"We're really not humping dogs, you know," Blink-182 singer/guitarist/ millionaire wiseacre Tom Delonge clarifies during a recent phone interview. Few rock stars have felt the need to explain themselves in such a way. But when you're in a band that's known for running bare-ass through videos, writing songs about having sex with Hitler, and displaying a giant sign with the word "fuck" emblazoned on it in flames at live shows, explaining oneself becomes as much a part of the routine as coming up with new words to rhyme with "vagina."
"We see these parents walk their kids out of the show, and all I think about is how one day I'm going to have to explain to my own kid about this big flaming 'fuck' sign and say, 'Hey, until you make money off it, you can't do it,'" Delonge laughs. "As far as bad words and joke songs, it's the same thing as a funny movie that has a disgusting joke in it: You go there, it's entertainment, you laugh, and it's funny. It's not reality."
And it's really not Blink-182. For beneath the band's silly album titles and onstage buffoonery lies an earnestness that few platinum-plus artists possess. Blink's latest, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, is a startlingly candid look into the lives of adolescent boys that stings like the towel snaps handed out by the locker-room bully. Songs revolve around insecurity and awkwardness much more so than bodily functions, even if there is a number about Grandpa crapping his pants. "Do you like my stupid hair?/Would you guess that I didn't know what to wear/I'm just scared of what you think/You make me nervous so I really can't eat," Delonge sings on "First Date," one of Jacket's many odes to teenage self-consciousness. In this context, the band's impudence can be understood for what it really is: a lighthearted way of dealing with tough situations; a functional flippancy.
"Even when we're sitting at a shoot for a really serious video, we're trying to find a reason to have a monkey in there with a finger in its butt," Delonge says. "I just pulled out a video from 10 years ago of Mark [Hoppus] and I singing on acoustic guitars, in our underwear, about having sex with our own families. This is shit that's been going on for a long time, dude. I mean, we're fucked-up individuals. So when you have personalities like that, you can write a serious song and have depth to your soul, but it all boils down to the last few minutes, when you're in front of people and you're acting like a dork. I don't know how to fix that."
And there's no need to. Blink's candor and pointed cheekiness are its greatest assets. Sure, the band's simple, heart-on-its-sleeves lyrics will net plenty of snickers for their lack of sophistication, which is undeniable. But compare them to the latest albums by Blink's prime competition for the teen testosterone dollar -- neo-metal scab-pickers like Staind and Godsmack. One gets the impression from the ill-defined rage of these bands and their random lashing out at indistinct authority figures that they themselves don't even know why they're angry. So how are the kids supposed to figure it out? If nothing else, Blink provides a tangible, direct, and coherent touchstone to the feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and geekiness that everyone wrangles with. And the value of this isn't lost on some critics: This year has seen Blink land four-star reviews in Rolling Stone and garner praise by the dean of rock scribes, Robert Christgau.
"We never used to care about what critics say, but now that they say good things, we really care. Now we say they're valid," Delonge snickers. "I think it's cool that critics are looking a little bit deeper into what we're all about, because I think 90 percent of what we do is serious. But when we make a funny video, people tend to think that we're a joke band. And so maybe for once, they're noticing that we actually sing songs about serious issues: suicide, divorce, heartbreak, and just growing up. Every point of social society and being a teenager, we write about."
But now that Blink-182 is out on tour in support of its fourth album, and its members have gone from sexually frustrated adolescents to married men approaching their 30s, why still write almost exclusively from a teen perspective?
"Those types of issues are the most relatable, and we like to write songs about things we've experienced, because it's just more genuine and more sincere," Delonge explains. "A lot of bands just write songs about whatever rhymes. I like the idea of a kid putting on something like 'Stay Together for the Kids,' because chances are, they probably went through a divorce, too, or a song like 'Dammit,' which is just about breaking up with a girl and being heartbroken and feeling the pressures of growing up. That, to me, is more about human life, and it's something that kids can go, 'Fuck yeah, I relate to that' better than all these bands that are just really pissed off. I think kids kind of get a sense of 'Wow, I could do that, too' or 'These guys are just like I am,' you know, and that's what we always wanted. That's the kind of bands that we like, and that's kind of what the scene is all about."
Of course, it's also about irreverence and getting people's goats, which Blink continues to do in unparalleled fashion.
"We still write songs about fucking pigs and dogs," Delonge says reassuringly. "But that's just something we do on the side."
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