Blink 182's underappreciated Role in 1990s Culture.
A decade of righting the wrongs of pop culture excess.
The 1990’s was a decade of unprecedented mainstream musical diversity. From the angst driven stripped down rock and roll of the Seattle bands to the sarcastic jubilation of SoCal pop punk, the nineties catered to the mood swings of its disenfranchised youth. Bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam hammered nails into the coffin of eighties excess and musical superficiality. Small pockets of punk and alternative rock surfaced from their eighties nests with a vengeance. Therefore, nineties mainstream radio was essentially an amalgam of the best kept secrets of the preceding decade. The mainstream finally reflected the social issues of its listeners. The underground burst through the surface. Pop culture flipped itself inside out and focused on reality rather than promoting distractions from it. The eighties was an incubator of sorts. It allowed the biggest push of sociological and culturally relevant music since the first wave of punk time to ripen. Because so many different scenes were slated to erupt consecutively, the nineties came and went on very different notes. Who could’ve predicted Nirvana’s rise? Who could’ve predicted Green Day’s? Better yet, who could’ve predicted Blink 182’s? What set the precedent for that meteoric rise? How does a band that doesn’t take itself seriously at all fit into the context of a decade that had earlier been personified by bands that connected with their audience through a shared sense of disenfranchisement and melancholic empathy? It isn’t just a grunge thing. It’s a matter of attitude, which punk rock has never been in short supply of. But Blink 182’s attitude was different. It was based on youthful resilience through humor and an appreciation for irony. Why, and how, did that work for the aging generation x and the young millennial generation? Perhaps it’s because humor is just as pivotal a part of the human experience as serious personal reflection. Maybe personal reflection can yield lighthearted results. Either way, Blink 182 taught us a valuable lesson in the late nineties. It’s okay to laugh at yourself. It’s okay to laugh in spite of your problems. They were at the center of a paradigm shift that reflected not musical taste, but people’s tendency to want to smile and dance with reckless abandon. They reflected our lighter side. They were our guilty pleasure. Music choices correlate to moods and moods change.
Punk music's lighter side enters the mainstream.
Blink 182 faced a different set of criticisms than their 1990’s mainstream punk trailblazer contemporaries Green Day, The Offspring, and to a lesser degree Rancid. Nobody ever questioned the punk credentials of these bands. People questioned their loyalty to the unwritten codes of the punk underground, but never sought to ascertain that their entire discography lacked the basics of punk music and sentiment. Blink 182 was at the vanguard of an undeniably catchy pop punk movement. It didn’t make political statements or corral moody brooding teens into independent coffee shops. Blink, from 1992 until roughly 2003 or so, was about skateboarding, getting dumped, and toilet humor. Punk rock, by its very definition, was never meant to prove itself to anybody. It didn’t need to justify itself. It wasn’t intended for the masses or music critics. It wasn’t appropriate for arena concerts or Rolling Stone Magazine. Green Day changed all of that. They put punk in the spotlight. They put in on a global auction block. They didn’t just make punk music accessible, they made it marketable. They primed it for a new generation, all Blink had to do was give it a glossy finish. Green Day’s major label debut put punk on the table. It was in uncharted waters. They couldn’t navigate mega stardom by themselves. Punk needed co-pilots. Green day needed a Jerry Lee Lewis to its Elvis Presley. A Rolling Stones to its Beatles.
In September of 1997 Blink 182 released the single “Dammit” off of their second full length album “Dude Ranch.” To put things in perspective, let’s have a look at what else was heavily circulated on American radio stations at the time. Jewel’s “Foolish Games”, The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”, The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman”, “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers, and “Karma Police” by Radiohead. There are definitely some great tracks there, along with others that I didn’t list. However, most of these tunes came to identify the nineties as a time of honest and stripped down self- exploration. Bands like Third Eye Blind and Radiohead were carving out their own niches; while other more seasoned acts like Pearl Jam were delivering follow ups to the follow ups of their groundbreaking debuts. Blink 182 delivered a punch of honesty of a different sort. “Dammit” unabashedly paints a familiar picture of lost love, and then admits “I guess this is growing up.” Musicians usually don’t take things with a grain of salt. They lament. They croon and they search for meaning. They hyperbolize. Blink laughed at themselves, and we laughed with them. And they were good. from the self deprecating "Pathetic" to the oddly insightful and honest "I'm Sorry", Blink 182's second album has earned its place at the top of the 90's punk revival.
That’s the catch. Blink 182 has proven themselves over the years to be more than one trick pony radio darlings. They were born and raised in the Diego skate punk scene, but have spent the better part of the last decade (surrounding their hiatus) carving out something of a brilliant alternative rock career. They deserved the initial attention that spurned their career in the limelight. There was something special about these perennial pranksters that went beyond their ability to produce catchy adolescent anthems for skate park goers. “Dude Ranch” put them on the cusp of stardom for reasons that transcended marketability, likeability, and album chart placement. It was no strings attached punk music. Like their chart topping contemporaries Green Day, Blink’s music was an open invitation to everybody. It wasn’t for members only. It had an appeal that resonated with young people in spite of their other interests. It didn’t matter which lunch table you sat at in the high school cafeteria, Blink was welcome on all Discmans. The punk hard liners rejected this sort of mass appeal as something that any true punker ought to shun. The word “sellout” was dug up from the vault and tossed around like a branding iron. “Pop punk” to these types was a four letter word that evolved to discredit numerous acts afterwards. Never mind the fact that Blink had cut their teeth listening to Screeching Weasel, and pop punk had previously been welcome on the same stages as its edgier punk counterparts. Nobody criticized Nirvana when they broke into the mainstream. They were applauded for laying hair metal and eighties arena rock to rest. The surge of faster more upbeat music that broke in the late nineties ought to have a similar legacy. Thank you bands like Green Day and Blink 182 for giving us a much needed dose of adrenalin and allowing the feel goods in our brains to dance freely and flow uninterrupted between receptors.