According to revelations, the end is nigh when a punk band rides in a limousine. But as Blink-182 glide down the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles in a black stretch limo, on their way to an appearance on MTV's Loveline, they have larger concerns than the strange locales to which their double-platinum album, Enema of the State, has taken them. "You know what's really embarrassing?" asks Mark Hoppus, the group's bassist. We convey our ignorance. "When you go to the emergency room and you have to convince the doctor that you slipped and fell on the G.I. Joe – and explain why it was lubricated."
The other members, guitarist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker, nod sagely. If you speak with them individually, the three members of Blink-182 resemble Eagle Scouts more than rock stars: They're polite, industrious young men, full of entrepreneurial Web plans and testimonials to how much they love their girlfriends. But put them together and a strange transformation happens, like Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk. They run around with their clothes off. They write and perform irresistible pop-punk anthems like "What's My Age Again?" and "All the Small Things." They make lots of fart jokes. And if nobody else is around, they just perform for each other. They're the class clowns of the Top Forty, lobbing spitballs at the whole world.
Hoppus fishes around for his cell phone to call his girlfriend and realizes that he's missing his wallet. Or, more precisely, his wallets – he carries two, one of which contains more than $1,000 in cash, and he's left them both at his record company's office. I ask Hoppus why he carries so much cash. Although he's genuinely distressed, he still needs to play to the crowd, even if it's just his band mates. "Dude," he says with a sly smile, "you ever try to buy $500 of heroin with a third-party out-of-state check?"
On the Loveline soundstage, there's a graffiti-covered wall that serves as the designated autograph area for visiting celebrities. Hoppus adds his name and the message, "Does this look infected?" Before the show starts, the band's record-company escort chides DeLonge, "Try not to say 'cocksucker' every five words, Tom." DeLonge nods in agreement. On the air, Barker and DeLonge periodically clap like seals, and Hoppus offers this insight: "I think sex is a race to orgasm – and I'm undefeated." During commercial breaks, the MTV stagehands joke about how the girls in the studio audience are staring at the band with unblinking concentration.
This is all mild compared with some of Blink-182's other MTV appearances – like the time they had an indoor BMX race in the Total Request Live studio. In the middle of the race, Hoppus decided he could compete better if he was unhindered by clothing. He stopped his bike, stripped and then resumed the contest, which he won. TRL host Carson Daly was supposed to interview the victor but declined, saying, "I've never interviewed a naked man in my life, and I'm not going to start now."
"Those guys are awesome," says Daly. "They're really unaffected. I'm from Santa Monica, so I used to hear stories about them playing parties in San Diego and how they sucked. Their whole story was that they got in it just to have fun, and then they accidentally got really good.
Hoppus, born March 15th, 1972, grew up in Ridgecrest, a California desert town so small that when it installed its second traffic light, Hoppus jokes, there was an official unveiling ceremony and town barbecue. His parents divorced when he was fourteen, and he moved to Washington, D.C., with his father, Tex. Mark loved music, especially the Cure and the Descendents. "He helped me paint a house when he was a sophomore in high school," says Tex. "So I bought him a bass guitar and an amp. He started a garage band, and all the neighborhood kids would line up outside, sit on this brick wall and listen."
After high school, Hoppus returned to California, where he went to community college for a couple of years. "I was very directionless and stupid," he says. In 1991, deciding he wanted to be a high school English teacher, he transferred to Cal State San Marcos, just outside San Diego. Hoppus met DeLonge the second day he was in town and immediately knew he had found a kindred spirit. "We make the exact same jokes," Hoppus says. "Honestly, it was kind of creepy."
DeLonge, born December 13th, 1975, grew up near San Diego and started skateboarding in the third grade; as he got older, it was all he thought about. In school he would work just hard enough to get a C, to conserve his energy for skateboarding. In the seventh grade he visited a friend in Oregon who expanded his musical horizons by playing him Stiff Little Fingers, Dinosaur Jr and the Descendents. Previously, DeLonge had thought punk was just fast noise, but now he fell in love with it. Then he went to church camp, where a kid had a guitar in his bunk. DeLonge picked it up – and couldn't put it down.
Hoppus and DeLonge began writing songs and playing together as Blink, and were joined a month later by a friend of DeLonge's, drummer Scott Raynor. Their initial goal was simply to play in public. So DeLonge would call up local high schools and tell them, "We're a band, and we tour high schools with a positive message for kids. And we're really anti-drug." Four high schools even believed him, which meant that Blink were soon playing songs like "Ben Wah Balls" and "Does My Breath Smell?" for San Diego teens during their lunch hour.
When the three found out that there was another band named Blink, they knew they had to modify their name. They considered Blink Jr. and Blink U.K. but ended up picking a number at random. "We just pulled it out of our ass," says Hoppus. "A lot of people think it's from Turk 18!, but why would we take the number from a terrible movie?" The band recorded a demo tape and played tiny San Diego clubs, attracting the interest of Cargo Records, which put out the 1995 album Cheshire Cat, recorded in three days.
Hoppus was getting reasonable grades in college but didn't realize that in order to get a diploma, he would need to fulfill some requirements in a specific major. After three years of taking any elective that sounded interesting, he found out he was still a sophomore. Reasoning that he needed time to go on tour, he dropped out. He had, however, secured gainful employment at a Wherehouse record store. At his job interview, he was told that he would have to work a lot of weekends. But Hoppus wanted to screw around and go skateboarding on weekends – so he said he needed that time to do volunteer work with disabled children. He got the job and the free weekends.
DeLonge, meanwhile, was driving a diesel truck and lugging around concrete and pipes to construction sites. He remembers, "I hated, hated, hated my job. You know those people who hate their job? That was me." When Green Day went mega, Blink-182 found themselves courted by a bevy of A&R reps searching for other marketable punkers. The minute Blink-182 signed with MCA, DeLonge quit his job. 1997's Dude Ranch was a big step forward: The songs were catchier, funnier, more poignant. On the strength of "Dammit," a rueful, up-tempo breakup song with the chorus "I guess this is growing up," Dude Ranch went platinum.
Raynor left the band; Hoppus doesn't want to talk about it, citing legal concerns. Then he relents:
"Yeah, Scott was kicked out of the band." For musical reasons? "Well, it was what was going on outside of that, but it was affecting his performances." They drafted Aquabats drummer Travis Barker. He's the band's most skilled musician, with training in everything from jazz to madrigals. The day before he started high school, his mother died; on her deathbed, she told him, "I just want you to play the drums and be happy." Barker plans to go to music school and laments that the band doesn't really practice. Born November 14th, 1975, Barker is the trio's quietest member. On the Blink-182 tour bus, he doesn't hang out and crack jokes – he just puts on his headphones and listens to CDs.
On last year's album Enema of the State, Blink-182 put it all together for thirty-five action-packed minutes. They've learned to harmonize effectively, and they've honed their hummable songs about adolescent frustrations to a lethally sharp point. Although their song titles include "Aliens Exist" and "Dysentery Gary," Blink-182 object to being characterized as a joke band. "I think we're a pretty serious band with most of our lyrics," Hoppus points out, and in fact he is correct: Two favorite Blink lyrical themes are breakups and loneliness. In particular he cites "Adam's Song," which is essentially a suicide note set to music.
Although Blink-182 don't proselytize, they make a point of thanking God on their albums. "I'm a believer in Jesus Christ," says DeLonge with complete sincerity. "I pray before we go onstage, and I pray at night," adds Hoppus. He doesn't subscribe to any single faith, but he absolutely believes in a higher power – one that he hopes is nonjudgmental about his behavior.
Blink-182 worried about forever being known as "the naked band" after they ran around starkers for the "What's My Age Again?" Video (and doffed their clothes during BMX races and concerts). But their "All the Small Things" video – with perfect parodies of clips by 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Ricky Martin – proves they are even funnier with their clothes on. It gets played every day on Total Request Live alongside the videos it satirizes; it doesn't hurt that Hoppus and DeLonge are hunky enough to fulfill some of the show's heartthrob quotient. Some may see this as crassly commercial positioning, but Blink-182 are proud to introduce a new generation to punk's marriage of loud guitars and singalong melodies. "The biggest compliment of all is a kid saying we opened up his eyes to a new style of music," says Hoppus. "We're kind of like Fisher-Price: My First Punk Band."
Hoppus on Delonge: "Tom is totally, 100 percent faithful to his girlfriend. He's pretty straightforward: He hangs out with his girlfriend, and he believes in aliens. Honestly, he believes anything he reads. You could say, 'I read in a magazine that an alien landed in Australia. A doctor found him and did an autopsy – there's footage on the Internet.' And Tom wouldn't even question it. He would take it as gospel and go around telling everybody."
DeLonge on Hoppus: "I think most people look at Mark and say, 'He's a good-looking guy in a fairly successful band. He's on top of the world.' But he's not. He's an insecure guy – he's real sensitive, you know? He always wanted a girlfriend that he could fall in love with, and he finally found one. He's a rad guy. He confides in you a lot and cherishes other people's opinions. He's my best friend in the world."
Afew weeks after their Loveline appearance, Blink-182 play a concert at New York's Roseland Ballroom. DeLonge warns me, "The way I describe our show is, 'What would a fourteen-year-old do if he got a microphone?'" The band marches onstage to Samuel L. Jackson's recitation of Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction and plays a rousing version of "Dumpweed," a song about an ambivalent guy imagining the pain and the freedom of breaking up with his girlfriend, set to an unstoppable staccato rhythm. After that, Blink-182 glory in their suspended adolescence. They caution the crowd that circumcisions are best left to professionals. They ogle appreciatively when one female fan flashes her breasts. They spew curses, even playing a short song in which every lyric is a profanity. They ask the audience to hold questions until the end of the show. And almost as an afterthought, they play seventeen more songs. Barker doesn't contribute any tomfoolery, but his drumming is exceptional, the motor that drives the band. DeLonge sings more songs than Hoppus, who specializes in a spastic dance in which his legs go flailing out behind him as he plays bass and the clown simultaneously. Two thousand sweaty teenage fans mosh in a state of punk bliss. On nights like this, Blink-182 play so masterfully at being dumb rock guys, even they may not realize how smart they really are.
After the show, DeLonge is glowing with the satisfaction of a job well done. "I really feel that we're blessed," he says. "I'm so lucky God let us be here. But I don't think he's happy about the words we say onstage."
This story is from the January 20th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.