Monday, July 19, 2010

RE: blink-182 and talent

I’ve always been a fan of blink-182. Growing up, there was just something in their catchy, garage-punk/pop-punk sound and lyrics that didn’t take themselves too seriously that hooked me. Actually, now that I think of it, it was the catchy, garage-punk/pop-punk sound and lyrics that didn’t take themselves too seriously. But the thing is, it took me a very long time to realize what the band members themselves probably realized from the get-go—they have almost no talent (Travis Barker aside, but he was a later addition anyway).

At first, it was difficult for me to reconcile with this lack of talent, and I questioned whether my fondness of the band had been ill-founded. But as I considered the discrepancy between blink’s popularity and its talent, my appreciation for them only deepened. Because the truth was, blink-182’s live performances were awful—musically, that is. In terms of entertainment, they were pure gold: post-song exchanges between witty, easy-going bassist Mark and awkward, high-strung (if you’ll forgive the pun) guitarist Tom were infinitely more revealing of each person’s character than any of their song lyrics could ever be, while drummer Travis Barker never spoke, answering any question addressed to him with an appropriately expressive drumfill. Despite their popularity, the boys of blink were really just three down-to-earth guys who didn’t let their celebrity status get to them, even at the peak of their popularity, and you didn’t need an exclusive backstage pass to see it. They rarely took themselves seriously, and never proclaimed their own talent—to this day, Mark admits that he can’t even really play bass (all of this in stark contrast to someone like, e.g., Billy Corgan, who, let’s face it, is an asshole).

All of this having been said (the more critical reader will realize that up until this point I have merely been attempting to defend my love of band that is unpopular amongst the more serious circles of music discussion), I can think of one instance in which blink produced a meaningful piece of music, and I don’t think it was quite on purpose. The song is “Adam’s Song” off of their 1998 album Enema of the State.

To my knowledge, it is the first blink song to use an alternate tuning (a whole step down), and the unusual key sets it apart from not only the other tracks on the album but from every album they had done up until that point. That the lyrics are reflective is not particularly surprising; blink frequently uses their lyrics to poke fun at themselves (from “Depends”: “I’m sick of offending everyone I meet/I’m sick of crying myself to sleep on rubber sheets”). However, the level of self-reflection in “Adam’s Song” is unusually mature, and the treatment of common themes like aging and wasted youth ("I never conquered, rarely came") is pulled off in a way that keeps the song from becoming cliché. This, coupled with the song’s alleged existence both as a result of and an inspiration for acts of suicide, makes it a sobering listen.

Unfortunately, I don’t think blink was ever truly able to recapture the feeling of “Adam’s Song” in later works. “Stay Together for the Kids” is often cited as being similar in style and theme, but if “Adam’s Song” is blink’s brainchild, then “STFTK” is its melodramatic younger sister: too much angst, no subtlety. The band would also try to recapture the more mature sound they achieved with “Adam’s Song” on their Untitled EP several years later, but the music would wind up sounding just a little too contrived, too aware of itself and its intentions.

I guess the moral of this story is that good music doesn't always have to take itself seriously. As Billy Corgan says, not everybody can be Billy Corgan. Sometimes things can just fall into place.



  1. While I personally find Blink 182 to be boring and immature, I think you have a point. To me, Blink 182 exemplifies what went wrong with punk rock - everyone decided to copy Green Day, lose the rebellious attitude, and recycle the same four power chords with hopes that something fresh would magically appear (it didn't). On the other hand, music is in the eye of the beholder. If "All the Small Things" is your cup of tea, far be it from anyone to tell you that you can't rock out to a recount of Tom Delonge's childish exploits.

    On the other hand, I do have a few qualms with your criticism of Billy Corgan. Mark Hoppus might score points for cheekily admitting that he's not a good musician or songwriter, but Corgan is both. In their prime, the Pumpkins made the most creative, interesting music of the 90s art-rock phase. Corgan's songs were captivating and personal, and his musicianship, along with that of Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, facilitated a repertoire that ran the gamut from the heaviest grunge to the lightest ballads. Though they did miss the mark on a few later records, 'Siamese Dream' and 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness' are legitimate milestones of modern rock.

    Does all of that justify Corgan's supposed arrogance? In a word, yes. He's accomplished enough that if he wants to insinuate that he's musically and mentally superior to the members of Blink 182, the least we can do is just ignore his cocky comments.

  2. Oh, don't get me wrong--I know Billy Corgan is an amazing and talented musician, and I absolutely love the Smashing Pumpkins. I think that musically, in their prime, and single minute sample of SP work far exceeds what blink was able to accomplish with any album. I also agree that music is in the eye (ear?) of the beholder.

    However, I just can't find it within myself to excuse any kind of arrogance, especially from someone at Billy Corgan's level, where comments like the ones he throws around become moot--when you're so universally appreciated, you should be able to take a step back and let the music speak for itself. So I guess when it comes to appreciating his music, I'd say that, at least for me, ignoring his cocky comments is not only the least I can do, it's what I HAVE to do.

  3. Very well put, I agree with that.