The year was 1999 and American middle school girls were faced with a politically fraught choice: Backstreet Boys or *N Sync? Lines were drawn and friendships destroyed as 11-14 year-olds scrambled to choose sides. But then there were those of us who refused to believe that this was it, who refused to conform to this phony bubblegum pop society, who bravely and boldly said, "NAY, MOTHER"—as our parents presented us with a copy of BSB's Millennium—"FOR I CARE NOT FOR THE TRITE MUSINGS OF NICK CARTER OR AJ MCLEAN. I AM MOLDED IN THE SPIRIT OF PUNK ROCK, AND AS SUCH, I SHALL LISTEN TO BLINK-182. NOW PLEASE GIVE ME A RIDE TO HOT TOPIC, AS I AM TOO LAZY TO TAKE THE BUS."
Perhaps it was the poeticism of Blink-182's lyrics ("Forgive our neighbor Bob/I think he humped a dog"), their willingness to say what others are too afraid to bring up ("I know the CIA will say/what you hear is all hearsay/wish someone would tell me what was right") or the way they spoke directly to my burgeoning sense of teen romance ("Yeah, my girlfriend takes collect calls from the road/And it doesn't seem to matter that I'm lacking in the bulge")—whatever it was, they were the perfect choice for the girl who wanted to be different from everyone else but not, like, that different because she'd like to be at home in time to vote for TRL and, yes, is still fairly desperate to fit in.
Blink-182 was the boy band for girls who didn't want to like boy bands. "I like Mark Hoppus the most. No, Travis," I would say, using a sharpie to write their names on my notebook, which also hosted an "I <3 TOM GREEN " (yes, that Tom Green) doodle and bizarre ode to Brendan Fraser in The Mummy. "You know what, though? Tom DeLonge is cute, too." ("No, he's not! None of them are," future me screams back through history, but younger me never seems to listen.)
In 2001, my dad drove his girlfriend's son and I to Milwaukee Summerfest to see Blink-182. I bought an overpriced concert t-shirt—a size too small because I'd yet to figure out that clothes actually look better when they fit—and put it on in the amphitheater bathroom. Later in the evening, when the band (minus Travis Barker, because he had broken his hand during—my god—a fistfight at a Taco Bell) played "Adam's Song," a tribute to a fan who had killed himself, I swayed and wept openly. Not because of the roll of baby pudge that was sticking out between my too-tight t-shirt and too-tight flared jeans, not because I was wearing my hair in raver buns and not because I was slowly, accidentally strangling myself with a ball-chain choker, but because I was having FEELINGS, so many feelings and OH TO BE ALIVE IN THE NOSE BLEEDS in that moment, standing feet away from my openly-grimacing father and hearing my favorite band play.
Of course, a year or so later it dawned on me that Blink-182 was not (and is not) a very good band. (In fact, life lesson: No one that into Scarface is ever very good at anything.) So, I moved on to other shitty bands. I went to Warped Tour, where I sweated in mosh pits and pretended to find skateboarding interesting. I continued to wear clothes that were alternately too big or too small, all to look like I fit in. But slowly and surely, after years of trudging through garbage trenches of pop punk, I was able to trace the music's lineage back to The Clash, X Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees—music that I continue to love wholeheartedly to this day. (Even more life-changing: high-waisted pants came back and, with any luck, I will never have to wear unflattering low-rise/flared jeans ever again.)
I'm not sad that Blink-182 is currently imploding in front of our eyes. Tom Delonge seems like a dick and all of the band's behavior is fairly pathetic for a group of dudes pushing 40. Apart from today, when I listened to Enema of the State to get in the mood for this piece, I haven't listened to them in at least 13 years, which is just around the number of years I'd been alive when I first heard them.
That said, it's hard not to feel some leftover nostalgia for the first band that made you truly love music. I'm frowning a little at my own (somewhat rightful) dismissal of their work and, more importantly, the deep love that I and plenty of other girls had for them. (And it was girls who made up their core fan base—make no mistake about it.) Sure, Blink-182's songs were juvenile, bawdy and simple. It's highly unlikely that they'll ever join the pantheon of Great Musicians, but honestly, what does "great" matter when you're 14, building your own identity, and crying along to "Adam's Song" in the back of an amphitheater?
Image via Getty.