The Three Stooges of rock & roll, and damn proud of it
Early in the morning in a parking lot just outside San Antonio, three skinny young men stumble from a bus and shield their eyes from the sun. Today the heat will top out in the mid-90s. This is not a good place to find yourself first thing in the day.
"Fuck everybody and everything," says Blink-182 bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus. "I hope everyone catches gonorrhea and dies."
Hoppus has woken up on the wrong side of 8 a.m. to appear on the morning show of KRBE 104, an influential Top 40 radio station. The band – Hoppus, guitarist-vocalist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker – stands yawning, waiting to enter the studio. "There's no call for this," Hoppus insists, but the band's tour manager, Alex MacLeod, ignores Hoppus – he's heard these complaints many times before. MacLeod has officially limited him to 15 minutes of kvetching per day.
Searching for a more receptive audience, Hoppus looks over at me, scribbling in my notebook. "Did you write down, 'I hope everyone catches gonorrhea and dies'?" he inquires. I show him his quote. Satisfied that his complaint has been heard, he nods with grim satisfaction.
Not that he actually has much to bitch about: A nation of teenagers has proved unable to resist the hard-candy charms of Blink-182's brand of pop punk. The videos for "What's My Age Again?" (in which the band members run around without any clothes, slowing down only when they spot porn star Janine, who is also featured on the cover of their CD) and "All the Small Things" (in which the band parodies Total Request Live staples such as Britney, Christina and the Backstreet Boys) have received saturation play on MTV. Blink-182's third album, Enema of the State, has gone quadruple platinum, and the group has embarked on its biggest tour ever. Hoppus has even found true love, in the person of his charming and willowy fiance, Skye Everly.
"We'll complain about whatever," Hoppus concedes. "We'll complain if the hotel where we're staying has no pornography."
Inside KRBE's Studio C, two DJs and 25 fans are waiting. The studio has been promoting "Breakfast With Blink-182." The three band members are given two microphones; Barker happily goes without and stares off into space.
"How'd you guys initially hook up?" asks the DJ.
"Soft, sweet kisses to the lips," DeLonge says. "My hand slipped down his shirt. His pants got tighter around his penis."
The DJ, a little taken aback, tries a different approach. "So did – "
"The second time was different," DeLonge interrupts. "I started by kissing his ear." Hoppus doesn't bat an eye as DeLonge relates these details.
They shift uncomfortably in their folding chairs as the questions continue, feeling slightly like zoo animals on display. DeLonge calls a halt to the interview and moves his microphone to the general region of his rear end – just in time to broadcast one of his own farts.
"Solar flare!" Hoppus announces.
DeLonge admonishes the laughing fans: "I can't believe how immature everyone is."
"And I'm 28!" Hoppus cackles.
The studio audience is mostly teens, but one of the older members, a schoolteacher, has an etiquette lesson on this crude behavior. "It's courtesy to say, 'Pull my finger,'" she points out.
"But I have 10 fingers," DeLonge objects.
"I can fart 21 times – let me put it that way," says Hoppus. The DJ cuts to news and weather before the mathematics of that statement can be further explored.
Blink-182 Play Word Association, Part One:
"I was such a punk-rock skate-board kid," remembers DeLonge. "We would start from one end of our town [Poway, California, a San Diego suburb] and skateboard to the other, fucking with people on the sidewalk, stopping in every department store, and knocking everything into the aisles and getting arrested."
"Tom's first musical instrument was the trumpet," reports his mother, Connie DeLonge. "We bought it for him as a Christmas present when he was 11 and told him, 'When you get really good, you can wake us up with reveille.' What we failed to emphasize was that we would decide when that day had come." So one Saturday around 5 a.m., young Thomas DeLonge woke up his parents with a loud noise, closer to the squalling of an ill mallard than to a military bugler. His dad was furious, but his mom was secretly amused.
DeLonge specialized in finding ways to agitate his father – although he also incurred his mother's wrath in junior high school when she heard he had been performing one of his early pop-punk compositions, "My Mom's a Transvestite." The song had a harder guitar riff than he had attempted previously – which meant, of course, that "My Mom's a Transvestite" was the work of a more mature artist.
"I knew exactly how hard I had to work in school," says DeLonge. "As long as I got that C, I wouldn't try one minute extra to get a B. I just cared about skateboarding and music."
"He always wanted to open a coffee shop," Connie reveals. "I love him – even though I don't understand the vulgarity of some of the humor."
Hoppus' mom, Carrie, says, "Mark was always a happy kid. Really smart, sensitive. He used to do puppet shows."
Hoppus doesn't remember the puppet shows; in fact, a lot of his childhood is a blur. He was a Navy brat and grew up outside Washington, D.C., and in Southern California. "I didn't do so well with my parents' divorce," he says ruefully. His folks split up when he was in the third grade. For two years, he and his younger sister, Anne, shuttled from one house to the other. When he was in the fifth grade, his dad, Tex, went up to Monterey to get a postgraduate degree. (Tex now works for the Department of Defense, designing missiles. As his son puts it, "He builds bombs.") Anne stayed with Carrie; young Mark went with Tex.
Hoppus would wake up and find his father already gone. When he got home from school, his dad was still in class, so he would make himself dinner, watch TV and go to bed. "I was living by myself in fifth grade," he laments. At the time, the local news was full of reports of a "motorcycle killer." One night, when Hoppus heard a motorcycle engine outside the house, he called up his mom, crying.
In the ninth grade, Hoppus discovered the Cure and the Smiths, and through their music he found solace. He reflects, "That was the first time I ever felt comfortable in my skin."
After high school, Hoppus returned to California from Washington, D.C., to go to college near San Diego. This meant he was reunited with Anne. She had grown up to become a punk rocker herself and was dating one of DeLonge's best friends. She knew DeLonge was trying to get a band together, so she put him in touch with her brother. On Hoppus' second day back in California, he was in DeLonge's garage, writing songs.
Hoppus and DeLonge quickly found that they would crack the same jokes, write the same songs, finish each other's sentences. They recruited drummer Scott Raynor and put together a demo tape to land a gig. Uninhibited by any actual ability, they played around San Diego and made the rudimentary album Cheshire Cat in 1995. Major labels started calling, hoping to sign the next Green Day. The band released Dude Ranch on MCA in 1997, a vast improvement that spawned the hit single "Dammit." They fired Raynor and hired Barker, and then made Enema of the State, which finally had a sound as sharp as their tongues.
Although Hoppus and DeLonge are unable to answer a question seriously if the other is in the room, their music is not a joke. It's full of adolescent aimlessness, broken hearts and general confusion over the care and feeding of girls. "Anthem," the last song on Enema, is about being trapped in the suburbs, longing for the freedom (and beer) that your 21st birthday will bring. Young, snotty, angry, but with more brains and heart than they let on – it's no wonder an audience of millions identifies with them.
After years of playing music in front of friends at parties, working at hateful day jobs and touring the Southwest in vans that were barely street-legal, Blink-182 can't quite believe the success they've achieved: platinum records, multiple hit singles, sold-out arenas. After all, Blink's catchy punk sound has been around for more than 20 years. Bands like the Buzzcocks (in the Seventies) and the Descendents (in the Eighties) also wrote great fast songs about teenage confusion, and they never hit America's pop charts. Then again, those bands never had onstage repartee like, "You might touch my balls, but you're not my dad."
"Everyone who starts a band dreams of being successful," says DeLonge. "But never do you dream of this. When it comes, you don't know how to deal with it." It's not that they once lived by a credo of "no sellout" – their philosophy has always been closer to "Where's the party?" It's that their brains still can't quite process the extreme contrast between their workaday lives and the spectacle swirling around them on a nightly basis. An hour after one of their biggest shows yet – 8,500 people at their hometown arena in San Diego – Hoppus was cooking scrambled eggs for his three-year-old nephew.
DeLonge has been finding the silence after a show spooky and alienating. "We're still suburban kids," says DeLonge, 24. "I feel like I'm a small part of a big show. I've got to do something every night to make it happen, but it's not my show."
Blink-182's greatest indulgence is in rude jokes. They say they don't use drugs. Their tour rider mandates a supply of beer, which they routinely donate to the road crew. DeLonge is the only member of the band to have an occasional beer. "I used to drink," says Hoppus. "But it got boring. And on tour, you wake up, you feel like shit, and you've got to travel. But I'm not straight-edge – I have no problem with what other people put in their bodies."
Hoppus' and DeLonge's antics mask a mature streak that, given their fondness for fart jokes and references to one another's penises, in itself seems shocking. They're sober, they believe in God (Hoppus prays every night), they work hard (Hoppus complains every day), and they no longer chase girls. All three members have serious girlfriends. Barker, who used to date the most, has spent the last six months with psychology major Melissa Kennedy, who shares his quiet intensity. She's taken some time off from college to travel with the band; similarly, Everly has taken a leave of absence from her job at MTV. Hoppus is so excited to be marrying Everly that he routinely refers to her as his wife, although the wedding won't take place until Thanksgiving weekend.
While Everly doesn't trade fart jokes with Hoppus, she's good-humored and easygoing. On the band's tour bus, Hoppus announces, "Wednesday is Hump Day. And Tuesday's Oral Sex Day."
So what's Thursday? I inquire.
"Mutual Masturbation Day."
"That's not true," says Everly and gives him a gentle shove.
"She's really cool," Hoppus tells me later. "She puts up with a lot of shit."
Hoppus and Everly have been together for about a year; before that, he was unhappily single. "Adam's Song," Blink's current single, is a suicide note set to music, but Hoppus says he wrote it about being lonely on tour. The couplet "I couldn't wait till I got home/To pass the time in my room alone" originally ended "to get off the plane alone."
"Tom and Travis always had girlfriends waiting back home, so they had something to look forward to at the end of the tour," Hoppus explains. "But I didn't, so I was lonely on tour. But then I got home and it didn't matter, because there was nothing there for me anyway."
DeLonge has been with his girlfriend, Jen Jenkins, for nearly four years. Jenkins isn't with the band in Texas because she's in the final days of course work for her B.A. in art. "She's way smarter and a better person than me," DeLonge says. "I just lucked out and got to play in a band."
Their first Valentine's Day together, Jenkins staged a world-class seduction involving large quantities of roses and candles, plus lingerie. Unfortunately, DeLonge was watching a TV show about his obsession, space aliens (he's 100 percent convinced that the U.S. government has concealed information about the existence of aliens). As he tells it, "There were aliens on TV, but my chick was right there, almost nude, you know? I couldn't decide what to do!" Fortunately, he made the smart-boyfriend choice. "If you can get me to not pay attention to the UFO show on TV, you've got me for life."
Blink-182 Play Word Association, Part Two:
DeLonge: Mark and his gas.
Backstage in Austin, Tom DeLonge has commandeered the walkie-talkie of long-suffering road manager Alex MacLeod and started giving instructions to the technical crew. "Apparently people don't realize I'm serious!" he barks into the mouthpiece. "I want everyone to take off their pants!"
A weary voice crackles, "Dude, we're walking around without any pants."
DeLonge grins and nods. His next instruction: "Everyone report to the dressing room and give Tom a blow job." He pauses. "This is Alex. I like to watch."
The venue is the Erwin Center, where the University of Texas' basketball teams play. It seats about 12,000, which makes Hoppus' eyes goggle. "It's not right that we're playing this venue," he says. The band has been given the locker room of the women's team, decorated with posters of Lady Longhorns squads of years past. The trio has a few obligations today – a live radio interview, a meet-and-greet – but the afternoon is an exercise in combating boredom.
DeLonge and Hoppus spend a while brainstorming on what their first line should be when they walk onstage. Among the contenders: "We came here to kick ass and eat pussy." "We love you guys, but if any of you are from Texas, fuck off." "Hello, my penis-sucking friends!" Hoppus is particularly fond of this last one and experiments with saying it in a German accent and then an Indian one.
The hours pass like, well, hours. Hoppus and Everly decide to surf the Web on Everly's laptop; Hoppus takes over the keyboard. "You always drive on the Internet," she pouts. DeLonge kills some time by drawing obscene cartoons on drumheads the band is supposed to sign. First Big Weiner the Gay Pirate comes to life, followed by Naked Man the Superhero. "Notice how I made his penis crooked?" DeLonge asks. "That's part of the art. I always start with the dick and then work around it."
So who are those drumheads for?
DeLonge shrugs. "Kids probably."
In the early evening, as fans file into the building, Hoppus comes up with a new policy: "No employee of Blink-182 may undress me with his eyes." Then he discovers the white board on which basketball plays can be diagrammed. "If I were a coach," he muses, "I'd be saying, 'Your intensity is for shit!' " He locates a marker and leaves a message for the student athletes of the University of Texas: "Competitive sports suck. You should all skateboard."
Outside the dressing room, there's a loud cheer from the crowd. Presumably, opening act Bad Religion have taken the stage. Hoppus has a different theory, however: "They must have shown the crowd a picture of me."
Blink-182 Play Word Association, Part Three:
DeLonge: People in the government who have tried to reveal conspiracies and been killed or persecuted for it.
Barker: Stewart Copeland.
Travis Barker gets his own dressing room and spends most of his time there with Melissa. He listens to Method Man, works out and tries to go through the entire day without ever putting a shirt on. He enjoys the company of Hoppus and DeLonge, whom he calls "super funny," but is self-aware enough to know that a 24-hour diet of fart jokes is not for him. Often, he doesn't even listen to their banter onstage but just gets ready to attack the next song. The precise violence he does to his drum kit every night makes him the band's secret weapon.
Barker, 24, thinks being on tour is like being on vacation: At home, he wakes up earlier and works harder. He owns a rehearsal studio, a belt-buckle company (Famous Stars and Straps) and a retail store – plus, he teaches drums. If he doesn't wake up at seven and start taking care of business, he spends the whole day berating himself for being a shiftless loser.
Going against the drummer stereotype, Barker is the band's quietest, most serious member. "Four years ago, I couldn't afford to feed myself," he says. "But now I can buy art, work on old Cadillacs and live in comfort. I can finally buy a dog and afford to feed him."
Two weeks later, on June 4th, Barker gets injured and has to leave the tour. Here's what happened: On an off day in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio (just outside Cleveland), Barker and Kennedy, tired of room service, took a taxi to a nearby Taco Bell to get some dinner. According to Barker, while he was in the bathroom two large redneck guys started aggressively hitting on Kennedy, an attractive, gamin redhead. They didn't recognize Barker as a rock star when he returned – they were just unhappy that the girl who had ignored them was with a skinny, tattooed freak. They kept staring at Barker and Kennedy while they were eating; getting a bad vibe, the couple left the restaurant to call a cab and go back to the hotel. "I didn't want to be a sitting duck," Barker says. While they were standing at the phone booth, a red car pulled up, and one of the intimidators got out. Barker tried to settle the guy down and displayed his hand, which was in a brace for his tendinitis, to demonstrate that he didn't want to fight. "He kept mouthing off, and then he hit me," Barker says.
"I tried to avoid a fight," Barker emphasizes. "But once he hit me, I had to defend myself." Barker toppled his larger assailant, he says, and started punching him. One of the blows he landed on the guy's face broke Barker's right pinkie, a hairline fracture. After about 30 seconds, the thug went limping back to his car, with Barker kicking him the whole way.
Barker and Kennedy called the police, but they had neglected to get a license-plate number. Taco Bell claimed that its security cameras had not been working. "That guy was way bigger and older than me," Barker cracks. "Ohio's not that tough."
Barker thought about continuing on the tour with a drum kit set up with the electronic aids of Def Leppard's one-armed drummer, Rick Allen. The doctors advised against it, however, so the band soldiered on, playing with Dameon de la Paz, guitarist for opening act Fenix TX. "The kids aren't going to notice," says Hoppus, "but it's definitely not the same." Barker is hoping to be back on the road in August for Blink's European shows; until then, he's tinkering with his Cadillacs and typing one-handed responses to all his e-mail (email@example.com). "Can you mention that I'm answering all of them personally?" he asks.
Blink's tour, The Mark, Tom and Travis Show, is staged as a drive-in movie, with a giant retro billboard suspended from the ceiling and films projected on the screen behind the band – including messages to "enjoy our refreshment center" and some vintage gay porn as the band hits the stage. Their opening line, as it turns out, is "Hey, what the fuck is up with Austin tonight?"
In 90 entertaining minutes, the band zooms through 19 songs: most of Enema of the State, plus highlights of the previous two albums, the concert favorite "It Would Be Nice to Have a Blow Job" and a truncated cover of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle." When a bra is thrown onstage, DeLonge holds it over his eyes and does an impression of a fly; Hoppus tells the crowd that the original title of "Going Away to College" was "Daddy Broke My Butt." In short, they act just like they do offstage, only with musical instruments strapped around their torsos.
Toward the end of the evening, Hoppus announces, "Here's the deal. We're going to play three more songs; say, 'Thank you, good night'; walk offstage; and then, whether you like it or not, we're going to come back and play you two more songs. So you need to decide whether you want to stick around or leave early to beat the traffic. Either way is fine with me."
Events play out exactly as Hoppus has predicted, with one unadvertised bonus: Before the band returns for the encore, the PA plays Sisqós "Thong Song." Hoppus, wearing only his boxer shorts, runs out onstage and spends a minute waggling his butt at various sections of the audience, to thundering cheers.
After the show, a sweaty Hoppus discusses how while Blink still might tell the crowd of their general love of breasts, they no longer specifically encourage the women in the audience to reveal them: "I just get super bummed-out when 13-year-old girls show their boobs. That's not right." The crowds have gotten younger and more estrogen-filled, he says. "When we started off, it was all 15- to 20-year-olds. Now, we're the first show for a lot of kids, so I just want them to have fun and get out safe."
For DeLonge, the most important thing is that the fans go home entertained. "We have a good sound guy, so as long as we play somewhat OK, we're not going to sound bad," he reasons. "But if we make kids laugh, that's something they're going to remember forever. I hate it when a band plays and is just silent between songs. With us, we can't wait until the songs are over. 'Hi! We've been waiting to talk to you. It's been a long two and a half minutes, but we're back!' "
"We know that our success will be short-lived," says Hoppus, then reconsiders his word choice: "Well, not short-lived, but we'll only be able to do this for a finite amount of time. No band goes on forever – except the Rolling Stones, and those guys ought to stop anyway." He snickers. "But when the end does come, I'll just say, 'Thank God that I got a chance to do exactly what I love.'"