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Love my people. Love them madly. Well, sort of. From a distance. Teenagers, I mean—aggressively whiny ones, especially when they temper their ill will with a devout belief in the redemptive powers of pretty guitars. I feel a pang of recognition when Blink 182 open their new Take Off Your Pants and Jacket by proclaiming in “Anthem Part Two” that “teenage rules, they’re fucked and boring.” But 25 years removed from adolescence, my lingering kinship isn’t attributable to the lyrics. Truthfully, I don’t remember a lot of the rules I was expected to follow beyond the age of 15 or so. Once I got my driver’s license, there was the one about Not Smashing Up the Family Car, but I can see now that there were sound philosophical underpinnings and a clear line of logic at work there. Otherwise, it’s more or less come and go as you please, and, as long as you keep up your grades, be as disagreeable or uncommunicative as you want.
Not a problem, because even in Blink 182’s us-against-them and you’re-to-blame songs, they do their best work between the lines anyway. “Anthem Part Two” proceeds with a list of grievances interchangeable with standard-issue Korn or Rage Against the Machine: school, politicians, corporate leaders (always a major concern among teenagers). But the carping is intercut with elegiac little pauses that align Blink 182 with a branch of punk rock you could trace back through the Replacements and Ramones Leave Home, to the more ethereal of early Who songs. So is Take Off Your Pants “emo-core”? There’s probably too much emo and not enough core, but I still bet there’s at least somebody in this group who gets all choked up over misfit-for-life Wes Bentley’s soliloquy about the wafting plastic bag in American Beauty.
The first time I really took notice of Blink 182 was at an end-of-year party for the sixth grade class I was teaching last year. Elegiac is ideal for the last day of school, and as the sad story of a kid apologizing to his mom before checking out for good played in the background, I asked Adam Pugsley (“Pugs”), the CD’s owner, what was playing. ” ‘Adam’s Song’ by Blink 182.” Lou Barlow once said that the pinnacle of human experience is being 17 and in a hardcore band. Maybe—but being 13 and having the punk-rock version of “It Was a Very Good Year” named after you has to be close. I was a little jealous of Adam and a lot smitten with the song, and seeing the group romp through their mini-masterpiece “All the Small Things” on SNL a few weeks later made me a fan.
Take Off Your Pants‘ release was timed nicely with the end of the school year, too—Blink 182 is the perfect band for white adolescent boys graduating from Shaggy and Britney Spears to what I’ve come to think of as “older-brother music.” That’s not a value judgment, just a fact of life. I went through it in the mid ’70s with the move from K-Tel novelties to art rock and heavy metal, and I’ve seen it happen to my students with Nirvana, Metallica, Green Day, Limp Bizkit, and others. It can’t be the illicit thrill of Blink 182’s strict five-“fuck”s-per-song quota that’s the main attraction, not at this late date—surely that’s part of the scenery to kids raised on hip-hop. It’s something deeper and more psychological that draws you in at that age. The little girls don’t know, but the older brothers understand.
Oh yeah, girls—they’re Blink 182’s number-one favorite subject and “source of most frustration.” Take Off Your Pants tells of nervous phone calls, hand holding, first kisses, a prom, even some wishing upon a star. (With time out for ejaculation into a sock—I’ll get to those songs in a minute.) When the guitars are clipping along and lifting the melodies into a state of near purity—”Roller Coaster” and “Everytime I Look for You” are my favorites—it’s like you’re listening to the Mark Ratner Story from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This is a value judgment: I’d much rather hear puppy-love woe from these guys than the Backstreet Boys. Not that Blink 182’s is any more real; it’s just that ringing guitars are God’s intended Greek chorus for lonely teenage boys, and the Backstreet Boys don’t have any.
Punks and pranksters that they are, Blink 182 also want to be G.G. Allin and the Meatmen. There’s some gross stuff on Take Off Your Pants, but it’s all quite corny and more than a little redundant. The Angry Samoans were the one group who ever did that kind of thing consistently well, and even with 20 years of accumulated wisdom on their side, there are only so many fresh insights Blink 182 can bring to the subject of anal sex with dogs. Happily, the most egregious offender on this count is hidden away as a bonus track, safely out of view.
Take Off Your Pants really ends, as it should, with two songs about home—leaving it, as the Ramones (or Hüsker Dü on Zen Arcade) once did, and then just as quickly wanting to come back. I wish the order were reversed and they’d gone out on “Shut Up,” where halfway through the music drops away to a couple of strummed chords and there’s a plaintive, almost lullaby-like declaration that “I think it’s time that I should leave.” (A live-in relationship, that is, but that’s not what a 15-year-old heart’s going to hear.) It’s these few seconds that have been running through my mind for days. If you’re somebody who left long ago, it’s nice to be transported back to a time when the idea first started to take shape. For anyone right in the middle of it all, “Shut Up” must feel like a bittersweet graduation gift written just for you.