Choosing Sides in the Battle of Blink-182
To be clear right out of the gate, Blink-182 don’t owe anybody anything. Just because their band took on near-mythical status, it shouldn’t obscure the fact that these are three actual human people (albeit rock stars for the past two decades). If one of them doesn’t want to be a part of the band anymore, it’s not like he’s obligated to continue just because millions of fans have taken his creation and turned it into something they love – something they depend on and something that makes the world a better place to them because it exists. Something to look forward to.
It’s like when ‘Lost’ was on.
But, just like ‘Lost,’ everything comes to an end and sometimes it’s an ending that makes you wonder if you ever really needed all that stuff about the hatch at all.
This, however, is actually exactly how most of us figured Blink-182 (as we know it) would end. Mostly because it’s exactly the way it ended when DeLonge left the band in 2004. The fact that it’s taken place so publicly this time falls a little bit on everyone involved, but it’s also just sort of the way the world works now.
For anyone who hasn’t been watching the drama unfold online during the past week, here’s the abridged version: Travis Barker (drummer/bona fide celebrity) is behind the annual Musink Tattoo & Music Festival in Costa Mesa, Calif., and when the lineup was announced for this year’s event, Blink-182 were revealed as headliners – but with Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. That led to a statement from Blink-182’s camp saying the manager of estranged singer/guitarist Tom DeLonge had e-mailed saying DeLonge had backed out of recording the band’s new album and woudn’t be participating in “Blink-182 projects” for an indefinite time.
This prompted DeLonge to say that he never quit the band and that, in turn, led Barker and singer/bassist Mark Hoppus to almost immediately tell their side of the story to Rolling Stone, calling DeLonge “disrespectful and ungrateful” in the process. DeLonge tweeted a retort about how he and Hoppus had talked about firing Barker in 2013 (he quickly deleted it) and posted a long letter calling the whole thing “immature” and saying he “never planned on quitting” but “just finds it hard as hell to commit.”
The easy answer here is to say DeLonge’s to blame. That’s because, well, he is. Hoppus and Barker aren't the ones dragging their feet on the new album and they've only been making all their statements through the press because DeLonge isn't talking to them. They have to do damage control somehow.
But it’s also hard to be angry at DeLonge for being in a situation where he feels like he can’t talk to the other guys. You’d hope they’d all be comfortable enough with each other to at least be on the same page about whether or not one-third of the band is actually still in the band, but relationships are hard. Are you still best friends with all your best friends from 1995?
Still, from the way Hoppus and Barker tell it, DeLonge has been extraordinarily difficult these past couple years – not so much because he doesn’t want to do Blink-182 anymore, but because he seemed so incapable of admitting it to himself. Hoppus said in an interview with Alternative Press that DeLonge consistently kept putting off anything related to the band and all of his correspondence has come via his management. “From everything we’ve heard from Tom’s manager and from what Tom has done – and is not doing even more so – Tom doesn’t want to be in Blink,” said Hoppus. “It’s obvious. That’s fine. But it’s so confusing to get e-mails from people saying, ‘Tom’s out indefinitely, Tom’s not going to do these things, Tom doesn’t want to record, doesn’t want to tour, doesn’t want to do anything,’ and then at the same time say, [adopts shocked tone] ‘I never quit the band. I just said I wasn’t ever going to do anything again.’”
So what’s DeLonge been doing instead? He’s been focused on his other band, Angels and Airwaves, and planning a wildly ambitious multimedia approach to their latest full-length, ‘The Dream Walker,’ which was released in December. To be fair, planning a comic book series, a novel, an anime short film and a feature-length movie all centered around the album probably does require a good deal of time and energy, but DeLonge has always overreached just a little when it comes to his solo endeavors. He took a similar approach to AVA’s third and fourth albums (2010’s ‘Love’ and 2011’s ‘Love: Part Two’), adding a feature film based on its narrative into the mix. And when DeLonge launched the social network Modlife, he frequently spoke of how it would revolutionize the way bands operate. (But you probably forgot Modlife even existed by now if you ever knew about it at all.)
Obviously, DeLonge is free to approach his art and his vision however he wants. But you get the sense that if he could keep his AVA ambitions rooted in a more firm reality, he could allocate more time to Blink. Yes, AVA have a dedicated fanbase, but if you were to ask fans to stand in line for what they’re anticipating more – a ‘Dream Walker’ comic book or a new Blink-182 album – one line would be a thousand times longer than the other.
Again, that’s fine. If that’s where he’s at creatively, he should definitely follow his instincts. But, in the process, he’s been passive-aggressively holding back Hoppus and Barker. Hoppus said the upside to all this week’s unexpected drama is that at least they can now make new plans – like bringing on Skiba for Musink. “Travis and I aren’t angry or mad or whatever,” he said. “When we got the e-mail from Tom’s manager saying that he didn’t want to record, at least he was being honest at that point. We’ve been dragging for so long to try to get into the studio and try to get to work. For him to finally say, ‘I’m not going to do it,’ was almost like, ‘Okay, now you’ve actually said it. Now let’s move forward: You do whatever you want to do and we’ll continue doing what we love doing. Which is Blink.”
As for DeLonge’s accusation that he and Hoppus almost kicked Barker out of the band – that wasn’t really the entire story. At the time (January 2013), Barker – who was one of only two survivors of a catastrophic plane crash in 2008 – was still struggling to bring himself to fly again and didn’t think he’d be able to go with the band on a scheduled tour of Australia. Hoppus clarified that they only discussed a temporary replacement for the tour (Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman played the shows).
In fact, in a lot of ways, it was likely Barker’s plane crash that made DeLonge actually want to reunite in 2009. “When we did get back together after my plane crash, we only got back together, I don’t know, maybe because I almost died,” said Barker. “But [DeLonge] didn’t even listen to mixes or masterings from that record [2011’s ‘Neighborhoods’]. He didn’t even care about it. Why Blink even got back together in the first place is questionable.”
You really can’t fault DeLonge for feeling an emotional pull to again play music with his longtime bandmate in the wake of such a devastating event (the band also lost their longtime producer and mentor Jerry Finn to a cerebral hemorrhage and massive heart attack just weeks before Barker’s accident). But if DeLonge wasn’t sure exactly where Blink-182 would fit into his life again, maybe he should’ve approached the entire thing differently as to keep the expectations of both his bandmates and fans in check.
In the end, DeLonge apologized to fans for the band's current state of disarray, but that isn't what's been so upsetting to many. Everyone who's been with the band since Y2K has come to understand the delicate balance between genius and dysfunction is what made the band great in the first place: Hoppus is McCartney and DeLonge is Lennon.
The real disappointment comes from learning how strained the relationship is between these former friends. Fans have a special place in their heart for Blink and they've come to believe Hoppus and Barker deserve better than this. Yes, they want a new record. But, more than anything, just as Hoppus sang in 'Stay Together For the Kids,' they're saying, "We get along, so why can't they?"