which probably explains my connection to them. Part of this is a result of timing and longevity – blink entered my consciousness shortly after music became something I cared about seriously, and they’ve stuck around through to adulthood (offering an “I guess this is growing up” at every turn). When a band becomes a favorite early on and produces four albums that you spin relentlessly in a seven-year span, you’re going to form some strong associations, both in friendships and dating (“dating” used loosely early on, since Enema of the State predated my ever having, you know, “pick(ed) you up on our very first date”).

Dude Ranch was released in mid-1997, but I didn’t find it until the fall of 1998. While Dammit was one of my favorite tracks – a regular on London 95.9 FM’s Wednesday top-seven alongside Flagpole Sitta, my weekly reward on the drive home after begrudgingly seeing a child therapist (I’m so punk rock, it hurts) – I didn’t come across the album until I changed schools in 1998. Searching for new friends, geography and similar social standing won out, and so Sean became a default friend. I’d ultimately get in trouble for having it (no, seriously), but I borrowed his copy of Dude Ranch to tape from my CD player (again, seriously). Our friendship would be short-lived as we tried to red-paperclip each other to higher social standing, which I guess is something pre-teen outcasts with little social mobility and even less in common outside of laughing at Dick Lips and a desire to find a Josie so we could eventually be terrible boyfriends do, but the impact of Sean lending me that album would sustain.

I was still dealing with figuring out a place in a new school – trying to lock down relationships lest high school be a repeat in this exercise the next year – when Enema of the State came out, and it became a soundtrack to a summer mostly spent inside playing WCW/nWo Revenge and Tony Hawk. That album became a means of bonding with some skateboarding friends and, for the first time, an expansion into other punk music. If Dude Ranch was a genre-finder, Enema was somewhat of a taste-maker, though it’s importance to me lays largely in the bonds I’d make over the albums in later years.

Warped Tour crew.

Warped Tour crew. I also can’t believe I was angsty, looking like this.

The primary association with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket rightfully lies with Andrew, one of my first new high school friends and a major influence on my high-school music tastes (second probably to only Warped Tour tag-team partner Geoff), as he was the one who burnt me a copy (complete with animation). (I’d quickly burn a copy for a girl who would eventually be my first “real” kiss, though in typical fashion for the genre, she was only game for that once a) someone else showed interest, and b) she was worried about losing the currency of a naive teenage boy with an unrequited crush. I’d digress, but said “other girl showing interest” later became the one who took kerosene to my lone piece of blink merch.) Anyway, the association I actually make is with Charlie, my oldest friend (though we’ve lost contact in recent years) – Charlie was my best friend from kindergarten on, and while his family traveled the world for his father’s job, whenever he was back home we’d pick up where we left off, with music as a key tie that bound. When Charlie returned from Egypt (by way of Indonesia and everywhere else – Charlie was and is quite cool) that summer, TOYPAJ was a natural bond re-strengthener.

For as many connections as I made through blink, their self-titled 2003 album was more isolating, and not just because I seemed to be the only person who actually liked it at the time. The tone of the album fit well with where I was at that point, and it coincided with a quick dip into darker, unquestionably shittier music (Slipknot, Disturbed, Trapt, and yes, I’m awful) as I resisted a changing group of friends’ insistence on hip-hop being the background noise. In their defense, this was late in high school, and sports bros and drunk-for-the-first-time girls have probably never wanted to hot tub to songs about longing when they could instead shake their tailfeathers. I had moved from some friends with whom I only had music in common to friends with whom I had no music in common, which, had you told me blink were about to go eight years between albums, I would have thought was the end of blink being all that important (with apologies to Angels & Airwaves and +44, side projects I really enjoyed that had little to no social significance).

My roommate in my first year of University (hi, obvious genius of calling a pop-punk song Going Away to College) was a good dude, but he had a long-term girlfriend across the country and he was always – I mean, like, fucking, always – on Skype with her. It meant our door wasn’t open, I had headphones in most of the time, and what was a pretty solid relationship subsisted mostly on levity. The Mark, Tom and Travis Show was a source of a lot of that levity, and blink was basically the only band we both really liked and played freely in the room (Skype sessions aside). I don’t remember the 48 hours around my seizure in first year (during which Reid threw a flip-flop at me, thinking I was messing around), but I’m almost certain blink-182 was playing when it happened or when I got home from the hospital.

Naturally, blink’s long absence from the recording studio meant their presence on my playlists waned a little, but they stormed back with a vengeance in 2009 when they announced a punk/emo mega-tour with Weezer and Taking Back Sunday, The Mid-Aughts Awkward Teen Dream Lineup. I got eight tickets. Charlie tagged along, as did two couples who wound up married (I was the best man in both weddings, though that footnote owes little to Travis Barker drumming while suspended upside down; shout out to Dave and Taryn and Geoff and Annie, some of the best people I know, who literally “Fell in love with the girl at the rock show”), and a friend’s sister. The eighth ticket went to a girl I initially bonded with over holding these exact tickets, who told me her screen-name was once something along the lines of “blinkgirl,” and who I ended up dating for over four years. (What I’m saying is: Jake and I will probably be engaged by Monday, if the previous blink concert is any indication.)

Like I said, Charlie is very cool (strictly by not wearing Exco).

Like I said, Charlie is very cool (strictly by not wearing Exco).

My next serious relationship also had a blink-related Phase One, involving long debates over the merits of each album (including +44 and Neighborhoods but excluding A&A, for some reason) while she was dating someone else (not proud, “Please don’t remind me”). As things progressed, afternoons were not-at-all wasted watching baseball with Hoppus and Delonge as a backdrop, their prickly-smooth back-and-forth a fine soundtrack to the specifics of that relationship, me sitting on the couch while Enema emanated from another room through the on-off of a hair-dryer.

Even if the next relationship doesn’t come courtesy a direct blink influence, I can’t imagine not connecting with someone about music. Since blink has had such an influence not just on what bands I listen to, but on the bands I listen to, they’ll always loom large. Music’s remained a big factor in forging new friendships, too, with Twitter emerging as a more efficient, useful, and social tool for the 2016 equivalent of tape-trading. This week could be the last time I ever dive back into the entire catalog, Cheshire Cat to California, but a band you’ve spent two decades with doesn’t just dissipate from your tastes and personality, and those dictate a lot about the relationships you happen into.

Everyone tries to identify with and internalize music in their own way. You can shoehorn the lyrics to your situation, you can use MSN statuses as a form of borrowed-word journaling, or music can just be there when there’s nothing else. “This artist or band might’ve been the closest thing you had to a confidant…because his/her/its music articulated your own thoughts and feelings better than you ever could,” Steven Hyden writes in Your Favorite Band is Killing Me, turning my favorite Motion City Soundtrack lyric (“It’s the only way I have learned to express myself, through other peoples’ descriptions of life…I’m afraid I’m alone and entirely useless”) on its more useful head.

Music, to you, is whatever you want it to be, and there needn’t be any level of objectivity – Goldfinger can’t “beat” No Use For A Name, and Saves the Day can’t blow a 3-1 series lead in the finals to The Starting Line (though, obviously, they wouldn’t). I skip over the dick-and-fart songs on blink’s earlier albums – while humming “I wanna see some naked dudes” as I write this – but more often that not, blink has represented where I was and how I felt as a not-entirely-unpopular, middle-class, non-outcast struggling with anxiety and, in high school and university, some well-deserved “tough luck” on the dating front. Now I’m a 30-year-old emo man, and Hoppus is right there with me as Angsty Dad, dancing between charming arrested development and the competition between over-emotionality and ennui, and coming out feeling like yeah, things are sometimes hard, but that’s entirely manageable and kind of the point. Hey, they’ve always followed a pretty obvious formula.

Clearly, I’m not the only one on whom blink has had a formative influence, for better or worse. My younger brother still sings about fucking a dog in the ass, for example. But blink was instrumental in today’s punk-or-emo-or-post-whatever-I’m-supposed-to-call-my-playlist of today, too. Not only did they make it sonically acceptable for punk-adjace bands to put forth a clean sound, their timing and accessibility rendered them an influence on any number of today’s best (or at least successful; or up-and-coming) bands – All Time Low and A Day to Remember, who will open for them Sunday, are clearly fans; Taking Back Sunday, Brand New (I received special permission to use them non-combatively in the same sentence), Motion City Soundtrack, and Fall Out Boy (some of the best of the first-wave blink ripple) all received important shine from the band; Joyce Manor are somewhat unexpectedly fans, Man Overboard literally took their name from a blink track, Modern Baseball are influenced by “the bands that got into blink-182” (this second-wave influence is probably blink’s greatest impact), and 5 Seconds of Summer covered I Miss You on YouTube way back in 2011; they didn’t need it, but Hop Along got a nice buzz from Mark Hoppus calling Tibetan Pop Starsthe most painfully beautiful song ever,” and Jimmy Eat World played Delonge’s freaking wedding (shout out to Episode IV).

It goes on, and the unending existence – and importance – of blink-182 is something much more qualified music scribes have tackled. That they’re not an objectively great band, musically, is kind of beside the point. blink, the group who ran around naked in a boy-band knock-off video, sang about prank phone calls, lost a member who thinks he’s abducted by aliens (“a work of …fiction?”), are important.

I actually bought this. It's, like, 700 pages.

I actually bought this. It’s, like, 700 pages.

It doesn’t really matter that California is only a good, not great, record. It pretty clearly tries to play on nostalgia while presenting a challenge and growing maturity on only a few tracks. Not coincidentally, those are the album’s best tracks – growing up along with Hoppus’ (and Delonge’s) song-writing has been part of the fun, teen angst growing seamlessly into adult angst. But even the songs that are just kind of there provide a sense of familiarity and comfort that suggest blink, too, will always be just kind of there, and that’s a great feeling to have after a decades-long friendship.

Listening to California and delving back into blink’s entire catalog over the last few weeks has felt kind of like going home to visit for a weekend. My parents don’t live in the same houses, my friends aren’t exactly the same, the storefronts have changed, but I have a pretty damn good idea what 48 hours in Cambridge will look and feel like.

I know exactly what to expect Sunday. That’s the entire point.

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