Flailing now with joy
Reunion of '90s band a reminder to fiercely kick at this absurd world
“A secret sadness lurks behind the 21st century’s forced smile,” philosopher Mark Fisher wrote in 2014. In recent years, that forced smile has been shattered as plagues, shootings, fascism and violent transphobia become the background noise to our precarious lives. When every hour brings a state of warning or a state of mourning, I think it’s vital to find comfort in a few minutes of crude, baroque joy.
Because, last week, I watched Blink-182 perform a reunion set at Coachella while sitting at home, sharing in the excitement with other fans on a music message board. That sentence and scenario were unimaginable in 2014. That year, Tom DeLonge, the original guitarist, abruptly left the band and it seemed like he severed ties for good. Like other rock bands, that wasn’t Blink-182’s first messy breakup. But this time around, the remaining members continued without DeLonge. They brought in a new guitarist to continue touring and recording. I was midway through my 20s then and shrugged off the drama. But still, a part of my inner teenager was left feeling disenchanted.
Blink-182 was my gateway drug to punk, which became my gateway drug to everything I value now – namely literature, history and journalism. I have this elementary school memory of a classmate asking me about my favorite music. I didn’t know how to respond and said something like, “I dunno. I guess I listen to whatever’s on the radio?” Knowing I could be asked that question at any moment by friends and classmates induced a pre-teen existential crisis for me. I couldn’t grasp how my peers could say with confidence they liked this or that artist based on a few songs.
A year or two later I was in junior high, playing video games with friends. We were trying out MTV Sports: Snowboarding on the PlayStation. All I remember about that experience was “Don’t Leave Me” from Blink-182’s 1999 album, “Enema of the State.” The song played in the video game’s background, but it was at the forefront of my attention. The chuggy, frantic palm mutes followed by crunchy power chords immediately became my ear candy. I heard that song and thought, “This is my favorite band,” followed by, “I wanna play guitar, and I want it to sound like THAT.”
In middle school, Blink-182’s degenerate sense of humor seemed fitting in an environment where sexism and homophobia were as common as recess. But I always heard the band’s crude humor differently, then and now. I’ve never felt attached to the masculine identity, and Blink-182’s raunchy self-deprecating humor felt like it was disarming masculinity, bastardizing the male ego to reveal a frazzled, confused heart.
“Lost in a lot of the conversation of Blink-182 is the heart in their songs, much of it hidden and masked by layers of ironic detachment and throwaway jokes of little redeeming value,” trans writer Niko Stratis recently mused in an essay on the band. At one point, Stratis reflects on taking inspiration from the band, using “self-deprecation as a shield” in her youth, which is something I can relate to. That same self-deprecating humor got me through school life. It felt liberating as a teenager to take sadness and confusion and turn them into humor. And Blink-182 was often my point of reference. Call it the forced smile and secret sadness of adolescence. Then when I reached adulthood, I realized those feelings were still constants in life. So when bassist Mark Hoppus sings, “I’m flailing now” in the song “Dammit,” I still relate to it now as I flail through my 30s. “Well, I guess this is growing up,” Hoppus sings in the chorus, and it still rings in my heart.
I was moved by Stratis’ essay. Reading a transwoman’s poignant insight on Blink-182 made me realize how sad and odd it is that, in our hetero-patriarchal society, taking on the male identity precludes any right to emotions. And yet, for those with non-binary gender identities, society precludes any human rights to them at all.
In 2001, the band became a little more vulnerable in songwriting. They released their first acoustic song called “What Went Wrong.” It’s an expression of disillusionment with the status quo. For the song, the band’s long-time producer Jerry Finn found inspiration from a documentary on the first Russian nuclear test. There’s a scene with an old Soviet physicist reflecting on the explosion. “There was a loud boom,” recalled the physicist. “And then the bomb began fiercely kicking at the world.” That statement became the song’s outro lyrics: “I’m kicking up/ fiercely at the world around me/ to what went wrong.”
Today, with many communities facing the threat of violence via gun and legislative pen, daily life feels like an inescapable bleakness. But these are also reasons to fiercely kick at the world. And for a minute last week, I found joy in seeing a crude band I adore reunite and perform, and my inner youth healed a little. For a second, a baroque sunset beamed in me against a world absurdly dark and broken. And that gives more energy to face the unknown hours ahead.
– Kirbie Bennett
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