I understand that Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 has written a long and heartfelt letter to his fans, explaining and apologizing for his group’s dysfunction and inactivity. I respect that kind of outreach. In fact, I respect it so much I thought I would write my own letter to Blink-182’s fans.
Dear Blink-182 Fans:
I have never really listened to Blink-182, but I respect them.
Maybe that surprises you. Well, a long time ago, I learned there was an unspoken brotherhood amongst musicians and music geeks. Whether you are a member of Bon Jovi or Lightning Bolt, chances are you were the guy or girl in your high school who had the coolest record collection, who new insane and arcane details about your favorite musicians, who followed about fourteen weird bands for every one group in the pop charts. Seriously, it’s an odd secret, but I guarantee it’s true: Pretty much anyone who’s put the time and effort into learning an instrument, pursuing a career, and putting up with all the bullshit surrounding the music business is bound to be a serious lover and student of music. So, regardless of any personal relationship I may or may nor have with Blink-182’s music, I respect them as brothers, people who cared deeply about music, and who made that obsession into a lifelong career.
And I respect their fans.
See, I am not going to play that game where I look down on you because you like Blink 182 but don’t like hipper, older, more obscure, or more credible bands. For instance, I enjoy 20th Century neo-classical music; I like, oh, Aaron Copland, Krzysztof Penederecki, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, etcetera. But there’s definitely someone out there who will go “That guy is a douche! He doesn’t know any Morton Gould or Benjamin Britten! What a Neanderthal that Sommer cat is!” Now, the fact that I can’t name any compositions by Benjamin Britten doesn’t mean I love or enjoy Terry Riley any less. And the same goes for you. Just because you can’t name any songs by, oh, the Dils or Crass or the Weirdos or the Pointed Sticks doesn’t mean that you aren’t as moved when you hear a song by Blink-182. If a song reached your heart, if you heard something and thought “I cannot wait to share that with my best friend!” or “Looking forward to hearing that song got me through class today,” that’s all that matters! What possible difference does it make how famous or how obscure it is. Shit, I spend a lot of my time listening to music you probably couldn’t even spell, but it still makes me deliriously happy to hear “Ray of Light” by Madonna, and I have no trouble screaming that fact to the world.
I am not going to look down on anything that moves anyone, provided it doesn’t espouse any hurtful or hateful bullshit or dogma.
See, there’s nothing wrong with popularity, nothing wrong with liking the popular. Regardless of whether you listen to the most obscure noise from Brooklyn or the most mainstream pop, you probably listen to it for the same reason: it moves you, it distracts you, it makes your day better, it gives you something to talk about with your friends or the people you want to be friends with, it says something for you that you cannot say yourself. I feel that way when listening to “Fiery Jack” by the Fall or “Brando” by Scott Walker; someone else may feel the exact same thing when listening to Nickelback or Darius Rucker. The messenger may change, but the listener’s motivation and heart stays the same. A song that creates an amazing shared memory for someone is a spectacular gift, and I am not going to ridicule it, whether it’s by the Mekons or Miley Cyrus.
Now, as long as I have your attention, let me tell you a little about punk rock.
To me, more than anything else, punk rock means the freedom to be yourself and have your own opinion, and dream big dreams and love those dreams with all your heart, despite the naysayers; I believe punk rock is literally the opposite of conformity and bending to peer pressure. More than a “sound,” it is just the idea of an unfettered, un-tethered imagination. I also believe it is essentially a simple art form, where you discover and express beautiful, strong, powerful, intensely creative dreams that others might say are “too obvious” to express; in other words, people looked at the work of Picasso, Mondrian, and Pollock and said “My kid could do that,” or they heard the Ramones and said “Shit, anyone could play like that.” But NO ONE had painted like that, no one had played like that. If you could do it, why didn’t you do it? If your kid could have done it, why didn’t you encourage him or her to do so? Often, beauty, genius, and invention are as obvious as the air we breathe. Punk Rock artists discover a new country, the one that was in front of us and under our feet and in our dreams the whole time; the one whose beauty and power was so obvious, it was like discovering a delicious, nutritious fruit just sitting there hanging from a low branch of a tree, and everyone else said “If it’s that easy to pick, why hasn’t someone already eaten it? It must suck.”
Having said that, consider your love for Blink 182 a doorway. Let that door lead you to the soul, spirit, joy, compassion, simplicity, artistic adventure and discovery, and immediate magic of Punk Rock. Don’t mourn the demise of your favorite band; instead, celebrate what you loved about them and let that door lead you…
To the truth: Punk rock, first and foremost, is an expression of what moves you, without the shadow of peer pressure.
To the visceral: punk rock is about discovering the beauty and power of the obvious and everyday; the hum of a refrigerator can be punk rock; the ticking of a signal indicator can be punk rock; the one-chord passion of an old rockabilly song can be punk rock.
To the adventurous: blow it all up and put it back together any damn way you want, any goddamn way that has the power to move you; and if it moves you, there’s a very good chance it will move someone else. That strange sound you want to hear over and over? I bet someone else wants to hear it, too. Trust your ears and heart.
Perhaps you have the desire to be a “real” punk. If so, please note: A lot of the visual and iconic language of your “movement” is borrowed from the language of rebel politics and the battles of the disenfranchised to gain equality and socio-economic power. Go to the roots of this iconography: Don’t just “say” fight for your rights; actually fight for your rights, and other peoples. Literally nothing is “more” punk rock then helping those who have less, those who have no power, and protecting those who are in harms way. It’s not enough to “give the wrong time/stop a traffic line” as the brilliant Johnny Rotten wrote in “Anarchy in the U.K.” Ideally, a punk should give the right time to someone who can’t afford a watch, and clear traffic in front of an abortion clinic.
Oh…if a band you like has ever done anything intentionally racist, sexist, homophobic, or refused to condemn any section of their fans that have done the same, then none of this applies. Any band that doesn’t defend the disenfranchised, that is the artistically, economically, socially, sexually, politically disenfranchised, are just posers.
Good luck to you. Timothy A. Sommer
P.S. Here are some records you might like: “Teenage Kicks” or “My Perfect Cousin” by the Undertones; “Where Were You” and “Memphis, Egypt” by the Mekons; “Into the Valley” and “The Saints are Coming” by the Skids; “Babylon’s Burning,” “Staring at the Rude Boys” and “West One” by the Ruts; “Hurry Up Harry” and “Hersham Boys” by Sham 69; “Endangered Species” and “New Barbarians” by the UK Subs; anything at all off of the albums Damned Damned Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album, or Strawberries by the Damned; “Nobodys Hero” or “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers; “One Chord Wonders” by the Adverts; “The World the Day Turned Day-Glo” by X-Ray Spex; the entire Pink Flag and Chairs Missing albums by Wire; “This is the Modern World” by the Jam; and a thousand and eight more, especially the Metal Box/Second Edition album by Public Image Limited, the greatest and most creatively brave punk rock record of all time.