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Tim Sommer’s Letter to Blink 182 Fans

January 29, 2015

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.

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What Happened to Sid’s Ashes? Let’s Ask John Lydon

October 7, 2014

A long time ago, I sat behind penny-colored pints of too-cool lager at a reasonable pub in Los Angeles called the Cat & Fiddle. I have never found a truly effective faux-British pub in this country, and the Cat & Fiddle was no exception.

The pleasant and entirely un-British interior garden of the Cat & Fiddle Pub in Los Angeles, where today’s story takes place.

(I have a theory about that: you can’t find Bitter anywhere in this country, and without bitter, how can you have an authentically inauthentic British pub? Bitter, as you may know, is the beautifully bittersweet, gently yeasty low-carbonated beer-like beverage served at room temperature in British pubs. Bitter is one of the three foodstuffs that make me re-consider the existence of God: the other two are the Dairy Queen Blizzard and the Mussels Fra Diavolo at Peppones Restaurant in Brentwood.)

A foamy, creamy, pint of bitter. Yum.

Even without Bitter (or the Abba songs seemingly always playing on British pub jukeboxes), the Cat & Fiddle was a very decent place to meet a friend and have a drink or a pile of fries. Their attempt at imitating a British pub resulted in a not un-amiable cross between a suburban basement/game-room and a theme restaurant in a casino. In any event, it was brighter and more spacious than most bars, and had a very pleasant outdoor area.

The sun sat low and bored in the sky, causing the very early evening light to slant into the room at an angle that challenged the drinker to consider whether it was time to order some bar food or seek out Sushi. I was sitting across from John Lydon, who was an occasional drinking partner at that time. John was a dear, sweet man, devoted to family and full of a fan-boy’s eagerness to rave about obscure music; he once showed up at my house in the Hollywood Hills unannounced, waving CDs by the Third Ear Band and Jacob Miller and insisting that I had to listen to these right now.

John Lydon, the star of today’s story. as he appeared at the time he told the author this sad and remarkable tale.

On this day at the Cat & Fiddle, we were talking about death. I think we may have been discussing the extraordinary power of a song off the first PIL album called “Annalisa,” during which Lydon delivers one of the most harrowing and desperate vocals ever committed to tape while telling the true tale of a teenage girl tortured and starved to death by her parents. I’ll put the power, honesty, and passion of the vocal on “Annalisa” alongside anything any white man has ever recorded, from Lennon’s “Twist & Shout” to “Pyscho” by the Sonics.

(By the way, why does everyone always use Lennon’s vocal on “Twist and Shout” as the example of the greatest rock vocal ever? Gerry Roslie of the Sonics basically did that kind of thing on every song. Seriously.)

John, who was (and I am sure remains) a remarkably sensitive and sentimental person, began to cry when recalling the girls’ plight. From there, I think our conversation moved to Kurt Cobain, who had only recently died. Not too long before Cobain’s death, attempts had been made to arrange a meeting between these two cultural giants – a potential Lydon/Cobain collaboration was very tentatively being discussed — but John had repeatedly balked at Cobain’s condition that the meeting take place at the zoo.

With these topics in the air, I decided to touch on another iconic death, closer to home.

“Where is Sid buried?” I asked. “Why isn’t Sid’s gravesite a shrine? How come I don’t hear anything about that? You’d think punk rockers would always go there and get drunk or something.”

John began to tear up. “That’s a very sad story,” he said. He then proceeded to explain.

He started by reminding me that Sid’s mother, Anne Beverly, was a junkie. In fact, John explained, she was responsible for scoring the dose that killed Sid, and may have even injected Sid with the fatal shot. I got the distinct impression that John was not particularly fond of Anne Beverly, who died in 1996 (after this conversation took place).

Sid Vicious and his mother, Anne Beverly, photographed prior to the events recounted in this story.

Ms. Beverley had her son cremated, John explained, and mom wanted to bring the ashes from New York City, where Sid died, back to England. So, urn in tow (according to John), she heads to JFK and boards a plane to Heathrow. No problems there; I am quite sure grieving parents or spouses transport their loved ones’ ashes internationally all the time.


At least that’s what John Lydon told me. And I suppose, all things considered, it wasn’t the worst place to hide your drugs.

Once Anne Beverly deplanes at Heathrow, John told me, she got a little nervous about going through security. There was a lot more security around than she had anticipated, and she was starting to get uncomfortable. She had been counting on the idea that airport security was unlikely to sift through a cremation urn carried by a grieving mother…but she nonetheless found herself getting really, really nervous. In fact, as she edges closer to the security checkpoint, Mrs. Sid’s Mother becomes convinced that they are on to her, and that the urn is going to get searched and she is going to be in a stack of trouble.

So, Anne Beverly did the only logical thing that a mother carrying her heroin stash in the urn containing her son’s dead ashes could possibly do: She eyed the nearest well-concealed air conditioning vent, and dumped the entire contents of the urn down the vent, where they disappeared forever.

By this time, John is BAWLING. “So,” he sobs, “to this day Sid is floating around somewhere in Heathrow.”

Mussels Fra Diavolo. Yum.

(The Author states that although the above tale is a true account of an actual encounter with Mr. Lydon, he can in no way confirm the veracity of Mr. Lydon’s story, and it is not stated as fact by either him nor the Brooklyn Bugle. Further, he acknowledges that Mussels Fra Diavolo may not actually be on the menu at Peppones, but was possibly a dish specially requested by the author.)

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